Press release from Miss-Ogynists

// 11 December 2008

You’re probably aware of the protests against beauty-pageants held at universities across London, and if not your can check out the Miss-Ogynist University of London Facebook group for the full story.

Today we received a press release from the company organising these pageants. Never in my life would I have suspected I would feel worse about these beauty contests after reading a press release issued in their defence:

Miss Student UK – Press release 10 December 2008

Both the motto & ethos of Miss Student Uk is “More Than Just A Pretty

Face”.. We are looking for hidden talents and fresh personalities in

students from all over the UK.

However, we are not a beauty pageant. In no way whatsoever is the

competition focused on external appearance, our university students embark

on a journey of self-development, acquiring valuable life & social skills

additional to their academic studies whilst meeting new like-minded people

& having fun.

Here’s the banner of the website for this event, which is clearly not a beauty contest, or in any way related to how conventionally attractive the contestants are:

notabeautycontest.jpg

Universities, as important as they are, cannot necessarily equip their

students in all aspects of life to be ready for the real world, and this

competition certainly helps its contestants to build confidence and

self-belief, ready for a world that does not revolve around academic

achievements alone.

From the beginning, there has been a risk that this competition would be

misconstrued, tarred with the same brush as with awful tacky counterparts.

However, we are proud that this competition is helping students to push

their personal boundaries, proud that we can help provide them with

something of life-long benefit and proud that Miss Student Uk is looking

for much more than a pretty face.

Yes, they are seriously arguing that winning this beauty contest – sorry, Miss Student UK, just saying it’s not one doesn’t make it so – actually prepares women students for the ‘real world’ better than a university eduction.

Maybe there’s something to that – at least it’s preparing the female students for a life-time of being judged on their appearance & ability & willingness to adhere to a conventional kind of feminine prettiness. And it sends a strong message to male students, who are, of course, not expected to compete.

Comments From You

Amity // Posted 12 December 2008 at 8:34 am

Yes, if it’s really about “talent and personality” why aren’t male students involved?

Lindsey // Posted 12 December 2008 at 8:48 am

Because there’s nothing tacky or awful about making how you do your hair more important than getting an education…

Strangely enough I managed to develop my confidence by speaking up in class and my self-belief by earning two degrees. Great hair is only there until you wash the style out but I haven’t yet managed to wash my brain out.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 12 December 2008 at 9:08 am

Erm yeah, the fact that all the women who get through to the latter stages of the competition (or who are even allowed to compete) all conform to the current patriarchal ‘ideal’ in terms of looks (i.e. skinny, long-haired, lighter-skinned) is just a complete coincidence I suppose…as is the fact that they have to get their body parts measured…

I wish beauty contests could just come out and say ‘yes, we do judge women on their looks. Women’s looks are the most important thing about them’, instead of pretending that women’s talents are considered. I find the latter more demeaning, somehow.

And it sends a strong message to male students, who are, of course, not expected to compete

YES, definitely. The implications for equality between male and female students as a result of these beauty contests worries me.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 12 December 2008 at 10:41 am

Methinks the male organiser is a very worried man because why else have this misogynistic piece of PR purporting to debunk competition is not a beauty contest. When is a beauty contest not a beauty contest? When the male promoter says so.

Ah so now we know why women attend universities – not to gain knowledge and improved opportunities to obtain better work – no, no. Instead these are just places for women to socialise – unlike men of course who go to university in order to gain good qualifications in order to enter their rightful place as ‘male breadwinners.’ Women – don’t go to university if the oppportunity arises – instead enter beauty contests because these will give you expertise in how to conform to patriarchal demands and you will not be given the tools to challenge male-centered beliefs etc. I’m still waiting for male beauty pageants and I do not mean muscle building competitions which are all centered on narrow definitions of what it means to be a ‘real man.’

JenniferRuth // Posted 12 December 2008 at 12:14 pm

Here’s the banner of the website for this event, which is clearly not a beauty contest, or in any way related to how conventionally attractive the contestants are:

And they are all white! I wish I could say that I was surprised.

