QotD: Miss Peru 2018 turned violence against women into morbid entertainment, not a ‘feminist protest’
Although the so-called protest was reported as being a contestant-driven initiative, the pageant’s organizers and hosts made clear that the “theme” this year was violence against women, repeatedly explaining that the entire pageant was dedicated to “respecting women and violence prevention.”
This is no coincidence. In recent years, feminism in Latin America and the Caribbean has explicitly centered the issue of violence against women. Last October, over 100,000 people took to the streets in Argentina (where a woman is murdered every 36 hours) to protest the gruesome femicide of Lucia Perez Montero. Similar protests were replicated throughout the continent on what was called “Black Wednesday.”
It was a sly move by the organizers of Miss Peru to feature a parade of women listing decontextualized facts about violence against women, and present the event itself as part of the movement against the epidemic. This move ensured the pageant would go viral and seem modern, despite the whole spectacle being inextricably rooted in women’s subordination and subservience.
As Spanish writer Barbijaputa argues at El Diario, stating facts about violence against women in a beauty pageant doesn’t change anyone’s attitude about that violence or about women’s rights. She writes:
The vast majority of society still thinks that the motive [for violence] is biology: that men can’t control their ‘sexual instincts’ and women can’t defend themselves because they are weaker. Stating facts about violence against us makes it seem as if this is inevitable: ‘It’s just the way it is,’ ‘men are crazy,’ ‘I wish it didn’t happen but we can’t fight nature.’
In other words, without understanding why men commit violence against women and without addressing the system that excuses and normalizes male dominance, we cannot successfully combat male violence.
A truly subversive act might have been for contestants to make statements that challenge the objectification of women. Barbijaputa suggests some alternate scripts for pageant contestants:
“I am Miss Tarapoto, and girls and women don’t die; each one of them had a man who killed them. Men are educated to think of themselves as superior to us, while we are being measured by our hips.”
Or perhaps, “I am Miss Cuzco and coming out here in a bathing suit so that men can judge whether or not I am beautiful is sexism and sexism kills.”
Instead, what Miss Peru came up with was little more than a marketing strategy that, in the end, still serves patriarchy. The event’s organizers and Latina, the TV channel that aired and sponsored the pageant, don’t have to pretend to care about women’s rights or liberation any other day of the year.
Peruvian writer Lara Salvatierra points out that Latina has “a misogynist editorial line” and routinely airs content that demeans and objectifies women, “including a TV show which ridicules Indigenous women and girls.”
The fact that it went viral speaks to the guidelines of a patriarchal system: a woman may demand justice, as long as she doesn’t try to escape the mold and the gender roles that the system has approved for her. Patriarchy will always search for ways to naturalize its existence. There is nothing empowering in modeling in a bikini to entertain the same misogynists who then violate us, commercialize us, and kill us.
In a beauty pageant, women are presented to be ogled and enjoyed for an hour or two, as pretty objects. Once objectified, they are put through a process in which, one by one, they are eliminated from the competition. In other words, beauty pageants present women as intrinsically disposable. This is the same thought process that legitimizes the discarding of women under patriarchy, through male violence.
What is an audience meant to feel or think as they read, “Man strangles woman with a cord,” while a young woman parades across the stage in a bikini, desperately seeking male approval and adhering to patriarchal standards of beauty and complacency?
How this capitalist marketing ploy could be interpreted as empowering or liberating is beyond me. But, as Salvatierra points out, this type of “feminist protest” is the kind of activism that a patriarchal system favours the most: one in which women voice opposition to their oppression, but do it within the bounds of the role the system constructed for them.
According to a new study, feminist theory can help treat anorexia. That comes as no surprise to me, based on my own experience of trying to vanish, one skipped meal at a time. Researchers at the University of East Anglia trialled a 10-week programme with seven inpatients at a centre in Norwich. They used Disney films, social media, news articles and adverts to talk about the social expectations and constructs of gender, how we view women’s bodies and how we define femininity. They spoke about the way we portray appetite, hunger and anger, as well as the ways we objectify women’s bodies.
