Beauty pageants are inherently sexist. Women are showcased like pieces of meat, and judged on how they look in swimsuits. I know that every pageant makes some effort to show that it values the intelligence and humanitarian efforts of these women, but I don’t think this negates the sexism. Because if that were really the case then I don’t understand why they still have to parade around in different outfits and never stop smiling. To me, beauty pageants are saying that in order to be an intelligent and successful woman you must also fit into strictly limited notions of beauty. You must be sexually desirable to the Miss Universe judges, or you are not accepted. If you need further convincing that beauty pageants objectify women as sexual objects, look no further than the FAQ on the Miss Universe site. On whether or not the contestants can be married, they state: “No, contestants may not be married or pregnant. They must not have ever been married, not had a marriage annulled nor given birth to, or parented, a child. The titleholders are also required to remain single throughout their reign.” The organization has some clear biases, so I was not shocked to hear that they disqualified transgender finalist Jenna Talackova. While not shocking, cissexism in any form is infuriating.
There was little explanation for the sudden disqualification of Talackova, other than the following statement: “She did not meet the requirements to compete despite having stated otherwise on her entry form.” So she stated that she was female on her entry form. That’s because she IS female! Talackova’s disqualification exposes the Miss Universe organization as being transphobic and uneducated. No matter how sexist I think beauty pageants are, if a woman wants to participate in one she should have the right to. But I go back to sexism, cissexism, and patriarchy as behind this whole thing, because that’s what Talackova was up against. Because she does not have the body that the judges desired, having been born with a penis, she was disqualified. The Miss Universe pageant eventually changed its mind and allowed Talackova to compete. Still, they aren’t letting her compete without undergoing specific “legal gender recognition requirements.” It’s become even more baffling to process the organization’s reasoning.
GLAAD has released a statement in support of the Miss Universe turnaround while also stating, “The Miss Universe Organization should look to state non-discrimination laws and institutions including the Olympics, NCAA and The CW’s America’s Next Top Model, which do not discriminate against transgender women.” This is the most important next step: to stress the importance of non-discrimination policies. Unpleasant as it was, this whole debacle has helped to raise some, albeit problematic, awareness for transgender rights.