Before I begin this week's column I might as well get all the angry reader responses to it out of the way first, to save some of you the trouble later on. Are you ready? Right:

“Lighten up.”

“If you don't like it, don't watch it.”

“Your (sic) just jealous.”

I think that might be all of them... oh no, wait, there's one more:


There, that's all of them.

Now on with the column which, as I'm sure you've gathered from the photo of whichever bright-eyed, glossy-haired young thing my editor has no doubt whacked in the middle of all these words, is about the Miss Universe competition.

Yes, Miss Universe, that ridiculous anachronism that rewards young women for excellence in the field of having been born beautiful.

I'm sure we all recognise what an important global cultural event this is.

After all, without Miss Universe we women wouldn't know who to model ourselves on for the year, and no one would have a clue what their national costume is. (Hint: last year ours was a diamante-covered blue feathery thing that looked like it had been rejected from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert for being too over the top.) (Hey, it could have been worse: America had a Transformers robot costume).

I'm joking, obviously. Miss Universe, and beauty pageants like it, are stupid and degrading piles of nonsense that reduce adult women to nothing more than walking mounds of hair, skin and teeth to be judged like prize cattle.

The only thing more offensive than the fact that in all its 62 years Miss Universe has never featured a contestant from outside Earth (they really should change the name), is that IT'S BEEN GOING FOR 62 YEARS.

It seems unbelievable that in 2014, a year when once upon a time we all fancied we'd be so advanced we'd be driving hover cars and living on the moon, we are still gawping at a moronic celebration of consumerism and patriarchal control that began as a way to market swimsuits, leering at the perky boobs and taut stomach muscles and cinched waists that we are told is the western feminine ideal.

After more than half a century Miss Universe is still stuck in the 1950s, when women existed to be looked at, not to actually do anything (unless it involved a bikini in some way, or perhaps baking). The only thing remotely modern about it is that you can now watch it on an iPad.

Contestants are judged by three categories: how they look in bathers (essential for being a successful woman, obviously), how they look in an evening dress (as Hilary Clinton knows, you'll never get anywhere in life if you can't pull off a drop-waist satin ballgown), and how they answer a single question that is picked out of a hat, like a bingo ball.

Actually, strike that, no one cares what they say. Last year's winner was asked what her biggest fear was and said “I believe we should overcome all of our fears and this in turn will make us much stronger”, so I think we can all agree the interview segment is, at best, a token effort to prove the competition isn't all about looks. Which, of course, it is.

In fact if there was ever a clear indication that a Miss Universe winner is supposed to smile and keep her lipsticked mouth shut, it was this week's news that the finalist from Thailand had stepped down after sparking social media outrage over her political comments. The silly girl obviously didn't realise she wasn't supposed to have opinions.

I have to admit there was a time, years ago, when I quite enjoyed Miss Universe. I found it all rather funny and camp, and thought it was stupid, harmless fun.

Now I see it for what it is: another way to treat women as objects. Another way to dehumanise us to make it acceptable to view us as a sum of our body parts, not actual people. Another way to use us to sell swimsuits, or whatever it is that Miss Universe owner Donald Trump wants us to buy these days.

We might be living in a time when feminism is once again a hot topic, with words like “sexism” and “misogyny” regularly bandied about in parliament and the media and feminist thinkers and writers leading public debate on a range of social issues.

But it's also a time when our Prime Minister has just one woman in his cabinet ministry, and only 10 women out of 42 South Australians got Queens' Birthday Honours, and the gender pay gap still exists.

After 62 years, Miss Universe is well past her prime. For women to ever truly overcome inequality, we have to stop putting them on parade.


First published in The Advertiser on June 13, 2014.