Austin // Posted 12 December 2008 at 12:20 pm

“cannot necessarily equip their students in all aspects of life to be ready for the real world”

Strictly speaking it doesn’t say it “prepares women students for the ‘real world’ better than a university eduction”, but that it prepares them in ways university can’t, which I suppose is fair because university is supposed to develop the academic and critical faculties of the attendants whilst this simply seems to increase their conformity to male desires, which I suppose unfortunately might help them in the workplace given the present culture…

Bumble // Posted 12 December 2008 at 12:37 pm

Their website is possibly worse:

“In early 2006, Christian Emile’s 121 Entertainment teamed up with Rodolfo Graziani with the aim of creating something special. Their experiences as students and in the entertainment industry convinced them of the need for a refreshing and unprecedented event for students across London.

It was realized that in order to achieve such an ambition , they needed to re-ignite the intense yet well-spirited university rivalries. How better to do so than to rally behind your university’s sweethearts?”

As a UCL graduate, Im appalled that these people would think that my masters degree could be embellished by being a “sweetheart”.

Leigh // Posted 12 December 2008 at 3:08 pm

Questions Miss University London need to answer to support the claims in their press release:

– How does the competition prevent entrants being judged on their appearance?

– How does the competition develop life skills, social skills and self belief. What specific skills are developed?

– What specific aspects of format, presentation, style and judging criteria separate Miss University London from other beauty pagents?

Anybody have anything to add?

Fran // Posted 12 December 2008 at 4:06 pm

My ex-housemate was a finalist in Miss Student UK 06-07. She was definitely under the impression that it was a beauty contest, and filled her profile full of half-naked pictures of her posed on a bed.

If this isn’t about judging women by how conventionally attractive they are and how sexually available they seem, why didn’t the organisers discourage such pictures? If the contests are “in no way” about external appearance and they are concerned about them being tarred with the same brush as beauty pageants, why did they choose to use the “Miss X” format generally associated with such contests? Why does the Miss University London page say “We seek beauty NOT ONLY externally” (emphasis mine) if external appearance doesn’t matter (http://www.missuniversitylondon.com/About.php)? Why are applicants required to submit photos, with contestants getting more points the more photos they submit? Why does each round focus on “style” and clothing (http://www.missstudent.com/rules.asp)? And why are all the finalists thin, feminine and conventionally beautiful in so many other ways?

Lisa // Posted 12 December 2008 at 5:25 pm

I read an article about this in the Guardian – a contestant was asked in the contest which was more important ‘beauty or brains’ she replied ‘beauty as no-one would listen to her if she wasn’t.’

I found the article very depressing. When I was a student (early 90s) this would have been seen as old-fashioned, very-uncool sexism and we (males included) would have squirmed with embaressment at the thought of it. Times really must have changed and not for the better.

People (family, teachers etc) ALWAYS said to me that the most important task of my youth was to prepare myself for adult life and that developing my intellect-education was the most important part of that as no-one could ever take that away from me. Beauty on the other hand is not only skin deep but fragile.

The ‘beauty’ is also a very narrow, ‘fashionable’ look which is bland, unoriginal and narrow. The women would have been better served putting on a review of ‘C20 art’ , ‘Cultural concepts of Beauty’ or even ‘Vogue through the Decades’ to gain a sense of perspective and of course exercise those brains of theirs.

Could the problem really lies in the lack of critical thought in UK universities ? Could it be that university has become little more than a Finishing School for middle-class girls ? Do we need to look to postgrads and doctorates to find some evidence of critical thinking ?

Very, very sad …

Anna // Posted 13 December 2008 at 9:51 am

Hello, Like all of you I find the whole Miss competition utterly depressing. But it is not the fact that women are only judged on their appearance that bothers me as much as the fact that they are ‘judged’ at all. The argument that these beauty pageants somehow aren’t fair because they only valorise one narrowly-defined ideal of beauty/attractiveness is a perfectly valid one, but I think we can take it further. If I object to these pageants it is not because I feel ‘left out’ – dammit, I don’t want to be included! I don’t want to be part of a system in which women are lined up and valued by men, whatever the criteria. Rather than asking men to broaden their tastes, we are asking them to stop posing as the origin of all value and quit fantasising themselves as our judges for whose approval we are all anxiously competing. Rather than saying ‘You should value women on XYZ rather than ABC’ we need to be asking ‘Who are you to tell me how much I’m worth?’

