Miss Universe Pageant perpetuates female stereotypes

At this month's Miss Universe pageant the final five contestants were asked a ridiculous and insulting final question. To pick the woman who would best represent the universe, the judges asked: "What makes you blush?"

Beauty pageants are often criticized as being ridiculous events themselves, but that final question trivialized any integrity the event may have had. Donald Trump, who owns the rights to the pageant, boasted in a New York Post article Monday, "You can put all the cello-playing rocket scientists you want on the runway, but men--and women--like seeing drop-dead gorgeous girls. That's what I give 'em--beauty beats brains any time."

In a society where women are supposed to be making gains, the female gender is rapidly losing ground in the battle for sexual equality. Recent events in the media and society show that women are still being recognized for all the wrong reasons. And after fighting for respect for decades, women are still gladly allowing themselves to be labeled by chauvinistic stereotypes.

The proof is everywhere you look. Anna Nicole Smith has signed on with ABC to do a show that chronicles her life, an attempt by the network to cash in on MTV's success with "The Osbournes." Check the newspaper and you'll read about a mother who was forced to quit her job as a stripper so that her young daughter could return to Catholic school. What did the mother do to replace her income? She turned down several lucrative job offers to pose for Playboy magazine, saying posing is "the American dream for a woman."

Playboy as the American dream? Last time I checked the newsletter from the National Organization for Women that wasn't the case. When Disney starts hiring ex-Playmates who marry mentally incapacitated senior citizens for the money, something is off-kilter.

We are glorifying T and A instead of women who represent the best the female gender has to offer. A worthwhile reality show would follow a female politician or females competing in professional sports. Instead we get Bachelorettes in Alaska and Sorority Girls. And so the question remains: Why, after we have worked for equality is our sexuality still the only thing that sells?

Yes, these cases are somewhat extreme, but the image of women as little more than sexual objects has become resurgent. It's why people are having Botox parties and why "lunch break plastic surgery" is a sad reality. It's why Katie Couric has been re-styled with blonde hair and a more chic wardrobe. Even the queen of morning talk has got to have sex appeal.

The brunt of the blame for this unfortunate trend lies with females. When women market themselves as a pretty face, hot bod or large chest, that nauseating image is imposed on all of us. Granted, no one is asking Janet Reno to show some cleavage, but for the most part, women are still judged by their exterior first.

Even in 2002, women feel a need to live up to the Barbie-doll image. No matter how many barriers we break through, there is always the pressure to put face first. Yes, brains are great, but a polished face, great smile and tight ass are what you need to get your foot in the door. It's deplorable that so many women are resorting to 1950s pin-up girl tactics for success. Britney Spears says she wants to be a role model, then dances around in an outfit made of panty hose and sequins. If there is any hope for women to advance as a gender we need to prove the stereotype false, not fuel the fire with nakedness.

The other culprit in this downward spiral is the media, which laps up women's sexual images like a bulldog laps water in July. As wrong as women are to promote themselves based on appearance, the media is at fault for selling this image to the rest of society. Magazines, newspapers and television need pictures, so they wallow in those who are proud to be little more than another pretty face. Glamour and Vogue don't fight over putting Barbara Walters on the cover, but mention Jennifer Aniston and they are grabbing for her like desperate bridesmaids at a bouquet toss. Perhaps the best example of this is Cindy Crawford, who was valedictorian of her high school, but is more often associated with a well-placed mole than intelligence.

Examples of this warped trend exist on campus as well. Women at Duke are a special breed of the aesthetically obsessed. You'll find girls going half-naked to class or lying out wearing less material than a stripper. On the bus you hear stories of girls who fly home for the weekend to get their hair dyed or their eyebrows waxed. At a university renowned for its scholasticism, I cannot begin to list all of the female students who want to be known for their bodies, not their minds.

If women want any hope of achieving true equality with men, we need to stop taking off our clothes and start opening our mouths. Only when we prove to society and, more importantly, to ourselves that we offer more than good looks can we advance in the fight for sexual equality. We gain respect through intelligence, grace and conviction, not with centerfolds in porno mags. It is time to prove the Neanderthal mentality of Mr. Trump and those like him wrong. When we show that our abilities stretch far beyond our appearance, men will learn women are capable of more than they ever imagined.

Jennifer Wlach is a Trinity junior and a former health and science associate editor of The Chronicle. Her column appears regularly.


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