Exploited Miss America. Empowered Miss USA.
- Monday, June 14, 2010
In 1968, a group of "women-libbers" protested the Miss America Beauty Pageant. They argued that the pageant symbolized the cultural problem of men chauvinistically defining and exploiting women as sex objects. The protesters crowned a live sheep "Miss America" to parody that men treated women like animals at a county fair. They chained themselves to a life-size Miss America puppet which was paraded and auctioned off by a woman dressed up as a male Wall Street financier. "Step right up, gentlemen, get your late model woman right here-a lovely paper dolly to call your very own property … She can push your product, push your ego, or push your lawnmower …"
The highlight of the afternoon was the famous "Burn Your Bra" Freedom Trash Can. With elaborate ceremony and shouts of joy, the protesters threw away what they identified as male-promoted "instruments of torture"-high-heeled shoes, corsets, girdles, padded bras, stockings, false eyelashes, curlers, and copies of Playboy, Cosmopolitan, and Ladies Home Journal. They shouted "Freedom for Women!" and "No More Miss America" and hung a banner from the balcony reading "Women's Liberation."
The display marked the cultural launch of feminism—the philosophy that women have the right to define their own existence. Feminists argued that women had been wrongly defined by men as housewives and/or sex objects. They reasoned that women would find happiness, wholeness, and self-respect when they had the freedom to define themselves. And culture promptly set about giving them the power and right to do so.
Fast forward to 2010.
Last week, Miss USA released the official contestant photos of 51 pageant hopefuls. The look? Lacy black lingerie, fishnets, smudged kohl eyeliner, knee-high boots, stilettos, voluptuous cleavage, and naked flesh, the like of which have traditionally been associated with prostitutes and porn stars, not beauty queens. The photo shoot, entitled "Waking up in Vegas," featured steamy, seductive Playboy-like poses on a large bed and other bedroom furniture.
Rima Fakih made history as the first Arab-American to win the pageant. Besides being crowned Miss USA, she also has the dubious distinction of procuring top honors in a pole dancing competition. What's even more startling than her lewd behavior, is that this behavior is supported by women. It's women who uphold the right of Fakih and other contestants to break the "princess, good-girl" stereotype. According to female organizers, princess is passé - but the woman who exerts her sexual power is smart, sophisticated, and worthy of a Miss USA title.
What was once considered exploitative is now considered empowering.
How did this happen? The feminists of the past protested against the sexual objectification of women. Thus, it would appear that modern women have rejected the tenets of feminism. Ironically, however, quite the opposite is true. The raunch culture of today is due to the fact that young women have so thoroughly embraced feminist thought.
Feminism taught the new generation that:
- Men have historically deprived women of power and freedom
- Women need to reclaim their power and freedom
- Women exert power and freedom by rejecting the restrictive, male-defined roles and boundaries of Judeo-Christianity
- Women have the right to define their own behavior
- Women have the right to define what womanhood is all about
The daughters of the feminist generation were raised on these ideas. They embraced them and took them to heart. Since sex is power, what better way for women to exert their power than through sexuality? They concluded that Girl Power is best expressed by throwing off all boundaries and becoming brazenly sexual. The Spice Girls, The Sex & the City stars, and celebrities such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan all modeled the idea that empowerment equals the right to be raunchy. The idea quickly caught on.
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