Miss France: Are we really still doing this?

It's the Miss France final on Saturday night, and many millions are expected to tune in. But perhaps they shouldn't, writes Oliver Gee.

Miss France: Are we really still doing this?
Contestants for the 2017 Miss France take a picture together. Photo: AFP
Around eight million people watched 22-year-old Iris Mittenaere become Miss France last December. 
Eight million! This was even though several high profile figures slammed the show beforehand for being corny and sexist.
And with the 2017 final set to screen on Saturday night, it's a safe bet that another eight million will tune in again. 
But there are some who would prefer you didn't, including the outspoken French feminist organization Osez le Féminisme.
“This outdated contest treats women as decorative objects,” the group said in a statement ahead of the show.
“Miss France is based on women competing to satisfy the strict criteria of what constitutes beauty. There is no room for physical diversity in this contest,” the group explained. 
Indeed, who are we to judge these women based on their beauty, all from the comfort of our armchairs at home?
Isn't is all a bit, well, old fashioned?
Marie Allibert, a spokeswoman at the feminist group, said the standard of the competition hasn't evolved since it began in the 1920s. 
“The models have to follow a strict criteria: They have to be very skinny, with no tattoos or piercings, for example,” she told The Local. 
Photo: AFP
“This all increases the pressure on all women who are watching – not to mention the young girls – to conform to standards that are simply unattainable for many,” she explained. 
Allibert added that the competition's idea of beauty was very traditional. 
“Participants have to to be single, can never have been married, and can never have been photographed naked or half naked.
“And every year there is some scandal about a woman whose nude pictures are leaked. This includes revenge porn, which is putting shame on the woman who is a victim of something illegal. You're not meant to be allowed to share private pictures of someone, but it happens all the time,” she said. 
“What this contest does is presents a symbolic, untouched virgin as the idea of beauty, and we find it degrading,” she added.

So why is it that so many French people are drawn to a beauty contest that objectifies women, in a country where “égalité” is supposed to be a fundamental principle?

There's the fact that it's essentially reality TV, a format that always seems to guarantee a certain amount of success these days, but another argument is that many in France can simply relate to the young women taking part.

“The contestants are often from modest rural backgrounds, they represent a certain simplicity and authenticity,” Paris university professor François Jost, a media specialist, has previously told L'Express magazine.

Photo: AFP

But for Allibert at Osez le Féminisme, there are plenty of other options for viewers.

“We would rather have a talent competition, where people were judged by the competence, their singing, their science skills… anything but their beauty. 
“It shows just how misogynistic our society still is: we live in a patriarchy, women are seen as pretty, as entertainment for a night.”
Allibert was quick to add that the group isn't aiming to have the show cancelled. 
“And we don't want to criticize women in the show, there's too many people going around saying that the women are all stupid. That's not true anyway – the last winner was a dentist. 
“It's not about the competitors, or the viewers, it's about telling people that if they have something more interesting to do on Saturday night than watch the show, then do that thing instead.”


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OPINION: In the year of #MeToo it’s time for the French to switch off Miss France

Eight million French people will watch Miss France on Saturday night but surely in the year that Harvey Weinstein's scandalous behaviour emerged and the #MeToo hashtag took over Twitter, it's time the annual degrading beauty pageant was confined to history, writes The Local's Evie Burrows-Taylor.

OPINION: In the year of #MeToo it's time for the French to switch off Miss France
Photo: AFP
Every year the Miss France contest draws in an astounding eight million viewers.  
And the final for Miss France 2018, which will air on Saturday night, is set to attract just as large an audience as previous years despite the spotlight on feminism in 2017 thanks in no small part to the women who exposed Harvey Weinstein.
Somewhat worryingly, the longevity of the French competition, now in its 88th edition, is in stark contrast to the story of beauty pageants in other countries, which have either been ditched after TV ratings plummeted or after they were slammed for being sexist and outdated.
But it isn't just the competition that's the problem, after all the people behind it aren't forcing millions of people to tune in. 
Miss France contest ridiculed for dedicating beauty pageant to women's rights Photo: AFP
One of the most bizarre aspects of the Miss France phenomenon is how much coverage it gets in the mainstream press. 
Some of France's most respected publications and news sites — including those that proudly exposed the stories of sexually abused and harassed women who came forward as part of the #MeToo and #BalanceTonPorc (Squeal on your pig) campaigns — dedicate article after article to the contest.
It's not just the articles that make you feel like you have travelled back to the 1950s, but also the photo galleries published in almost every media site that give readers a chance to check out each contestant.
This year these slideshows of swimsuit wearing women with beaming smiles sit alongside stories of French actresses accusing Harvey Weinstein of abuse and rape, exposés on harassment in the workplace and articles with stats on the number of women who expect to be groped when they get on the Paris Metro or who have died under at the hands of their partners. 
One of France's two newspapers of record saw fit to do a gallery on the contestants in their swimsuit (see below). 
And another of the country's major newspapers Le Parisien somehow thought it was a good idea to put their gallery of the contestants in the women's section La Parisienne
Who knows? Perhaps the people running these sites are choosing not to see the link between the way Miss France reduces its contestants to objects to be pitted against one another and the way women are regularly reduced to sex objects in their everyday lives. But it's more likely they don't care.  
One group in France that has drawn a connection between Miss France and the position of women in society at large are the organisers themselves. 
Miss France: Why 8.5 million French tuned in
Photo: AFP
National director of the competition Sylvie Tellier, who won the title herself in 2002, provoked ridicule when she said this year's “ceremony will be an opportunity to denounce violence against women during an hour of prime time television.” 
But this is nothing short of a cynical attempt to offer a salve to a problem that they themselves are contributing to. Trying to legitimise what is essentially a chance to watch women strut around in swimwear and judge them on their appearance with a nod to feminism is laughable.  
Unsurprisingly French feminist group Osez le Feminisme is no fan of the competition either.
“Sexism against women is still in the majority and its is supported in many ways including this way of valuing women as objects rather than subjects,” spokesperson for the group Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu told The Local. 
To find out just how backward the pageant is, look no further than the guidelines contestants must adhere to if they want to compete. 
Contestants should never have been married and have no children. They should not have had any plastic surgery, visible tattoos or piercings and they should not have ever posed partially or completely naked. Several contestants have fallen foul of  that rule in the past and have lost their crowns as a result.
Miss France: Are we really still doing this?
Photo: AFP
So it seems the ideal “role model” for women should be someone who is untouched and unblemished and hasn't been sullied by previous ogling eyes, that way they're fresh for the audience of Miss France. How modern!
Clearly there are issues to be addressed in terms of how France sees its women. 
And in a year that has seen a wave of women around the world, including in France, show strength and solidarity in coming forward to denounce the aggressors in their lives, the country needs to acknowledge that Miss France is a part of its past, not future.