Women Are Being Judged For Speaking Fearlessly

By Lilliane Barenzi

It can be a humiliating experience chasing your dreams, especially when said dreams involve competing against dozens of other women for the dubious title of Miss Uganda. Exhibit A, the cringeworthy episode of the contestant who announced that she attends “Makerele University”. Ye gods! How can we trust you to represent us in any international forum when you are not fluent in your own local lingo?

To be fair, ‘Makerere’ is a bit of tongue-twister; the kind of word you would have to rearrange carefully in your head before you blurt it out. The fact that it is the name of an institute of intellectual pursuit makes for an even more egregious error when it is bungled up, no less by a student who purports membership in this very exclusive club of higher education.

It just goes to show that beauty pageants are a tricky place to prove that you have a brain underneath your wig. Especially when pageants are still passed off as an opportunity for young women to prove they are as smart as they are beautiful – because of course women must meet such exacting standards.

How dare you contend to be beautiful without proving that you can say the word Makerere flawlessly? The skin-scorching derision which followed the poor girl’s gaffe can only be explained by the fact that there is no other country where mangling your ‘r’s and ‘l’s is the surest way to rescind an invitation into the innermost sanctum of high society.

And Miss Uganda is still a somewhat highbrow calendar event, if only because it is cleverly marketed as such. The accompanying platitude of beauty with a purpose would be insulting in its condescension, but only if you have a fragile spirit. The pageant is after all, voluntary, and in this age of near absolute emancipation, young women who choose to participate should have the wherewithal to decide if this is a dream worth pursuing.

As far as entertainment value goes, there is always room for a well-organised event that delivers, in a few hours, the suspense of a competition combined with the thrill of watching from a safe distance as other humans suffer through the agony of being judged and cast aside.

Because this is a zero-sum game, no matter what the therapist tells you. There is a named winner, and a whole bunch of other losers with fancy titles. There is a crown – another relic from the past – and perhaps a few prizes which may or may not be worth all that trouble.

Many women in Kenya don't have any access to medical care. Photo: Philips
 Photo: Philips

Sure, the winner may garner some fame (a double-edged sword) from the whole misadventure, and even go on to travel widely, do some charity work and possibly ‘inspire’ a few other young women in various ways.

We also know any woman can do all this without ever appearing in the fatuous combination of a swimsuit and high heels – in public. In fact, lately that troublesome aspect has been thrown out in an attempt to give the beauty pageant a more serious facelift.

True, women do need, and benefit from, participation in more public platforms. But not necessarily those with such misleading labels as beauty with a purpose – what does purposeless beauty look like? And should the failure to pronounce the word Makerere delicately, relegate you to the pile of unworthy contenders to this pretentious throne? It is hard to countenance the idea that women still want to be judged so harshly through such narrow lenses.

Source: allafrica.com

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