Miss Universe is Like Other International Organizations…except the members are half naked

by on 2013-11-15 in Duck- 9 Comments

Last week Dan Drezner asked What Does Miss Universe Tell us About World Politics in 2013? The post starts off on a positive note- that one can find politics anywhere- before it descends into one of the most classic examples of gender-avoidance/oblivion I’ve read in ages. Drezner swiftly calls on “the most qualified person on earth” to outsource engaging on a lady topic write the remaining post. I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. Sure she has a PhD and was Miss Earth- and she does have a unique perspective on pageants; however, since when do we need an insider to write about the politics of an issue (Drezner didn’t rely on a Russian, for example, to substantiate his earlier comments about Putin and Russia).

  • Do we still need ladies to comment on lady issues Drezner?

The post descends further into the gender abyss as Jessica Trisko Darden tells us that pageants are sort of like other international political events and that the organization itself is similar to familiar international organizations: “The decision-making process is opaque, often contested, and in many ways reflect the underlying power relations and interests of the dominant countries.” Sure, I’m with you. Miss Universe is like the Olympics, or the Rugby World Cup- there is entertainment and politics happening at the same time. Got it. The post then mentions some slight problems with the organization, including institutional racism vis a vis excluding African delegates from a fashion show. And then, the post ends. That’s it. Like my professors over a decade ago, Drezner doesn’t come back in at the end of the lecture to engage with the content and he certainly doesn’t address the half-naked ladies elephant in the room: that pageants are different from other entertainment/political events in that they involve (largely men) judging the esthetics of one WOMAN who is meant to embody each country. Good lord, if you can’t find and name the gender and race politics of Miss Universe where will you ever be able to find them? Skinny, straight, long-haired women parading in romantic, caricature costumes of their nation (you will never see Miss Canada wearing a replica uniform from the Indigenous residential schools- but you might see them in some phony universalized Native-American costume, for example)….and you don’t think to write about gender and race? You missed the politics completely Drezner (and I’m holding you accountable, not your guest lecturer). Let’s drop the useless comparison to other international organizations and talk about a few ways the pageant is political:
In 2009, Miss Venezuela declared that there were no barriers to women in her pageant interview (really, Miss Venezuela- what about the low literacy rates, trafficking, wage inequity, and high rates of domestic violence that plague your nation…doesn’t count?) before she won the Miss Universe title. Trump endorsed her and stood behind her post-feminist claims.
Let’s talk for a moment about the owner of Miss Universe (the head of the international organization, if you will), Donald Trump, and his gender politics- LondonFeminist summarizes: “[he] allegedly required Miss USA pageant contestant to parade in front of him “so he could separate out those he found sexually appealing from those he did not,” and suggested that he would be dating his daughter and her “very nice figure” if he were not her father. Just yesterday, Trump inserted himself into the controversy surrounding a transgender contestant who had been disqualified from participating in his Miss Universe competition by offering to show his [Trump meant his own] penis.”

Where does one even start with the racial politics of the pageant? HELLO- have you seen the women and the “cultural” costumes??? First, the host country candidate- Miss Russia- faced extensive racist comments for not being “Russian enough” because she belongs to an ethnic minority and was born in Kazakhstan. Second, when Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American woman to win Miss America (yes, I’m lumping pageants together) racist ‘fails’ ensued, including comments that an Arab/Muslim had won, and obscene jokes likening her to a convenience store worker.

One can find politics anywhere, but it takes a little extra work to engage with gender in a meaningful way.

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9 CommentsAdd yours

  • Alexis Henshaw - 2013-11-15

    “I felt like I was back at uni and my male professor had brought in a female body (any female body) to teach the week on gender. ”
    It would be great to see some discussion about why this still happens on a regular basis in 2013.

  • IG - 2013-11-15

    So true, and so sad. Thanks for writing this!

  • concerned - 2013-11-15

    “Trump inserted himself into the controversy surrounding a transgender contestant who had been disqualified from participating in his Miss Universe competition by offering to show his penis.” In this sentence I think you have misgendered the transgender contestant. I believe it should read “her penis”. Please correct this mistake. :-)

  • Megan H MacKenzie - 2013-11-15

    this is a direct quote from LondonFeminist blog. I’ll insert [sic] to indicate the problem (I agree with you, that this is problematic).

  • Stephanie Carvin - 2013-11-16

    Or, you know, you could realize it was a snarky blog post and not a treatise on gender in international politics.

  • philp222 - 2013-11-16

    Trump offered to show HIS penis.
    http://www.tmz.com/2012/04/03/donald-trump-no-apology-transgender-miss-universe/#.T3wusr9STR8

    “The Donald called in to TMZ Live moments ago, claiming, “I think Gloria would be very very impressed with [my penis].”
    Donald’s genitals became a topic of contention earlier today during Gloria’s news conference with transgender beauty queen Jenna Talackova — when Gloria said, Jenna “didn’t ask Mr. Trump to prove he’s a naturally born man, or see photos of his birth, or to view his anatomy … It made no difference to her.”

    But it makes a difference to Donald, who said he’d be willing to show what he’s got … if Gloria’s willing to pay the right price.

    Donald also said he wouldn’t apologize for disqualifying Jenna last week from the Miss Universe pageant on the basis of her birth gender — even though he later reversed his position — and added, he “couldn’t care less” if Jenna even competes.

    Read more: http://www.tmz.com/2012/04/03/donald-trump-no-apology-transgender-miss-universe/#ixzz2koyM3ptq

  • Thoughtful Observer - 2013-11-16

    An silly and predictable response to an interesting initial post. MacKenzie is presenting a standard ’70s feminist line on these things: This is a spectacle for men which “objectifies” women and promotes racial/national stereotypes. It is the cliched response, which is why no one would have bothered to post it on Foreign Policy (and it had to appear on Duck of Minerva). It is also wrong, which is why the original post was interesting–it twisted the usual academic line on these things. Men watch the pageant? Really? I’d bet the audience is overwhelmingly women, offset somewhat by the rather substantial gay subculture surrounding pageantry of all types. That’s partly why the Russian venue was controversial and led one of the (openly gay) judges to back out…something I learned from reading the original post.

  • Megan H MacKenzie - 2013-11-16

    Thanks Philp222 I did not do the background research on who’s penis Trump was talking about. :-)

  • Megan H MacKenzie - 2013-11-16

    I actually didn’t say that men watch pageants- I said that they are largely the judges (and that a man is the owner of the organization). Women do watch the pageant- but that doesn’t make it less sexist (nor is it less sexist if gays watch, which you presume is the case). The broader point wasn’t to write a serious expose on every aspect of sexism within the Miss Universe organization (that would take a book), but to point out that a previous post missed some obvious aspects of gender and race. I’m glad you liked the initial post and learned something from it.

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