`Misbehaviour`: It Was Hard to Overcome a System. But They Did

In 2020, Philippa Lowthorpe premiered a historical drama about a public demonstration in London that had taken place fifty years before, when progressive activists were fighting against sexism and asserting women's rights throughout the world. In 1970, the Miss World contest was subjected to disruption; activist communities protested; a mobile ВВС station was blown up; and a black-skinned participant became the first runner-up in the history of the Miss World contest. The 1970s marked the beginning of a new era, which continues to this day.

Equality in basic human rights is still an important issue. This topic has always been a hot one in society, but over the past 10-15 years it has started to generate more films, interviews, media attention, and conversational emphasis. The world never shut itself off from the problem, and attempts to ban revolts in the initial stages allowed the resistance to gain power. The film “Misbehaviour” is no exception.

Watch the trailer here.

The film “Misbehaviour” depicts the lives of Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley), the leader of the women’s free rights movement; Jo Ann Robinson (Jessie Buckley), of British and American elite society; the creators of the contest, Eric Morley (Rhys Evans), his wife Julia, and the famous American TV-host Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear).


From the film "Misbehaviour"
From the film “Misbehaviour”


Great Britain, like many countries at that time, was under the power of a patriarchal system. South Africa struggled with its apartheid regime, based on separation by color, race and origin. The background of the contest is full of intrigue: the Prime Minister of Grenada becomes a contest judge; and near Albert Hall, the main event location, a BBC broadcast station van is blown up.

To the viewer, the plot may seem jumbled at the beginning, and rhetorical questions come to mine: Ok! what else?

But always, the topic of feminism has been difficult for many to understand, until now. People don’t fully understand the essence of what it`s been trying to convey. From this point of view, the story of a beauty contest, in 1970, supplemented by a protest, perfectly reveals the truth.

The plot pretends to be easy, and interesting, but at the same time infused with deep meaning.


Three dimensions of `Miss World`

Miss World 1970 – an event with the highest television ratings throughout the globe. Against the backdrop of political conflict – the U.S. war in Vietnam, the apartheid regime in South Africa – we see a picture of the issue of women’s freedom in society and the system on which virtually the whole of global society has been built: on patriarchy. A deep-seated social stigma has destroyed the ambitions of most young girls.

If we imagine the beauty contest as a simple geometric figure, then the goals of all the participants could go into 3 spatial components: what the participating girls want, what Sally and Jo want to prevent, and what the organizers and journalists wish for and promote by humiliating women and discriminating against them.


From the film "Misbehaviour"
From the film “Misbehaviour”


Sally and Jo intend to break the patriarchal system. They oppose the fact that the girls are weighed, and measured to discover the parameters of their chests and hips. Internal competition forces the girls to compete among themselves, not to accept themselves as they are. By the way, this is not only a crisis situation at the contest, but also reflects the clear situation within the wider society. Since childhood, girls have been taught to be beautiful, flexible, soft, to meet a good man (although it is not necessary that he should kind), but most importantly, to get married. Marriage is equated to self-sufficiency, and all other aspirations are disgrace.


Pursuing free choices

Yes, I could be rude, but only a few, in fact, managed to realize their dreams.  At the very least, I could list women scientists whose public recognition was followed by humiliation as the scientific community ignored their discoveries. In fact, Julia did all the men’s work: negotiating with the judges of the competition, discussing important details and contracts. But in public, the role of the creator belonged to Eric.

So, Sally and Jo try to allow women to respect themselves for their intelligence and talent, not just beauty. To pursue free choices to determine their fate, even if it goes beyond society’s understanding. And to be recognized not only as wives and mothers, but also as professionals. Not comparing themselves to anyone else.


Victory for rights and education

Girls came to such contests with different purposes.  The Swedish contestant wanted to win in order to get an expensive English education. A contestant from the USA wanted a better life. But for the girls from Grenada and South Africa, this contest could be a big step towards their own identity. In South Africa there was an apartheid regime that denied the human rights of anyone who came under its laws. And the population of Grenada had repeatedly suffered from political terror, including discrimination based on skin color. So participating in the competition would allow them to achieve, if not global changes, a positive shift in local mindset at least, proving that any girl is beautiful and everyone has the chance to realise a dream.


From the film "Misbehaviour"
From the film “Misbehaviour”


From this perspective, in “Misbehaviour” the competition is shown as a chance for many countries that were previously closed to the world to claim their rights. Establish a political system, democratize living conditions. When the Prime Minister of Grenada joins the ranks of the judges, it improves the odds that its contestant will win. As a sign of a new era coming.

For the world’s elites, such competitions have remained business affairs. Unfortunately, nothing has changed here.

But now the future generation can observe feminism, as directly connected with history. Although we have not achieved complete liberation from stereotypes, modern women can report violence, discrimination, and public humiliation. Beauty contests rather turn into a business and an opportunity to realize ambitions in journalism, modeling, charity. Sometimes it seems that the change in generations will bring new cultural trends. It will help create comfortable living conditions for everyone. Without distinguishing between gender and age.

The main thing is to realise the concepts of “feminism”, “sexism”, “gender equality” – not as a potential victory for women, but as an opportunity to say that all people are equal.


Photos: MovieStillsDB

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