Can we have a Miss Fed-Up pageant?

You know, it’s been a really long time since I thought about pageants.* Yes, every once in a while we see a beauty queen get shamed for some pseudo-controversial picture and everyone shakes their head in mock disapproval – but pageants themselves? I don’t tend to give them much mind; they seem too silly to expend feminist energy on.
Boy was I stupid.
When I was clicking around my television Sunday night I landed on the Miss Universe pageant and I was transfixed. I guess I forgot how utterly ridiculous and gross these things are. But it occurred to me that a pageant where women are parading around – and literally being judged on how they look in a bikini – could be feminism’s best friend. I mean, what proves the existence of nationwide sexism better than the Miss Universe pageant (or Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, etc)? Just a thought.
Oh, and for fun – here’s the winning contestants final question and answer. (Hint: It’s not feminist.)

*I wrote about them a bit in The Purity Myth, but only in terms of how the beauty queen fall-from-grace fits into the virgin/whore dynamic.

Join the Conversation

  • DeafBrownTrash

    Pageants are such a joke. I read two coffee table books on pageants (both written by FEMINISTS, in fact) which said that pageants actually started out as a marketing way to sell products, so companies used a beautiful woman in a swimsuit (or dress) and would host a parade (all the while shilling their products), to encourage people to buy crap.
    Oh yeah, did you know how Miss Universe got started and broke off from Miss World? Because the Miss World organizers refused to allow bikinis in their competition, so a swimwear company started Miss Universe… in order to parade women in bikinis.

  • Mucon7


  • jayjay323

    “And world peace!” ;)

  • Athenia

    I have a question for heterosexual guys, when you watch this, do you actually think, “Oh yes Ms. X is so much better and prettier than Ms. Y!”??
    Cuz, if I were a hetero guy, I be all, “And she’s pretty! And she’s pretty! And she’s pretty!”
    How can it be a beauty competition when everyone is pretty?

  • Jennabun

    No barriers? None at ALL?
    And she WON?
    I think I just died inside.

  • Mollie

    LMAO is she fucking SERIOUS??!?!?!?!?!?!!??!?!

  • Lynne C.

    Oh God, I hope no one takes these pageant questions and answers seriously.

  • Peepers

    Dang, Miss Universe, you’re totally right! I do not even realize that there are no more barriers among women!

  • hellotwin

    When you’re beautiful and ignorant, I suppose here aren’t any barriers…

  • Mucon7

    You’d be surprised

  • llevinso

    I can’t watch the video since I’m at work but I’m assuming it is where she says that there is no longer a glass ceiling for women (or something like that). I read about it the other day and rolled my eyes.
    I’m with you that I hope no one takes these things seriously, but some people do look up to these women and therefore them saying this kind of crap is harmful. When they regurgitate this ignorance it’s not helpful.

  • DeafBrownTrash

    yeah they’re a bunch of idiots. It’s scary because they can easily brainwash young girls into thinking that beauty is all you need.
    It makes me sick. Parading women in bikinis (or dresses) around like cattle and giving stupid answers… moo! moo!

  • Anonymous

    Winning answer? Really? Wow. Total surprise .

  • bklynchica

    I actually saw the pageant (last 15 mins or so)…they are like train wrecks I can’t help but watch. And being Latina, they tended to be like a mandatory thing in my household growing up (I tend to find many Latinos I know are wayyyyyy too into these things, taking a loss as an offense to their country as a whole). I even kept tally of the scores when I was little. *sigh*
    Anyways…30 traumatized years later…that answer repulsed me. Um, really? We have no barriers? Someone should send her the link to the Mali protests NOW.
    Possibly worse than her answer was Australia’s (“bikinis are great so we can show off our toned bodies!”). Both answers merit a good old kick in the booty (or lack thereof).

  • Honeybee

    Sure they might think they are all pretty, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think some are prettier then others. It’s not like women don’t argue over who is the hottest guy on Lost, etc.

  • bklynchica

    And it should be mentioned she’s from Venezuela- a country notorious for their pageant industry. Perhaps she’d change her mind about barriers if she interviewed some of the darker skinned Venezuelan women who have been told they were too dark to compete. =/

  • llevinso

    You make a very good point about the skin color of the contestants actually. I saw some clip of Heidi Montag’s horrid “performance” during the show and it showed all the finalists (at least that’s who I assumed it was showing). But they all looked so…European… Every single one of them!

  • Seasons

    Women do pretty much have the same job oppertunities and equality to men…

  • nikki#2

    I have to say that I am impressed with her response. Assuming the translation was accurate, she actually spoke in coherent and gramatically correct sentences.

  • Honeybee

    Ok seriously, I hate pageants too. Alot. But your post here is basically implying that beautiful women can’t also be smart, and that’s not cool. We get enough of those stereotypes already, please don’t contribute to them.

  • Tenya

    In the entire world? It would be one thing if the judge asked her how her own country is doing in terms of the equality, where there could be a lot of parity. In the United States, although I think there is still a lot of work to be done to overcome sexism in jobs and many arenas of equality even in developed countries (my experience being in the United States). But the judge asked about the world, and you and she are seriously saying that women in Mali, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, China, Iran, etc. have total equality with men?
    I call canned anti-feminism answer, not wanting to appear to unattractively feminist.

