Is there anything to Object to with Mr and Miss Wimbledon?


Josh Richards and Sam Smith investigate a compelling competition


By Josh Richards and Sam Smith

The bank-holiday weekend is over but its weather is certainly lingering on.

Yet beyond the gloom of a damp Tuesday evening there is the promise of sparkling entertainment at the fourth annual Mr and Miss Wimbledon contest.

Throw in a free dinner and glass of champagne and suddenly things are looking a lot more promising.

While we sit and squabble over the merits of the Chimichanga versus the Lasagne, there is a far more contentious issue present in the Tapanco restaurant on Hartfield Road that is impossible to ignore.

An issue that exists not only in SW19, but one that is part of society wherever you go in the world. An issue that just a few days ago was the subject of lawsuit being filed in New York against Citibank.  An issue that has led to continuing protests from the human rights organisation Object, who campaign for equality and safety for women and girls.

We are of course talking about sexism.

The contestants entering the event over the three previous years have had to meet strict age, height and weight requirements in order to enter the contest marketed as judging ‘beauty with talent’.

Pressure from Object though, has led organiser Mark McGough to re-brand the whole event, removing the word ‘beauty’ and incorporating a Mr Wimbledon to be crowned alongside Miss Wimbledon.

Even the entry requirements have been relaxed to the extent where the girls must simply be over 18.

Mary Ensell, a member of Object, is pleased to finally see changes to the format of the contest in principle, but is not convinced that in practice much has changed at all.

“Although the organisers have made some positive changes to the event we feel that essentially the contest is still the same,” said Ms Ensell.

“We feel that the changes that have been made are very superficial, a facade behind which to hide the truth of the event – it is sexist and insulting.

“The finalists that the organisers selected were all young, thin and of model appearance and the prizes were a modelling boot camp and a modelling contract.”

It is hard to disagree with this point of view as the list of contestants is handed out.

A grand total of two men have entered the Mr Wimbledon contest, and the five entrants battling it out to be Miss Wimbledon certainly appear to tick all the boxes that would have made them eligible to enter Mr McGough’s contest in previous years.

However, when quizzed on the notion that his event could be deemed to be sexist, the organiser defended the contest and dismissed the idea.

“The main thing is just doing a fun night. We want to distance ourselves from beauty contests we’re more about the talent and doing something fun in Wimbledon,” said Mr McGough.

“We focus on the talent, we focus on doing fun things. We don’t have a bikini round there’s nothing sexist, we’re about entertaining people in a restaurant

“The feminists cling onto the fact we’re using ‘miss’. That’s the only thing that there is. If you ask an ordinary girl on the street if you put ‘miss’ in front of your name is that sexist? No it’s not.”

However, Ms Ensell hit back at these claims: “The prefix ‘miss’ was the least of our worries.

“Our main concerns were objectifying women, condoning them being judged on their appearance.

“The present media misrepresentation of women is oppressive and harmful and we want the world to know that not only are all women beautiful, but that beauty is not automatically their most valuable attribute.”

On the night itself Object had planned a protest, but this did not materialise.

“We aborted the protest as we decided it would be difficult to get our message across to people on the street now that the event was mixed, even though we feel the men were tokens to appease the outcry,” said Ms Ensell.

So, was all this simply much-ado-about-nothing? Who better to judge than those present on the night?

“I did look into it before I accepted the invitation,” said recently elected Mayor of Merton, Oonagh Moulton.

“One of the things I was looking into was the makeup of the event and who had been invited.

“I certainly wouldn’t have been associated with something where people were parading in swimsuits or whatever, but when you are promoting certain talent be it music, art or sport I think that is to be commended and I think maybe it’s why the feminists aren’t here tonight.

“Just because something is called Miss Wimbledon doesn’t mean that it’s purely a beauty contest. Merton has some extraordinary talent and I think that this is a positive event,” she said.

On the night, the winner of the People’s Choice Award, was Ayme-Leigh Brown, a 26-year-old actress from Wimbledon, who was adamant this was purely a talent contest: “This is not about beauty, this is something different.

“It is not about me winning it is just about entering, the night has been a lot of fun.”

Judge Carly Stratton, 2008 winner of reality TV show Shipwrecked, agreed with these sentiments.

“To say this is sexist, I think is rubbish. None of the acts were based on beauty. That is why they wanted to take part in the competition. Not once have the judges been asked to look at what they look like,” said Miss Stratton.

So where does all that leave us?

The idea of a talent contest being based on beauty is something that clearly even the event’s organiser has had to think twice about.

Object have successfully campaigned for changes to be made, and this year’s contest certainly appeared to be more about good clean fun than anything else.

While the event’s title may be a little unfortunate, as long as girls still apply to enter and members of the public still pay to watch, then it seems the Miss Wimbledon contest may be here to stay.

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