Women Represent

I was buying from a neighborhood store when Davina Bennett, Jamaica’s representative to the 2017 Miss Universe Pageant caught my attention. “Sexual abuse is a form abuse and no form of abuse should be tolerated whether in workplace or in society,” she said.

As everyone seemed to be glued on their sit to watch the pageant unfold, I caught myself in between train of thoughts—that of the pageant, which was founded in 1952 continue to commodify women and how rights activists anywhere in the world have pushed for the discontinuation of such. But pageants persist for some reason, and not even a progressive local policy such as the Women’s Development Code could stop the holding of beauty pageants in Davao City, for instance.

At the same time, I was mulling over on how the Q&A portion of the Ms. Universe pageant has ventured to more pressing and relevant issues. I wonder if it was a conscious decision among organizers in a bid to level up the discourse on pressing global concerns, including becoming a platform to educate its viewers on some issues.

Miss Jamaica 2017 Davina Bennett (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Then again, no one can dispute the fact that at the end of the day, everything boils down to having the captive market for products and of upholding the image of women in what is considered to be the proper body size, donning skimpy bathing suits and fashionably designed wears.

My thoughts were disrupted by one viewer, who upon the announcement of the top three contestants—Columbia, Jamaica and South Africa, exclaimed “gipalit gyud na ang sa Jamaica ba,” implying that there are much better, fair-skinned contestants who could have been included among the finalists.

Ultimately, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa was crowned as the 2017 Miss Universe. Immediately after the telecast, the viewers expressed frustration, disgust even as described by one television reporter, over the failure of the Miss Philippines representative, Rachel Peters, to bring home the crown. The reaction was not surprising though, considering the penchant of supporters, whenever faced with failure to automatically claim unfair judgment.

It is interesting how ordinary mortals congregate in the small corners of the streets, in homes and even in workspaces to watch pageants (or boxing and wrestling). For few hours, everything seems to be on a standstill as viewers watch, amazed on how seemingly perfect the faces and bodies of women were, how flawless and long-legged they were.

Imagine how many girls would again be told not to eat too much, to avoid being too fat, not because of health reasons but of aesthetics. For adults, that would mean being overly cautious and guilty of taking in anything that would put in the extra weight. There are probably few who would ponder on the response of Ms. Jamaica on the question of sexual harassment. Most have probably let it slipped their mind.

Every day, women and girls are in the receiving end of unwelcome sexual advances and other verbal and physical conduct which are sexual in nature. A student confided that she was taken aback when her computer teacher told her that she would forego her boyish nature once she has experienced sex or if ‘makatilaw ka na.’ Fearing any implication on her grades, she decided to keep mum about the whole thing.

Silence is the way out for sexual abuse perpetrators to get away and look for other prey. It is only when women and men, as Miss Jamaica pointed out, to come and work together, can the challenge be hurdled. While listening to the banter among viewers (akin to placing their bet on a derby), I can only surmise that pageants, for all the effort of its organizers to be more gender sensitive and relevant to current times, could never replace on-going education and information to change the persistent view that women brought it to themselves when they are abused either because they asked for it through their clothing and interaction with men, or that they were not careful enough to avoid situations which may put them at risk.

Anywhere, women represent each other. In various ways and forms. There are those who choose to take part in pageants and pick their own advocacies while there are those who choose to take up the cudgel to end rape and sexual violence against women by working directly with them. They are the face of survivors who dare to speak up on their experience of trauma and violence. They are women who may continue to work their way through the pain of abuse to also make a difference in their own communities with whatever they have. They are women who support other women and their choices which they may not necessarily opt to make as their own. (Email comments to roledan@gmail.com)