Racism During Woman-Objectifying Contest

Usually I ignore beauty pageants/contestants.  They’re generally nauseating and do very little to make me feel secure as a woman who doesn’t measure up to female expectations.  There’s also the whole issue of the inherent sexism of parading women around in various outfits like Barbie dolls and then voting on which is the prettiest and thus most deserving of a prize.



But my interest was piqued because a lot of people are talking about this year’s winner Nina Davuluri.  Specifically talking about the incredible racism she’s been subjected to on social media sites like twitter.  Most people being unable to differentiate between Ms. Davuluri and an arabic woman.  Its pretty significant because Ms. Davuluri is the first Indian-American woman to win the title of Miss America.  I got to thinking “So how many women of color have been Miss America anyway?”

The list of Miss America title owners was easy to find.  The last Asian-American woman to win was in 2001 who was also consequently the only Asian-American to ever win Miss America.  There’s been a few black women to have won the title in the past 20 years but in the sea of faces of white beauty its still obviously an institution dedicated to reinforcing white standards of beauty and femininity.  This is a serious problem.  The United States is a very diverse nation and women of color need to be visible in all its institutions.  So often the case is that they are not.

So while it can be argued to be a good thing that there is more representation of women of color in these institutions.  Its begging an even bigger question.  Why do we have beauty pageants at all?  Why are girls learning that their beauty is something they must compete with other girls over?  Why are girls being encouraged to put so much effort into time consuming, harmful beauty practices that restrict their ability to move and be active, that restrict the type of work and jobs they can perform?  Why must women continually be in a position of one step forwards, two steps back when it comes to our ability to be public figures?

During the second wave of feminism, women went after Miss America and everything it represented.  Women as pacified, smiling (now with added veneers and bleach!) fuck-objects.  It isn’t a flattering thing to be Miss America.  Its like being the best trophy-wife at the golf club.  So why are we still being subjected to this insulting garbage every year?  The analyses I’ve read of this situation haven’t been asking that question.  Even on supposed feminist sites like Jezebel the analysis is “whoa look at those fucking racists.”  Which is something, but it isn’t touching on the misogyny of the situation.  Why on earth did it ever come to be that a young woman like Nina Davuluri decide that she wanted to enter beauty competitions in the first place?

All women suffer from the mythos of beauty.  Some suffering more than others.  We as women need to all stop participating in our own oppression, and consequently the oppression of other women by giving credibility to the concept of beauty entirely.  Image


3 responses to “Racism During Woman-Objectifying Contest

  1. I agree. I think the problem is about the basic erosion of feminism. Part of that is how the men in control of governments freaked out at the increasing numbers of race-oppressed and class-oppressed women getting access to the free universities that existed in the late Sixties and Seventies. For the first time, more oppressed women, including Lesbians, had time to think and organize, and it was possible to rent a cheap room in a group Lesbian Feminist house, which held meetings and acted as women’s centers. And it also was cheap to rent spaces for Lesbian Feminist events, coffee houses, bookstores, concerts, readings, dances, etc., so we could meet and be together as activists. Once, it looked like all women were going to come out as Radical Lesbian Feminists.

    One way to stop this was to change the economy to where most women, except for the most privileged (who are not usually radical since they are more invested in patriarchy), are close to being homeless or working constantly to survive (and are still close to homeless.)

    I think that deliberate change did most of the damage to Radical Feminism, yet the blame is aimed at us, though many of us never quit and do continue.

    So there was a break in community and loss of community. The influx of porn, sado-masochism, and genderqueer politics that came from outside (from bisexual and het women, gay and het men) into our Radical Lesbian communities did tremendous damage, as did the increasing academicizing of feminism. We no longer had the Radical Lesbian newspapers and journals. The books in libraries and bookstores were replaced by the porn and liberal academic classist drivel. (You can see the change in old publications where Lesbian Feminists stopped describing the important parts of themselves in bios and began to list only their privilege and academic credentials.)

    There was a break in thought and politics. What was known was lost or not carried into the future.

    So, instead of public protest about the sexism and also racism of these “beauty” contests, the liberal discussion (if there is any) is about trying to stop caring about looking “‘beautiful” — as if what the men tell us is “beautiful” actually is, rather than recognizing these media images as grotesque and ugly, and the opposite of beauty.

    But posts like this are helping to continue true Radical Feminism.

  2. Hello, Terri. I’ve been following your blog for several years as a teenage radical-feminist. Your analysis and conclusions are absolutely spot-on. If more women stopped to analyze how some of their behaviors contribute to the promulgation of patriarchal standards, perhaps the status of women in contemporary society could be alleviated. Even in my high school, I observe teenage girls objectify themselves with ridiculously-revealing outfits that their parents permit them to wear without any criticism whatsoever. Damn these natalists…

  3. I think it is very key to continue, like you are doing, to point out that beauty isn’t just crappy because some women can’t live up to it and therefore lose the beauty contest of life. No women can fully live up to it, which is why, when they feel that they have finally, finally achieved that impossible feat (being a woman who is “enough”), even the most conventionally attractive women weep with relief (cf. all Miss America winners ever). Btw, the “vomit” caption on the picture in this post was a nice touch.

    One thing that continues to be an interest of mine is specifically attending to the ways in which beauty and femininity “restrict [our] ability to move and be active.” I don’t think that amongst ourselves women talk enough about how restrictive femininity is, in a very bodily and everyday sense. For me, I think my daily struggle growing up to merely exist, in a female body, in a way that was not “out of bounds,” was extremely formative and inspired an early attention to and rejection of femininity. Unfortunately, the brainwashing never FULLY goes away… at least not yet.

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