As It Happens

Moms and short people need not apply: Miss France pageant sued over eligibility rules

If you want to be crowned the epitome of "beauty and elegance" in France, you have to be unmarried, childless, at least 5-foot-5 and no older than 24. That's why a French feminist organization is suing the pageant’s production company for what it says are discriminatory hiring practices.

French feminist organization launches discrimination suit on behalf of 3 rejected applicants

Miss Nord-Pas-de-Calais Maeva Coucke reacts after winning the Miss France 2018 pageant in Chateauroux on Dec. 16, 2017. (Guillame Souvant/AFP/Getty Images)

Story Transcript

If you want to be crowned the epitome of "beauty and elegance" in France, you have to be unmarried, childless, at least 5 feet 5 inches and no older than 24.

That's why a French feminist organization is suing the pageant's production company for what it says are discriminatory hiring practices.

"We'll see if Miss France can survive without sexism, because right now the whole contest is based on sexism," Ursula Le Menn, a spokesperson for Osez Le Féminisme, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"So can you survive with no discriminatory criteria? I guess we'll see. But my opinion is that, of course, it is discriminatory in essence."

Osez Le Féminisme, which translates to Dare To Be Feminist, is suing the pageant's production company, Endemol, alleging discrimination on behalf of three rejected applicants.

The allegations have not been tested in court. As It Happens has reached out to Endemol and the Miss France pageant for comment.

Contestants pose during the Miss France 2018 pageant. (Guillaume/AFP/Getty Images)

According to 2022 Miss France application form, contestants must be born between Jan. 1, 1997, and Nov. 1, 2003, be no shorter than 1.7 metres (5 feet 5 inches) without heels, have no visible tattoos, and have never been married or had children. 

The pageant's code of ethics further states that contestants must not smoke or consume alcohol in public, pose for racy photos, or otherwise "behave contrary to good morals, public order and/or the spirit of the competition based in particular on values such as elegance."

Osez Le Féminisme is not naming its three plaintiffs, but says they were all deemed too short, and one or more of them have tattoos and drink and smoke in public. According to the lawsuit, only one was born after 1997. 

"Basically, they are women who wanted to show something else. Women of every day. They wanted to, you know, show that women are not just supermodels that are super tall and super thin and perfect, and that women are a lot of things, and a lot of different things. That's the beauty of it," Le Menn said.

"When they [discovered] it's not possible to show anything [other] than the perfect representation of a woman object that Miss France wants to display, they went to us."

Are beauty pageant contestants employees?

The lawsuit's goals are twofold. 

Firstly, it argues that beauty pageant's contestants, who are unpaid, should be classified as employees and be given employment contracts and salaries.

"Basically, they're just treated like volunteers, when actually they work for a month and a half," Le Menn said. 

The suit cites a 2013 ruling, in which a French court agreed with a Mr. France contestant that his time on the show constituted a "working relationship."

"The same reasoning should be applied to Miss France," Le Menn said.

Miss France 2019 Vaimalama Chaves waves to people as she parades on a flower-covered float in Papeete on the French Polynesian island of Tahiti. (Gregory Boissy/AFP/Getty Images)

Secondly, the lawsuit says if the contestants are, indeed, employees, then they should be protected under France's labour laws, which prohibit discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, family situation or genetic characteristics. 

"In labour law in France, you can only ... choose [workers based] on the criteria that are needed for the work," said  Le Menn, who is also a lawyer.

"And if we establish that this is a show, basically they will be able to choose [contestants based] only on the fact that they are women and that they know how to dance."

Le Menn says it's no secret that Osez Le Féminisme is against the Miss France pageant and would like to see it shut down.

"In an ideal world, we would want no one to want to watch women on a Saturday night, criticize them, say this one is better than this one, I prefer this one, I prefer this part of her body to the other one," she said.

"We would love to be in a society when everyone finds that completely obsolete and just outdated. But we're not there yet, so we're using the law."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes. 

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