By Dilar Dirik:
Although there are much more important and crucial things on the Kurdish agenda these days, I felt the need to consider the social implications of a so-called beauty pageant in Kurdistan, as trivial as it may initially sound. A few days ago, I discovered that Shene Ako was crowned as “Miss Kurdistan” by a Lebanese committee in Arbil, South Kurdistan – good for her. At first I thought that it was kind of nice that we can assert our identity in a creative variety of ways now – a few decades ago, such a competition would have been unthinkable in Kurdistan. But then I raised an eyebrow, when I saw people on social networks applaud Kurdish beauty contests as “progressive” or “modern”. How can an organization that reduces women to decoratively smiling, automatized dolls be a step towards progress by any means?
First of all, beauty pageants are part of the most subtle and insidious manifestations of modern day patriarchy everywhere, in Arbil, as well as in New York City. The woman’s body is constructed just as any other product of capitalist consumerism and advertized in an awfully reducing way. Even though most beauty competitions pretend to value the special talents and goals of the contestants, it is no secret that the preference ultimately comes down to the outward appearance of the women, the art of commercializing what Western ideals have imposed on the world as “beauty”. In the light of an ultra-patriarchic society, such as Kurdistan, a sudden appearance of beauty contests seems to be a sign of development, but it’s not. Beauty pageants are a different way of exploiting women, they are modern ways of capitalist patriarchy and just as abusive of women’s integrity as other, more obvious violations of women’s rights.
Secondly, we must challenge what we consider as “modern” and how we want to evaluate such paradigms. It is important to realize that not all that is Western is desirable and not everything that is modern is necessarily an indicator of progress. Global capitalism is undergoing a major crisis at the moment and people around the world are becoming more conscious of its flaws. The term “Western” itself is subject to inadequacy, as it is neither coherent in its geographic definitions, nor in its dogmatic implications. Australia is considered Western, even though it is in the East while, at the same time, one of the highest principles of the Western world – secularity – becomes inadequate, as the United States’ presidential candidates throw ideological accusations at each other, based on highly personal, but politicized religious beliefs. Though I am a great supporter of many values that have originated in the Western world, I do believe that we need to let go off the ideal vision that we create of the paradigm of the West and challenge our tendency to arbitrarily copy others. Even if we take the West as a model in certain instances, we need to be selective and prioritize the values we want to uphold. The West is by no means flawless or perfect, but it can offer us important insights with its history, its mistakes and successes. However, if we jump on any Western product as if it is a guarantor for great developments, we will not be able to make our own history, advance our own society, improve our own cultural problems. We cannot borrow anything from foreign constructs and praise them as unconditionally positive ideas, or else we will not experience our own evolution.
Lastly, the Miss Kurdistan contest has been organized by a Lebanese company and was probably chaired by men, as most other beauty competitions are. We may find emotional attachments to declarations of Misses of Kurdistan, but we need to be clear that we cannot be empowered, if we (a) are not even in charge of these events and (b) don’t challenge the notion of such subtle idealizations of what are in fact other forms of imperialism. We must not let ourselves be exploited for consumerist, capitalist establishments and tell ourselves that we become more modern by buying into things that seem liberating, but really are absurd and counter-productive for real progress.
In that context, I do not think that beauty pageants are a step towards modernity at all. Yes, they are Western products, but they reinforce patriarchy on a neo-liberal level. They are elements of foreign cultures that are not desirable as role-models. They are expressions of the backwardness of an entire global society that degrades women by pretending to value them in appreciating only their looks. Kurdish society is in need of strong, independent female role-models, not factory-made shallow means to an end.