Researchers published a paper in the journal Eating Disorders that suggested patients improved because they felt less to blame for their own condition. This makes complete sense. When I was 15 years old, I spent six weeks in an eating disorders clinic in Sydney. Staring at those pallid pistachio-coloured walls on my own in a cell-like room, I felt as though I may never recover. My emaciated companions and I were under the care of a former prison warden turned eating disorders nurse, who made sure we stuck to our strict daily routine of three meals, three snacks, two therapy sessions, no taking the stairs. I wasn’t alone in that fear of eternal sickness; recovery is elusive for many sufferers, and perhaps the cruellest part of the process is that anorexia convinces you that you don’t even want to get better.
Then, one day, we were allowed to go on a group outing. We filed in, rather miserably, to an enormous top-floor book shop. We were directed to the self-help section, but I took a sneaky detour to gender studies. There, among the Naomi Wolfs and the Germaine Greers, I felt strangely safe for once. I cherished books, I always have, and I remember stroking the spines tenderly, wishing for some sort of guidance. We were told we should get one book that day. I chose Hunger Strike by Susie Orbach.
Originally published in 1986 (just a year before I was born; a serendipity that appealed to me), it is a seminal feminist text about “the anorectic’s struggle as a metaphor for our age”. In it, Orbach argues that anorexia is both a deeply private struggle, and a very public one. Women’s bodies, she wrote, are still considered public property and so long as that stands, our desire to diminish them is a feminist issue.
Edna Adan Ismail is a midwife and campaigner. As a 12 year old growing up in British Somaliland, her dream was to build her own hospital. It took her some 50 years and all her savings to realise her ambition, and the state of the art hospital she built is a testament to her passion and dogged determination.
Nursing and midwifery have been her life since she won a scholarship to study in the UK in the mid-1950s, when she cycled to appointments in her black raincoat to deliver babies all around London. Married at one time to the prime minister of Somalia, she juggled the high profile role of First Lady with shifts at her local hospital. “I was born with this desire to fix things,” she says.
As her country’s first female foreign minister, she broke deep-rooted taboos by publicly condemning the widespread practice of female genital mutilation – FGM. Her opposition stems from personal experience – she was only eight years old when she endured the invasive procedure herself.
Now 80, she lives on site at her beloved hospital, where more than 22,000 babies have been born since it opened in 2002.
According to the BBC, pole dancing has taken the first step towards being recognised as an Olympic sport:
Could pole dancing become an Olympics sport? It’s not as far-fetched as you might think…
That’s because pole dancing – or pole, as the International Pole Sports Federation (IPSF) prefers – has been recognised by an international sporting body for the first time.
The IPSF emphasises that pole dancing is about “athleticism and technical merit”, in line with “other Olympic standard sports such as gymnastics, diving and ice skating”.
So even though it may be closely associated with strip clubs, a performance does not have to contain an erotic element.
However, there is a big debate within pole dancing about how much it should be separated from its origins.
In 2015 and 2016 various people who pole dance shared photos on Instagram using the hashtag #Notastripper – something that some strippers objected to, both because they perceived it as stigmatising sex workers and because they feel pole dancing is an art form they invented.
Pole’s authorities argue that it is not only a sport, but that it is a sport appropriate for all ages and audiences. The IPSF runs competitions for ages from 10 to 65.
(emphasis added by me)
And a bit of perspective can be gained by looking at what other bodies were given observer status by GAISF – among them the World Armwrestling Federation, the World Dodgeball Association, the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting and the International Table Soccer Federation.
So there is still a long, long way to go.
Victoria Coren Mitchell has responded in the Guardian with a very funny article (even if she does use the term ‘sex worker’ uncritically, I’ll leave the thought-purity policing to the genderists):
The news that pole dancing has been formally recognised as a sport – and will now be considered for possible inclusion in the Olympics – fills me with delight.
Regular readers may be surprised. You might imagine I would feel weary and suspicious at this development. You might imagine I’d roll my eyes and ask: “What next? A simultaneous men’s event – how many bills can you shove in her bra as she writhes?”
You might think I would worry about where we’re heading as a culture and whether we are building on the great historical achievements of suffrage and feminism, or absolutely dismantling them in our complacency about how many battles have truly been won.
You might think I would argue it’s impossible to “reclaim” pole dancing from the world of strip clubs, however much we might kid ourselves something can be neutered just because we say it is, and – however much I may respect individual sex workers – I believe we shouldn’t confuse their seductive techniques with that which we present to our daughters as “sport”.
