What would Ms ANU look like?

Recent years have seen an explosion of male pageantry events at the ANU – Mr ANU and the like. Why haven’t similar events emerged for women?

The most obvious issue is that it is hard for a young Australian woman to be provocatively sexy in the same way men are at Mr ANU without being made uncomfortable by the degree of objectification involved. The competitors in Mr ANU revel in their objectification by and large, but this is arguably because they are given tacit social permission to do so. The mores surrounding womens’ performance of their own sexuality are different and there is thus a real danger that a Ms ANU event could come off as just another card in the house of the patriarchy.

A second issue is that soft social stereotypes towards female comedy, particularly where appearance is concerned, are not favourable (though Tina Fey, Jenna Fischer and co. are slowly changing that). Women are allowed to orient humour around their appearance provided they are not conventionally attractive. This is the model of Magda Szubanski, Lena Dunham and Margaret Cho. Being proud of looking devastating and being self-deprecating about it is a bit of an uncharted frontier for women, and there remains an undercurrent of opposition to women satirising their attractiveness.

These minefields will have to be negotiated for a Ms ANU event to be successful, because the balance between sexy yet also funny is crucial to a good spoof pageant.  We think these issues are thoroughly surmountable, especially with the right ensemble. Perhaps more importantly, we think Ms ANU could be a venue for creatively and humorously reconciling some of the thornier issues of 21St century feminism, notably the tension between female sexual empowerment and the ongoing hatred of the male gaze. Please allow us to walk you through our vision: we’ll start with the general flavour of the show and then proceed section by section.

Winning Miss Universe involves conforming to a mould informed by rather traditional conceptions of femininity as graceful, pure, competent but deferential; confident but restrained. Most ANU students would agree that this is pretty lame.

What defines top-shelf femininity at Ms ANU? Who knows—we would hope to get original and inspiring visions from the performers. Gender is changing and a big part of the redefinition of femininity is women taking ownership of the term and pushing it in new directions. Ms ANU would provide an opportunity to showcase women’s own perspectives on femininity, female sexual identity and female empowerment, expressed through performance rather than words

There are four key sections of any spoof pageant: formal wear, Q&A, talent and the ‘swimwear’ section.  Each section must contain acts that are sexy and funny in distinctly feminine ways that play on gender and sexual attraction.

This would be easiest to achieve in the talent section. The talent section in Ms ANU could feature subversions of traditional female hobbies. For example, rather than the controlled and chaste movements of ballet, performers could instead re-enact Beyonce’s single ladies. Rather than singing a ballad, a performer might beat-box

The Q&A section would also be relatively easy for the same reasons: feminism and humour dance a merry jig when it comes to satirising traditional female activities and norms. Alternatively, the questions could go more political, for example: ‘what’s your favourite position?’…´CEO.’ Ultimately, the questions should allow for creative and adventurous answers that subvert the Miss Universe style of leading the performer to a conformist answer.

The formal wear section is traditionally about grace and we would like to see it be more about power. Floor length gowns would still fly, but their cut, colour and provocativeness would be less reminiscent of a trophy on a pedestal and instead articulate autonomy and provocation. Contestants could also experiment with the female suit a la Diane Keaton and Sharon Stone.

And finally, the ‘swimwear’ section. For women, surmounting the long cultural history of male sexual oppression requires that a skin section see women affirm themselves as agents, not objects. This aspect might be a little difficult to pull off, and perhaps explains why Ms ANU has not yet successfully gone ahead. One approach is to manipulate the male gaze. The more brazen participants could try a dominatrix act that demands male worship, or a burlesque act that could combine teasing with a ‘can’t touch this’ cheekiness that turns the male gaze from a fortress of social privilege into an innate weakness. Objectification is a tricky thing for women to revel in while remaining empowered, so this section will require some real forethought from competitors. But it might prove an important opportunity for women to get creative about what female sexuality means in the 21st Century.

So what do you think? Could Ms Universe work as a satire of Miss Universe?  Have any ideas for the sections? Want to participate? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and if we get enough people interested we will lobby ANUSA to host the event next o-week. Do send us an email at 2014msanu@gmail.com.