  • LalaReina

    As a Latina I died inside–but at least she isn’t Puerto Rican…

  • Lisa


  • Jjuliaava

    HILARIOUS!! Soooo funny! Thanks Jessica! I’m still laughing—made my day!

  • Jennifer

    Am I the only one where the video is dubbed over in Spanish??? I don’t speak Spanish… anyone know where I could find the video in English? And why was a video in Spanish posted here anyway?

  • Jennifer

    Go away troll.

  • visibility

    hoping this is sarcasm.

  • Nicole

    Mucon7 for the win.

  • Nicole

    Did you watch the whole thing? The video Jessica posted starts out dubbed over in Spanish, but you hear the question and answer (through a translator) in English. That’s what I see, anyway…

  • Kandace

    That’s not what she was saying at all. Take a breath. She was just saying that at least she articulated herself clearly, as opposed to the other video from last year, where the girl just stuttered over herself the entire time and REALLY contributed to the beautiful-women-are-dumb stereotype.

  • Terrils

    Some of us think a woman who signs up to flash her T&A in a beauty pageant is automatically disqualified from the “intelligent” designation.

  • alwayshopeful

    I usually wouldn’t defend something like this, I get touchy about Spanish.
    While her comment wasn’t particularly feminist, it wasn’t actually horrendously sexist. The translation of the question from English into Spanish was awkwardly phrased, and her response didn’t actually say much. She used several words that could be interpreted in various ways, and ultimately, I’m willing to bet that the implication behind her pageant speak was something along the lines of “women and men should be equal” or “women are capable of achieving as much as men”, rather than “we’re already equal, no more work to be done.” It wasn’t insightful, she didn’t answer the question, but really, it wasn’t as awful as it could have been. Of course, she could have meant what is being interpreted, but unless she clarifies her response, it’s really hard to know.
    All this was was a soundbite. All the question was was a soundbite. I’d almost rather take issue with the question asked than the answer given – why ask about whether women can get to roles of high responsibility in corporations when women around the world are suffering physical violence?

  • jenniferlpozner

    I’m actually writing about reality TV depictions of pageants in my book, “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV.”
    Miss America was FINALLY kicked off of network television, because the ratings were so terrible that it wasn’t worth it to the major nets to air it any longer.
    Then… wouldn’t you know it, reality TV swooped in and brought that regressive BS back to television. Now, instead of one three-hour-long antifeminist parade, we have an entire TLC reality series called “Race for the Crown,” which makes the Miss America pageant contestants compete in weekly challenges, so that we can judge (and ridicule) the women’s appearances, bodies, personalities and intellectual abilities (or lack thereof) on a weekly basis. The series then culminates with the airing of the full pageant.
    In my book, I discuss how this is incredibly fitting for reality TV, since the genre has always been rooted in antifeminist ideology and has always hawked a pre-feminist, regressive, revisionist version of what American “reality” is supposed to be today. They couldn’t let Miss America fade away… they had to revive her in the service of the genre’s backlash messaging.
    I will also likely be writing about the baby & toddler beauty pageants, such as Toddlers & Tiaras, and Little Miss Perfect, in the book.
    If anyone has ideas, comments or articles/blog posts you think I should see related to reality TV and pageants (or beauty/body ideas in general), let me know at Twitter (my handle’s jennpozner) or email me at director[at]wimnonline[dot]org.

  • aleks

    Some are prettier (more to my visual taste I guess) than others. I could certainly never say one was prettier than all the others, although I’m curious in the abstract how GF would react.

  • aleks

    I don’t know any women who don’t think it’s Sayeed.

  • aleks

    Normal beauty pageants are just silly to me, but the ones for kids are outright child abuse. Yuck.

  • NapoleonInRags

    And some of ‘us’ are apparently slut shaming, anti-feminist trolls.

  • timothy_nakayama

    From my experience and personal group of friends and acquantainces, I find that it is the women who are far more interested in watching beauty pageants, whereas the guys are like ‘meh’. Same thing with the Oscars.

  • Kurumi & Cheese

    I fail to see how Survivor or American Idol are “rooted in antifeminist ideology.” Or Food Network, which is my preferred venue for reality TV. Something tells me your book will be focusing on a very narrow definition of “Biggest Loser/ANTM” type of reality TV. Not all or even most reality TV is like that.
    But hey, I know it’s fun to make sweeping generalizations in an effort to appear to be one of the “cool” kids. My brother does that too. “All reality TV sucks!!” Wow. Insightful.

  • Honeybee

    Sadly I think you may be right. I have a few female friends who are all over these pageants and watch them every year. Can’t say I know any guys who are the same.

  • Honeybee

    Surely you mean Sawyer…

  • Honeybee

    I find this comment seriously offensive.

