The Sexist

Rima Fakih, Beauty Pageants and the Virgin-Whore Dichotomy

rimafakih

On Sunday evening, Rima Fakih was crowned Miss USA 2010. By morning, her reign had already been tarnished by the requisite beauty queen sex scandal. Photos had surfaced of the now-24-year-old Fakih dancing on a stripper pole in a local radio event titled "Stripper 101." But as Broadsheet's Tracy Clark-Flory notes, Fakih's "official Miss USA glamor shots" (above) are actually significantly more risque than the "stripper" shots, which revealed Fikah—clothed—in short-shorts and a tank top.

Well, well, well. What on earth could possibly be happening here?

First, Clark-Flory lays out the sexual landscape:

What's absurd—no, make that what's most absurd—about this faux scandal is that the photos of Fakih pole-dancing are far tamer than the official Miss USA glamor shots. As Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote last week, it seemed pageant officials were "heading scandal off at the pass" by releasing a "spank-worthy collection of its contestants in lingerie." Fakih is wearing less clothing in her glamor shot than in her pole-dancing pics—we're talking fishnets, a garter and a bra compared to a tank top and booty shorts. In all seriousness, you're likely to see racier getups on suburban soccer moms at their local strip aerobics class.

"The beauty queen's fall from grace has been institutionalized and mainstreamed," Clark-Flory continues. "The post-win scandal is now every bit an expected and essential part of the pageant as the swimsuit portion of the show. It's all so predictable and boring. Could it be that we're nearing maximum sex scandal capacity?"

Not a chance. Clark-Flory is right that it's boring, predictable, and hypocritical for the Miss USA pageant to expect completely virginal contestants when the pageant itself encourages its Misses to embody the other half of that particular dichotomy.

But this pattern—parading its contestants in string bikinis and high-heels, and then clutching its pearls over any unsanctioned skin-showing—is hardly an idiosyncrasy of the pageant circuit. This comes from a long and storied tradition of (a) expecting women to be extremely sexy, and then (b) furiously policing their sexuality by confining it to particular contexts, which are controlled by (c) assigned (usually) male guardians, like fathers, husbands, and pageant organizers.

That's why Americans have got our sexy teen pop stars who are saving themselves for marriage, our Christian true-believers who are saving their breast implants for their husbands,  and our beauty queens who are explicitly judged on how sexy they are—as long as they're only sexy for Donald Trump. Last year, Miss California USA funded Carrie Prejean's breast implants, only to ditch her when she almost showed them off. It doesn't matter that these beauty queens are often wearing less clothes in the pageant than they are in their "sexy photo scandals"—they're still not saving themselves sufficiently, and for that they deserve to be shamed.

Trump, like many arbiters of female sexuality before him, wants a lady in the street but a freak in the, uh, swimsuit competition. He'll never find one—it's difficult to find a young woman who can perform sexuality at Miss-USA-standards without any practice.  So what's the only way to keep the dichotomy alive? Dole out the shaming when any less-than-perfectly-chaste photos arise. In an age when beauty pageant interest is flagging, the American public is still invested in that virgin-whore narrative—and slut-shaming for fun and profit has proved a reliable investment for Trump.

  • Theresa

    Someone remind me, why the f*** are there still beauty pageants at all?

  • Eo

    It seems to be a culture clash, the pageant is supposed to be somewhat traditional and wholesome while the real world has moved on.

    Winning and being the center a scandal is a good publicity ploy for everyone involved too.

  • Katie

    I've always thought it was super weird that string bikinis are almost universally accepted because, well, that's just our swimming outfit. The "sexiness" or "sluttiness" of an outfit seems to have much more to do with what the supposed function of the outfit is rather than how much of the woman's body is covered or not. So in this case...Fakih was next to a stripper pole, and so her sexuality was much too obvious. But in a swimming-suit competition, it's ok because 1)they ASKED her to dress that way and 2)her sexuality is more subtle, because people where swimsuits to SWIM in, not like, have sex or anything gross.

  • Katie

    Ugh, I meant wear and not "where."

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  • kza

    Slut shaming is pretty gay. Don't christian people not like gay?

  • http://dave-lucas.blogspot.com Dave Lucas

    I think a little "culture clash" is a good thing!
    http://dave-lucas.blogspot.com/2010/05/rimah-fakih-in-swimsuit.html

  • Mike

    What you seem to be overlooking is the supposed controversy of her surname being the same as some members of Hezbollah, and her also being Muslim, plus a Arab American. A Jewish website wrote that, "its a sad day in America" since she won. I'm sure some of these elements are fueling the controversy.

  • Liz

    Dumb, contrived scandal aside, I am very, very happy to see a Muslim immigrant win a contest aimed at honoring the most "American" woman. Of course it would take a contest that recognizes only young, traditionally beautiful, able-bodied cis women willing to perform extreme femininity to promote religious diversity and acceptance of immigrants. Because what is progress if not a constant one step back for every two steps forward?

  • Eo

    Yeah dave lucas, at the risk of being accused of rape or some kind of thought crime, some middle eastren women are stunning IMO.

  • Lizrd

    @Eo: What does "some middle eastern women are stunning" mean? Not only this that totally irrelevant to this post, I'd hazard a guess that every culture has "some women" that fall in line with our contrived western standards of beauty. Also, I appreciate the nice little dig implying the overuse/inappropriateness of rape accusations. What a pointless post. When, exactly, are you planning on vanishing into the dark nether-regions of the internets?

  • Eo

    @Lizrd

    That was addressed to someone else, I lived in the middle east for a while and IMO thats where the worlds most beautiful women come from and where many of what you call "contrived westren" beauty standards and products came from, they were using heavy eye make up long before we were in the "west", and thats just one example.

  • Laura

    Eo-
    I fail to see what your views on the attractiveness of middle eastern women have to do with rape accusations. While it's fairly gross to generalise which races are more 'beautiful', it's kindof a non-sequitur to start talking about people accusing you of rape.

  • gita

    eo will only leave when you stop engaging with him. please, please don't feed the troll.

  • Eo

    Laura

    I wasnt sure if my saying that I believe that the most beautiful women come from the mid-east was going to break some feminist speech or thought code or if it is considered a definition of rape or rape apology, Im from europe you see.

    As you pointed out, I have broken some speech and thought code and my opinion, based on my experience according to you is "gross".

  • http://yahoo alex

    Finally, this country has opened its eyes and saw the real beauty in islam, for many years we were know as terrorist, suicide bomber, everyone in this country always heard the media says about islam, well people, its not true, i was born and raised in this country, i will fight for my country, i am proud to be an american, so please lets stop the sterio type, and listening to the media is all false info, just like whites, blacks, asians, latino's and many other cultures have rights, so do we...

  • Susan

    "A Jewish website wrote that, “its a sad day in America” since she won."

    I'm sure no one is reading this anymore, but I have to respond to this comment. When I see "a Jewish website," I think of something like JTA or Heeb. But that line is from Debbie Schlussel's blog. As far as I can tell, Schlussel is a standard, Muslim-hating right-wing nutjob who happens to be Jewish. Sure, maybe being Jewish and supporting Israel informs Schlussel's Islamophobia (that's the case for a couple of people in my fiance's extended family), but there are plenty of Christians and atheists who feel the same way. I wouldn't call Schlussel's blog "a Jewish website" any more than I would call a blog by Alan Keyes "a black website" or a blog by Bill Donahue "a Catholic website," or imply that any other reactionary speaks for the community as a whole. Please don't smear American Jews by implying that Schlussel is representative of the rest of us.

  • Rainny

    If she is a real Muslim, she will not exposed herself and being "used" as doll.

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