Do We Need Miss Universe?

Do We Need Miss Universe?
Photo Credit:Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Miss Universe is more than just a beauty pageant to many in the Philippines.

The Philippines hosted this year’s Miss Universe pageant after winning the crown last year for the third time. As expected, the country is going nuts about the whole affair.

Criticism has been leveled at both the Miss Universe pageant and the Filipina representative Maxine Medina. Gabriela, the largest and arguably most influential grassroots women’s group in the country, says, “The Miss Universe pageant is an expensive exercise to lull the people and the international audience into a false sense of well-being and celebration.”

They add that the Department of Tourism has marketed the pageant and the country as a destination for beautiful women willing to sell themselves to the highest bidder.

Sections of the public have thrown shade on the perceived shortcomings of Medina. In contrast to current Queen Pia Wurtzbach, Medina has a darker complexion and her English is seen as subpar for a Filipino. We are reminded once more that these things matter in the country.

Former winners of the contest from the country, Margie Moran and Gloria Diaz, however, have stressed that the most important thing is to subjugate these feelings for a welcome reprieve from social stresses. Less talk, more entertainment is the most dangerous attitude one can have on this matter.

Colonially comical

Most Filipinos go crazy for this stuff. Self-proclaimed “missosologists” are in every office, and local beauty pageants for men, women, children and LGBT can be found in every corner of the archipelago. Lunch time pageants are viewed by millions on some of the most popular national TV programs. Grade schools, and even some universities, always find some excuse to include a beauty contest or two in campus gatherings. If you’re a Filipino, it is likely that you or someone close to you has participated in a competition based on looks and poise.

The fairness of one’s skin and the ability to sound more American are undeniable assets for winning. Something taught at a very earlier age. Certainly through the years, many have frowned and disparaged this outlook. But the fact of the matter is whenever our contestant comes on for the world to see the ‘little brown American’ (how colonizers used to refer to Filipinos during the occupation) planted inside of us springs to life. These can often have comical results whose parodies have become a staple of culture and entertainment.

Former Miss International Melanie Marquez is a classic example. Her “Melanisms” are some of the most memorable in contemporary culture. Her amusing and memorable attempts at English have been thoroughly ridiculed has become a wave of comedy she has ridden like a good sport. The audience ends up laughing with her instead of at her.

Some of her best lines are “I couldn’t care a damn,” “Don’t judge my brother, he’s not a book,” and “Can you repeat that for the second time around and once more from the top?”

But it’s hard to understand what the public sees as funny or shameful. In 2008, Janina San Miguel also made a few blunders in her overtly yet contrived and Americanized answers in the local competition.

San Miguel eventually won Miss Philippines. She was, however, mocked relentlessly. A barrage of ridicule that stemmed from an underlying contempt for what is deemed to be “provincial,” “uneducated,” or the opposite of being classy — something that has long been defined along the lines of an American ideal and image.

Current Queen Pia Wurtzbach affirmed this attitude by lauding the presence of U.S. military bases in the country during the Q&A segment at last year’s competition. She did this eloquently in English, and could have probably done so in Filipino as well. Her language of choice was not important, but the answer projected the colonial aspiration despite military bases having been at the center of so many historical crimes against Filipinos.

Rebel queens

Not all have taken the traditional route of beauty queen infamy.

Nelia Sancho and Maita Gomez were two prominent pageant figures in the late 1960s, and when former President Ferdinand Marcos was about to declare Martial Law, the two joined the underground resistance movement. Sancho was a human rights worker while Gomez became a red fighter in the guerilla army for nearly a decade. The two would eventually help to found Gabriela and organize protests against the commodification and exploitation of women everywhere, including pageants.

In the 1970s and at the backdrop of a military junta, they discarded the entire paradigm of beauty queens and dedicated themselves to the pursuit of genuine democracy. Until her death, Gomez was known to be exasperated at any mention of her “achievements” in pageantry, saying that patriarchal societies have a tendency to elevate the more commercialized facets of being woman instead of what she has done for revolutionary struggles.

The two activists have been hailed as an example for what it means to be a modern and militant woman. And yet here we are in 2017 when any sort of discourse on Miss Universe manifesting the colonial and patriarchal heritage of the country is helped into the gutter by Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran.

The backlash Gabriela has received recently hasn’t helped. Pundits, netizens and commentators alike have accused the group of raining on everybody’s parade, inciting disarray in an otherwise enjoyable time and being a bunch of ugly women not getting enough attention.

There is a planned protest on Monday during the pageant — the first after so many years. Gabriela and others remind the nation of what women have achieved in advancing their rights and dignity. They are a welcome throwback for a newer generation of rebels looking to steer the attention towards uplifting exploited women instead of ignoring it.

Editor: Olivia Yang