Tuesday 10th March we went into the belly of the beast…infiltrated the dark heart of modern commercial/exploitation SLEAZY SEXISM.
We dressed up undercover, complete with crippling high heels, revealing dresses, and a sense of intense self-consciousness. Disguised as beauty pageant revellers, up for nothing more than a night of leering at skimpily dressed young women, we tottered past the other protest groups (Miss-ogynist London and Space Hijackers) and entered the hideous swanky/trashy club just off Oxford St.
As we entered we were shocked by the atmosphere; young women were up on podiums writhing against each other as groups of men leered up at them and bought them drinks. The people who hadn’t booked one of the tables (which cost hundreds of pounds and guaranteed your status within the club) were crammed around the sides of the bar, shoving each other around to get past, with ample opportunity for molesting and touching up all the young women. It was such an aggressive environment; trying to walk through the crowd was like a battle, as men were standing stock still, never accommodating anyone else’s right to have a space. Furthermore, the music was awful and beer cost £7.
As the show began, and the girls walked out one by one, looking a little awkward and wearing little dresses with sashes on them. And as all eyes were on the stage, an unpleasant smell started to emanate from all corners of the room… The stink bombs were out, making visceral and real how disgusting this event really is. Everyone was distracted and grossed out, and soon the bar staff started coming round with air fresheners, which just added an artificial fake smell and totally failed to cover it up. The presenter was trying to fan it away with her script, and the crowd was screeching and summoning the bar staff to deal with the pong around their tables.
Meanwhile, the questionnaires were being distributed, around the tables and the bar. At one point, a “curvy” contestant came out and the female presented said “Well I think I speak for all the men when I say” (and she motions to her chest) “Phwoooaaaaarrr” and the crowd erupted into bays and whoops. This sort of thing means men think it’s okay to catcall women in the street and take ownership of their bodies in this way, and we see this and suffer from it in our daily lives. To see it so normalised and celebrated was sad for all of us. Especially as we kept getting our bums pinched and receiving most unwelcome propositions.
The presenter at one point announced that “A protestor has dropped a stink bomb”, and she couldn’t have done us more of a favour. We thought it was great that at first noone was really sure what it was, there was just a rising sense of discomfort and a toxicity in the air (to add to the aggression and the testosterone). And then to have it made clear, by mic, that it was deliberate, that there was clear resistance to what they were doing, that people thought it was NOT OK, was fantastic. At this point the rape alarms were set off at different points in the room, confusing and distracting people further.
Just before the announcement of the winner (and when we had taken just about all we could take of this atmosphere), we STORMED THE STAGE scattering our open letters to the audience, giving them to the contestants on stage, and knocking over the scenery, and trampling the flowers that were the prize for the winner, before being manhandled (again!) and forcibly removed by the bouncers, complete with threats of assault once we were out the door.
Once outside, rejoicing in the victory, we had a laugh with the bouncers about the fact that they hadn’t realised we were actually secretly Feminists! And one of the bouncers interjected – “Can I just say One Thing….That was a job well done!” And we are sure that there were more people inside that club who agree with that, and who understand why we protested, than the organisers of Miss University London would care to realise. And hopefully next time they’ll think again before assuming that this kind of sexist behaviour is normalised enough to be just another money-spinner. If not, we’ll be back….
OPEN LETTER TEXT: https://smashmisscontest.wordpress.com/2009/03/11/text-from-the-action/