Well, guess again. I’ve read many defences of the activity by keen “pole enthusiasts” and I’m persuaded. It’s not titillating. It’s purely athletic. Nobody thinks of strippers when they see it, nor seeks it out for that reason. Its inclusion as an Olympic sport would be nothing short of excellent news for women. Bring it on.
Here are some other sports I’d like to see elevated to the world stage.
The list includes:
Marathon porn hub session (a men’s event)
Full body waxing
Spinning tit tassels
The long-distance catwalk
Synchronised groping (a mixed event)
Wet T-shirt contest
400m clutch relay
And this last one:
Having sex with men for money
Only the most puerile and cynical observer (or old, cobwebby, uncomprehending “feminists” of yore) could think this was anything to do with sex. Yes it does involve having sex. But that’s neither here nor there. Fully reclaimed by its highly trained and physically dazzling exponents, when placed into an Olympic context the rigorous and athletic business of having sex with men for money is basically exactly the same as throwing the javelin, only instead of throwing a javelin it’s having sex with men for money.
Every year we’re learning more about what women are capable of, physically. The myths about female weakness—that our reproductive systems are fragile and dictate that we not be too active, that we have no endurance, that we can’t do anything requiring upper-body strength—have slowly but surely been shot down during the last century. But that doesn’t mean people don’t buy into those myths. They do. Girls are still treated differently than boys—in the classroom, in the gym, and, eventually when they grow up, in the boardroom. They’re not expected to be as competitive. Aggression is frowned upon in girls, yet lots of jobs require a certain amount of aggression. The whole notion of “femininity”—which is really just a way of acting and thinking, not some God-given quality—requires girls to put unhealthy restraints on themselves. It disempowers them. It keeps them from really going for it. When it comes to their bodies, it makes them fear getting “too big,” or “too strong.” So they prevent themselves from developing fully. They actually stand in their own way because they’re taught that they should. Who’s teaching them? Read The Frailty Myth and find out.
Tiffeny Milbrett & Colette Dowling, The Frailty Myth: Redefining The Physical Potential Of Women & Girls
Andrea Dworkin, Woman Hating
QotD: “But please can we keep open the option that it doesn’t have to be like this for all of us, forever?”
It would be wonderful if there were a simple answer to all this. Every day young women are encouraged – berated, almost – to accept their bodies, love their curves, not give a fuck about what men think. It doesn’t work. If it were that easy – if feminism were self-help, little mantras you repeat in your head, one long, extended Dove advert – we’d all be laughing. It’s not. Body positivity messages do not help, even those that do not come with advice on how to get “beautiful underarms” or “age-positive skin”. To really, truly get to the heart of what is wrong with female flesh, why it feels so hateful and alien to so many of us, we need to relate our alienation to the uses and abuses to which this flesh is put. And even then we need to accept that doing so will not necessarily save us as individuals. But the idea that sexed bodies do not match identities due to some innate mismatch – as opposed to the deeply political meanings inscribed upon them – is not just absurd, it is harmful. It leads us to focus only on our bodies and it short-circuits efforts towards long-term political change.
We are reaching a point where even questioning body-hatred is seen as a cruel denial of an individual’s inner self. I have even seen articles including statements such as “personally, I would feel more empowered in my body […] if I heard that hating your boobs is OK”. How is one supposed to respond to that? ”Well, then, hate away?” Then there is the assumption that women who “consent” to be women – who choose not to bind or change their pronouns – must be so insensitive, so dumb, so politically unengaged as to be pacified by a quick “love your curves” slogan. The truth is that very few female people can accept their bodies as long as ownership of a female body – failure to starve it away, or crush it, or have it surgically corrected – is taken as implicit consent to be treated as a member of the inferior class.
I am not saying “burn your binders”. Forcing people to live in a body where they do not feel at home causes intense, often unbearable suffering. There is no quick fix, perhaps not even a lifetime one. But we need to think hard and keep asking questions, even if these contradict other people’s interpretations of what is possible for them.
We need to accept that an individual’s experience of themselves and their body is an interaction with the world around them. We need to do what we can to create comfort and hope. For women, there is a cost to growing and a cost to staying small. There is pain either way. But please can we keep open the option that it doesn’t have to be like this for all of us, forever? No matter how much it hurts we must at least believe that.
