Frontline World

NIGERIA - The Road North, January 2003


THE STORY
Synopsis of "The Road North"

MISS WORLD'S WOES
A Chronicle of the Pageant's Troubles

THOUGHTS OF A FAVORITE SON
Interview With Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka

NIGERIAN WOMEN SPEAK OUT
Five Diverse Voices

FACTS & STATS
Learn More about Nigeria

LINKS & RESOURCES
Sharia Law, Human Rights, the Role of Women

MAP

REACT TO THIS STORY

   


Helen Morgan, Miss United Kingdom, rehearses her routine for the swimsuit segment of Miss World 1974.
Helen Morgan, Miss United Kingdom, rehearses her routine for the swimsuit segment of Miss World 1974. Morgan went on to win the title that year, but she relinquished her crown just four days after her coronation when tabloids reported that she was a single mother. (AP/Wide World Photos)



1970s
A Pageant Is Born - 1950s Decade of the Indiscreet Contestant - 1960s Feminists Attack the Pageant - 1970s Miss World’s Facelift - 1980s A Globalized Culture Clash - 1990s The Show Must Go On - 2000s

Feminists Attack the Pageant
United States delegate Marjorie Wallace revels in her title at the Coronation Ball following the 1973 competition.
United States delegate Marjorie Wallace revels in her title at the Coronation Ball following the 1973 competition. The Indiana native was the first American woman to be named Miss World. But Wallace's reign ended prematurely after she was criticized for dating too many high-profile men, including professional soccer star George Best and singer Tom Jones. Wallace later became a television host for Good Morning Los Angeles and Entertainment Tonight. (AP/Wide World Photos)

When Miss World held its first competition of the new decade, the feminist movement's second wave was just reaching high tide. Popular magazines had declared 1970 to be the "Year of Women's Liberation."

Protest against the Miss World competition prior to 1970 had been in the form of small-scale actions easily contained. But when comedian Bob Hope stepped onto the stage of Royal Albert Hall in London to host the competition that year, he was bombarded by protestors hurling smoke and flour bombs. Feminists declared the protest a triumph. It became one of a handful of demonstrations in the early seventies that many believed strengthened the feminist movement in Britain. Five years later, women's rights supporters in Britain succeeded in winning passage of the Sex Discrimination Act and Equal Opportunities Act.

The revolt by feminists also inspired the founding of the Alternative Miss World Competition, a kitschy spoof in which drag queens competed with one another. And through the years, pageant protestors' tactics became more militant with feminists staging counterdemonstrations, including events at which women dressed in gowns made of raw steaks, bologna and hot links. In the following decade, one activist even infiltrated a U.S. competition as a contestant, unfurling onstage a silk scarf that read "Pageants Hurt All Women."
Security guards rush demonstrators out of Royal Albert Hall in London.
Security guards rush demonstrators out of Royal Albert Hall in London. Feminists stormed the 1970 pageant, hurling smoke and flour bombs at the stage. They were protesting the competition's cattle auction atmosphere. Contributing fuel to the fire, comedian Bob Hope, who hosted the Miss World contest that year, made a joke in his standup routine that compared contestants with cows. "It's been quite a cattle market," Hope said. "I've been out there checking calves." (AP/Wide World Photos)

The competition weathered other political controversy as well. A United Nations boycott was organized in 1977 because of participation by the apartheid government of South Africa. The U.N. dropped the boycott after the country pulled out the following year.

And Miss World contestants continued to suffer the personal indignities of the sort that had surfaced in the 1960s. Four months after United States delegate Marjorie Wallace was crowned Miss World in 1973, she was dethroned for dating too many high-profile men. A year later, Helen Morgan, Miss United Kingdom, relinquished her crown just four days after it was revealed she was a single mother.

Despite a decade of notoriety, by the end of the 1970s, the number of countries sending delegates to compete for Miss World had more than doubled, and the competition's worldwide audience had grown to more than 300 million viewers.

NEXT - 1980s: Miss World's Facelift

back to top