  • noalarms

    as a Venezuelan (queer, feminist, anti-pageant) woman, i feel the need to step in here and explain a little bit of what this is about.
    yes, venezuela has a huge pageant industry. yes, racism is alive and well there and dark-skinned women don’t win as often. yes, women are severely bombarded with negative body images and often encouraged to do anything to stay skinny and ‘improve’ themselves with plastic surgery. yes, most of the women competing here are wealthy and very privileged. but all of these things are true here as well, and we’re not better than anyone else here.
    i think that one of the reasons that latinas get so excited about things like this is because it’s something that our countries can win. colonialism, structural adjustment programs, and years of greedy foreign policy on the side of bully countries like the united states have created some really nasty shit, shit that has, coincidentally, led to a mass emigration from latin america to the very countries that fucked us over. it has also left our countries with very few resources for things like arts programs, women’s sports, and other extracurriculars. if you’re a woman the big dream is to be miss universe, and if you’re a guy the big dream is to become a baseball player (a sport that can be played pretty cheaply and, much like soccer in other countries that have been made poor through this shit, is popular – but not ladylike) in the u.s., because venezuela can’t pay what the u.s. can.
    i’m not saying that pageants aren’t expensive, because they are. but the girls don’t pay for any of it – this is big business, and scouts will find young women and make big promises and pay for dietitians, personal trainers, and yes, plastic surgery. and in a place where being a beauty queen in a source of national pride, who is in a position to deny that? who doesn’t want to come home a hero?
    obviously there are other opportunities for women, but this shit is pushed down our throats. yours truly went to a miss universe finishing school, and i have to say i loved every second of it, dreaming of my future glamorous life traveling around as the most beautiful lady in the universe. i am now (obviously) repulsed by these contests, and it makes me sad to see the women in my family and my circle of friends – smart, feisty, strong women – play into all of it. but just saying that this is gross really underplays a whole history of colonialism and exploitation, and serves to obscure the experiences of women of color and “developing-world” women. it’s easy to be an upper-middle-class, educated, white feminist and to trash this shit without context. it’s less easy to go into the nuances.

  • Genevieve PlusCourageuse

    Since you have yet to read her book and since she didn’t mention anything about the shows which you find more egalitarian, I fail to see how you can judge it as “mak[ing] sweeping generalizations in an effort to appear to be one of the “cool” kids.”
    Also, it’s doubtful that even shows like Survivor and American Idol don’t have their moments of sexism or other elements ripe for feminist analysis.

  • aleks

    I don’t know who that is but I have it on the best authority that you’re wrong.

  • jenniferlpozner

    I’ve been monitoring reality television in a systemic manner for a decade, and am working on a nuanced analysis of the genre’s representations of women, race, class, sexuality, masculinity, consumerism — as well as the influence of advertising and product placement over the kinds of shows that are created, and the types of challenges, characters, dialog and plotlines/story arcs that are developed.
    So, yeah, if that’s what you consider “sweeping generalizations,” then oooh, burn, you must’ve nailed me.
    As for failing to see how reality TV is rooted in antifeminist ideology, that’s an explanation I can’t sum up in a comment. But I’ll get back to you with an answer of approx. 100,000 words… in 2010. Speaking of, back I go to writing…

  • jenniferlpozner

    PS: By no means is the book limited to Biggest Loser/America’s Next Top Model. In addition to those, just a few of the shows I’m covering include, in no order whatsoever and spanning nine years of programming:
    The Bachelor
    Who Wants To Marry A MultiMillionaire
    Joe Millionaire
    Flavor of Love
    I Love NY
    Real Chance of Love
    Real Housewives
    Simple Life
    Project Runway
    Flip That House
    Flipping Out
    What Not To Wear
    American Idol
    The Apprentice
    A Shot At Love with Tila Tequila
    The Cougar
    Paris Hilton’s My New BFF
    Run’s House
    Tool Academy
    The Pick Up Artist
    Beauty and the Geek
    Average Joe
    More To Love
    For Love or Money
    The Real World
    The Restaurant
    Meet My Folks
    The Amazing Race
    The Cho Show
    The Scholar
    The Swan
    Dr. 90210
    Extreme Makeover
    Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
    The Secret Millionaire
    Oprah’s Big Give
    …and many more.
    Some of the shows I’ll be writing about (for example, The Cho Show, Big Give, Secret Millionaire, Project Runway, etc.) have some elements that are positive. But the majority of popular network reality television does involve antifeminist messaging. And certainly the genre was built in large part on shows that exploited antifeminist backlash ideology: without initial genre-shaping sexist shows such as Who Wants to Marry A MultiMillionaire, The Bachelor and America’s Next Top Model, smaller networks like The Food Network wouldn’t have started to create reality TV shows at all — so the fact that some reality TV shows are not particularly sexist (for ex., some on the Food Network) does not in any way negate the fact that the genre is rooted in antifeminist ideology, that it overarchingly traffics in sexism (and classism, and increasingly as the genre progressed, racism), and that it functions as cultural backlash against women.

  • aleks

    I’d feel lame watching it without female company.

  • synergy

    Aw too bad. The video has been removed for infringement or somesuch.

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