Below are two articles I spotted recently on poverty in New Zealand. I think it is useful to point this out, as sex industry advocates want us to think that prostitution is ‘necessary’ because of women’s poverty, and that prostitution somehow ‘cures’ women’s poverty (if that were true there would be no poverty by now).
If prostitution was such a great way to make money, wouldn’t all poor women do it? The reality is that prostitution is most profitable for the pimps and brothel keepers, and a very small number of young, conventionally attractive, relatively privileged women, for a short time only; other women end up there out of desperation, deeper desperation, it seems, than having to rent a garage to live in.
Schoolgirls in New Zealand are skipping class because they cannot afford sanitary pads and are being forced to use phonebooks, newspapers and rags to make-do during menstruation.
In the last three months local charity KidsCan distributed 4,000 sanitary items to more than 500 low-income schools nationwide after they were given a NZ$25,000 (USD$18,000) government grant to begin to address the issue.
Because KidsCan buy in bulk, they are able to purchase packs of sanitary products for around NZ$1 – instead of the NZ$4-8 that supermarkets usually charge. Sanitary products are taxed in New Zealand.
Vaughan Couillault, principal of Papatoetoe high school in south Auckland, said it was a “serious concern” that many of his 700 female students from lower socio-economic backgrounds could not afford the products to manage their monthly cycle hygienically.
This year KidsCan started supplying the school with sanitary items, but before that his staff would make regular trips to the supermarket to buy sanitary supplies, and charge female students 50 cents to cover costs. According to Couillault, at other low-income schools in New Zealand teachers buy students sanitary products using their own money.
Sarah Kull, a school nurse at Papatoetoe, said since the 50 cent charge was removed the number of students approaching her for sanitary products had increased to around 10-15 pupils each day. Half of them needed one-off items and half were stocking up to cater for their entire period.
“There is a shame factor involved in asking for help with such an intimate part of your life, and I think the girls we see approaching us are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kull.
“A lot of girls are too embarrassed to ask. We also have about the same number each day come to us for pain relief related to their periods. Paracetamol is cheaper than pads but there is still a cost involved, which for many students from low-income families is unmanageable.”
Labour MP Louisa Wall is spear-heading the campaign to draw attention to school-age girls who can’t afford the average NZ$5-15 (USD$3-10) a month for sanitary items. She has also been told of women in hospital who have been unable to access sanitary items, and that many female university students struggle to pay to cover their periods.
“Local schools started coming to me and saying: ‘We need help with this’. Girls are skipping class and sports because they can’t afford the sanitary items that make their periods a normal part of life,” she said.
“This issue is still taboo and we really need to start addressing it because sanitary items are not a luxury – they are a basic necessity. Not being able to afford them is holding many girls and women back, and I am especially concerned about them missing out on education because of their periods.”
Should we consider schoolgirls in New Zealand to be at a disadvantage compared to the girls in various African countries, were ‘dating’ a ‘sugar daddy’ in return for money for basic essentials like sanitary pads is ‘normal’ (remember, ‘normal’ here doesn’t mean ‘right’ or ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’, it just means commonplace and unremarkable)? Are these schoolgirls being ‘oppressed’ by the age limit of 18 to enter the sex industry? Remember, sex industry advocates are pushing for the decriminalisation of the commercial sexual exploitation of children as well (this is something I want to write about in more detail, I have seen a sex industry advocate use the rationalisation that ‘children are poor too’).
Hundreds of families in Auckland are living in cars, garages and even a shipping container as a housing crisis fuelled by rising property prices forces low-income workers out of private rental accommodation.
Charity groups have warned that, as the southern hemisphere winter approaches, most of the premises have no electricity, sewage or cooking facilities.
“This is not people who haven’t been trying. They have been trying very hard and still they’re failing,” said Campbell Roberts of The Salvation Army, who has worked in South Auckland for 25 years.
“A few years ago people in this situation were largely unemployed or on very low-incomes. But consistently now we are finding people coming to us who are in work, and have their life together in other ways, but housing is alluding them.”
