Not only is the competition a patriarchal relic of the past, the venue for this year's pageant is a stark reminder of the Israeli occupation.
This past week it was announced that Miss Universe 2021 will be held in Eilat, Israel, amidst an outcry of opposition. While the competition itself is problematic for a plethora of reasons, this year another layer has been added with the location of the venue.
While Israel is in full throttle annexing Palestinian land, forcibly displacing its residents, and creating settlements for foriegn Jews to settle, it seeks to divert attention from these crimes with something, well, pretty.
While the pageant claims to empower women, it is entrenched with unrealistic beauty standards and promotes body dysmorphia to both the general public and competitors. These women are judged according to particularly ‘euro-centric’ beauty standards including fair skin, plain features, smooth hair, slimness, and height. This judgement is often accompanied by an assessment of proportionality, bust size, and other objectifying metrics.
Candidates are preferably soft spoken and hold an air of innocence. As one of the 4 major beauty competitions in the world, it propagates what a patriarchal society views as the idyllic woman while claiming to represent an emboldened, educated, and independent woman.
The Miss Universe competition has a number of ‘un-universal’ entry requirements. First contestants must be between 18-28 years old, they must not be wed (or previously wed), and have no children. A contestant can be disqualified, or ‘de-throned’ if it is discovered they have children, or have had an abortion. Some women have even had to forfeit their titles in order to get married.
The formal justification for this is so that ‘Miss Universe’ can commit to the schedule demanded of her after the win (consisting of school visits, photoshoots, talks etc.) This reinforces the old trope that mothers are unfit employees; a recurrent battle women are confronted with across the world. It is once again put into question how exactly this can be described as a display of empowerment when it is perpetuating detrimental stereotypes.
Women are judged through a series of four rounds; and since its (re)inception in 1952 up until 2018, the judges were all male (typically white men, like the founders of the competition). First round is the ‘Evening Gown’ round, second is the ‘Bikini’ round, third, ‘Questions,’ and ends with ‘Final Looks.’
These categories, once again, are extremely objectifying, the contestants prance around stage dressed up or down to almost nothing and judged purely based on physical appearance. In the ‘Question’ round, contestants are generally required to be apolitical and respond with docile statements or generic humanitarian concerns - thus leaving the actual character of these women on the foot of the stage.
Not only is this competition propelling patriarchal structures in society, it now takes its deeply problematic nature a step further in hosting this year's event in Eilat.
Eilat is a city by the coast of the Red Sea that was inhabited and depopulated from its native Palestinian inhabitants. Until 1949 the city was known as Umm al-Rashraash, and like over 200 other Palestinian villages, it was ethnically cleansed during 1947-1949.
By hosting this event it will bring tourists from across the world further funding and propelling the 73-year-long occupation of Palestine. Palestinians who wish to enter the city must apply for a special permit which is essentially never granted to them. Today, the city is dominated by settlers and has a largely predominantly Jewsih settler population. With this in mind, by opting to host the event in Eilat, not only is Miss Universe propagating patriarchy, but aparthied too.
Unsettling enough as it is, it is reminiscent of the 1970 Miss World 'pageant’ when South Africa was still under Aparthied rule. Because of shameless segregation, two contestants representing the same nation entered the show one as Miss South Africa and the other Miss Africa South (needless to say one contestant was white and the other black). It is safe to say history will not see this repeated in the Palestinian-Israeli context as the segregation is much deeper today and more complex.
Not only are Palestinian women in Israel oppressed within their ‘own’ society, they have to bear witness to further oppression of their counterparts in the West Bank, Gaza, and remainder of the Israeli-occupied territories.
An event cannot claim to stand for the empowerment of women when it subjects them to unrealistic standards and expectations. Furthermore, they cannot claim to stand for freedom when they are complicit in the oppression of Palestinian women. By opting to ignore the loud suffering of women in Israel and the occupied territories, and allowing Israel to take the center stage as a tourist destination, it is contributing to their continued suffering.
The fact that Miss Universe and the likes still exist in 2021 is quite frankly nothing less than disgusting. Israel is not only exploiting women through hosting this offensive competition, but it is doing so in order to continue downplaying its ongoing illegal activity, and continuously exploiting Palestinians to do so.
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