Everything to Everyone

by kim on June 17, 2013 · 10 comments

in gender and being a woman

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If you haven’t seen or heard it by now, let me just throw it at you and get it out of the way.  Miss Utah USA (part of the Miss USA pageant, which as someone who is friends with a former Miss Michigan can tell you is different than the Miss America pageant circuit…I know way too much) was questioned about gender pay equity during the Miss USA Pageant this weekend.  I find this ironic since Donald Trump owns the pageant and really would rather issues like pay equity just disappear.  Anyhow, the question was simple:

 ”A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

You could answer this question any number of ways that avoids giving an answer that’s too political for the pageant circuit (though, I’d applaud any woman who took this and ran with it) and that gives enough of an answer to move on.  Instead, Miss Utah USA gave the following answer:

“I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are … continuing to try to strive to [epic pause] figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are … um … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create educate better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.”

Say what now?  This makes the maps answer from Miss Teen USA back in 2007 look relatively cogent. At least she talked about maps and the question mentioned maps.

I get that these women are being put on the spot.  But this is nothing new to them.  To get to Miss USA you have been put on the spot at pretty much every turn. So having to answer a loaded question in an evening gown and high heels is something you signed up for and should be able to handle at that level.  And really, all you had to say was “it’s an issue we need to work on.”  Bam. Done and done.

Instead, the lack of an answer gives me two points for fodder:

1.  Pageants are antiquated and should probably go away.

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I love Miss Congeniality more than any one person should.  And I think women that do pageants should be celebrated just as much as women who are athletes, activists and more.  But despite knowing someone that I respect that was in the pageant circuit, I am really not a fan of the whole thing.  I can think of far better ways to spend our time and money than fancy dresses, spray tans and swimsuit competitions.  Hell, even Hawaiian Tropic got rid of their competition since the times they-are-a-changin.

It all goes back to the princess culture.  Women are taught as girls that they have a dual role to play: one based on appearances and the other based on keeping up with men in society.  The fact that the very question at issue dealt with this does not surprise me one bit.  We devalue women’s roles as mothers, caregivers, and traditionally female professions such as nursing and teaching.  At the same time, we tell them that they can do anything they want–while we demonize those who do.  Just ask Hillary Clinton what it’s liked to be followed by hecklers asking her to iron their shirts and make her a sandwich…bitch, she’s out there making policy.  Hell, as much as I despise Sarah Palin, she was demonized for being an advocate for mothers.  Both women were constantly ridiculed about appearances in a way that we would think of as idiotic…if we were talking about men.

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Pageants take all of these things that keep women working twice as hard for half as much and roll them into one.  You want to make change and be a leader? Great…what do you look like in an evening gown and swimsuit?  The problem isn’t the women involved, its’ the structure that reinforces the idea that women have to be everything at all times, but first and foremost things to look at.

So yeah, a pageant contestant gives a shitty answer and we shouldn’t be surprised.

2.  Here we go bashing women again…

This was a shitty loaded question for a pageant. There is no soundbite that can capture what pay inequity means about society.  This poor woman was set up for failure from the jump.  Speak too forcefully about how it is a bad thing? Feminazi.  Speak too softly?  Conservative whackjob.

There is no appropriate response to this question at a fucking beauty pageant.  I’m sorry.  Let’s all be honest here.  Call it a scholarship competition. Call it a pageant.  Call it a cattle call. Hell, call it Kathmandu.  I don’t care.  There is no possible scenario where this poor woman could have won.  The fact that she’s from Utah and represents some of the most conservatively-minded people when it comes to pay equity and women’s role in society should not be unnoticed here either.  I mean, if your “constituents” are largely Later Day Saints, then yeah…you’re going to have a problem finding the right words to describe societal issues involving pay equity.  I ain’t even mad at this chick for messing up the answer. I just cannot be.

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What I’m mad about is the fact that this is even still a damn question…being asked at a pageant no less.

I’m left to wonder if we’re just using this as another way to go LOOK AT THE DUMB GIRL OVER THERE.  I honestly feel bad for this woman.  She probably has a much better answer than that in her head and it wasn’t exactly a great question for the crowd that just loves to hear “WORLD PEACE” over and over again while simultaneously (and in contradictory fashion) thinking “USA! USA!”

Do we really love seeing women twist out there in the wind so much that we’re willing to put them in this spot and then laugh about it the next day?  I mean, gladiator games were brutal in ancient Rome, but in the modern day in age this is just as brutal if not more so.  Good luck finding a job when this is all said and done, Miss Utah USA.

And the fact that this was asked by a woman that is featured on a show that has at it’s heart the portrayal of women in a horrible fucking light…well, duh…just duh.

