Thursday, September 19, 2013

Do beauty pageants empower or objectify?

Some Muslims in Indonesia are unhappy about the finals of Miss World 2013 to be held in Bali this week. The event has sparked protests from conservative groups across Indonesia. As a response to classic beauty pageants, Rofi Eka Shanty founded the World Muslimah pageant in 2011. This annual event selects 20 finalists from over 500 candidates using an online selection process based on their proficiency in reciting the Qur’an, and sharing anecdotes of how they wear the hijab.

Shanty explains her reason for creating Indonesia’s alternative to Miss World: ‘We don’t just want to shout “no” to Miss World. We’d rather show our children they have choices. Do you want to be like the women in Miss World? Or like those in Muslimah World?’

This hints of a divisive us-or-them attitude towards the women who participate in Miss World as being immodest or having loose morals – a view supported by Indonesian protestors holding placards reading ‘Miss World Is Whore Contest’ and ‘Miss World Go To Hell’. Women in World Muslimah, in contrast, are pious and modest.

Often confused with other classic pageants such as Miss Universe (promoting intelligence and good manners) and Miss International (promoting world peace and goodwill), Miss World is the world’s oldest beauty pageant. It began in 1951 as a bikini contest, but added intelligence, personality and talent segments in the 80s as a response to protests by women’s liberation activists in the 70s. A more recent campaign to promote the concept of ‘beauty for a cause’ is the Philippines-based Miss Earth pageant (promoting environmental activism), which started in 2001 – an idea echoed by the World Muslimah pageant with its goal to show how ‘beauty can be a driving inspiration’.

Although not judging women’s (uncovered) bodies seems to be the main idea of the World Muslimah pageant, the event still includes a ‘parade of Islamic fashions’ to show that young Muslim women do not have to show their ‘immodest’ hair and bare shoulders in order to be considered beautiful. Indeed, wearing the hijab is one of the main (and most visible) requirements of the World Muslimah event, with photos of previous events showing a sea of elaborately-decorated hijabs. Demonstrating a hijab style is also one of the event’s segments.

Furthermore, before entering the grand final of World Muslimah 2013 on September 18, the 20 finalists have to participate in workshops covering spiritual subjects such as Qur’an memorisation, developing ‘humanitarian intelligence’, Islam’s challenges, how to be the best wife and mother in Islam; as well as practical subjects such as fashion photography, public speaking, presentation skills, beauty, style, fashion modelling and stage performance. This is in addition to reciting the Qur’an and performing both compulsory and optional evening prayers on the day of the finals.

I can appreciate the alternative criteria for the World Muslimah pageant, which includes academic and social achievements and certain markers of religiosity, as a means to promote positive role models for young Muslim women. It is also a way to make Islam more relatable to young people, as shown by a male version of an Islamic pageant in Malaysia called Imam Muda (Young Imam), although this television series did not include any physical markers of religiosity (eg keeping a beard) and judged young men based on their religious knowledge and skills.

However, the claim that World Muslimah is ‘Islam’s answer to Miss World’ begs the question: What was Miss World looking for? Miss World accepted Muslim women, even though the swimsuit segment of their competition often meant that they were excluded.

World Muslimah is mostly an Indonesian women’s pageant (14 out of 20 finalists are Indonesian). At its core, it is still about judging young, slim, educated women and what they wear and do. The crucial difference is that piety, the only thing that remains invisible and that only God can assess (53:32), is now reduced to markers like Qur’an recitation (not necessarily understanding it) and wearing hijab in fashionable ways. What about Muslim women who do a lot of social and humanitarian good, without necessarily being hijabis?

Women who participate in beauty pageants should not be accused of being immodest whores. There is no need to react to whatever we find degrading from the ‘West’ by making Islamic versions for hijabis. Let’s instead think twice about supporting the institution of pageantry that promotes the objectification and judging of women’s bodies and minds.

