Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 14th 2013 Contents B16
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, November 14, 2013
The UK has never won Miss Universe. T&T has
won it twice, and one Miss World. A bit like the
English football fans boast: two world wars and
one World Cup.
Should the fact that a nation of 60 million has
never won and a nation of 1.3 million has won twice
be sources of national shame and/or pride? Are we
Brits ashamed at decades of failure? No. We don t
even know when the competition is on. Are Trinis
proud of Wendy Fitzwilliam and Penny Commissiong?
Yes. And that s okay too.
For Brits it s an outdated competition that Venezuela
wins every year. Trinis, meanwhile, love to win it.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated
the champ Gabriela Isler on Twitter, describing her
victory a triumph for Venezuela.
If PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar tweeted that, had
Catherine Millar won, most Trinis would have cheered.
Beauty contests here are still a source of fascination
and pride. If Brit PM David Cameron had tweeted
a similar thing, there would
be an outcry in Britain, not
least from feminists. It
would spark a national
In Britain, Miss Universe
is seen as embarrassingly
sexist. Is this fair? Are pag-
eants harmless or harmful?
There are arguments for
and against. Examining
them properly requires a
shift of cultural relativism.
As anthropologist Franz
Boas said: "Civilisation is
not something absolute...
our ideas and conceptions
are true only so far as our civilisation goes."
The British attitude leans on traditional feminism;
women s moves in the 1960s and 70s to discard
longstanding conceptions of gender roles that shackled
women to specific ideals: that they should be pretty
(and that prettiness was a woman s ultimate defining
That they should be housewives (domesticated
creatures who had the dinner on the table by 6 pm),
that they should be chaste not sexualised (except
when required to be by men). Meek not loud (sub-
missiveness and subservience being desirable for
men), that they should not aspire to a professional
career (no need, that was a man s job). That they
should marry (because having a husband was val-
idation that they conformed to all of the above.)
In some ways Miss Universe cements these views.
Women parade on stage in bikinis or formal dresses
(sexualised and de-sexualised), they wear heavy
make-up (so we can see how pretty they are), they
deliver polite, unambitious speeches not political
powerful ones, their career ambitions apparently
extend only to being looked at, photographed, judged.
As to seeking husbands, it s confusing. The rules
state: "Contestants may not be married or pregnant.
They must not have ever been married, nor given
birth to, or parented, a child." Thus the title, "Miss",
is very relevant. It s not Mrs or Ms Universe.
The logical explanation must be that for women
to be appealing in pageantry they must be youthful
girls not women; chaste, virginal even. The idea
that a woman in her 20s could have three children
and still be beautiful seems to be a non-starter.
My mother, an old school feminist, rejects the
title "Miss" entirely. She is Ms Surtees not Mrs
nor Miss which are identifiers of a woman as mar-
ried or unmarried---sexist because there is no male
Modern feminism has evolved from the old school
elements of the women s movement which sought
an overthrow of the "girly girls," and "pretty ladies"
image, replaced by an image of strong women.
Women, matriarchs, are strong so why shouldn t
they appear thus, like female figureheads
of yore---Boadicea, Cleopatra, Nanny of
the Maroons, Emmeline Pankhurst? The
usual manifestation of this was women
with short hair and dungarees at Greenham
Now, feminism says women can express
themselves as they wish, including being
models or pin-ups. Femininity is not seen
as mutually exclusive to female power. In
fact it is now seen that it can elevate female
power. In T&T feminity is celebrated. As
well it might be. The lack of a feminist
movement, however, means the reasons
for celebrating female beauty are unde-
If it is simply that women are there to
be passively looked at, admired, consumed
by men, that is a problem. But the reality
is fans of beauty pageants are almost exclu-
On my first day at work it was a woman
who asked me to look at the contestants
for Miss T&T World, to which my response
was "are you serious?" She was serious
and pageants are taken seriously here.
Perhaps if there was gender equality in
pageantry; a male equivalent, Mr Universe,
complete with Speedo rounds, tuxedo
rounds, make-up, smiles and asinine
speeches about world peace, I might take
the whole thing more seriously.
Play Miss T&T for me
be that for women
to be appealing in
must be youthful
girls not women;
even. The idea that
a woman in her 20s
could have three
children and still be
beautiful seems to
be a non-starter.
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