Anti-Miss World protesters back after 41 years

Women's libbers who stormed the Albert Hall in 1970 say that if the beauty pageant goes on, so does the campaign

"You'd think after 40 years things would have changed, wouldn't you?" said Jo Robinson, waving placards as her friends shouted: "Shame on you" at the dinner-jacketed crowds on the way into the Miss World beauty pageant.

The competition, won at London's Earls Court yesterday by Ivian Sarcos (Miss Venezuela), is 60 years old this year, and Ms Robinson is a few months shy of her 70th birthday. It is 41 years since she spent a night in the cells and a morning in the magistrates' court after storming the 1970 contest at the Royal Albert Hall. Stink bombs, smoke bombs and flour bombs were thrown. And now she is back to register her opposition again.

"Look what happens," she said. "What society expects from young women. There is terrible pressure put on them to look a certain way. I wear make-up, I want to look nice, but to go to such an extent as to have operations performed on yourself?"

Among around 100 protesters outside the venue of the competition yesterday were seven of the Women's Liberation activists who caused such a stir in 1970. Sue Finch said she was "furious, angry, disappointed and outraged" that the competition still goes on and more so that it should be held in London. "We thought we'd stopped it, but we haven't. It's back and it's worse now than it was 40 years ago. The beauty industry is more extreme and more pervasive."

It was another, Sarah Wilson, who "shook the rattle" that was the pre-arranged signal from the protesters sat in ballgown camouflage inside the venue. "No one heard it at first," she said. "They were all near the back. It took a minute for them to light their smoke bombs off their cigarettes."

Arrests were made, but some, including Jo Robinson, made it out, and continued the protest at a nightclub where contestants had been taken for an after-party. She threw a smoke bomb outside and spent the night in the cells before appearing at Bow Street magistrates' court. They were fined "about £100 each", paid with funds raised by the Women's Liberation Network.

The women, who have spent the last forty years working as teachers, midwives, landscape gardeners and charity campaigners, don't seem to have the same hot-blooded anger as their younger counterparts. One waves a placard reading: "Miss World is the jewel in the crown of rape culture."

It is a sentiment not shared by the contestants. "It is a celebration of the human body," says Miss Australia, Amber Greasley. "We work hard to look the way we do and we look great parading around in a swimsuit. Why shouldn't we?"

Miss Sierra Leone's motivations are loftier: "We are trying to rebrand our country and I want to help do that, for the children of my country, to show them what they can achieve." The class of 1970 said they had no plans to storm the event a second time ("we've done our bit"), but encouraged "the kids" to do the same.

However it seems in the space of 41 years the baton got dropped. Still, there's always next year, and in all likelihood, many more after that.

Miss World on parade

1951: Conceived as a one-off stunt to promote the Festival of Britain. The "international bathing beauties" would ideally be "5ft 7in, eight or nine stone", blessed with "a lovely face, good teeth, plenty of hair and perfectly shaped legs".

 

1974: The UK's Helen Morgan was forced to resign her title four days later after it was discovered she was an unmarried mother.

1980: Organisers dropped the recital of vital statistics and judged contestants' personality and intelligence, too.

 

1996: An Indian man burnt himself to death outside the venue in Bangalore amid widespread protests.

 

2002: Several nations boycotted the event in Nigeria in protest at the sentencing to death by stoning of a woman found guilty of adultery.

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