Written by Dotty Winters


Time to miss Miss World?

Dotty Winters isn’t a fan of the world’s biggest beauty pageant, and whatever your argument, she’s got a counterpoint ready.

Illustration by Louise Boulter

Illustration by Louise Boulter

On the December 14, the 64th edition of the Miss World pageant will be held at Excel, London.

I am not a fan of the Miss World Contest. There, I’ve said it. I will now address all the responses I expect that statement to generate. These responses are based on my extensive experience of saying what I think, out loud.

“But you are a feminist, how can you attack the choices of the women who chose to enter Miss World?”

This response can be found in plentiful supply on Twitter. Mary Beard also trod this line in 2012, when she wrote about how her attitude to the contest had softened: “To accuse them – as I used to do – of being the victims of social or commercial or religious control now seems to me to be a fairly cheap hit. How we present ourselves to the world is never a free choice. For both women and men dress is always the subject of social constraints.”

Objecting to the contest is not the same as attacking the contestants. Let’s imagine a world where suddenly the ability to play croquet is how we define the usefulness of people; being good at croquet is instantly something which allows you to win prize money, support charities and travel the world. Now, it just so happens that I kick-ass at croquet (I discovered this while on a business training day at a country house). In this new world, you can completely understand that I will be making use of my impressive hammer-wielding talents, even if you don’t believe that croquet-ability is a useful way to define the worth of human beings.

That lengthy croquet-based brag is how I feel about Miss World. He’s not usually my “go-to guy” for feminist nuggets, but I believe Ice-T nailed this one when he advised us to “Hate the Game, Not the Playa”.

“Calm down dear, it’s only a bit of fun.”

Nice try, but all society’s “only a bit of fun” cards have been used up defending: The Black and White Minstrel Show, Bernard Manning, UKIP and cross-country running. It’s amazing how some of the things we’ve defended as “fun” look with the benefit of hindsight and a dose of social progress.

“It’s empowering.”

Is it? More empowering than a world where access to opportunities isn’t defined by gender or appearance? How about we give that a try first, and if we don’t like it, we can go back to beauty pageants?

It’s not just a beauty contest, contestants have to demonstrate skills, support charities and get to travel the world.

Bono travels the world, demonstrating skills and supporting charities; he is not eligible for the Miss World contest, and even if he was I wouldn’t fancy his odds. Despite some recent attempts to modernise the contest (increased focus on charity, decreased emphasis on announcing the precise measurements of every contest) this is still very much a beauty pageant.

“But men get objectified too.”

Yes, they do. It sucks. I’m against objectification, even if you possess a penis. I don’t think reducing the worth of humans to how they look is beneficial to anyone in society.

“I’m a man and I wish women would objectify me, fnar, fnar.”

That’s nice sweetheart, but seriously, this isn’t about you. See point 1.

In the UK, The Miss World contest has become an easily parodied, slightly sheepish and somewhat retro affair (although in many of the countries represented the competition retains high-profile and national TV coverage). In a society where anyone with a mobile phone can access porn at the touch of a button, and the swimsuit-round leaves contestants looking over-dressed in comparison to your average music video, it can be hard (and slightly depressing) to recall that this contest was once a front line in the UK feminist battle.

In the 1970s, protesters chanted the fantastic slogan: “We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry.” Nowadays, we seem to be a bit less angry, but the world is not a zero sum game: I don’t choose not to recycle on the basis that my individual impact is less than the impact of corporations. I don’t refuse to clean the bathroom just because the kitchen also needs a scrub (this example is hypothetical only I’m writing this instead of doing either, what a slattern).

This year the UK fell out of the Top 20 most gender-equal countries in the world after average wages for women in the workplace fell by £2,700 in a year, (World Economic Forum). Earlier this year the UN reported that the progress made in the past 20 years towards reducing global poverty is at risk of being reversed because of a failure to combat widening gender inequality. We are getting worse at equality and it’s having a negative impact on all of us; in light of that it’s hard to suggest the Miss World Contest is the great driving force for world peace that the clichéd speeches of some contestants (however well intentioned) would suggest.

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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.