It seems unfair to hand social responsibility to a woman
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.
Tweet us at
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.