Crystal Fung Ying-ying was crowned Miss Hong Kong earlier this month and is already under fire for swearing on Facebook two years ago. Netizens and media alike have said she should be dethroned because she no longer reflects well on the city. That, of course, is because Miss Hong Kong should represent the perfect female – an embodiment of beauty and wisdom, and someone who would never use any profanity.
Beauty pageants are among the most anti-feminist events on the planet. They perpetuate conventional beauty standards and gender stereotypes. And yet, the media has never criticised beauty pageants and the way they work, choosing instead to encourage such behaviour by reporting on the judging criteria and contestants in a crude and sensationalist way.
The latest attack on Fung proves how sexist the media and society are, in general. Using profanity is an aspect of normal daily life where double standards become alarmingly visible: when men curse, it’s normal and tough; when women swear, however, it’s unladylike and vulgar.
But how do we determine whether someone is ladylike or not? “Lady” is an archaic version of the word “woman” – it was created a long time ago, when women were expected to be quiet, passive and obedient, not expressive, outspoken or independent. The term “ladylike” is packed with historical and social context. Labelling girls and women with this term is an effort to reinforce existing views and stereotypes.
In the case of Fung, internet users went through her old Facebook posts, several of which consisted of Cantonese swear words that expressed her anger at the government and her support for the Occupy Central movement. Media also fuelled the fire by forcing Fung to respond to these accusations.
I don’t believe that Fung should apologise for or explain what she wrote. Women, like all other human beings, should be able to define and express themselves as they wish to.
Suggesting that all women are similar, and that they should all conform to one (rather conservative) standard,
is not only irrational, it’s also oppressive.
We don’t need girls or women to become ladies; we need them to be themselves.