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Mary Kenny: Feminists have often protested against beauty contests - but what if it offers an opportunity for some contestants?

 

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Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Mary Kenny, writer and author. Photo: Tony Gavin

Every time the Rose of Tralee festival comes around, the same debate breaks out: isn't it humiliating and outdated for women to be lined up in any kind of a beauty pageant? Even if the 'Rose' is also judged on her personality, accomplishments and connections with Ireland? Isn't it time it was brought to an end?

The same principle is at the heart of Keira Knightley's new movie about the Miss World contest in 1970, when Women's Liberation stormed the event, threw flour-bombs at the celebrity presenter Bob Hope, and got worldwide headlines for an imaginative stunt. From that moment on, Miss World was described as a cattle-market, objectifying women, judging females on their appearance, and defining them by their "vital statistics" (measurement of boobs, waist and hips).

The new film of the 1970 event, Misbehaviour, sure brings home just how humiliating and demeaning parts of this ritual could be. There's a ghastly moment when the TV interviewer (in real life it was the cordial and harmless Michael Aspel who did MC for 11 years) asks the contestants to show their front assets: and then to turn around and display their derrières for the audience's gaze. That really is a shocking, cattle-market camera shot.