This post was originally published at Aquila Style

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Budding Bedfellows: Islamists and Feminists against Beauty Pageants

This post was originally published on Muslimah Media Watch on 11 Sep 2013

This last week has seen protests in Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya and Jogjakarta over the Miss World 2013 beauty pageant to be held in the next few weeks. Recently, I wrote a post about a similar debate in Malaysia where their Muslim participants were eventually dropped. The Miss World 2013 protests numbered in the thousands and were made up of members of small Islamist organizations such as the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front or FPI) on the island of Java, and Muslimah Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (MHTI) in Sumatra. The protesters were described as ‘conservatives’ and ‘Muslim hardliners’ (here and here).
‘Miss World is not of our culture’ and ‘Miss World destroys women’s character’
Source: Demotix
The main reasons given for rejecting the beauty pageant, as expressed by the Majlis Ulema Indonesia (Indonesian Ulama Council or MUI) was that it was not in line with ‘Eastern’ culture:
“Muslims should protest strongly against this event, especially as it is linked with the self-worth of the Muslim community and our Eastern culture.”
Similarly, the spokesperson of MHTI, Honriani Nasution, used the protest as an opportunity to push for Islamic law:
Miss World = A Cultural Liberalization Campaign’
Source: The State
“At the North Sumatra governor’s office, we sent a delegation to convey our opposition to the organization of the 2013 Miss World and other similar contests and urged the government to immediately implement Islamic law because only under Islamic values are women honored deeply.”
I did not find it surprising that the pageant was constructed as a ‘liberal Western’ import and that opposition to it should come in the form of supporting ‘conservative Eastern’ culture. However, I was interested in the fact that most of the pictures featured women. I was also interested that some placards appeared to indicate other reasons for being against the pageant, such as anti-corporation or anti-capitalism, and the objectification and exploitation of women’s bodies.

Poster suggesting that participants are being ridiculed, with the hashtag #RejectMissWorld
Source: The Wall Street Journal
These other reasons for opposing pageants seemed to make more sense, especially since it had already been confirmed by the chairwoman of the Miss World Organization, Julia Morley, that there would be no bikinis in the swimsuit segment; instead, participants would wear a one-piece suit and a showcase of sarongs.

While browsing the hashtag #RejectMissWorld on Twitter, I came across several tweets that highlighted a 2011 protest in London by the London Feminist Network at the 60thanniversary of Miss World. The founder of the feminist organization UK Feminista, Kat Banyard, made an argument against Miss World that similarly pitted the ‘backwards’ culture of female objectification with ‘modern Britain’:

Source: Twitter @hidcom
”We’re here because Miss World has absolutely no place in a world that treats women and men equally. It perpetuates the beauty myth [and] indoctrinates people across the world with its toxic ideals, We know that [those ideals] have a very harmful effect.”
This is essentially the same argument as the ‘Muslim hardliners’ in Indonesia. While the conservative Muslims point towards the superiority of Islamic values and Islamic law in deeply honouring women (but not necessarily considering them as being on equal footing to men in all aspects), secular feminists point to the notion of the modern, egalitarian nation-state that rejects female objectification (but not necessarily acknowledging or appreciating any material or spiritual differences between sexes).

It is indeed fascinating to see two groups who would hardly consider each other allies, or work together in solidarity, somehow agree that Miss World (and perhaps beauty pageants that show women’s bodies in general) is an event worth protesting against.

Women that identify themselves as Muslim feminists, such as Asma Lamrabet and Ziba Mir Hosseini (and perhaps some of the writers on this site) often find themselves at the intersection of this debate: do they oppose or promote an issue because they are Muslims, or because they are (secular) feminists? The recent troubles with Femen’s anti-Islam actions seem to further divide these two groups. Nevertheless, the protests against Miss World suggest that female objectification is certainly one issue that both groups could agree on.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Tips to Keep Your Husband Happy

I'm back! And I haven't seen such a misogynist, egotistical and male-serving piece of marriage advice in such a long time. I can't make this crazy oppressive stuff up (original Malay text below, from here).

