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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Beauty pageants: the lousiest way of empowering women

While a woman from India or Venezuela parroting some sentences and blurting out them to 'judges' is made out to be a 'genius', an 'angel' and even 'savior' of the women, the real women working their days and nights to make lives of other fellow women better are simply lost in oblivion; unless they are crowned 'CNN Hero' or something like that. Is their any better way to disempower and humiliate the womenkind than that?

Once upon a time, when radical ideas appealed to me more than anything else, I used to see the participants, the organizers and the admirers of beauty contests as people with flawed faculty of judgment, lying somewhere between plain stupid and idiot.

That is no longer the case but I continue to have objections to such contests at any level: from local infant contests (teenager contests are there and I am not sure if there are ones for less than one year old) to the so called 'Miss world' contests.

While it is cumbersome to list all my objections to this business, my central objection is on the notion that it empowers women. This is like saying a lottery program enriches people. It is not an absolute lie because one out of thousands gets indeed rich but it is utterly nonsensical to draw a conclusion that it 'makes people rich'. Same way with beauty contest, except for the fact that I doubt it really empowers even few of the winners.

Who is beautiful: Miss world 2013 or Charimaya Tamang? Answer to this question exposes the farce that beauty contests do empower women. (Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons and Complete Nepal Blog, used under fair use policy)

While one may doubt the use of the term 'exploitation' to indicate the relationship between the winners of beauty contests and the big MNCs sponsoring them, the relationship is far from empowering the woman. It is no coincidence that the sponsors of most such programs happen to be producing one or the other 'beautifier' of the woman with special focus at whitening the skin.

Mathematics gives the answer to the question as to why these companies are bent on dragging even the kids to such contests: out of 7 billion+ people in the world, 3.5 billion+ are of female sex. If the infants, toddlers and white women are to be excluded, still there remain 2 billion+ girls/women with some degree of darkness in their skin. If all of them could be seduced to whiten their skin even slightly, that makes sense as the way to make stupendously large amount of money.

The diverse nationalities and races of the winners of past world contests of this kind shows the massive social engineering done by the companies: wherever there is the untapped market of such women in the earth, send the crown there, accompanied by the advertisement featuring the admired face of the winner of the contest.

Anyone with more than half a brain will be convinced that this is indeed the primary purpose of such contests and not the apparently erratic attempt at 'developing the personality' of some woman here and there. There are, however, people who argue that even though the prime objective is to enrich the companies, what harm is there in letting some young women to participate in the event and to enjoy the privileges? The more ardent supporters of such contests, however, would say with bellicosity: how can you ignore that the contests really instill confidence in the women, give them opportunities to develop themselves and significantly empower them?

While the winners and even the participants of such contests indeed gain some privileges personally, the belief that such contests really empower any feminine person is a hoax. Examining the bush instead of a tree makes it clear that the whole contest is the result of unholy marriage between oppressive patriarchy and a ruthless market.

Let me give one example of how ramifications of patriarchy come to distort the perception of people on such issues: during an anti-rape protest in India, I saw a placard reading 'Mard Rape nahi karta' (meaning 'A man does not rape'). The very concept of a 'Mard' for the male and 'Namarda' for the female envisages an unequal and coercive relationship between the people of two genders. In many societies, the tendency of the violent males to  harass the females, particularly the wife, is equated with his 'Mardangi' or manhood. The slogan, instead of directly objecting to the sexual violence, resorts to the lopsided appeal of morality and honor implying that the rapist is a 'Namarda'  or like a female!

In a recent column, R Benedito Ferrao has sketched the parallel between the recent crowning (an absurd and outdated word from the feudal era) of an Indian American as the Miss America and that of an Ethiopian-Israeli girl as Miss Israel this year. He has contrasted the runaway publicity that the crowning got in Israel with the suffocating silence of the media about the forced injection of Depo-provera in thousand other women of Ethiopian origin in Israel resulting in decline in their birth rate; literally a process of slow castration. 

While entering the politics of such contests risks making this article unreadable because of its bulk, I want to stress that the contests are not as benevolent and noble as they appear. The mass hysteria around such contests including some recent contest in which some Nepali woman has reportedly reached top 10 list or so, is idiocy according to someone more staunchly opposed to them than me. I would stop short of calling them idiots but a constant refusal to see the big picture while being fixated at the media glare around some contestants demands a sort of serious introspection on part of anyone who takes such contexts seriously, I mean in a positive way.

Now the travesty of all: while a woman from India or Venezuela parroting some words and blurting out them to 'judges' is made out to be a 'genius', an 'angel' and even 'savior' of the women, the real women working their days and nights to make lives of other fellow women better are simply lost in oblivion; unless they are crowned 'CNN Hero' or something like that. Is their any better way to disempower the women in general than that? I don't think so.

(For a more theoretical arguments on the subject, read this article by Indra Dhoj Kshetri: Construction of beauty: a post-colonial and neo-Marxist discourse)

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