Schools axe 'sexist' pageants

Schools axe 'sexist' pageants

Focus on looks 'no longer appropriate'

A prominent human rights activist has thrown his support behind the decision by Mahidol University Student Association to abolish an in-house beauty pageant that is solely fixated on appearance.

Wasan Paileeklee said the students can focus on organising other contests instead such as those that emphasise the worthiness of intellectual ability, though adding that public opinion should be sought before doing so.

"The beauty contests may not be abusive if they are operated with fair criteria and do not bully or dehumanise contestants," he said. "But the criteria should also involve their knowledge, skills, personalities, manners and wit."

"Students are scholars and they are expected to show more skill-based proficiency, not just obsess over their appearance. If they pursue [healthy] social activities, they will serve as role models for more junior students."

Supensri Phuengkoksung, director of the Social Equality Promotion Foundation, said school activities should encourage students to apply their knowledge usefully in social activities.

But sexism and superficiality are inherently stamped in beauty pageants, the director added.

Some traditional activities may not align well with the currently prevailing social values and need to be reconsidered if they are to benefit the public, she noted.

In addition to axeing its beauty contests this year -- which saw the winners crowned university ambassadors and granted certain privileges -- Mahidol's Student Association has abolished other freshmen activities that focus on physical appearance and are no longer considered appropriate.

As a sign of their waning popularity at academic institutes nationwide, the Bangkhen Campus of Kasetsart University has also cancelled similar activities after seeking public opinion.

Moreover, in 2018 the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University held a referendum to seek public feedback after a student group filed a petition to cancel beauty-focused activities.

Thammasat University conducted a similar survey in 2020 and found that 85% of students agreed to end its in-house beauty contest.

The university's student union said it has always selected its ambassadors based on their personalities and positive attitudes, but as society mistook the value of its beauty contests and similar activities, it will cancel them all to make its position crystal clear.

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