Have Feminist Views of Beauty Pageants Changed?

The BBC has an articlewritten by Mary Beard, who is a writer and Professor of Classics at Cambridge and has been a feminist since the 60’s.   She writes about the 2011 Miss World beauty pageant recently held in London and how her views about it have changed since she was a “radical feminist teenager” in 1970.

From the 1971 Miss World Pageant (BBC)

She says that, at the 2011 pageant, a hundred or so feminist demonstrators turned up to object to what they saw as a “degrading human cattle market.”  But that was far different from the protests at the 1970 Miss World pageant, “when a group of ‘women’s libbers’ (as people used to call them then), swapped their dungarees for little frocks, infiltrated the ceremony, and managed to land some bags of flour very close to the compere Bob Hope, some wilting lettuces on the assembled reporters, and squirts of blue ink on the bouncers’ shirts.”  Beard says that the protestors slogan in 1970 was “We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry.”

Beard watched the 2011 pageant on a streaming feed because it is no longer popular enough to be carried on live television.  She says that the pageant has “cleaned up its act” and mentions some of the improvements that cut down on the objectification of the women.  What I found most interesting was her comparison of the current version of the pageant that no longer draws enough viewers to put it on live TV, with the wildly popular TV show Britain’s Got Talent, where the Miss World pageant “isn’t, in other words, the licensed child abuse (or that’s what it looks like to me, at any rate) that we watch on Britain’s Got Talent, where there is no age limit at all – you could enter your toddler if you wanted to – and where to see a prematurely-sexualised 11-year-old reduced to tears, or a vulnerable middle-aged lady driven to despair, seems to have become part of the pleasure of the show.”

Beard found that “try as I might, I couldn’t any longer summon up much fury about the whole [pageant].”  She thinks that the demonstrators would think that she had “sold out on feminism,” but she disagrees and thinks that she is “as strong a feminist [now] as I was at 26.”  She believes that the reason for her change is that, as she sees changes in her own body, “the less I see my own body as a positive asset, the less I have wanted to interfere with what other women choose to do with theirs. If they want to parade in bikinis or shroud themselves in burkas, then so be it. I can see the pleasure in both.”

Beard correctly acknowledges that “how we present ourselves to the world is never a free choice,” but that how you “make those constraints work for you” is what really matters”:

To accuse them – as I used to do – of being the victims of social or commercial or religious control now seems to me to be a fairly cheap hit. How we present ourselves to the world is never a free choice. For both women and men dress is always the subject of social constraints.

The question is how you make those constraints work for you. Take women’s make-up for example. It can be the ultimate symbol of an oppressive culture that refuses to accept women’s faces as they really are; it can also be celebratory, joyous and fun.

So I’m not really sure that the Miss World competition – for all its slightly old-fashioned tackiness – is where we should be protesting.

I’m still not sure what I think about beauty pageants, even with the modifications that some of them have made.  But I certainly agree with Beard that there are many far-worse and far-more-encompassing examples of objectification of women than you will find at beauty pageants.

Herman Cain Says Having More Pizza Toppings Makes a Man More “Manly”

Add this to the ridiculous things Herman Cain has said.  In an interview in GQ, Cain says that “The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is.”  Being a “manly” man, he is also against vegetables: “A manly man don’t want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza.”  Cain and his supporters (how much more of this can his alleged supporters take?) probably think he is being funny (I prefer thinking of him as a joke politician rather than a funny politician), but all that this shows is the way he feels about gender.  Does this kind of gender-stereotyping language give anyone a better feeling about Cain’s professions of innocence for the sexual harassment allegations?  Obviously not.  It again shows a base set of beliefs about the power of men over women.  For this and many other reasons, Cain should have disappeared from the national scene long before now.

Cain’s use of “manly” and “sissy” reminds me of a previous post I did on the use of the word “emasculate,” in which I argued that the usage should be eliminated.  Similarly, the tired gender-stereotyping words “manly” and “sissy” should also go away.

Am I Proud to be an American?

In late June, many weeks before Obama’s and the Democrats’ total capitulation to the lunatic Republican Party’s actions on the debt limit and budget (i.e., no taxes for the rich, just spending cuts that harm the middle and lower classes), I was driving my car when I saw a car in front of me with two bumper stickers.  My thinking about the stickers was very telling and leads me to wonder if I am proud to be an American.

The first sticker said “Proud to be an American.”  As stereotyping as it was, my immediate reaction was to think that the driver was a right-wing “Patriot,” the type of person who, contrary to the self-described title, thinks only of his or herself and how the country can be made to serve their specific classes of (usually) white males and reactionary females who think like the white males.  I am going to do some exaggerated, inordinate generalizations from here on out, but, in other words, I think of “Patriots” as people who care nothing about anyone other than people like themselves.  They care nothing about the United States itself and, thus, cannot even be true “patriots” whether or not that is even a good thing to be.  So, I had a deeply negative feeling about the driver of the car simply because he or she had a “Proud to be an American” bumper sticker.  In addition, I wondered if it even made any sense for someone to proclaim that she or he is proud to be an American.

