Lebanese immigrant wins Miss USA, right wingers lose it

Rima Fakih covers her mouth with her hand after being crowned Miss USAI am no fan of the Miss USA competition or its skeevy owner Donald Trump. But I do think it’s significant that Rima Fakih, who is Lebanese, Muslim, and an immigrant, won this year’s competition yesterday. Fakih is likely the first Arab American, Muslim or immigrant to win Miss USA. If nothing else this says something about shifting standards of beauty in a culture dominated by representations of white women as attractive. Fakih shows young Muslim and Lebanese girls that they too can be considered beautiful. Yes, part of a fucked up system of beauty, but this is still a meaningful change.

I’m also pretty excited by Fakih’s answer to a question about birth control:

During the interview portion, Fakih was asked whether she thought birth control should be paid for by health insurance, and she said she believed it should because it’s costly.

“I believe that birth control is just like every other medication even though it’s a controlled substance,” Fakih said.

Glad that’s the answer associated with the competition’s winner, especially since the first runner-up, Morgan Elizabeth Woolard, expressed support for Arizona’s racist new immigration law in her interview.

And of course right wingers are flipping out about a Muslim winning the competition (doesn’t really matter that Fakih identifies as both Muslim and Christian). From TAPPED:

Michelle Malkin is savvy enough to mostly cloak her freak-out behind horror over Fakih’s politics (although she can’t resist a dig at those “identity politics” people), while other conservative bloggers just go ahead and call her a terrorist. Professional Islamophobe Daniel Pipes combs the internet for other instances in which Muslim women have won beauty contests, and concludes there’s some kind of “an odd form of affirmative action” going on. Because how could anyone choose a Muslim over a “real American” in a beauty contest?

Makes it pretty hard to buy claims folks aren’t racist, they just hate Muslims and Arabs because they hate the U.S. Because what’s more mainstream “American” than competing in and winning the Miss USA contest?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • DeafBrownTrash

    I also hate beauty contests as much as you do, but I am very pleased a Muslim woman/Arab/immigrant won Miss USA this year. it was about 5 years ago that a Muslim/Afghan/Uzbek woman won the Miss England beauty contest. I also remember in 1995 when Heather Whitestone became the first Deaf/Disabled woman to win Miss America. That was an important moment for me and many other Deaf girls when we were young. she was an inspiration to us all. (although I heard she recently married a Republican politician. GROSS!!!)
    I love the hilariously pathetic uproar from the right winger scumbags. What, you morons? Does Miss USA have to be white, blonde, and Christian? Oh, right,, of course !!!
    I wonder if there was a similar uproar from racist morons in 1984 when Vanessa Williams became the first black woman to become Miss America?

  • Toongrrl

    Probably, Vanessa Williams is a beautiful, intelligent, sophisticated woman who supported the ERA at the time and was quickly kicked off her crown when her lesbian pics resurfaced in “Penthouse”. But she went on to star a successful career that includes playing roles reminiscent of the Great Bette Davis

  • annaleighclark

    I loathe pageants, especially Miss USA, and I was surprised at how pleased I was that this woman won–not only representing a (slowly) changing standard of beauty and the “American woman,” but also saying a big fuck-yeah to publicly funded birth control. AND she was Miss Michigan. As someone from Michigan, a state that has been thoroughly kicked around in the international media as if we’re nothing more than a militia-breeding gas-guzzling battleground of industrial decline, it’s nice to see the state celebrated a bit. And the winner is from Dearborn, the city with the highest population of of Arab Americans outside the Middle East — letting the world know of the diversity in Michigan.

  • blue

    I’m very pleased Fakih won because she seemed the most genuine.
    However, I don’t think it is fair to accuse Woodlord of supporting Arizona’s immigration laws. Woodlord was asked whether she felt a law like that should be administered by the state or federal government. She chose the state government. She never said it was right, and answering a question about wether or not a law should be the domain of the state of fed government does not automatically mean she supports said law.

  • Suffering Sappho

    I already saw a report on E! News about pictures of her on a stripper pole. She’s wearing a tank and shorts (more clothing than the swimsuit competition or the lingerie shoot all the contestants participated in), but I can already see the “Girls Gone Wild” commentaries already.

  • Anonymous

    Arabs see themselves as Caucasian. They can be quite light-skinned. This is an ethnic diversity issue, not a racial one. Semitic people as a whole are Caucasian. Of course, all racial categories are arbitrary, since there are no “pure” races, and therefore no true racial differences. However, if you want to make some kind of point about race, it’s a little weird to contrast Arabs and “white people”.

