Narail Kantho: Academic literature suggests that as they are restricted to the realm of the female, they are frequently discussed in issues relating to identity, objectification, gender inequality, and the male gaze Beauty pageants are not without their controversies. Academic literature suggests that as they are restricted to the realm of the female, they are frequently discussed in issues relating to identity, objectification, gender inequality, and the male gaze.
However, the literature also illustrates that the winners of pageants are symbols of nationhood and femininity, and they signify that their respective countries have arrived on the global stage. Beauty queens do become a source of pride for the nations they represent, and many pageant participants have gone on to forge political careers for themselves, thanks to the confidence, poise under pressure, and public speaking skills that they developed.
What of Bangladeshi beauty pageants?
A video clip from the Miss World Bangladesh pageant which made the rounds and into my email, is definitely worthy of many a chinta and it has understandably created quite a stir.
My initial reaction was, how is it that there were no demonstrations against such a contest, when there were about sari clad statues outside court buildings? A pageant is a representation is it not? (Please do enlighten me if there were any protests).
I then checked the Miss World Bangladesh website. The requirements to participate in the pageant include “being a Bangladeshi female citizen, 18-27 years old, and never been married or given birth”.
The legal marriage age for females in Bangladesh is 18, but girls under 18 are allowed to be lawfully wedded with consent from their parents and in a court; statistics illustrate that half the girls under 18 are married already.
Therefore, if the purpose of this pageant was to choose a representative of feminine Bangladesh, and it has already excluded (probably) more than half of the female citizens, it begs the question then of which image of the Bangladeshi woman it was aiming to portray.
Given that beauty pageants are a relatively new phenomenon in the country, I am assuming (and do feel free to disagree) that perhaps our participant in the Miss World contest is meant to be the new Bangladeshi modern woman who can construct her own identity through beauty and personality, and not by becoming a wife and mother, and take her place in the world stage.
Why not? And if that is the case, then I suppose it is important for her to demonstrate a basic working knowledge of English, as it is the lingua franca. And I am certain that the two contestants in this video, whose gaffes seem to have become a source of great amusement for many, would have been able to do as such had they received the proper training.
I strongly feel that they did not deserve to be laughed at. Rather, why they were not prepared to answer the questions is what needs to be addressed, if the show was aiming to choose a candidate to compete in the international arena.
I watched most of the show on Youtube, and frankly I did not find any bit of it ‘funny’. Rather, I found it revealing of the socio-economic, cultural and linguistic changes taking place in the country, and I wondered if the beauty economy was poised for a take – off.
I realised that whether you are enamoured by beauty pageants, mock them, or are averse to them, they are no laughing matter.