Auckland’s housing market is one of the most expensive in the world, with property prices increasing 77.5% over the last five years (this growth has now slowed), and the average house price fetching over NZ$940,000 (£440,000), according to CoreLogic, New Zealand.
Combined with low interest rates, rising migration, near full occupancy of state housing in South Auckland, and minimal wage rises, the pressure on many low to middle income earners has become too much to bear.
Some families are now forced to choose between having a permanent roof over their heads, or feeding themselves and their children.
Jenny Salesa, a Labour MP in the South Auckland suburb of Otara, says Maori and Pacific peoples are overwhelmingly bearing the brunt of Auckland’s housing crisis, and she has people coming to her office every day begging for help.
“People are living in garages with ten family members and paying close to NZ$400 for the privilege,” said Salesa.
“People are ashamed their lives have come to this, and they try to hide. But you can tell which garages are occupied – there are curtains on the windows, small attempts to make it a home. And on the weekends, in the park, there can be up to fifty cars grouped together, with people sleeping in them.”
Salesa estimates nearly 50% of people asking for her help in finding a home are in paid employment, and many families have two parents working and are still unable to make ends meet.
Nobody knows exactly how many people are living rough in Auckland, but common estimates range in the hundreds.
Darryl Evans, CEO of Mangere Budgeting in South Auckland, says on some roads in South Auckland every second house has additional accommodation erected – be it an occupied garage, a portable cabin with a chemical toilet, or tents pitched on the front and back lawn.
“Up until a few years ago, a family member might let you camp in the garage at no cost, as a temporary set-up,” said Evans.
“But now landlords have cottoned on to how desperate people are, and are renting out garages or Portakabins for hundreds of dollars. Our food bank – every food bank in Auckland – is under the most pressure its ever been.”
Evans has also seen many families get trapped in a cycle of a gradual migration south, chasing cheaper rents, but causing huge unrest for children, who are unable to access regular schooling, health care or social support networks.
“People living in these situations are feeling huge shame,” said Evans.
Last week the New Zealand government announced NZ$41.1m for emergency housing, but with winter mere weeks away, charities believe any assistance will come too late for most.
“We warned the government six or seven years ago that a housing crisis was looming,” said Roberts.
“Successive governments have ignored our warnings, and now look where we are. The worst homelessness I have seen in 25 years. You might be able to survive like this in the summer, but you can’t in winter. You just can’t live like this in a New Zealand winter.”
Let me describe to you what kind of world gender abolitionists actually dream about:
When a child would be born it’s biological sex, being an actual physical reality, would be noticed but not a single assumption regarding the child’s personality would be made based on it.
Growing up, children would be free to chose what toys and clothes they prefer. If they want to play with toy trucks or dolls, it would be fine either way. If they want to dress comfortably or in frilly colorful dresses, it would be fine. Regardless of the child’s biological sex.
Certain personality traits would not be encouraged in members of one sex and discouraged in the other. Females would be free to be strong, brave and assertive and males would not be shamed for being shy and soft spoken.
No female child would be called a tomboy and no male child would be called a sissy. No kid would ever be bullied for what we in our gendered world call “gender expression”.
When children would reach puberty they would still be free to dress how they want. Females would not be pressured to wear clothes that reveal their bodies and males would not be shamed if they chose to. Everybody would have a free choice of accessories, which would not be categorized as “men’s” or “women’s” but people could should whichever they liked. Or chose to not wear accessories at all if that’s what they are more comfortable with.
Females would not be pressured to keep their bodies slim, soft and hairless. Males would not be pressured to be athletic and muscular. Expectations of femininity and masculinity upon the body would not exist and affect negatively people’s relationship with their own body.
Everyone could choose a career without fearing stigmatization within that particular field because of their biological sex. The most important thing would be competence and not what someone has between their legs.
Domestic work would not be considered “women’s work” and would be shared equally between the sexes.
Biological sex would only be thought about when relevant. Like for example in regards to issues surrounding sexual activity, reproduction or treatment of medical conditions related to a person’s biological sex.
And everyone would be free to be themselves without ever having to worry about gender expectations. Nobody would feel the need to repress certain parts of their personality and exaggerate others in order to fit into some gender role that is being forced on them.
Gender abolitionism is not about restricting people’s choices but about giving them greater freedom.
Burningax (original no longer available)