LUGAR LANG| Every Woman’s Journey

I’M NOT a Miss Universe hater. But I AM a feminist, and I witness everything with this particular lens. That is my power and my folly. And beauty pageants have always been rejected by the feminist movement as a venue for the exploitation and commodification of women; that is to say, the contestants are treated as sexual objects, particularly by the male gaze, as well as used for advertising the host country and a wide range of products. After all, who can resist ogling a bevy of beauties walking around in skimpy clothing with the sole purpose of winning a crown that proves one as the most beautiful woman in the universe? It’s a pillar of the patriarchy that has been one of the hardest to topple.

In the ETC television special “Journey to the Crown,” 2015 Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach is shown saying, “Beauty is power…This is every woman’s journey to the crown.” I do think she’s beautiful, but I hope she was just reading the stupid script. I hope she doesn’t really believe that it is every woman’s dream to become a beauty queen. The entire machinery has been promoting this salient bit about Pia’s own journey: that she had joined the Philippine pageant three times before she won the crown that allowed her to compete in Miss Universe and finally triumph. She herself has milked it for all it’s worth, always saying that she is living proof that our dreams are worth fighting for. Sure. But to say that a pageant crown is every woman’s dream is plain wrong. It is a throwback to dark times when women were worth nothing unless they were beautiful because their existence was meant solely to catch a wealthy man.

Surely we are living in different times.

The clearest indication that the times have changed is the candidates themselves. This year, it was surprising to hear that some of them are studying microbiology, law, forensic science. Miss USA, in particular, is a commander in the Armed Forces, who won her crown on the strength of her message of gender equality in the military. Although our current Miss Philippines has been (justly) criticized for her English and her lack of substance in various Q & As, it must be noted that the Philippines had once fielded a candidate, Shamcey Supsup, who had completed her degree in Architecture, magna cum laude, from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She also topped the Philippine board exam for architects. She finished 3rd runner up in the 2011 Miss Universe. Of course she remains the exception rather than the rule in the Philippines.

Another indication of evolution in the pageant culture is the Question and Answer portion. While it is not a secret to aficionados that Miss Universe winners are sometimes chosen for political reasons, the questions have clearly taken more political shades. Very far from the old “What is the essence of a woman” of times past, this year’s questions revolved around leadership, global borders, human rights. For instance, “What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the world in the last ten years,” the question drawn by Miss Philippines, could have been answered more lucidly in order to draw attention to global problems like climate change. But it was not to be. One can only answer from one’s own perspective, and Maxine Medina has a severely limited one.

In the end, the woman who won the crown, Miss France, wasn’t the prettiest contestant, but I think she gave the best answers, that is, most responsive to the questions and reflective of pressing global concerns. I was actually rooting for Miss Haiti, which would have sent a strong post-colonial message in a distinctly diverse set of candidates. Again, it was not to be. But to see the two countries head-to-head in this pageant was indeed quite a moment. In a post-pageant interview, Miss France, who is pursuing a degree in dental surgery, exclaimed, “Miss Universe was a dream, every girl wants to be Miss Universe.”

After all is said and done, the message persists. All every girl really wants in life is to have a crown proving that she is the most beautiful. This is a struggle I have faced since my own daughter first told me she wanted to join a school pageant. In this pageant-crazy country, most schools have at least one pageant, others have one every month. And even though I have had discussions with my daughter about my disapproval of the pageant culture, she has followed her own journey to win a crown. And this year, she finally did. She represented her class in the school’s “Mr. & Ms. Career Personality,” coming as a pilot, with an advocacy promoting gender equality in careers. I couldn’t be prouder. She punctuated her triumph by pointing out that beauty was not one of the criteria for judging.

Touché, anak. I hope one day beauty pageants will truly evolve and prove us feminists wrong. I will believe it when they finally remove the swimsuit competition.

Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz

Posted in Opinion