Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Feminists Ambushed by police: Protest against Miss England

The Protest: Feminists body searched

The Miss England protest began rather aptly with an infringement of civil liberties. Clare, Liv Bailey and I were stopped by the police, questioned and searched, Clare for trying to enter the Hilton to use the loo and Liv and I for looking for her while she was being accosted by the police. The police thought that Clare had ink that she was going to squirt at the contestants, in the manner of Jo Robinson in 1975 at the Miss World protest at the Albert Hall, see her account and photos here


They thought that I was going to sneak in, took my details and searched my bags. I think it was when they found some rather amature placards that I was making on the bus that they realised I clearly was no threat to the security of the pageant! Liv refused to give her details so they took down a physical description of her (possibly on a Miss England Application?!)

While we were in negotiations, the crowds gathered- the other members of Mind the Gap, Object, London Feminist Network and SWP (with some rather more professional placards!) and journalists snapping away ands filming us surrounded by tall men in shiny yellow jackets.

We had some fantastic speakers- Anna from Object, Katie Toms, Liv Bailey, Elly James (less fantastic!) and Judith Orr, reminding us of the detrimental implications of objectification of women through beauty pageant on wider liberation and the need for a vigilant, active, vocal, active movement in opposition to this.

Future activism: Implications of the 'inclusive' Miss England

One to One Entertainment has said that after the huge publicity surrounding Miss University they intend to roll out the corporate operation nationally, while Miss Student is currently emailing student union presidents asking them to help recruit students. There will also be a Miss World for students.

This year sees the first black Miss England, and lauds itself for including women above a size zero. I see this as a veil of corporate 'equal opportunities' PR that seeks to distract from the cultural discrimination that is reproduced through these events, and urgently needs to be challenged. Whatever size, shape, ethnicity and sexual orientation of the contestants, objectification is objectification. Women are being pitted against one another on a platform, encouraging all women to conform to a set of vital statistics set not by women, not by men but by the patriarchal consumerism that benefits from these pageants- whose sponsors include a COSMETIC SURGERY company that will cut shrink and stretch women to fit this template of perfection for a hefty fee.

Beauty pageants reduce women to a sum of body parts, measured against a set of vital statistics, physical objects dehumanised at the disposal of the judges, which is shown by research to directly encourage violence against women. The juxtaposition of the Rape Crisis in Crisis protest, and Miss England protest shows what a terrible mess our society is in. We live in a time where women are in every career but not paid as much. Where women achieve higher grades at university than men, but see a beauty pageant revival. Where rapes across London are rising, but funding has been frozen.

The pageant again praises itself for including students and army officers. The fact these intelligent successful women take part is indicative of this backlash. Whatever women achieve, they are nothing if they do not 'measure up' to societies judgement against an impossible ideal of consumer airbrushed fake tanned surgically chiseled beauty; leading us to chase this mirage through consumerism and disciplining our bodies, which is severely detrimental to both our welfare and bank balances.

The inclusion of an army officer, on a feminist project in Iraq- don't even get me started! My dissertation was about feminist voices on the war in Iraq- email me if you want to read it. It is the liberal feminist discourse that was used to justify directly persecuting Iraqi women that has led to the sectarian clamping down on women's rights as anti-Western nationalism. Feminism is not a Western discourse, and certainly cannot be achieved thought imperialism. It exists everywhere and indigenous feminist movements must be supported for true women's liberation.

Feminists everywhere, we have an epic struggle ahead, but I believe that we have the will, the stregth and the creativity to win if we UNITE, rather than stand divided by patriarchy on a pageant platform.

Activist Day school

We held a loud vibrant protest on the windy corner of Edgeware Road, letting all inside the Hilton and passers by that women's subordination will not go unnoticed and unchallenged, thanks to all who attended and we invite you to the Feminist Activist Day School at SOAS on Saturday the 12th of September where we will plan our strategy for the year ahead, beginning with freshers fair coordination. Bring materials and ideas for priority campaigns and email if you want to be involved and watch this blog and facebook for updates.


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