сквозь призму женского опыта выживания
Author: Armen Aramyan
Russian translation of interview: link
Публикация: 17/06/17
June 17th is when the notorious 'Miss HSE' contest is going to finally take place. Dealing with controversial reputation for a few years in a row, in March the contest tried to register as a student organization of HSE – new procedure, upheld by university administration from the beginning of the 2017. The administration decided to outsource the question of whether the organization should be legitimized to the Student Council, which despite many confronting arguments had approved the event. Today, on June 17 the protest actions are going to be organized right across the place in which the contest will take place. Our editor Armen Aramyan asked an organizer of the protest – HSE student from Spain Carmen Gimenez a few questions about the idea of beauty contest and which problems does it pose for women today.
Armen Aramyan: How did you knew about the contest in the first place?

Carmen Gimenez: I was living here last year for three months, I was not a student in of the uni back then, and I started seeing this panels with posters on the wall. I saw it, but it was too late, and I wasn't student of the uni, so it was strange to do something about them. This year I had more time, and I've wanted to do something about it. I've heard, that people are going to speak about it on student council, so i've decided to join the discussions. There were many professors and only my husband and me speaking against beauty contest, and rest of the people were in favor of it. I've learned a lot about the beauty contest, because my point was very unauthentic at the time. And finally I've come to understand minds of the girls, that spoke in favor of it. One girl, who attended the discussion, was crying with words: 'This contest is my life'.

Wasn't it one of the last-year participants?

Yeah, she was a winner from one of the contests. And she said, that it was the first place where she could sing or speak in front of the people. So it's like we are so submissive,that we can only speak or sing in front of other people, only if others choose us to do it. And it was so sad for me when another girl said something like 'I'm not so pretty, and they've let me participate in that contest'. The main argument was that they not only do evaluate the beauty. The problem with this is that they don't understand that it's not about evaluation of beauty, because anyway it's all about approval, everything is about approval. If it's not about beauty, then it's about how submissive we are, about how smiling we are, so finally it's all about 'be nice and shut up'.

Why did you decide to run this protest against contest?

CG: I did decide to do it, because I'm a feminist activist, I was a feminist activist in Spain. And here there's no big feminist movement, and I see a lot of oppression. And I was so surprised about the contest. I mean that was too much. It's ok with all the advertising, it's ok with this new law, it's ok with domestic violence. I mean, it's not ok, but I'm not going to come here for 6 months and try to create the Ministry of Gender. It was my place, so I've decided to do something in my place, my institution, which was the university right now.
AA: Do you think, the protest is going to be effective in any way? The last time when the discussion was held in public space, it didn't have any particular positive result. There were a lot of students disappointed with the Student Council's decision, but basically it all went to nowhere. Why do you think this time is going to be different?

Our goal is not to make them remove the beauty contest. I mean, that would be great. But it's not my main goal, and it's not a solution of anything. And what I want to achieve is to make people discuss it publicly, to create a conversation about it, because people do not speak here much about feminist ideology. So it's more about waking people up, then reaching some certain objective, like removal of the beauty contest. So, what i want, is for people to question themselves: 'It's true, why do we have a beauty contest in the uni? Is it sexist? What does 'sexist' mean?'

The discussion switched mostly from discussing feminist ideals, gender equality/inequality to discussing, if we can in any way restrict the initiative, that comes directly from the students. Because, they say, the contest is organized completely by students of HSE, so what can we do about it? They're free to do anything in their free time. What do you think about this argument?

CG: They're free to do what they want? That's why I say that the goal is not to remove the beauty contest. My point is to make people think about like 'why am I doing this? why am I trying to be the most beautiful person?'. Ok, they can continue with the contest, but I want people to think about the bad side of it. The point is, it's not only a funny event, that's also another social mechanism to keep you on your role of 'good girl full of complexes'. I'm not cool to say to people, what makes you happy, or what makes you unhappy, but I just want to create a conversation about other ways to analyze ourselves, especially role of women in society, and now in the uni. Lots of mechanisms exist and they are unperceivable, the mechanisms that makes us women submissive. The problem is that we're not talking about these social mechanisms. We are socialized in one gender, and we, women are not socialized in power, and we're socialized in being nice and smiling and not able to think. It's all about that mechanisms as beauty contest, who contribute to that, to keeping women out of intellectual things. And that comes from the university, from a place, where you go to develop your intellectual skills. So it's a bit controversial.
AA: There's kind of a provocative question, that we've asked all our interviewees on this topic. It's that if there would exist parallel contest, where men would compete in their 'beauty', would it make things equal and just?

CG: Feminists, and i can speak for feminists, as it is a shared view amongst them, they do not want men to be as oppressed as women are. And finally it's not being to be like that. Men are going to be evaluated about their masculinity and things that confirm them in their role of power. So, it's not that kind of policy that we want, men to be oppressed and submissive to approval as we are, we just want to break with that oppression.

AA: You've studied in a Spanish university, so i want to ask you about the difference in your experience. Would this kind of things be appropriate in Spain, and does it exist in Spanish universities? Because for Russian universities there's nothing odd about it, it's kind of a common place here.

I will do the comparison, but I have some problems with this, because I'm being ethnocentric. Saying what it would be in my country, like it should be more developed in social issues. So this question is kind of controversial, but i'll answer it. I think, it wouldn't be possible – a beauty contest in the university, because the difference between Spain and here is that we get a very high feminist conscience. It's like society forces you to more and more understand what feminism really means. Thus if the beauty contest happened out there at some point, I'm sure a lot of people would go to protest it.

AA: How will the protest occur on today evening? How do you want to communicate with people, that went to the contest as visitors or participants?

CG: I would like to do something funny. And I would like this protest to be not only about how angry we are, of course, we are angry, but I don't want to reproduce the same prejudice of feminists being very angry and very unhappy. I'm an actress, I'm a dancer, I'm a singer, it's my profession. I would like to put on some music, funny music, I would like to dance, I would like to sing. I mean I would like to do a protest, where people smile, distributing a message that you can be happy and not worry about being beautiful. And that you can be friends - real friends leaving out all this competition. I would like to do something colourful and happy. Of course, we are angry, but I'd like to show another way of life.