by Jon Joaquin
There is currently an online petition going around urging the Miss Universe Organization to scrap the holding of the 2017 pageant in the Philippines because of the “objectionable, scandalous, and demeaning sexist attitude demonstrated by the newly elected leaders of our country, by no less than President Rodrigo Duterte, and his cohorts towards womankind.” In a Facebook post, a certain Annie Serrano said she had sent a letter to the Miss Universe Organizing Committee in which she said:
“In recent months, chauvinism, brutal shaming, rape jokes and a sweeping disregard for women as persons deserving not merely of a token, but true, respect has been exhibited by the President of the Philippines with his salacious and sexist comments and treatment of female reporters and opposition figures, which has carried over to his allies in the Philippine Congress.
“To hold the Miss Universe Pageant in the Philippines at this time would serve as a reward of this intolerable behaviour and excuse such behaviour. It would reinforce a troubling trend in our society. It would make your organization a partner to these backward and dangerous steps which are serious violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).”
Now I have no problem with the Miss Universe pageant not being held here in the Philippines; in fact I wish it weren’t held anywhere at all. Despite what people say about it being about brains and beauty, in my opinion it is nothing but a blatant showcase of the exploitation, objectification, and commodification of women. What else do you call the parading of women wearing various styles of clothing — and at times almost nothing at all — before an audience that includes men who are free to ogle them?
So far Miss Serrano’s online petition has been signed by only 152 people, including former Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman and former Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita “Ging” Quintos-Deles — both of whom worked under former President Benigno Aquino III. What I find strange in the petition is that those who launched it apparently don’t see the irony in what they’re doing.
Consider this paragraph in the petition: “Do not hold Miss Universe in the Philippines. Be a partner for the liberation and not the subjugation of women. Take your pageant elsewhere and do not reward a regime that is trying to turn back the clock as far as women’s causes are concerned.” I didn’t know beauty pageants were a bastion for the liberation of women; from what I hear and know, these contests can be brutal on women. They work long hours, virtually starve themselves to remain thin, and often resort to cosmetic surgery to become the “best version” of themselves.
Beauty pageants also give an unrealistic view to young girls who can be led to think that they are beautiful only if they are tall, have perfect skin, have features of a goddess, and have a bust/waist/hip measurement of 36-24-36. The fact that such “vital statistics” are even measured gives us a clue as to where beauty pageants think beauty lies.
And of course, let’s not forget that the Miss Universe brand was owned by Donald Trump from 1996 to 2015. In light of the Republican presidential candidate’s recent comments about women, I think it’s safe to say where the heart of the pageant really lies.
So it’s ironic that the petitioners — most of whom are women — are asking the Miss Universe owners not to hold it here on the premise that Duterte is sexist when the concept of a beauty pageant itself is sexist. If anything, they should be praising Duterte who, despite his bad language and self-confessed womanizing, had actually taken steps to make sure beauty contests in Davao don’t demean women. In this city, for example, no contests are allowed to have bikini portions. How many mayors have done that for their women constituents?
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the original author, and do not necessarily represent those of the Pilipino Express publishers.