The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

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

November 15, 2013

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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Megan MacKenzie is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney in Australia. Her main research interests include feminist international relations, gender and the military, the combat exclusion for women, the aftermaths of war and post-conflict resolution, and transitional justice. Her book Beyond the Band of Brothers: the US Military and the Myth that Women Can't Fight comes out with Cambridge University Press in July 2015.