Sarah Irving

I do things with words, mainly English and Arabic

All for a good cause?

Over the years, my friends and I have dressed up as some pretty bizarre things – angels, nudes, corpses, squirrels, cows – to protest against or raise awareness of issues ranging from GM to nuclear submarines, arms investments to sweatshop labour. Some brave souls have gotten their kit off; one friend had her (very) pregnant tummy emblazoned with a barcode at an anti-GM rally. So I recognise that the spectacle, dressing-up, body art and nudity can all be useful campaign tools. But not under all circumstances.
A couple of days ago, husband sent me this blog post from the FWord. It’s about the planned finals of the Miss Earth ‘beauty’ pageant, to be held at the London Green Fair this June.
Now, optimism might lead you to hope one of two things. One, that despite its name this might be some kind of ‘alternative’ contest, where the winner is chosen for their contribution to local environmental action. Or that it is somehow ironic. A joke, perhaps. But no. The competition website reveals the past finalists to consist largely of what The Sun would refer to as a ‘bevy of blonde beauties’ (yes, they are mostly blonde). The site refers patronisingly to the entrants and winners as ‘our girls’ and features images of them dressed in skimpy outfits (let’s face it: underwear). The entry form asks for general experience and achievements (no specific mention of environmental activism or involvement); the only mention of the environment is a box requesting the applicant’s ‘environmental message’. The T&Cs say that IF they win, the applicant must take part in a local environmental project. Other boxes which must be filled in demand skin tone, eye colour, hair colour and hip, waist and bust sizes. Don’t believe me? Here’s a screenshot:

FireShot capture #004 - 'MISS EARTH I Official England, Scotland, Wales & Ireland Entry' - www_missearthgirls_co_uk_register_php

Now, maybe I’m idealising the past here but I had the impression that at least for a while there was this concept that different struggles were interlinked, and that sexism and misogyny were structurally connected to racism, class exploitation, environmental destruction and animal abuse. Ecofeminists the world over – including, most famously, the Chipko movement in India – linked environmental exploitation and patriarchy. Carol Adams connected women’s oppression with the meat industry. Sadly, some so-called activists have apparently forgotten this. The most high-profile and excruciating example is the animal rights campaign PETA’s repeated use of naked and near-naked women in adverts for vegetarianism and anti-vivisection campaigns. The FWord has a piece on it here, and there’s a Facebook discussion urging the organisation to be more respectful of women here. It doesn’t seem to have worked, because yesterday’s Guardian carried this article on PETA’s most recent campaign, which seems to be even more repulsive than some previous examples. The organisation’s argument seems to be that the models involved chose to use their glamorous images to promote animal rights; how an image of a naked woman offering herself up in a men’s locker room is empowering is beyond me. And it’s depressing to see the environmental movement following PETA’s pitiful example.

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