But . . . then I read the second bumper sticker.  This one said: “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker.”  Seeing this, my impression of the driver changed completely.  I thought that this was something that a person could really feel proud about.  I now had a good feeling about the driver, even though I didn’t really know why.

After I got home,  I wondered about what definitions of “pride” the bumper stickers were meant to convey.  In dictionary.com, there are five meanings:

1. a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.
2. the state or feeling of being proud.
3. a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character; self-respect; self-esteem.
4. pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself: civic pride.
5. something that causes a person or persons to be proud: His art collection was the pride of the family.

For the “Proud to be an American” sticker, my negative, stereotyping thoughts led me to generalize that a person espousing that sentiment has “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority” and “a becoming or dignified sense of what is due to oneself or one’s position or character.”  In other words, it is all about the person’s feelings of superiority over others.  It has nothing to do with whether the person has actually accomplished anything.

In contrast, the “Proud to be a Union Sheet Metal Worker” sticker led me to believe that a person espousing that sentiment has “pleasure or satisfaction taken in something done by or belonging to oneself or believed to reflect credit upon oneself.”  In other words, that person takes pride in something actually accomplished.

Those generalized feelings can’t be right, can they?  A requirement for legitimate pride can’t really be that the source of the pride has to have been something actually accomplished, can it?  For instance, can a person have pride in one’s college?  I think the answer to that is clearly yes since there is personal accomplishment involved.  But what about rooting for the college’s sports teams or for some professional or national team?  Can a person have pride in those teams?  According to the definitions above, I guess that the part of number four about civic pride is the one that would apply, although it seems rather conclusory.  One can have civic pride, but why?  What is it about a team that “reflects credit upon oneself”?

I think the answer is that it is not pride that is involved when you live in a country or when you root for a team.  Rather, I think that it is simply “identity.”  In other words, a person can identify with a team or identify with a sports team.  By coincidence, just yesterday I read an article by Sherry Wolf in The Nation about sports teams and identity.  (The article is about how the sports world remains “fiercely hostile to open participation by LGBT athletes.”  It’s a very good read.)  This is what she said about sports teams and identity:

As American society evolved from agrarianism to industrialism, a huge influx of immigrants settled in growing cities.  Sports were consciously used to win them over to a fabricated national identity. . . . In an increasingly mechanized world where the ethos of competition came to dominate, the rules, teams and nationalism of sports became part of the new “American way.”

And, so, let’s leave “pride” for some actual accomplishment like pride in a daughter or son, pride in putting together an art collection, pride in playing the guitar, pride in a job, or pride in one’s beliefs.  Let’s not say that a person is proud to be an American or proud to be a fan of some sports team, just that she or he identifies with it.

How would this work for an American when traveling or living in a foreign country?  If someone asks where you are from, do you say “I’m from America and proud to be an American”?  I certainly hope not.  Isn’t it good enough to just say that you are from America and, if a discussion about the pros and cons ensues, talk about the things you like and the things you don’t like.

And how does this work for me?  I’m an American.  That’s good enough for me.  And there are currently a LOT of things I don’t like about America.

Where Can I Find Good Coverage of Women’s Sports?

You might know from some of my posts that I’m a fan of women’s (and men’s) sports.  But it’s always been frustrating for me to find the results of women’s events.  CNN.com is my primary source for sports but there is almost no women’s coverage there.  On its main sports page, CNN has these tab headings: NFL, College Football, Major Leage Baseball, NBA, College Basketball, Golf, NHL, Racing, Soccer, Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing, Tennis, and “More.”  Under College Basketball, there is no coverage of women’s NCAA basketball or of the WNBA.  Under Golf, there is no coverage of the LPGA.  Under Soccer, there is no coverage of the WPS.  Tennis is the only specific sport tab that has a subheading (the WTA) for a women’s sport.

And so, other than for tennis, you have to go to “More” in CNN.com to find anything about women’s sports, where it lists Olympics, Track and Field, Figure Skating, Women’s College Basketball, and the WNBA.  Pretty pathetic, isn’t it?  Don’t you think that CNN could at least have a main heading of Women’s Sports, even though that would still be woefully inadequate compared to the men’s headings.  (The coverage within those “More” women’s headings is still inadequate, of course, but I’m only talking about the headings for now.)

ESPN.com is my secondary source for sports news and it is not much better than CNN.com.  ESPN’s main headings are NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA, NHL, NCAA Football, NCAA Basketball, NASCAR, Soccer, and “More Sports.”  But it at least has a heading for women’s basketball under NCAA Basketball.  Again, almost the sole coverage of women’s sports is under “More Sports,” where it lists Women’s Basketball, but nothing else specific at that level other than “espnW.”

