12th March 2018

Beauty Queens – Libba Bray

Beauty Queens is a satire about a group of beauty queens who are stranded on an island and thus removed from the patriarchal rules that shape their daily lives. It is a commentary on society and what happens when people are removed from it. Essentially, it is a female take of Lord of the Flies by William Golding with themes of what it is like to grow up female/female-identified in a male dominated world. A world where we do not make the rules. A world where it seems as if we’ll never get a share in making the rules.
Beauty Queens brings to the forefront many serious social issues with it’s diverse cast of female characters. It has themes of gender, race, LGBT and disability issues through all of the diverse characters. This book has the most diverse cast of females I have ever seen portrayed in any medium.
One of the first things you may notice about Beauty Queens is the controversial choice to have a lack of male characters with many people asking “Why so many women?” My answer is “Why not?” Too many times we have seen a lack of strong and complex female characters. This book finally gives us that.
Personally, I find it funny how the fact that all the main characters are female is questioned when there are many books and movies with a lack of females that are not questioned (Lord of the Flies and the Maze Runner movies to name a few popular ones).
The patriarchy only sees women’s worth in what they can do for men. Hence, we get two-dimensional, quiet women. We get manic pixie dream girls. We get angry black women. We get mean girls. We get two dimensional background characters with little to no personality whose only job it to encourage the male protagonist.
There is a test called the Bechdel test. The Bechdel test requires that in a book or movie, there be two female characters that speak about something other than a man. Only about half of books or movies pass. There was a study that showed, that in 885 of the most successful U.S. films from 1950 to 2006, there were on average, two males to every female character.
Beauty Queens rejects the status quo. Beauty Queens has girls who are intelligent, beautiful, competent and will not be silenced. They are so much more than their bodies or male sidekicks. They have flaws, strengths, doubts, fears and existential crisies like male characters are allowed to have. As Mary Lou says “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching so they can be who they really are.” These women do not exist for a man. They exist in their own right. They exist because they exist.
There is a test that measures the representation of women in fiction called the Bechdel test. It asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.  bechdeltest.com is a user-edited database of some 6,500 films classified by whether they pass the test, with the added requirement that the women must be named characters. As of April 2015, it listed 58% of these films as passing all three of the test’s requirements, 10% as failing one, 22% as failing two, and 10% as failing all three. That means 10% of movies don’t even have multiple women in it. Although this is a significant improvement from prior years, this is still not good enough. So often women are left out of literature and film. Finally, we are given a plot in which we are the central characters instead of just in the background. 
Another, lesser-known test, the Vito Russo test, is used to measure a film’s or piece of literature’s representation of LGBT characters. In order to pass the test must have a character that identifies as LGBT that is not soley defined by their sexuality or gender identity and the character must be critical to the plot, ie, the character must matter. Beauty Queens passes this. The beauty queens aren’t just diverse by opinions and skillsets, but they also give representation to a group of people who often don’t get to see themselves represented in the media. There are three LGBT characters in the book and two who self-identify as such; Petra, a helpful and encouraging former boy band member entering the pageant to change views on gender, and to make enough money to get sex reassignment surgery. And Jennifer, a poor girl doing the beauty pageant as part of a program to help kids with bad pasts turn their lives around, who just happens to be a lesbian. The representation of different types of women in this book is one of the things that makes this book stand out. Many authors are afraid to have one LGBT character in their books let alone three. This representation showing LGBT as regular members of society is one of the things this book does so well.



Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. Hi Luella,

    This is a strong response to the text. We discussed some means of developing it further:

    1) Make a reference to the Bechdel test and perhaps weave this into your argument somewhat
    2) Use some specific quotations from the text will go a long way to adding the necessary detail to the response
    3) It would be very interesting to see whether there might be a quote from the Lord of the Flies that might illuminate your argument even further.

    Nice work – and an interesting text!


  2. Do take my advice on this article before I finalise the grade.


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