On Rima Fakih, Sexism, and the Pageant Industry

June 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

by ELENA

There’s not a whole lot going on in Michigan. The weather is pretty terrible, the politicians seem hell-bent on turning the state into one big corporation, and the economy was pretty much decimated by the Recession. The only things that I’m truly proud of in the state are the numerous awesome microbreweries, the menu at Marie Catrib’s, Calder’s Le Grand Vitesse, and Rima Fakih.

Rima Fakih was the first Muslim woman to be crowned Miss USA, and her reign has not been smooth sailing. Some questioned Fakih’s religion and ethnicity, many were “scandalized” by photos taken at a pole-dancing class in 2007 (three years before she was crowned Miss USA), and pagaent officials urged her to meet with former Miss USA Tara Conner after Fakih was caught doing the ever-so-scandalous activity of going to parties, and quelle horreur, returning to her residence at 4 AM.

Fakih has been very professional about her stint as Miss USA, and some of the issues she has encountered. Her experience only reflects the sexism and double-standards society adn the media place on women–especially women in the public eye.

Part of Fakih’s duties include appearing at public events and parties, and modeling for a variety of companies and publications (every Miss USA winner wins a contract with Trump Model Management). The Miss USA Pageant includes a required swimsuit competition, and contestants are expected to conform to a specific “look”: toned yet possessing conventionally acceptable curves, long hair, straight white teeth, and a pretty face with plenty of makeup. The Miss USA organization clearly wants their contestants to be “sexy”, but wants to impose their view of what is “sexy” on contestants and winners, rather than allow these women to define sexy on their own terms.

Hence, taking a pole-dancing class, while wearing normal workout clothes is unacceptable. The Miss USA organization is perpetuating misogynistic views on sexuality and work: Being paid to pose in Playboy (as several Miss USA winners have done during their reign), or appear in swimsuit ads is acceptable. Dong any physical activity that even remotely resembles sex work, such as poledancing, in considered trashy, inappropriate, and unacceptable. Which is a shame, because pole dancing should not be automatically associated with sex (it is a great workout, and provides great strength and flexibility training).Fakih also appeared on a reality television show about competitive wrestling, a gig which Fakih discussed the amount of physical training that goes into being a wrestler. Fakih was also criticized for taking a job that promoted herself and improved her physical fitness, because as we all know, all wrestlers are stupid/trashy/slutty/etc. Fakih has been punished because she has dared to own her career, her social life, and her sexuality, rather than simply be a puppet for the Miss USA Pageant. And because she has done that, people have chosen to insult her by doing some good old fashioned slut-shaming.

Then again, in our culture, anything a woman does is immediately associated with sex. If a woman eats an ice cream cone, she clearly wants sex. If a woman wears a skirt while bicycling, she clearly wants sex, and is a dangerous distraction to motorists. If a woman accepts an offer to appear on a show about wrestling, she wants sex. If a woman goes to a party, and stays out all night, she totally just wants to get wasted and have sex, and is a bad role model because all she ever wants is sex.

Then again, how much can you expect from a pageant organization run by a man who has called Gail Collins a “dog face”, and his been criticized for his misogynistic behavior by other Miss USA contestants. When even Carrie Prejean calls you out on your sexism, perhaps it’s time to take a long, hard look in the mirror.

 

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