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Gender equality

Miss England and the feminist dilemma

Miss England hopefuls at the tentative return of the “Beach Beauty” round in 2022

How do you feel about “beautiful women in swimwear”, asks Celia Walden in The Daily Telegraph. Male readers may be inclined to respond with a “unanimous thumbs up”, but what are we women meant to think? The divided reaction to news that the organisers of the Miss England pageant are considering a permanent return of the “swimwear round” shows what a tangle we’re in over “female flesh-baring”. In the decade since the infamous round was canned in 2010, we’ve gone from having “two genders to 107”, the word “women” has become offensive, and we still haven’t decided whether female nudity is proof of “patriarchal objectification” or a “medal of empowerment”.

In some respects, “it’s never been easier to show your skin”, whether posing on Instagram or walking around on a hot day in “basically just a bra and shorts”. But are today’s young women really “more liberated” than their grandmothers were? It sometimes feels as if the fear of being a “bad feminist” has become just as limiting to women as the patriarchy. Nobody understands this better than Katrina Hodge, the former Miss England, who has come to regret leading the original campaign to ban the swimwear round. “We were constantly being told by ‘feminists’ trying to close down pageants that it was wrong and objectifying us,” she says. But by ending it, “I took away women’s choice and freedoms – I also made the competition highly boring”. It’s true. People of both sexes like seeing beautiful women in swimwear. But until we all grow up, female flesh will be “everywhere except the Miss England podium”.