French feminists take on Miss France beauty pageant for discrimination

By Alison Hird with RFI
OCT 19, 2021 LISTEN

Osez le féminisme, a leading feminist organisation in France, has joined forces with three failed Miss France candidates to take the beauty contest to court for alleged discrimination in the criteria used to select participants.

Osez-le-Féminisme (Dare to be Feminist) said it had filed a complaint with the state labour tribunal on behalf of the former contestants because previous complaints about the annual pageant had proven ineffective.

"Despite protesting every year against a competition that drives sexist values, nothing ever changes," Alyssa Ahrabare, head of the organisation, told Le Monde newspaper. "Trying to raise awareness is no longer enough, we've decided to use legal means to advance the cause of women."

The complaint is targetting both the Miss France company and Endemol Production – which makes the annual TV programme screened on the privately-owned TF1 channel.

'Representative of beauty'

The plaintiffs argue that the companies oblige candidates to bend to restrictions, even outside of rehearsals or recordings, which are in breach of French labour law. 

Aspiring beauty queens must abstain from drinking alcohol or taking illicit substances in public and in general behave in a way that is "not contrary to morals, public order or the spirit of a pageant based on values of elegance".

Candidates are also required to be more than 1.70 metres tall, single, and "representative of beauty” – meaning for example no tatoos or body piercings. 

Failure to satisfy these standards means they can be disqualified.

The three plaintiffs, who have not been named, told Le Monde they had been forced to withdraw from the pageant because they smoke in public, are not tall enough and have been photographed nude.

Employees or volunteers

The French labour code forbids companies from discriminating on the basis of “morals, age, family status or physical appearance,” Violaine De Filippis-Abate, a lawyer for Osez le féminisme told RMC radio.

The case, filed at a labour court in the Paris suburb of Bobigny, will therefore hinge on whether magistrates recognise Miss France contestants as employed by the organisers and TV company – in which case there is a case for breach of the labour code – or whether they are considered volunteers.

Contestants do not sign an employment contract as such, but they do carry out activities for which they receive gifts. The plaintiffs point to a judgement in 2013 when a former contestant on Mister France sued for similar reasons.

In 2019, France's High Council for gender equality (HCE), a consultative body responsible for advising the government, qualified the Miss France contest as an “archaic caricature”. 

Pretty girls are popular

Miss France has yet to react to news of the complaint, but not everyone is supportive of the feminists.

"You can consider a beauty pageant as has-been," the editor of Causeur magazine Elisabeth Lévy told Sud Radio on Tuesday. "But when you look at the audience ratings, you see that lots of people enjoy looking at pretty girls. That's the problem.

"The prudes of this new feminism have something in common with ecologists: they dislike everything people actually enjoy." 

The next contest is due to take place in Caen in northern France on 11th of December.

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