The newly established Miss University GB 2010 has become a source of controversy over what the NUS claims is the “objectification of women students” by the promoters, student marketing company BAM.
The competition is the only beauty pageant of its kind in Britain. The winner will not only become a finalist in the worldwide Miss Universe competition but will also win a trip to Lapland courtesy of the children’s cancer charity The Joshua Foundation for which the competition will raise money.
Despite these philanthropic intentions, the NUS claims that that the competition, and BAM’s promotion of it, encourages a “narrow and exclusive view of women students.”
In an open letter to the company, Olivia Bailey, the NUS Women’s Officer, stated that both BAM’s advertising of the event in universities and its distribution of the magazine FHM at freshers’ fairs would promote a “narrow view” of both femininity and masculinity.
Beauty pageants, Ms Bailey claims, seek to divide the sexes through “notions of the ‘perfect woman'”. The alleged “sexism” of such events has led the NUS to launch a campaign against all such contests, Miss Student UK also being on their list of potential targets.
CUSU recently amended their constitution to counter the “objectification” of female students, by publishing the CUSU Ents and Diversity policy at the behest of the Women’s campaign.
The document states that all Cambridge students should have the “right to exercise choice in their dress and behaviour” including “the right to both dress/act sexually or not”.
However, as with the NUS, CUSU declare total opposition to all “groups and events that encourage people to think of women as sexual objects” and perpetuate “harmful and demeaning portrayals of women”.
CUSU’s Women’s Officer Natalie Szarek told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that although CUSU have yet to discuss the matter, the Women’s Campaign is against BAM and similar companies making a profit out of the objectification of women. By promoting FHM and Miss University as possible candidates for advertising through students’ unions, Ms Szarek states, BAM is challenging the “welfare responsibilities and equal opportunities commitments of students’ unions”.
In a recent open letter to the NUS, Tim Bodenham of BAM denied accusations of sexism and objectification and claimed that Ms Bailey failed to contact the company prior to the NUS campaign to ascertain how BAM or the competition operate. He described her charges as not only “factually inaccurate” but also “damaging to the company”.
Bodenham added that both the advertising of Miss University and the distribution of FHM were approved by the students’ unions and that BAM always abide by the ethical policies and choices of their partners.
Further to this statement however, Olivia Bailey has claimed that BAM have backed down and decided not to allow Miss University to advertise with any of their client unions.
This has yet to be confirmed by BAM themselves.
Beatrice Ramsay – News Reporter