Sunday, March 2, 2008

Miss America

Does anyone even watch Miss America anymore? Some people tell me they remember watching it growing up but I don’t ever recall a group of my girlfriends calling me up on a Monday and saying “Hey, Jules, we’re getting together to watch Miss America. You should come over!” They do that for Desperate Housewives or American Idol, but never Miss America.

In an era when we have an entire cable channel devoted to reality programming, and a nationwide talent contest that draws more voters than the presidential election, the idea of having young women show off how they look in swimsuits and evening wear while twirling a baton or singing their favorites songs from “Oklahoma,” just seems a bit old-fashioned. And not because of the attitudes, but because of the entertainment value.

But some feminists seem to have a big problem with Miss America, and I really don’t understand it. From what I can tell, the Miss America Organization is basically around to provide money to further education, and the pageant is just sort of its showcase event. And after learning al little about how the system works (from my brother who judges pageant is his free time), I think it is actually a good thing.

The Miss America Organization promotes community involvement and scholastic and social responsibility in young women. The winners, if you actually bother to pay attention, are typically women planning on executive careers who are extremely intelligent and driven. This is typically the point where people point out recent scandals involving racy pictures or not knowing where Iraq is on a map, but these contestants have all come from Donald Trump’s Miss USA system, which is completely different in its approach. What I am talking about here is Miss America.
So in an era when the only real role models young girls are perpetually exposed to are drug-addicted party girls who have done little to become famous, role models like Miss America are still relevant. If a little girl aspires to be the girl she sees helping her community while furthering her education, she is much better off than getting her influences from TMZ.


Meredith Wallis said...

In the 2000 film, Miss Congeniality, (about a FBI woman who has to go undercover in a Miss America), one of the funniest running jokes was the head of the pageant (played nicely by Candice Bergen) continually correcting people for saying beauty pageant, insisting that it was a “scholarship competition.” This joke works precisely because of, as you say, some feminists’ problems with beauty pageants, which stem from the fact that they are, in fact, "beauty" pageants. While other reality programming might implicitly be rating women on their culturally-appropriate attractiveness and disseminating certain ideas about normative appearance standards, beauty pageants exist to do this explicitly. You win them based on your conformance to these standards, which are not only sexist, but racist.

Placing beauty pageants contestants next to the “party girls” of TMZ is a false dichotomy—these are not, in fact, “the only real role models” that young girls are “perpetually exposed to”. I would say the average young girl, and I know a lot of them, has seen far more of Hannah Montana and Raven than Paris Hilton. I do not think there is the sort of impoverishment of female role models available that necessitates turning to a swimsuit competition as the last great hope of feminism.

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

I, too, wonder about the significance of the "fall from grace" of beauty pageants, but I don't lament it. I agree that beauty pageant contestants are better role models than many to whom we could compare them, but they are still not an enterprise I'd want any daughter of mine invested in. At the end of the day, they are about "beauty," and I would want my child to value herself (and others to value her) for more/other than that.