Thursday, June 26, 2008

Miss Pakistan World: "Saving" One Woman at a Time

Earlier this month Mississauga, Ontario hosted the 6th annual Miss Pakistan World Pageant. I wasn't there; however, this will not hinder me from critiquing the concept. Creator Sonia Ahmed (pictured here on the far right) started the pageant to "create a pool of talented Pakistanis all around the world." She felt that "Pakistani girls had a lot of talent, some could dance, some could sing, most of them wanted to become models, but all this was not possible since there was no platform for them to be showcased and hence, Miss Pakistan World was put together with the support of these young women.” She has expressed that the pageant is for "modern Pakistani women." Additionally, she referred to the latest pageant as "a new chapter in Pakistani liberation."

A pageant liberating women? A pageant, which reduces women to the sum of their body parts, and not much else, is supposed to liberate the women of Pakistan? I guess education, equality in pay, equal treatment by the law are not the way to go for liberation. But rather having your body judged while walking across a stage in a bikini will liberate the women of Pakistan.

We all know how Western media often depicts Muslim women as weak and helpless. Ahmed, a Pakistani herself, repeats this sentiment when she says:

Pakistani women have always felt compelled to stay in the background. They have never had the same opportunities to create a voice and stand for what they believe in. It was only after living in Canada that I realized that women really do have the power to make a difference and make a change. You see it every day here (in Canada) and I hope that the women of Pakistan begin to see that as part of their reality soon.

This quote is irritating on a number of levels. The assumptions being made here are insulting to the
women of Pakistan. The assumption is that the women of Pakistan have not tried to help themselves and have submissively accepted their ill-treatment. The assumption is also that her beauty pageant will save these women. Now, it has been offensive enough when traditionally many feminists have tried to implement their theories of freedom and liberation on women of the East. However, to say that a pageant, an objectifying and sexualizing event, will encourage the women of Pakistan to begin to better their lives, demeans the intelligence of Pakistani women. It also demeans the work of all these amazing Pakistani women who have been working for the betterment and success of Pakistan and Pakistani women for decades.

The pageant has faced criticism in Pakistan just for existing because it is said to encourage shameless behaviour. To me, it is not the revealing of body parts itself which is irritating. It is the judgment and worth based on those revealed body parts. But then insult is added to injury when a superficial and objectifying event is amplified to such an arrogant level so as to appear to "save" women; women who have already been hard at work for ages helping themselves.

It seems Ms. Ahmed and her pageant need to step off their self-positioned pedestal and recognize the reality of beauty pageants which reduce women to objects. And they need to stop insulting the women of Pakistan by assuming that their work has been the breakthrough Pakistani women have been needing for so long.