Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Holding open the door

Ria van Dyke, 21, of Auckland, aka Miss Econo Heat, who was crowned Miss Universe New Zealand, and named Miss Charity Queen and Miss Potential Model in Wellington on Saturday night.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Ms van Dyke "wowed the judges through a series of tasks [sic], including an interview on Friday during preliminary judging, strutting in a bikini and evening wear before the audience last night, and dancing on stage to the Copacabana along with her competitors."

We’re not told what intellectual territory she and the judges traversed in her interview, which leaves me wondering if the fact that Ms van Dyke has a BA (Hons) in psychology and sociology – and was going back to Auckland after the show to finish two essays towards her master's degree – counted towards the judges’ final decision.

I suspect not, given the eagerness with which she and her 11 fellow contestants pointed out to another interviewer that they weren’t just pretty faces.

They were also keen to disabuse anyone of the notion that – god forbid – they were feminists. The very term elicited an “ergh, no!” from contest director Val Lott, who said she didn’t think “girls that are real feminists enter pageants.”

Some of us spent a good part of the 70s trying to work out what a “real” feminist was. (Where was Mrs Lott when we needed her?) Early on I rejected the “if you’re with us, you’re against us”/“if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” position. Now, I reject it even more firmly. Ideology is never more important than people, and the result when it becomes so is always hideous. As my New York friend Jim Raymond says, “Certainty kills.”

Yes, it’s dismaying when bright young women can’t bear to be thought feminist – do they know for how many centuries they were denied the vote, access to a university education and a fair share of matrimonial property, and who it was fought to get them these rights? – but my guess is it’s merely the caricature they’re rejecting. You know the one – an ugly combination of man-hater and man-imitator, humourless, rude and aggressive.

I daresay there are feminists like this. I know for sure there are women (not to mention men: see below, for instance) like this who aren’t feminists.

These youngsters, added Mrs Lott helpfully, still liked men to hold the door open. Feminism for her meant “back in the 60s where there was a lot of nastiness and they [feminists] were quite rude about pageants and I thought 'We don't comment on how you want to live and what you do, so why would you comment on us'?"

Except that, given the happy perpetuation of that daft stereotype, they did and still do.
Rudeness seems to be a particular worry for Mrs Lott. "There was a stage when I think women in general got quite rude to men, especially younger girls, and men, young guys, were saying to me 'I'm not holding the door open for them' ... I just don't like that at all. Men and women, no matter what sex you are, you should be respected."

I don’t disrespect the contestants - they’re young and hopeful; they want to get on, whatever that means to them, and believe this is a way of doing so. And they enjoy looking pretty in sparkles and flounces. They remind me of the little girls who go shopping with their mothers dressed as fairies in sparkly crowns and wings. Perhaps if these young women get it out of their systems now, they won't be such suckers for the full white wedding and its ensuing disappointments.
I admit, though, I'm struggling to respect Mrs Lott, who on the whole seems a lot dimmer than someone her age and stage ought to be.

As a last word on the whole surreal business, I’d like to report that last year’s Miss Universe New Zealand apparently told this year’s that the highlight of her reign was meeting Miss Universe co-owner Donald Trump. If you don’t know about Mr Trump – or even if you do – you might enjoy a visit here http://www.dickipedia.org/dick.php?title=Donald_Trump

This is what The Trump (and his favourite kind of accessory) looks like.

And in case you think I’m deliberately picking an unattractive picture (which I am), here's one that suggests some kind of gruesome good mood.

Now, if Trump wasn’t absurdly rich and therefore powerful, would a nice young woman still have found it such a pleasure to make his acquaintance? You really can't blame us older feminists for the occasional weary sigh.

1 comment:

  1. Ah indeed! great article. Thank god we have the experience to know when that weary sigh is useful and when to take arms against.....Look forward to more.....great writing.