  1. When your husband is speaking, keep quiet and listen to him, and don't interrupt or cut him off. Ever heard of conversation? 
  2. When your husband is angry,  keep quiet and don't answer back. If you like to answer back, make your point or strengthen your argument, you will make your husband even angrier. Don't be surprised if your husband leaves the house for days, or doesn't want to talk to you as a form of penalty for your wifely stubbornness. Oh but I am surprised! However, if he comes home don't continue or repeat the old issues. Welcome him with a loving smile and immediately ask for forgiveness. I think if or when he comes home it's my turn to leave. Don't wait for a husband to apologise to a wife, because this kills his ego as a man. That's the point of apology though, right?
  3. Sometimes a husband likes to tease his wife on purpose. If he hurts your feelings you have to be patient, and don't sulk. But if you hurt his feelings the sky is falling! See #1. Sulking is an immature and childish reaction. Let us observe the behaviour of children, they will quickly shout if something is wrong, especially if it's their own mother telling them off. They will stamp their feet and shout their lungs out to get sympathy from their mother. Um, I'm not sure how this is such a great analogy. 
  4. If his nails, moustache or beard is long then don't hesitate to cut it (if the beard is longer than a fistful). You mean, ask him to cut it, right? Do I have to cut it myself? They don't call it 'personal hygiene' for nothing. I thought we weren't supposed to be like children? See #3. Choose the best days like Monday, Thursday and Friday.
  5. If he wants something then the wife should quickly respond. Get up immediately when he calls you. Don't delay his demands so that you will not make him angry or hurt. Are we in bootcamp or what? 
  6. You should cook according to your husband's preferences, not your own. If he likes to eat curry or really spicy coconut curry, then don't cook sweet and sour fish or fried fish. How about really spicy fried fish curry? That's called compromise. He will be happy when his appetite is satisfied. Don't take it out on the fish by smashing it as a way to take out your anger on your husband, who wants food cooked his way while you don't like these dishes. I told you I couldn't make this up.
  7. If his clothes are torn or has a missing button, quickly fix it. Sew it as beautifully as you can so that the clothing looks neat and pretty. Don't take this lightheartedly because the stitching symbolises a wife's personality and intention - whether she was sincere or forced herself. Even sewing has symbolic significance now? I thought it symbolised a withdrawal from the capitalist economy and the support of sweatshops in China and Bangladesh. All husbands would be proud if their clothes were sewn by hand by the delicate fingers of his wife. At least this can help save on household costs. I'd save more money if he had less clothes. Or if he didn't live in this house!

Petua Melayan Suami

1. Semasa suami bercakap hendaklah isteri diam mendengarnya dan jangan suka menyampuk atau memotong cakapnya.

2. Bila suami marah hendaklah isteri mendiamkan diri,jangan suka menjawab. Sikap suka menjawab, bertekak dan... menegakkan kebenaran sendiri akan menambahkan lagi kemarahan suami. Jangan terkejut jika suami angkat kaki meninggalkan rumah berhari-hari atau tidak mahu bertegur sapa dengan anda sebagai denda di atas kedegilan anda sebagai isteri. Sebaliknya, kalau suami kembali ke rumah jangan disambung atau diulang-ulangi cerita lama. Sambutlah suami dengan senyuman kasih sayang dan bersegeralah meminta maaf. Jangan kita tunggu suami meminta maaf dengan isteri, jatuhlah martabat keegoannya selaku seorang lelaki.

3. Kadang-kadang si suami sengaja suka mengusik isterinya. Bila dia menyakiti hati isteri hendaklah banyak bersabar, jangan cepat merajuk. Merajuk adalah sifat orang yang tidak matang dan seperti perangai keanak-anakan. Cuba kita perhatikan perangai kanak-kanak, mereka akan cepat menjerit bila ada sesuatu yang tidak kena tambahan pula kalau yang menegurnya itu ibunya sendiri. Sengaja dihentak-hentakkan kaki meraung sekuat hati meminta simpati dari ibunya.

4. Bila kuku, misai dan janggutnya panjang hendaklah segera dipotongkan (jika panjang janggutnya lebih dari segenggam). Pilihlah hari-hari yang terbaik iaitu hari Isnin, Khamis dan Jumaat.

5. Jika dia berhajat sesuatu hendaklah isteri cepat bertindak. Bangun segera bila disuruh. Jangan melengah-lengahkan kemahuannya supaya tidak mencetuskan kemarahan atau rasa tersinggung di hatinya. Jangan isteri buat acuh tak acuh, hatinya akan kecewa dan menandakan isteri sudah tidak taat padanya.

6. Hendaklah memasak mengikut kesukaan suami bukannya ikut selera isteri. Kalau suami suka makan gulai kari atau masak lemak cili api, janganlah kita masak lauk asam pedas atau ikan goreng. Suami akan gembira bila seleranya ditepati. Janganlah pula ikan yang menjadi mangsa, diketuk lengkang-lengkung hingga hancur kerana meradangkan sikap suami yang mahu lauk tersebut dimasak mengikut seleranya sedangkan isteri tidak menggemarinya.

7. Apabila pakaian suami koyak atau tercabut butangnya hendaklah segera dijahit. Jahitlah dengan secantik yang boleh supaya pakaian itu kelihatan kemas dan cantik. Jangan dibuat sambil lewa kerana jahitan tersebut akan melambangkan peribadi isteri samada ikhlas atau terpaksa. Semua suami akan berasa bangga jika pakaiannya dijahit sendiri oleh jari-jemari halus isterinya, sekurang-kurangnya dapat menampung ekonomi rumahtangga.


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