Miss World: Globalization to Feminism to Islam to Patriarchy

837 words | 3 page(s)

In the documentary Nigeria: The Road North televised through the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) program “Frontline,” Alexis Bloom reports on the effects caused by the 2002 Miss World beauty contest when it was to be staged in the country of Nigeria. The story touches upon issues related to globalization, religious beliefs, culture and even feminism, but underneath all of the confusion and chaos exists the all-too apparent influence of male dominance, otherwise referred as patriarchy.

The Miss World beauty pageant begins during the height of England’s post-war reconstruction period in the 1950s. Originally planned as a one-time event, the success of the single pageant led to a yearly staging that was broadcast on television solely for audiences through western Europe (“Miss World Woes: A Chronicle of the Pageant’s Troubles.”). This would lead to one of many controversies that would beset the contest over the years. First, came the issue of excluding countries outside of Europe, which was followed in the 1960s by reports of socially unacceptable behaviors on the part of contestants and a bourgeoning feminist movement that would eventually wreak havoc on the contest throughout the 1970s (“Miss World Woes”). In 1977 more controversy struck as pageant organizers were threatened with a United Nations boycott when South Africa, recognized for its policies related to apartheid at the time, was allowed to enter the contest. In the later 1980s, the pageant was beset by animal rights groups protesting when some of the contestants expressed support for animal mistreatment and also for wearing coats made of animal fur (“Miss World Woes”).

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After going into its fourth decade the organizers of the Miss World contest had proven a resolve to overcome any controversy that was thrown at their pageant and the 1990s would prove to challenge their persistence in the face of an issue they had seemingly never considered: culture. The 1996 contest held in Bangalore, India was posed with various cultural forces opposed to its staging, “from Indian farmers to women’s groups, from right-wing Hindus of the Bharatiya Janata Party to members of India’s left-wing Communist Party”. (“Miss World Woes”). Globalization also came to the fore as many individuals expressed concerns related to western capitalist ideals, which they thought was epitomized through the pageant. The pageant in India also brought about its first casualty as one individual committed suicide through self-immolation in a sign of protest (“Miss World Woes”). But if there were anything close to a capstone to the many challenges faced by the pageant over the decades it would have to have occurred during what was to be the 2002 contest in Nigeria.

Nigeria is an oil-rich African nation with the dubious distinction of not allowing its economic fortunes to trickle down to its citizens. As a result, the country has a high rate of poverty and continues to experience a great deal of civil unrest as a result (“Miss World Woes”). At the time, Nigerian leaders had bid to host the contest in the hopes of capitalizing on the positive image this would convey to the rest of world. But, similar to the events occurring in India during the 90s, a maelstrom of protesting against the pageant took place which was led by supporters of Islam’s sharia code which strictly forbids women to be displayed in the manner that had become standard to the pageant. Some of the pageant delegates dropped out in order to support a young Nigerian woman who was soon to be stoned to death (under sharia law) for the alleged crime of adultery (“Miss World Woes”). Shortly after, the country would erupt into a series of riots caused after a young, female reported had written in an article that even the prophet Muhammad would have chosen any number of contestants as a bride. The tumult in Nigeria would eventually force pageant organizers to flee the country and stage a scaled-down version of the contest in England (“Miss World Woes”).

The Miss World contest has survived over 40 years of controversy and continues to this day. It is as much a testament to the perseverance of its organizers as it is a prism by which globalization tends view people and culture through homogenization. In their distinct ways, both India and Nigeria revolted against the western onslaught of globalization, but one prevailing issue appears to have been overlooked throughout the turmoil: Beauty pageants such as the Miss World contest remains an extension of the patriarchal ideal where the female gender remains objectified as for purposes of sexuality. However, it can also be stated that sharia law is more of the same, as a young woman was threatened with her life at the hands of religious laws solely instituted by males. The story of the Miss World beauty pageant is fraught with events that have occurred through the results of an ever-changing world.

  • “Miss World Woes: A Chronicle of the Pageant’s Troubles.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 2003. Web. 15 Dec. 2014.
  • Nigeria: The Road North. Prod. Alexis Bloom and Cassandra Herrman. Rep. Alexis Bloom. PBS, 2003. Television Documentary.

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