I FOUND this news story about Indian “sanitation workers” (scavengers, if we avoid the euphemism) modelling in New York pretty bizarre. I do hope you’ll read the article before proceeding to comment, but in a nutshell: 36 Indian sanitation workers were invited to a conference as part of the UN’s International Year of Sanitation. In New York, they took part in a fashion show called Mission Sanitation, walking the ramp beside professional models.
Scavenging is deeply dehumanizing work, and an end to the profession would be truly welcome. But why modelling (not professionally, I must add, but as a novelty event)?
A particularly interesting part of the article:
The ceremony was especially poignant for Usha Chomar, because she was unofficially crowned as princess of sanitation workers.
i don’t think that modelling is necessarily un- or anti-feminist. But I also don’t think that the simple juxtapositioning of a highly enviable profession and a highly undesirable one makes any real statement. I also do not believe that beauty pageants actually empower anyone at all, except perhaps the winners themselves, but in ways that are carefully orchestrated by the real power-holders. If half the promises made during pageants were actually kept, the world would be a much, much different place.
Maybe my feminism is a bit old-school, but attending a UN conference and then “doing some modelling” sort of sounds like a big drop to me. Coming out of one of the most degrading professions in the world… and then hitting the catwalk, en masse? Is that really activism or achievement? Or just another spin on that old oppression-chic cliche? I have no doubt that some of the participants must have really enjoyed the experience. But it’s the motives of the organisers that I question. When will we stop treating underprivileged people — of any background — as pawns that add a touch of controlled reality and an ambience of altruism to otherwise extremely unrelated situations?
What do you think?