Miss Universe winners in 1930/ Joseph M. Maurer/ Wikimedia Commons
Let’s be honest – pop culture hasn’t always been kind to women. Or particularly feminist. Or woke. And just when we think things are getting better, some problematic show comes back for season 75 and you want to pull your hair out. There are certain pop culture phenomena that keep coming back like never-ending herpes, but one such event reigns supreme in the “I can’t believe this shit is still relevant” category in my mind: the Miss Universe pageant.
In my view, nearly everything about this annual, global event screams sexism. Tall, slim women are paraded around on stage in blinging dresses and expected to solve international crises in 20 seconds and constantly endure creepy jokes from the male hosts (seriously, why do they always seem to be male hosts?). Oh, and remember Donald Trump used to own the enterprise and he allegedly used to burst into the dressing rooms to perve because, well he’s Donald Trump. But in a modern, more equal world, is Miss Universe sexist? Is it even relevant? And why the hell is it still on TV?
I recall watching last year’s Miss Universe New Zealand. Because I’m a masochist. Right from the beginning, the audience was bombarded by a myriad of blatant advertising – from the horrifically named Stiletto Camp where the women get made up, photographed and taught how to walk in heels to what seemed like a commercial for Tourism Thailand. We barely even meet the contestants who just wander around aimlessly with their numbered tags. Who are they? Why are they here? What’s their story? Must they stay silent behind their glitter and plunging necklines? Yes Offred. Under His eye.
I personally hate pageants. I have been to a couple to support friends and it’s all family fun until you’re assaulted by the swimsuit section. It’s like when you used to go to Show Boys, overdose on Sambuca shots, then wobble upstairs to Show Girls and instantly feel your vulva retreat unto itself. It’s awkward, creepy and unnecessary. Miss Universe NZ thankfully dropped the section in 2012, as did various other pageants such as Miss America. But a deranged version of it still exists – from a swimsuit photoshoot in the NZ version to ‘modesty sarongs’ in the US version. Why is this travesty still allowed? WHY? What is the relevance? Do we even need women in bikinis in a world where we are already surrounded by outrageously brutal pornography? Fuck the bikini.
Miss Universe also makes it a policy to ban any woman who has been married, is in a relationship, has ever given birth or parented children. For real. And they take this outdated nonsense seriously. In 2012, Miss Universe USA took away the winner’s crown after it surfaced that she was married. She was in the process of seeking an annulment but that apparently wasn’t good enough for the paegent organisers. Even more terrible is the fact that even if a woman has ever had an abortion, they cannot compete. Yay, another organisation that gets a say over your reproductive choices for no actual real reason.
What makes me even more angry is the amount of money contestants must pay to take part. This brilliant piece from Last Week Tonight explored some of the misleading ways Miss America gives scholarships (i.e. they make way more money than they give away). It is normal to pay to enter many competitions and Miss Universe NZ is no different. They do note the fees on the website for the sake of transparency, which is great, but there are a lot of fees. In order to even compete you have to attend the Stiletto Camp for $99 (which doesn’t include the trip to Auckland). If you make the Top 20, you are then required to pay an additional $1,475 to help fund your trip to the retreat, which last year was in Thailand. Then it’s up to you to get the public to vote for you AND to bring in more sponsorship. Even though the show already has numerous sponsors and the whole thing is one giant advertisement.*
The pageant was first held in 1954 in New Zealand and though it has constantly revamped itself to ‘modernise’, in my view it is still ridiculously sexist.
If you really want to make something that would help young women to achieve, then give them an actual scholarship. Give them money instead of asking them for it so that they can use it to help fund their dreams instead of being paraded around on a Skycity stage. Perhaps they’ll use that money to come up with something fresh, new and exciting that helps to support women in a more equal and fair way. Perhaps they’ll use that money for something where women are not made to compete against each other based on their looks. I for one, am tired of ranting about the same ol’ issues. Come on Miss Universe, up your game. We are all better than this.* Villainnnesse did reach out to Miss Universe NZ regarding our questions around these fees but they have yet to respond. Support Villainesse