Somehow I had never known of espnW until this morning when I read a short comment about it in the sports pages of my local newspaper.  The comment said it is where ESPN focuses on women’s sports.  That sounded good–I thought–a single site where I could go to get coverage of all women’s sports.  Alas, it was not to be.  When I went to espnW, the tag said: “Online Destination for Female Sports Fans and Athletes.”  In other words, this is not a site in which to find total coverage of women’s sports.  Instead, it is a site for females to go to read about sports-related things that (according to ESPN) interest females.  My take on this meaning was confirmed by the main categories on the site.  They were WNBA, Tennis, Golf, Women’s World Cup, and Major Leage Baseball.  Major League Baseball has no female players, of course, and many of the articles about other sports are about male athletes.  And, so, this site is as I suspected–a site that writes about what it thinks females are interested in.  Being a male and feminist, I feel somewhat bad about not being in the target audience, but, if it gave me the game and competition results that I’m looking for, that wouldn’t matter.

Then the stereotyping of espnW really kicks in.  Seemingly a majority of the articles are not about the results of games and competitions, but about what the old ABC TV coverage of the Olympic games would call “Up Close and Personal.”  This has been the long-held stereotypical view of women that they don’t care about sports per se but only about the personal side of sports.  A little of that is fine, but, to me, it has to be secondary to the actual results.

And, so, I will not be adding espnW to my bookmarks.  I guess it’s a step in the right direction, but, really, it’s only continuing stereotypical thinking about women’s sports.  But I encourage you to look at the site and let me know if you think it’s a good step.  And, if you know of any good sites, please, please, let me know that too.  I want to go to a main site that has coverage of all sports, men and women.  I don’t want to have to go to one site for the WNBA, another for the WPS, etc.

“It’s not because [Palin and Bachmann] have breasts, it’s because they are boobs”

I always have a problem with Bill Maher.  I almost always agree with what he says.  And I thought his movie “Religulous” was hilarious.  But I don’t like his “style” as a comedian and he sometimes is unnecessarily “anti” particular individuals.  And his comments on women sometimes (often?) sound sexist.

But, on his HBO show this past Friday, he got it right about sexism.  His “New Rule” was that Republicans have to stop making up “intricate psychological reasons” for why liberals don’t like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.  His (correct) answer was that the reason is because they are “crazy people” and are “not that bright and are full of awful ideas.”  He summarized by saying that “”it’s not because they have breasts, it’s because they are boobs.”

It got better.  He (obviously correctly) stated that it’s not sexist to point out how terrible Palin and Bachmann are, but that it is sexist for the main stream media to plaster their papers and magazines with Palin and Bachmann while providing far less coverage of not so “pretty” people, such as Tim Pawlenty, who have at least some reasonable things to say (if you can ever say that any Republican has anything reasonable to say).  Maher showed six Newsweek covers of Palin and, then, in a great moment for atheists like me, said: “If you want to know where most of this nation’s sexism is really coming from, you don’t have to look any further than the one person who makes the cover of Newsweek more often than Sarah Palin”–and then showed Newsweek covers that have had Jesus on then.

He correctly pointed out that “in America, you’re allowed to justify almost any kind of bigotry, sexism or intolerance if you source it” to “God” or some kind of so-called “holy” book.  I couldn’t agree more.  And, as an example of that, the response by his audience when the Newsweek Jesus covers were shown shows the fear that Americans have of criticizing religion.  The audience, almost surely a vastly liberal audience, was almost silent when the Jesus covers were shown, save for a few nervous laughs.

When people like Palin and Bachmann are harmfully wrong, they deserve to be criticized–if not actually ignored.  The same should go for anyone hiding behind–and espousing– the ignorance of religion.

Here is the clip.

Stereotyping Ad for Cosmetic-Surgery Office?

There is a company in Reston, Virginia, named the Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery.  It frequently runs full-page ads in the Sunday Washington Post Magazine.  The latest series of ads caught my feminist-attentive eye and appear to me to be at the least, strange, and at the most, stereotyping and discriminatory.

The thing that caught my eye is the upper-right photo that purports to show the “Austin-Weston Center Staff.”  Does it bother anyone that the three doctors are male and that the entire “staff” is female?

My guess is that there actually are some males on the “staff” (their web site shows one male) and that they chose to include only the females in the photo.  (Btw, each black shirt says “Botox.”)  Why would that be?  Do they think that potential cosmetic-surgery customers will be enticed to use their services because all of the staff is female?  That’s either strong stereotyping or discrimination against potential male employees.

The All-Women “Last Supper”

Friends of mine were showing me their photos from a recent trip to Spain.  One of the photos was taken in the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor in Ronda, Spain.  Remarkably, the photo is of a painting in the church that depicts the “Last Supper,” but with all women, including a female Christ.

I did some googling and was unable to find any details about the painting such as the artist and when it was done.  In fact, I only found a very few photos of it.  One of the photos has a comment that the painting was “smuggled” into the church, but that seems suspect since it has apparently been there for quite some time.  Another photo had the comment that “The bishop who commissioned the work was apparently losing his sight and didn’t notice.”  If anyone has any information about the painting, please let us know.  Here it is for your enjoyment.