'THE DAYS of Miss World are numbered. Miss World is a reactionary, backward looking contest. Women should not be forced to look a certain way or be a certain shape. We're not animals in the marketplace.' That was how Sue, a student from east London, described why she had joined the angry demonstration outside the Olympia exhibition centre in London last Saturday.
The Miss World contest, which judges women as if they were to be bought and sold like cattle, was back in London for the first time in ten years. The attempted rehabilitation of Miss World is part of a wider attempt to turn back the clock on the gains women have won over the last two decades. The organisers have gained the confidence to bring the contest back to London because of the atmosphere created by 'New Lad' magazines such as Loaded. These magazines have tried to make sexism acceptable among young people. Anyone who objects is told they are unfashionable and out of date. But it is the Miss World contest which is backward looking.
The reality of life for women is that they work outside the home, go to college and want to be treated as the equals of men. That is why young women, and men, are coming to the same conclusion as those who stormed, picketed and disrupted the Miss World contests in the past. They are not prepared to see women judged on the way they look.
The sleazy businessmen behind the contest got a shock when their limousines rolled up outside Olympia on Saturday. They were greeted with the fury of women determined to stop their sexist cattle market. 'Miss World, we're not cattle. We'll shut you down just like Seattle,' demonstrators chanted as they threw eggs and flour over the flashy suits.
Every time one of the men in a penguin suit made a derogatory remark to the protesters he was covered with a shower of flour. A group of 50 stormed into Olympia before the contest was due to start. They were met by a line of security guards who pushed, shoved and hit protesters. One of the well heeled women attending the contest also started lashing out and trying to punch and kick people. She was met with a covering of flour over her posh frock. 'You can stick your sexist profits up your arse,' sang the protesters.
Maureen said she had been on pickets of Miss World in the 1970s. 'I was in my 40s when the women's movement was at its height. It was our protests which helped create the atmosphere that we would not tolerate such sexism. But over the last ten years advertisers and magazine editors have wanted to turn the clock back. How dare they treat us as if we're nothing but amusement for men? Women are not going back to the kitchen. We fought before and we'll fight now.'
Everyone who protested felt proud of their stand. Their action helped to ensure that this latest attempt to rehabilitate Miss World backfired. Papers such as the Mirror and the Sun, which had tried to build up the contest beforehand, barely mentioned the result of the contest. The television news coverage was dominated by the protests. And the contest was only broadcast live on the barely watched Channel 5.
Even the Sunday Express was forced to admit, 'It was protests like these from the feminists of the seventies and eighties that finally sent Miss World off the mainstream broadcasting schedules and into television exile on satellite.' TV producers should learn the same lessons from this year's Miss World and scrap this sexist contest. As Sue from east London put it, 'We want to look forward to winning real freedom for women, not backwards to the 1950s where women were supposed to be meek and passive.'