Also, has anybody noticed how dreadfully dull and witless it all is? The only thing that livens it up a bit are the protests. Sometimes you just hope it might collapse under the weight of its own stupidity (though I wouldn’t count on it).

Siany // Posted 14 December 2008 at 12:43 am

And they’re always “Miss” Whatever. They have to be sexually available. Can’t have a Ms or a Mrs.

I find it really creepy that this is happening in Universities. Women fought for so long for academic credibility, to be admitted into Universities and to be awarded degrees. Women studying should have that time to feel free to focus on intellectual development and yet they’re being attacked with something that many of us struggle with – the idea that worth can be conferred through conformity to arbitrary standards of beauty.

I wonder how many of the women who entered did so for a bit of simple, uncomplicated fun? How many of them did so because they felt insecure about being seen as brainy? If they felt that competing would offer them acceptance that they wouldn’t get through academic achievement. Or maybe they haven’t thought about it at all. Either is sad.

How dare the Universities condone this? How can they not see that it affects the credibility not only of the students taking part, but also of the institutions themselves?

Anne Onne // Posted 14 December 2008 at 3:14 pm

Theoretically, I wouldn’t have a problem with it (notice how many things could be different theoretically!), in a context where men and women were equally taking part in such contests, and where contets like this were just a small part of ways in which men and women could express themselves. If looks were seen as but a small, fun part of yourself, not a major part to determine self worth.

However, in today’s society, women are judged primarily by looks, and that competitions like this, that focus on the looks above all else, in a society that still needs reminding that women DON’T have to be amazingly beautiful to contribute to society.

I remember some journalist was complaining about the protests, that in this day and age women can be lauded for having a beautiful body as well as a beautiful mind, but they missed the point: how often are women really lauded for having a ‘beautiful mind’ or given other ways to contribute to society that doesn’t involve beauty or bearing children?

I don’t have anything against models or women who enter these competitions, because my issues aren’t with them, but with the society that limits our whole lives to a ‘Miss so and so’ competition.

I just wish they’d out and call it a beauty contest. I’d give them a grudging pass if they had one for men that was just as objectifying as the female one (even though socially men are less pressured into beauty than women), but if they only have a beauty pageant for women, how can they not see some sort of double standard? If it’s so fun and educational for the female students, why not extend that joy to the men? it’s only fair. And don’t save on the measurement front, naturally.

Annika Hart // Posted 19 March 2009 at 7:11 am

You girls should do a bit of research before commenting. There IS a Mr Student competition that runs parallel to Miss Student. As far as I can the published aim of the competition is to find a girl and a boy with brains AND good looks …. but the real aim is to make money for the promoters through selling tickets to events and getting in money from advertising and sponsorship. Maybe it is a useful forum for practising campaign skills? Trawling the internet I also see that some competitors have used the competition and their “notoriety” to raise SUBSTANTIAL sums of money for charity.

Juliet // Posted 19 March 2009 at 2:58 pm

Yeah, Annika, anything’s permissible in the name of “charidee”, isn’t it?! Maybe you should go do some more research yourself, like checking out the PETA website.

Jay // Posted 1 April 2009 at 8:53 pm

There most certainly is a MR.STUDENT competition that runs alongside MISS STUDENT UK.

I am a finalist this year, and i can say im certainly not the conventional beauty queen – as a healthy size 14 and 5’2, i feel that this competition is open to all women, and does in fact enhance self confidence and promotes an extremely healthy body image.

The organisers have been lovely, both and man and a woman working together, the woman has the most contact with contestants.

I can say I was the complete underdog in region, and competed against professional models to win it.

The reason for winning was sheer determination and ambition to succeed with my studies and in my future career, which once again promotes independance and confidence.

Honestly, i cannot say i have found anything anti-feminist about this competition, and it is truely unique from conventional ‘pageant type’ competitions.

You’re bound to come across ‘pretty girls’ in your life, this doesnt mean theyre dumb or unambitious, they have drive and determination just like the rest of us.

J.

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