ORIGINALLY a “marketing stunt” by Pacific Knitting Mills in California, Miss Universe has evolved into a global phenomenon. That someone would write to her boss that she should be excused from being absent in order to support Philippine contestant Gazini Ganados, is no less a proof of this.
In a world where women are fighting for their identity and rights, why continue the support for their objectification? Some would argue that this is all about women empowerment. But how are we to justify holistic and inclusive women empowerment by using not only a classist but also sexist symbolism?
I once raised the same question in an occasion a few years ago, only to get a disappointing response from someone in the crowd. According to the avid Miss U supporter, the candidates are symbols of hope and beauty. Such response is for me more of a problem rather than an answer. Hope and beauty are not only subjective concepts but also very much subject to exploitation.
It was the Pakistani human rights activist Tahira Abdullah who reminds us that, “poverty has a woman’s face.” In concrete, this means that this world still has a lot to improve and fight for in terms of maternal health, women’s rights in countries where patriarchy is still strong, and the need to address the various gaps in social welfare that concerns women the most. Hilda Saeed describes the situation of many women in non-Western countries:
“Women face the triple burden of child-bearing, child rearing, and domestic unpaid labor; they have been denied opportunities for growth, are without access to adequate healthcare, education or income, and simultaneously forced to live in the tight bind of culture and tradition.”
There is no need to emphasize that even in the attempt of some to justify beauty pageants as a symbol of liberation, still it cannot be a real tool for the achievement of such an objective. Let’s be honest: if it serves any purpose, it is none other than the satisfaction of the desires of our senses. In a way, the Greek philosopher Plato was right: art is twice removed from truth. Of course, one has to understand his statement in the context of his “idealism.”
Until when will we realize that Miss U is the people’s search for beauty in a world that has always been in need of one? It is one among many other expressions of humanity’s desire to be consoled. Remind ourselves we must that it is an effort that should be made with extra care. Its criticisms therefore serve as reminders that we should not fail to distinguish between genuine human aspiration and delusion. Just as there is a thin line between faith and fanaticism, so is there between genuine celebration of talents and its capitalist idolatry.
And to all women who continue to fight for their rights, they better keep in mind the words of Simone de Beauvoir: “On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself--on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.”