Thursday, 18 March 2010

How a protest should be.

The anti-objectification protest outside the Miss University London beauty pageant finals on Tuesday was the sort of event you really only see in arthouse films set to a soaring indie soundtrack. A samba band joined us, and the whole thing turned into a glorious street party, with people from the area coming in to dance and stamp and join in. With chants that sounded like we'd practiced with the musicians for hours. The police were called in to disperse us, and the frigid-looking princes and princesses waiting for entry to the club were terribly peeved, which was fantastic, because winding up boring hipsters is amongst the more wholesome of my private passions.

The full report is here, on Counterfire
, with videos of us all dancing and screaming and acting like the sort of idiots who don't understand that the market loves misogyny and there's nothing you can do about it. The idiot you can hear shouting in the first video is me, and the words I'm yelling are: That's not what empowerment looks like - This is what empowerment looks like!

When the Miss World pageant came to London in 1970, second-wave feminists were there, trying to resist the deliberate commercial alienation of women from our own bodies. Forty years later, feminists are still here, we're still organising, and we're still angry that brilliant young women with everything ahead of them are routinely duped by corporate whorebags into letting themselves be weighed like pieces of meat and judged in their swimsuits in the name of perky fun and money for the middle-man. The placards are new, but the injustice is the same. The difference is that this year, we had men standing alongside us, refusing to have their sexuality poached and sold back to them, resisting this antique symbol of the objectification industries' assault on their sisters' self-esteem.

My favourite part was when a couple of the attending hipsters stood behind us and loudly enumerated which of us they would and wouldn't consider putting their dicks into, and called us all 'ugly'. Funnily enough, I always get called ugly when I misbehave. Some things never change.


  1. Excellent post! Just brilliant! (Though I couldn't hear your yelling in the video)

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  2. Good job! If only it were as easy to get people to show up at the advertisers' shareholders meetings.

  3. The difference is that this year, we had men standing alongside us


    My favourite part was when a couple of the attending hipsters stood behind us and loudly enumerated which of us they would and wouldn't consider putting their dicks into, and called us all 'ugly'.

    Oh, if only I'd been there - I'd have equally loudly started commenting to some of the other men about which of those hipsters I would or wouldn't consider putting my dick into, and seen how much they liked that sort of thing happening!

    I suspect they suddenly wouldn't have seen the funny side (but would probably have been completely oblivious to the hypocrisy of their attitudes all the same).

  4. I found it interesting that Nina Power and Lindsey German's feminist manifesto mentioned "consciousness" quite early on: it seems that the question of how political consciousness can separate itself from ideological consciousness is back on the agenda.

    If we can say that "brilliant young women" are "routinely duped", we aren't saying that they're not brilliant, or that we're more brilliant than they are; we're articulating the point of view of a consciousness that has separated itself in some way from theirs, so that it sees something (we claim) that theirs does not.

    The claim that "this" and not "that" is "what empowerment looks like" is a claim made on the basis of this separation. It's a strong claim: after all, some of the participants in such contests may well have feelings of empowerment. Having a lot of attention paid to their bodies - perhaps making money out of that attention - may be what empowerment looks like to them. It's important I think to be able to say, and show, why it really isn't.

    I think there's been a timidity for some time amongst feminists about making strong claims on the basis of a politically separated consciousness: it's seen as impolite, or exclusionary. But I think it's also necessary - there's no politics, properly speaking, without this kind of separation, without having to make and defend some claim on behalf of some putatively "raised" (political) consciousness against the illusions of a "false" (ideological) one.

  5. Dominic:

    But I think it's also necessary - there's no politics, properly speaking, without this kind of separation, without having to make and defend some claim on behalf of some putatively "raised" (political) consciousness against the illusions of a "false" (ideological) one.

    Perhaps - but in some cases the distinction descends to not much more than accusations of false consciousness because the other person has made a different choice/decision (especially if it involves sex).

    Laurie - sounded like a fun demo, though the big difference between 1970 and now is that the event wasn't on TV, Bob Hope's dead, and some students like to make idiots of themselves (I mean, 'Miss University...') or pick a fight. Moreover, there were men who supported 'social purity' feminism in the first wave; there were men who supported anti-pornography politics in the second wave; it doesn't surprise me there are men who would support a demo against 'Miss University' now. the demo now. By comparison, a demo outside a university burlesque night might be a harder call for some than a crass beauty pageant.


  6. Was the audience of this event really hipsters? I never saw hipsters as being the beauty contest type.

  7. And yet, and yet, people still pay money for this type of thing. Is it an accident that there isn't terribly much analysis of the market forces that drive it?

  8. Amazing. Thank you for being there. Also excellent reading to be had in the comments of this post.

  9. Great attitude and demonstration! That's definitely not samba, though.

  10. Wow! Why am I not allowed to mention the market that supports this type of industry/event?

  11. Miss USA has gone bankrupt several times over. The event's Nielsen ratings are so poor that is is no longer even televised in the US. (Or it wasn't for a couple of years--Donald Trump has made a couple of efforts to revive it that have failed.) For all intents and purposes, ideology has moved on to bigger and better spectacles.

    The idea that somebody thinks beauty pageants are what "empowerment" looks like is pretty bogus to begin with. Who does? And if they do, could it be, given the class situation of the participant, that they genuinely have something to gain from them that they can't gain through other channels?

    The demographic of women who participate in beauty pageants is overwhelmingly a) white, b) lower middle class to working poor, and c) conservative. Most of them have absolutely no chance at any kind of wildly successful academic career and the odds that they will find satisfying work are quite low to begin with. I mostly feel bad for people who think beauty pageants are their best option in life. Who could even get "angry" at those people?

    Let's get angry at the people with capital who make these things happen, not the disadvantaged women who feel this is their best option.

    I do wonder sometimes, as much as I'd never participate in a beauty pageant and find them repugnant, why nobody gets as angry about gender- role-modeling-as-competition when males do it.

    For example, in the U.S. we have several reality shows about "pageant girls" of around 8-10 years of age who run the pageant circle. Everyone gets together around the TV to feel very superior to these terrible parents who would subject their daughters to this. Everyone has the righteously indignant response to the overly competitive sniping of the mothers at their daughers, whom they've obviously decided are going to achieve everything they didn't and couldn't in life. In their minds, pageants are their daughters' best bet.

    As far as I'm concerned, working poor mothers doing this with their girls is really no better or worse than the way so many fathers instill psychotically unrealistic expectation in their sons about sports. I've seen many a male completely crushed by not living up to the physical ideal of male perfection that's required to be a top athlete.

    Let's at least be consistent in our ire about gender role-modeling in competition, or our ire is ultimately just going to look like people ganging up on women for using their bodies to make money. That old suspiciously asymmetrical emphasis on women's bodies and how they shouldn't be on display. Again. And again. And again.


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