It’s quite interesting that there are two winners from major international pageants whose victories were not well regarded by pageant fans and pundits, but who displayed extraordinary strength of character that fly in the face of the norms of their respective societies. In fact for many pageant fans and pundits, they could be even regarded as the least deserving winners of their respective pageant. However, even if one is outraged by their victories at the moment that they won, as time wears on one might reconsider their regard, especially how each of these two ladies took a stand and understand it in the context of the social milieus they are in.
MISS WORLD 1998 – LINOR ABARGIL
During the early dawn timing that I watched the live pageant broadcast on my shores on then network ABC 5, I was impressed with the quality of the delegates competing as there were a bevy of stunners that to whittle them down into a Top 10 was extremely difficult. On top of that, the production values of this particular pageant was terrific–even up to now, I thought that this is the type of production that Miss World should have continued to pursue, with hip background music, and relatively hip hosts (well, okay, Ronan Keating is not really hip, but he was at the peak of popularity at that time with his band Boyzone).
When the Top 10 was selected, in general I was satisfied, though I thought one lady was an obvious weak link in a bevy of stunners–the frizzy haired girl who represents Israel. When Eric Morley called out the runners-up, it was slightly surprising, but I thought we would probably have a satisfying victory if, say, Brazil’s Adriana Reis, United States’ Shauna Gambill, or South Africa’s Kerishnie Naicker were crowned. But little did I know that the one I perceived as the “weak link” on that Top 10 would be the one announced the winner. To be blunt it left a bad taste in my mouth as after relishing the awesome production, we would end up with this frizzy haired, overly made-up girl as the winner?
The news stories that came out reporting her victory mentioned about how they were looking for a “modern girl” and that she fits the bill, but it also disclosed something unusual–it mentioned that two months prior to her win she was raped. I thought, it’s good that she took a stand and had the courage to send her attacker to jail. At the time, I thought it was just simply the right thing to do–I didn’t quite understand then about the barriers some victims needed to overcome to step forward and report that they had been violated.
As years wore on, I read more about how there is that overwhelming sense of shame that comes when one was violated, how it could overwhelm and tear apart the psyche that it could paralyze some people’s spirits. Moreover, there is also a sense of guilt that maybe the victim subliminally invited that perpetrator to do the deed, that somehow they are complicit in that crime. Plus, in areas like in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, especially in some Muslim cultures, when a girl is violated it brings shame to her family that sometimes family members would then murder the girl to erase that shame–which I found extremely foul, unfair, and unjust. It made me appreciate that it actually took extraordinary strength and courage for Linor to step forward and report the crime done against her as in her region women who went through that ordeal would’ve been treated as if they were the criminals or worse, and is sometimes even a death sentence.
Recently, a documentary has been made chronicling Linor’s advocacy to encourage other women to speak out about their ordeal, directed by Ceclila Peck (daughter of actor Gregory Peck) called Brave Miss World. It features Linor traveling around the world interviewing victims like her sharing their own ordeals–including testimonies from celebrities like Joan Collins and Fran Drescher. An ironic note is that Linor herself has become an Orthodox Jew–a more conservative form of Judaism. It makes me wonder how does she reconcile her new faith (which would normally be less sympathetic to her experience) and her sence of well-being? Anyway, check out an interview made with the director and producer on the show Democracy Now and a trailer of the film.
Anyway, these days, Linor looks way better than the frizzy look she sported in Miss World–her beauty is more of an unconventional sort in my reckoning but still something that I have come to appreciate. Though as a Miss World winner, I’m still that not into her as much, as say, the reigning Miss World Megan Young, but I admire her greatly as a human being for overcoming the obstacles imposed by society around her.
MISS INTERNATIONAL 2012 – IKUMI YOSHIMATSU
I have already talked about the Miss International 2012 pageant in a previous blog post so I won’t elaborate much further except to post Ikumi Yoshimatsu’s coronation moment and crowning photo below:
Many pageant fans and pundits noticed when the 2013 edition of the pageant was underway that the reigning winner, albeit from the host country, was conspicuously absent and it was the 2008 winner, Alexandra Abreu of Spain, who was presiding and performing the duties of the outgoing queen. It was then disclosed that Ikumi is in the middle of a messy litigation against a talent agency executive, Genichi Taniguchi, who reportedly was harassing her and her family to pressure her to join his mob-connected talent agency. It came to the point that Mr. Taniguchi contacted the sponsors of the pageant to dethrone her. Full details of how this situation came about can be found in this article from the Daily Beast.
I am aware how Japanese value “saving face” and also how amongst developed countries, women in Japan are most subservient compared to Western counterparts. Ikumi talked about a “culture of silence” especially amongst Japanese media, especially as reflected on her change.org petition. That she stood up against a powerful entertainment agency at the risk of becoming a pariah to the Japanese entertainment industry is unprecedented, as most would just cower and obey the will of the harasser. She is running counter to a society that is notoriously resistant to change (especially in terms of women’s rights), but we have to commend her that she has the guts to fight back and stick to her principles. More Japanese women should look up to her as an example, to question convention, asert themselves and speak out, and have the courage to fight for principles instead of accepting traditions and conventions at face value.
I’m torn about how Miss International handled this situation. On one hand, I understand that Miss International wants to make sure that sponsors are unharmed and perhaps preventing Ikumi from performing her duties is also for the sake of her safety. Though there were some news reports who thought she was dethroned, it seems that she is still officially Miss International 2012. But I wish they should also have the courage to take a stand and be more supportive to her plight.
I have this gnawing feeling that despite her principled stance, societal resistance is too strong that the best outcome for her is to leave the country and establish a career in another country where the major Japanese entertainment companies have no control. I still maintain that there are more beautiful looking Japanese ladies to my eyes over her, but I hope this intelligent, courageous woman would be a ripple that would eventually turn into waves to finally uplift the rights of women in her country.