I literally didn’t watch films (unless they were Disney) until I was 16, so over the past couple of years I’ve had a lot of chick flick catching up to do, one of these being Miss Congeniality- which, to freak you out a bit, was released in America when I was 20 months old. So. Weird. I’m literally a fetus I swear. It’s about a FBI agent, played by Sandra Bullock, who has to go undercover in a beauty pageant in order to intersect some kind of terrorist thing, and ngl it’s actually better than I just made it sound, but it still gave me a full house in misogynist bingo. P.S. This contains spoilers.
There are two types of women: You’re rather smart and ugly or pretty and stupid. I know that by the end of the film Bullock is supposed to have demonstrated how you can actually be smart and pretty, but it’s a pretty (see what I’m doing here) weak attempt. The pageant girls lack any depth, which is just so unrealistic like out of 30 girls not all of them are going to be drips. I reckon maybe 10% maximum using the laws of probability. Being pretty/in a pageant/valuing your appearance doesn’t mean you lack all other elements of character, so basically the film created a problem that didn’t need to exist, and therefore Sandy B wouldn’t need to become some kind of Super Hot Wonder Woman-Einstein at the end if they’d just increased the pageant girls’ capacities in the first place.
We Laugh Because SanBul Can’t Do ‘Womanly Things’: Hahaha she doesn’t know the difference between a BeautyBlender and a Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge, what an idiot! We’ve become so accustomed to always seeing women wearing full makeup and completely put together outfits from a vintage capsule wardrobe that it’s actually comic when women can’t live up to these standards. Someone make it stop, please. (Otherwise I’ll cry again like I do on my annual eyeliner attempt when I realise that though another year has passed my skills have not developed at all.)
That Bikini Scene: You know when the guys find that computer programme at the start which can picture everyone that works for the FBI in a swimsuit? Well I think it perfectly captures some major differences between the treatment of men and women. Everytime they picture a man in the outfit it’s like *violent cackle* *chokes on Pret sandwich from all the laughing* *misogynist tears of misogynist humour roll down their misogynist cheeks* yet when they picture any women in it they become blady Simon Cowell on X Factor. Oh no she is too old! Wow that one is a sexy mama but I don’t like how she could crush the patriarchy with those barrel thighs! Etc. So boring. Why do films do this? Makes me feel so shite about doing something as simple as being a woman.
The Makeover Scene: I. Can’t. Even. Bring. Myself. To. Write. About. This. Ugh. In order to be considered pretty, SanBul has to reject basically her whole appearance and exchange it for everything from a blow dry to a bikini wax, otherwise she’s not pageant worthy. I’ve always been a fan of a good makeover montage but only recently have I realised how damaging they are. No wonder there’s so much pressure on women to look a certain way when every chick flick has this scene in which the frizzy haired, pony tailed, braces, glasses, nerdy babe is turned into an Emma Roberts stunt double (Princess Diaries, Wicked, Aquamarine- the recurrences are so worrying). Apart from starting an I Hate Frizz society, there is no way more obviously trying to make people feel insecure than by hiding away all those completely normal, not ugly features.
Heels: They take a super competent, kick-ass woman and put her in heels. I don’t want to be that person who makes some sweeping statement like, I don’t know, ‘high heels mirror foot binding’ but there are definitely some comparisons. If you think that’s shocking then take a moment to chew the idea. Foot binding was seen as beautiful yet prevented women from being able to comfortably undertake their daily tasks and in the end led to medical conditions. Sound familiar? Heels are great sometimes, yes- who doesn’t want to walk around feeling like a skyscraper and knowing that they could, if they wanted to, lick Channing Tatum’s forehead- but forcing a woman to wear them to be pretty is taking us back to the Cannes Film Festival 2015 all over again and only reaffirms male power. You’re more likely to trip/break your neck/get stuck in a drain cover and you can’t run for the tube. Inconvenient af. Especially when you work for the blady FBI.
She Dumbs Herself Down To Fit In: I mean, ultimately, we’ve established that the message of this film is to BE YOURSELF unless yourself isn’t a quinoa-fanatic-yoga-bitch who’s so in control of her life that not only did she manage to cancel her Graze membership (how? Please tell me how you manage to escape the endless boxes of raisins I. Don’t. Want. Any. More. Fuckin. Raisins.) but she did so because they were sending her too many brownie pieces and not enough dried apricots, in which case, be her instead. Regardless of whether you want to or not, the film basically just teaches you just to become her.
So Teamales, if you’ve seen Miss Congeniality tell me what you thought below (and sorry if I’ve ruined your fave film, don’t blame me blame the patriarchy). If there’s anything you want me to watch and critique let me know and I’ll see what I can do, or if you missed my last A Feminist Watches you can check it out HERE.
5 thoughts on “A Feminist Watches: Miss Congeniality”
Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I recently attempted to re-watched this film in a fit of cotton-candy 90s cinema nostalgia and was already feeling a little grossed out 10 min in. The fact that the SB character has to pick up Starbucks for all the men is played for laughs, but why doesn’t her character – a smart, tough, badass with no patience for being minimized for being female (see: Scene I) – display even the tiniest bit of resistance to the idea that she, the one woman on the team, is expected to bring everyone coffee? Ick.
And then that scene a few minutes later in the bar with SB eating ice cream to stuff down her emotions? Her lecherous colleague walks in with an undergrad from Vassar – Vassar! – whose first question is whether women FBI agents all have to wear masculine shoes. Yes, I’m sure that exactly what a high-achieving Vassar student would ask about. Yeesh. But then, she’s pretty, so she can’t possibly also be smart (despite, ahem, going to frickin’ Vassar). And it seems like SB’s character is more annoyed at the Vassar student than at her mid-30s colleague for picking up college girls. Double ick.
I was going to try to keep watching this movie another time, but thanks to your analysis, I can tell the rest of the movie would be equally trying. And also thank you for this: “quinoa-fanatic-yoga-bitch who’s so in control of her life that not only did she manage to cancel her Graze membership (how? Please tell me how you manage to escape the endless boxes of raisins I. Don’t. Want. Any. More. Fuckin. Raisins.)” Mwahahaha.
This was an interesting take on the movie! While I do think a lot of these points were valid, I think your point about the makeover scene might be a bit off. Pageants seem to have a certain beauty standard that is above-and-beyond the typical, maybe more like Instagram makeup (but this is back in the ’90s when you couldn’t just download an app to get access to it). And I do know a lot of women who do want to prioritize their work and themselves over their body. For the character that Sandra plays, the makeover scene is necessary for her to go undercover and play her role. The problem seems to be more of the overuse of the makeover in media and the inherent judging of women’s looks in pageants. But
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Thanks for reading! I see what you mean, if SB had turned up looking like herself then she wouldn’t have been accepted into the pageant but I guess I just found it sad that that message to young girls was ‘you’re more valuable if you’re pretty’. I thought that was a potentially damaging one- even if it was necessary for the plot to work
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this was such an interesting read! I’ve never thought about this film like this before, fab post! xx
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Thanks b, sorry if I ruined it oops xo
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