The shaming of Rima Fakih
They almost got me.
The day after Rima Fakih took the Miss USA crown, posts went up and news features condemning Fakih for being a stripper. I must admit, I was upset. Fakih’s win was pretty awesome – a Lebanese, immigrant woman from Michigan who supports insurance coverage of contraception and likes pizza. I didn’t want her to mess it up with some shitty stripper pics. The media got me. With headlines like, “Rima Fakih, Miss USA, Caught In Pole Dancing Scandal,” and “Miss USA’s Pole Dancing Past Revealed,” had me thinking she had done something terribly wrong. And even though I only thought it for a little while, it was enough to be counted as a fail. Know why? Because there is nothing wrong with what Rima Fakih did. More importantly, even if she were a stripper, I still don’t think that would mean there was anything wrong with her.
Amanda H. at The Sexist has a great post up saying just what I wanted to say (she’s so in my head) about this stripper pole business. Quoting Broadsheet’s Tracy Clark-Flory:
What’s absurd—no, make that what’s most absurd—about this faux scandal is that the photos of Fakih pole-dancing are far tamer than the official Miss USA glamor shots. As Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote last week, it seemed pageant officials were “heading scandal off at the pass” by releasing a “spank-worthy collection of its contestants in lingerie.” Fakih is wearing less clothing in her glamor shot than in her pole-dancing pics—we’re talking fishnets, a garter and a bra compared to a tank top and booty shorts. In all seriousness, you’re likely to see racier get-ups on suburban soccer moms at their local strip aerobics class.
A soccer mom’s strip aerobics class. Exactly. Looks to me like Fakih entered some fun contest – the type you see all the time during Spring Break. Actually, it was an annual radio contest called “Stripper 101″ hosted by Detroit’s MOJO in the Morning show. A little gyrating here, some twirls around the pole there. She did NOT remove any clothing and those dollar bills that ended up in her shirt? Well that’s all in good fun, right? Bottom line: the woman had on a tank top and shorts which is more material than she wore during the pageant’s swimsuit competition!
Just last week I saw a Groupon in NYC for 4 hours of a strip tease class being offered at a discounted rate. I bet there’s an exotic dancing class in your town and I’m even willing to bet some of your coworkers, church friends, the barista at Starbucks or maybe even you have seriously considered giving it a go. It’s no big deal, right? How about your friend’s bachelorette party when you shimmied your boa-clad body around a pole and blew on a whistle shaped like a dick? God forbid you move on with your life and those pictures surface. You won’t be Jane Doe, COO anymore… just Jane Doe, Stripper.
Fakih said just about the same thing when she appeared on the Today show. She should have been on there to bask in her win and reflect on the pageant but instead she was in the unfortunate position of defending herself. As reported by The Detroit Free Press:
Fakih said she wanted to clarify that it was “not a stripper pole contest. It was actually a promotional event that my friend, who’s a DJ at a radio station, had for women (to) teach them how to dance and be sexy. (There were) doctors, lawyers — everyone in Detroit,” Fakih said.
“So I got up there to help support and get the party started. (I) hopped up there to show them what you learned (during the event). These pictures were taken, obviously they are not the best pictures you can see, but I do want to say it’s not what you see; I didn’t do anything wrong.”
I don’t know about you, but homegirl sounds cool as hell and is totally the type of person to “get the party started.”
Look, the whole deal with pageants is passe. At least we’ve come to a point where they’re not so concerned about selling us the “scholarship contest” line or trying to fool us into thinking we’re looking for much more than a pretty face. Still, I think we can agree that Miss USA, Miss America and their counterparts are out of touch with most Americans. I’m not simply defending pageants here; they have their failings (although I entered one and continued to the top 5 before getting cut). I’m just really pissed that folks are out there pretending as if pageants have been this sacred ceremony out of which tomorrow’s leaders and moral influencers are born. So the girl has pictures of herself NEAR a pole! Get a life.
Amanda goes on to point out how the “lady in the streets but a freak in the bed” concept plays out in pageants and everyday life:
this pattern—parading its contestants in string bikinis and high-heels, and then clutching its pearls over any unsanctioned skin-showing—is hardly an idiosyncrasy of the pageant circuit. This comes from a long and storied tradition of (a) expecting women to be extremely sexy, and then (b) furiously policing their sexuality by confining it to particular contexts, which are controlled by (c) assigned (usually) male guardians, like fathers, husbands, and pageant organizers.
That’s why Americans have got our sexy teen pop stars who are saving themselves for marriage, our Christian true-believers who are saving their breast implants for their husbands, and our beauty queens who are explicitly judged on how sexy they are—as long as they’re only sexy for Donald Trump. Last year, Miss California USA funded Carrie Prejean’s breast implants, only to ditch her when she almost showed them off.
Wack. I’m still pissed I was swindled into thinking some sex-tape level stripping videos were going to surface and all I got was a bunch of chicks trying to win some gift cards. America, you kill me with these phony puritan values. Seriously, we can drop the charade, the rest of the world already knows that’s not who we are. We’re only hurting people like Fakih who get vilified and dragged in the mud for no reason at all. We’re only hurting other women and girls by expecting them to embody two personalities at once: the Madonna and the Whore.
I really hope she does not lose her title over this. The Miss USA Pageant is no stranger to controversy (frankly, I think the struggling pageant genre thrives on it) and has seen raunchier stories than this. I’m pretty sure she’ll get through it in the coming weeks. Fakih has bigger fish to fry as critics accuse her of being linked to terrorists. She’s already “not American enough” because she wasn’t born in this country. Don’t forget the big one, the fact that she’s Muslim and Arab – a shitty combination in today’s climate. I’d rather see the Miss USA organization coming out and supporting Fakih as the winner and as a true embodiment of an American woman. Wouldn’t that be the empowering message people think pageants should be sending in the first place? It’s much better than shaming her into silence and sending her pageant-waving all the way back to Dearborn, MI.