Beauty Pageants: Masculinity vs. Femininity

“The pageant is a night to be glamorous (what girl doesn’t love that?!)”. NBC 29 news featured a short clip on the Miss Charlottesville pageant on 04OCT15 showing female contestants in formal dresses on stage competing for the 2016 titles. Winners of the pageant not only receive material rewards but also receives a boost in confidence and opportunities to give back to the community. While the pageant is an independent event not associated with the ever popular Miss American beauty pageant, the process is similar. Eligible female candidates ranging from age 0-24 compete within her age groups and are judged through private panel interview, casual wear and on stage questions and the winners will be attending community organized events.

Winners of Charlottesville beauty pageants will provide young ladies opportunities not readily available to everyone in the community. My question is that “is there similar opportunities for the young men of Charlottesville?” I conducted search on the internet for “Mr. Charlottesville”, “Mr. Virginia” and “Mr. America” to compare with the Miss Charlottesville, Miss Virginia and Miss American beauty pageants. Other than Miss Gay Virginia America, which follows the same theme of feminine beauty pageant, the only male pageants references that I could find were male body building contests. One of the search strings brought up an interesting comment to the question why there were no male beauty pageants. One of the answer indicated that there is no male beauty pageant because “Men aren’t made to be beauty queens. We are made to be workers, warriors, soldiers, and well… men. To sweat, to build, to break, to lift, to flex, to smash, to fight, to save”. The individual continued on to say that his/her generation is messed up because the men have turned into women. At least the lack of men beauty pageant seems to be somewhat accurate in the United States, there are few male competitions in the United States that wasn’t body building competition while male beauty pageants do exist internationally. Mr. American International is one male beauty pageant that does not use body building as a judging criteria.

The majority of the beauty pageants primarily judge the contestants on gendered characteristics associated with femininity: fashion and poise whereas the male contests judged based on socially constructed masculine characteristics such as muscularity and physical conditioning. The social construction of female is that they’re obsessed with beauty and “banter” around on stage to be judged while males would never participate in beauty pageants. Males are only concerned with muscles and strength building, all qualities that are associated with masculinity as implied by some on the internet. C. J. Pascoe indicated in “Dude you’re a fag” that the skits put on by the Mr. Cougar candidates represented the social construction of masculinity (Pascoe, 2007). Brent and Greg’s “Revenge of the Nerds” showed effeminate traits of the nerds result in undesirable outcome such as loss of girlfriends while display masculinity display of strength through weight training results in rewards of the prize, the reclamation of their girlfriends. The “Wrestling World” skit introduced the same undesirable feminine traits that drew laughter while masculine display of physical prowess results in cheers. The hidden curriculum here is clear that male display of femininity is undesirable and even ridiculed and reinforces association of maleness with social construction of masculine characteristics. Adolescence male homophobia enacted through Brian and Dan at River High in chapter three illustrated feminine characteristics in adolescent boys are undesirable and not to be associated with.

While there are body building contests available for women, those who participated were usually deemed too masculine due to “excessive” muscle definition, are perceived to lack femininity and therefore unattractive. Having defined or large muscular tone is still characteristics associated with masculinity. As a result, many females turn away from body building associated heavy weights to prevent becoming “too muscular” and opted for more “feminine” work outs. Precilla Choi indicated in her publication of Muscle matters: maintaining visible differences between women and men that female body builder must differentiate from the men body builder with the use of makeup, no facial hair, not too muscular and have sex appeal. In another word, female body builder are judged on their femininity.

While masculinity and femininity are biologically detached, patriarchal social constructions attached masculinity to the male sex and femininity to the female sex. Gendered behaviors are taught and practiced through social institutions and reinforced through peers. This gendered view are widely practiced through the generations that has essentially become a regime of truth accepted by the majority of the populations today making it difficult for the new generation to break through the stereotypes and deviate, often with serious consequences at times. Faced with this regime of truth of masculinity attribution to males and femininity assigned to females, adolescents are more likely to perpetuate the social construction themselves in order to fit in with the crowd and avoiding deviant acts that would cause them to be targeted by the rest of their peers.

Additional readings:

Planned Parenthood gender questions

Critical media project

Sex typicality and attractiveness

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