  • Unequivocal

    With the exception of Malkin, I don’t think the people voicing these reactions are exactly “high profile.”
    I think it’s awesome that a Muslim won Miss USA, and I hate the right as much as anyone, but I think it might be reaching a bit to characterize Gateway Pundit and Debbie Schlussel as the voice of conservatives everywhere.
    Again, I think we can demonize the conservative right quite effectively without pretending that they are uniformly saying things that they aren’t. Just my two cents.

  • Jessica Lee

    Ugh, I’m so sick of ignorant people, and bigotry against Arabs and Muslims, when the people talking shit clearly don’t know ANYTHING about Arab or Muslim culture. I’m no expert, but I’ve met enough Arabs and Muslims that are nothing like the stereotypes we see in the media. In fact, a lot of Muslim/Arabs I’ve met and befriended are the most progressive people I know. They’re all college-aged students, so that’s probably a factor, but that’s enough for me to not believe the stereotypes.
    I understand that this is just my experience, and I don’t extend it to everyone of a certain “group”, but I’m glad I don’t go into freakout mode because an Arab-American Muslim woman won Miss USA, because my experiences have proved the hateful stereotypes wrong.

  • Jessica Lee

    Also, can Michelle Malkin get a fucking clue already? I just love how she ignores the oppression POC have faced (which includes herself, obviously) and makes claims of “race politics” or “race hustling” (what the hell?! Didn’t know I could freebase race now! I wonder if it’s lucrative?) whenever an honest discussion about race comes up (Exhibit A: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTg5Ap8GpN4).
    I apologize if that screamed of white privilege or that I thought I knew more about POC than a WOC, but Michelle Malkin is one of the biggest racists on the political scene, in my opinion.
    But back to this story. God forbid people are happy to see someone who stands a little outside of America’s typical beauty mold (even if she does have certain qualities that are considered “beautiful” by our standards, such as her thinness)!

  • every-piece

    I’m not surprised by the right-wing disgust that an immigrant woman won (and go her, by the way!), but I *am* surprised at the flip-out over her statement that she believes birth control should be free; in my country, it is, for everyone who needs it (I’m a trans woman and for a while took birth control pills as HRT, and pharmacies usually refused to take payment even when I explained it wasn’t for birth/period control), and I sort of assumed it was that way everywhere. Sigh.

  • Tracey T

    I’m gonna nerd it up, but:
    In America, it is perfectly reasonable and accurate to contrast Arabs with white people. During the time period when only caucasians could immigrate and get citizenship status, an Indian man who had been in the U.S. a great number of years applied for citizenship because he was caucasian. The courts (I believe it went all the way to the Supreme Court) struck down his attempt with the explanation that when the law says caucasian it really means white. So, in America, caucasian isn’t used to mean someone actually grouped as caucasian, but someone who is white-white, and that includes at one time Italians, all Jews, Irish who were not considered white.
    The same reasoning can be seen applied to the term “colored.” An East-Asian man in the south argued before the courts that his daughter should go to the better-funded white school b/c the “colored” one was really just for blacks. The courts of course struck this down.
    So, in America, being caucasian has always meant white-white (which excludes eastern-Europe and white Jews at various points), and this is even verified by some of the higest courts in the land.

  • Tracey T

    I am sooooo upset by this. When it comes to beauty pagents it seems to break down like this:
    Pole dance in shorts, a tank top and high heels (which are actually really helpful for many pole dancing moves): you’re a slut who may not deserve the crown and is sending a bad message to young women.
    Stand on stage in a bikini and high heels (not sure what high heels in a bikini help with, besides elevating the booty): why aren’t you lovely? Exactly the kind of person we want representing America.
    So in other words ladies, make sure you present yourself for scrutiny in an appeasing manner, but for goodness sakes do so in an “appropriate” manner!!!! Maybe we aren’t suppose to move around that much?

  • OKathyS

    Fuck you, Daniel Pipes.

  • Robyn

    Cool, where’s the Native american Miss USAs now?
    You know, the people who were actually here in the US first.

  • dark_morgaine

    Oh yes. From the fetishized images of Native American women, you’d think they would have won long ago. But of course, then we’d have to admit that they are still here, and a vibrant part of society.

  • Toongrrl

    How is stripper poles different from bikinis??

  • Anony-mouse

    A number of Lebanese I’ve met have considered themselves white. Other places in the world are not bound by American definitions of race.