Empowered by objectification

Do you ever pause to wonder what inhabitants of the future will think of our society when they look upon our remains? If someone from the future came to UVSC’s campus, there is one thing that our future-friend would surely find baffling.

Do you ever pause to wonder what inhabitants of the future will think of our society when they look upon our remains? If someone from the future came to UVSC’s campus, there is one thing that our future-friend would surely find baffling.

For an illustration, see Exhibit A, located in the upstairs of the Sorensen Student Center: here hang the portraits of the female students crowned Miss UVSC over the years. Here women are presented like Classical Roman and Greek busts, posing in traditional photographs with smiling faces and in glittering dresses.

The pictures themselves have changed some over the years; the pictures from the ’80s look more ethereal, with their blurred edges, while images are sharper now and more airbrushed, making the subjects look more plastic-like than ever.

But the subjects and the concept is the same: Pageants are an institution that encourage women to embody society’s current concepts of beauty.

On the same wall, to the right of the Miss UVSC queens, hang those crowned Mr. UVSC. Mr. UVSC’s tradition is not as long as Miss UVSC’s, and it doesn’t look the same, either.

Some Mr. UVSC photographs show more than a bust picture (one poses in his basketball jersey, basketball in palm). All the Mr. UVSC photographs reveal something that Miss UVSC’s photographs do not: the talents and personalities of their contestants.

In fact, though pageants claim to display the talents of their contestants, that is exactly what the Miss UVSC’s photos (and those of other beauty pageants) do not do. Except for 1992-1993’s Miss UVSC, posing with her harp, none of the Miss UVSCs’ talents are immortalized in silicon.

But Mr. UVSC has a different aim, some may argue. Indeed, Mr. UVSC is a kind of parody of beauty pageants. At Mr. UVSC you might see someone do a perfect imitation of the famous dance scene from NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE.

The Miss UVSC and Mr. UVSC pageants are clearly not the same thing, and yet they are presented, side-by-side on this wall as the equivalent of each other. But neither is fair to its subjects: while women are reduced to their looks, men are reduced to their sense of humor. And you have to ask yourself, ‘Are we really continuing the tradition of Miss UVSC when we have a male equivalent that mocks the prior?’ And then you have to ask yourself, ‘If we understand the nuances of something well enough to mock it, shouldn’t we try to change it (or abolish it), instead?’

Other questions we should be asking are these: What does this look like? What is it encouraging? If awards are based on talent and service, why is the swimsuit and evening wear competition even necessary?

I know people who have participated in pageants, and they are smart and talented people, no doubt. I am not suggesting that women who participate in Miss UVSC are brainless beauties who don’t deserve recognition; but for a soon-to-be university, supporting scholarship opportunities, such as pageants, is inexcusable.

It drastically narrows the number of eligible contestants, excluding other deserving female students, namely married woman, single moms, older non-traditional students, women who simply do not want to make a physical display of themselves for recognition, and, whether we would like to admit it or not, minorities. (We had to create a separate pageant for them.)

It is unethical for an institution of higher learning to sponsor a beauty pageant, or even something under the pretense of a beauty pageant. Such scholarship money should be opened up to other deserving students. Most other universities have caught on to this; look around and try to find other universities who continue this tradition.

It’s true that as Miss UVSC, women are able to pursue their platforms and be agents for good. But why must they go through this process to have their voices heard? Why must they strut in a swimming suit first? Those social activists who really did inspire change in human thought and action did so by their actions and ideas, not by first convincing the world that they were beautiful.

The power gained through these pageants is not power, and pageants do not not make female students’ voices heard. If women have to first prove themselves in a system where they are objectified, their power is false. Does it mean anything if you are remembered as a pretty face in an evening gown on the wall of the student center? Does it mean anything if you have been rendered voiceless in an institution (beauty pageants) that would like to keep you voiceless?

When future generations look upon the remains of our time, they will look at the photographs from beauty pageants with confusion; you see, the context behind beauty pageants, such as Miss UVSC, doesn’t make sense, especially in a context of learning.

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