It seems un­fair to hand so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to a woman

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - FILTER -

fac­ing a co­nun­drum when Rolene Strauss was crowned Miss World at the end of last year.There was the na­tional pride that comes with any South African do­ing well on a global stage but then there was my dis­com­fort with the stage that this par­tic­u­lar victory took place on. It wasn’t Olympic gold, an Os­car or a Pulitzer that Miss Strauss was bring­ing home with her – it was a new shiny sash and a glit­ter­ing tiara.

I’m not even sure what Miss SA,let alone Miss World,ac­tu­ally does. We’ve heard it all be­fore: how beauty pageants place women’s value on their phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, and how that puts pres­sure on women to con­form to cer­tain beauty stan­dards. I com­pletely agree. Rather than be­ing em­pow­er­ing, beauty pageants have con­sis­tently re­volved around the premise that women’s pur­pose is to be pretty, with­out much else mat­ter­ing.

So it was re­fresh­ing to read about Chivil­coy, a town in Ar­gentina where beauty pageants have been banned. The de­ci­sion is con­tro­ver­sial for a coun­try where many mod­els and women in me­dia have launched their ca­reers through beauty but this small town seems to have shifted its pri­or­i­ties. And there have been changes afoot in other com­pe­ti­tions, too. Rolene’s Miss World com­pe­ti­tion was the first in 63 years to do away with the swim­suit round. Ac­cord­ing to Chris Wilmer, the na­tional direc­tor of Miss World Amer­ica, the swim­suit round was not in line with the pur­pose of the rest of the pageant. Though this pur­pose, with or with­out swimwear, is still un­clear. Even with the em­pha­sis placed on phi­lan­thropy,it seems slightly un­fair to hand a year’s worth of so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to a woman based on what she looks like. The con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Miss South Africa 2014 contestants be­ing dis­qual­i­fied for hav­ing vis­i­ble tat­toos makes it dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that pageants are about any­thing other than aes­thetics. I sup­pose the next step for­ward is to de­ter­mine whether we should get rid of pageants en­tirely or al­ter por­tions of it to shift the fo­cus away from the contestants’ bod­ies. I would firmly place my sup­port be­hind the for­mer.

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of speak­ers made up of a mix of pow­er­ful women has be­come a lu­cra­tive for­mula. Ac­cord­ing to jour­nal­ist Ann Fried­man in a piece for

that panel is usu­ally made up of first ladies, in­dus­try heavy­weights, CEOs and me­dia mavens. Bag a fem­i­nist celebrity as an Call it whichever hash­tag con­fer­ence to cham­pion women’s em­pow­er­ment. Don’t for­get to in­vite a few jour­nal­ists to a fancy ho­tel ball­room and line up the cor­po­rate spon­sors.

One of the big­ger women-fo­cused events in South Africa took place two years ago in Cape Town. Graça Machel and Nige­rian phi­lan­thropist and cam­paigner Toyin Saraki were two of the speak­ers at Women,In­spi­ra­tion,En­ter­prise.Suc­cess­ful women from around Africa shared tweet­able wis­doms for break­ing the glass ceil­ing. I filled a note­book as an in­vited jour­nal­ist but won­dered what women with paid-for tick­ets had left with. Be­yond a good idea of what suc­cess sounds and looks like, it was dif­fi­cult for me to iden­tify any real tools that had been shared.

Ann laments three gen­eral fail­ings of women’s em­pow­er­ment con­fer­ences: the heftily priced tick­ets ex­clude the women who need it the most; the events have be­come clubs for‘women who are al­ready quite pow­er­ful,and want to talk to each other about it’; and, fi­nally, no com­mit­ment to pol­icy changes is re­quired from spon­sor­ing com­pa­nies to hire more women or men­tor those they al­ready em­ploy.

It’s won­der­ful to see and hear from role mod­els but men­tor­ship pro­grammes would be more ef­fec­tive.There is value in cheer­lead­ing but if it changes noth­ing to make it eas­ier for women to suc­ceed, it’s all just talk.

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