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All in all, it’s still a tough spot to be put in and this poor woman just got thrown out there like a sacrificial lamb for not giving a succinct but in depth answer about an issue that we can’t even agree is an issue as a nation, let alone one for which we can propose solutions.  Sorry if I don’t want to bash her and run away.

And, of course, once again, Donald Trump’s contribution to the world is in the form of asinine things.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Megg June 17, 2013 at 10:38 am

I will be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about pageants, so I honestly didn’t know that Miss USA was any different, in fundamentals, from Miss America. I also didn’t know that Donald Trump was involved with Miss USA — this fact makes it much easier for me to believe that Miss USA is different from Miss America. But, I digress.

Why are we talking about important societal issues in this forum? Why, in what is essentially a T & A competition, are we asking women about something this important? It’s a damn shame that the gender pay gap exists, and we should be talking about it, but is a beauty pageant the correct forum? No. And why are we pretending it is?

I’ve got nothing against women being beautiful and accomplished – but, we should celebrate them more for their accomplishments (that they arguably worked hard to obtain) than their beauty (which is arguably due to mostly a roll of the genetic dice). That’s probably the biologist in me talking, but that’s how I feel. *Particularly* if you’re going to call it a “scholarship competition”, it should be more about, well, the scholarship of the contestants, rather than anything else.

Oh, and can we please, please get Toddlers & Tiaras off the air ASAP? And Honey Boo-Boo while we’re at it? These things are not going to make the issue any clearer…

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kim June 17, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Beauty isn’t only a roll of the genetic dice, it’s largely a sociological concept we all buy into. Change the parameters slightly and the whole thing is off balance. There’s a reason beauty standards are kept in place so rigidly…and that reason is money and power. There’s a shocker.

I liked Toddlers and Tiaras the first season when it was more documentary than this nonsense. The Honeybooboo crap I don’t care for but what strikes me is how liberal that family turned out to be in the end–gay uncle or whatever and all supporting women of size and all kinds of things. What an unintended surprise that is much welcomed.

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mamikaze June 17, 2013 at 12:22 pm

I have felt this way for as long as I can remember. When we voice our opinions about the obvious eugenics parade that pageants have always been, we’re called feminazis or worse. But the women participating in the face just as much criticism, plus terribly low expectations about their intelligence and prospects for life. Both sides want to be taken seriously. Beauty pageants are a huge industry, so I doubt they will go away.

Giving the participants there question in advance (hell even 5 minutes before they go up to answer would be enough) would improve the situation. I know I wouldn’t be able to form an answer much better than hers if I were given it cold with spotlights in my eyes, knowing that it was being recorded and could haunt me forever. I would pass out.

As for the gender gap, I am fed up with the BS line of apples to apples “the wage gap doesn’t exist if you compare jobs within specific companies.” Thank you Faux News.

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kim June 17, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Anyone who actually believes that line from Faux News should be sent back to kindergarten to start from scratch because clearly they haven’t learned a damn thing about numbers or how the world works.

Giving the question in advance–even a few minutes–seems like a good inbetween for this particular situation.

But yeah, expecting some groundbreaking policy answer from pageant contestants isn’t really my thing.

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Ms TC June 17, 2013 at 3:07 pm

We’ve come a long way, baby…but apparently not enough. Still.

Women will always be judged by their looks and not their brains. Even if women were the only ones in power, I still think this would be true, somewhat. Because a lot of women out there judge other women based on looks. Until we stop competing with each other and encourage each other — all of us, this will continue on some level.

It’s sad. I am trying to raise a daughter in a world that will judge her on her weight and her looks instead of her brains and ambition. How can I tell her that her beauty and weight are not important when everything she sees on TV, in movies, magazines, etc. say otherwise??? *sigh*

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kim June 17, 2013 at 8:58 pm

That’s the thing about having daughters…you have to prepare them for so much more.

But I honestly think that only strong women can handle daughters well. And you’re up to the task. Sadly, society will keep trying to erase your (and my) handiwork because it doesn’t fit it’s own needs.

Women fight with each other because there’s limited resources and we’ve been taught we have to.

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Anna June 17, 2013 at 4:01 pm

UGH, Utah. Don’t even get me started. Too bad I’m stuck here…

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kim June 17, 2013 at 8:57 pm

I thought of you when I heard she was from Utah. I mean…not at all surprised. You’re the only cool person I’ve ever met from that state.

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Allison @Insomniac Lab Rat June 19, 2013 at 11:39 pm

I have a hard time saying I’d like pageants to go away entirely. I competed in the Miss America Organization/Miss Michigan and firmly believe that it was overall beneficial for me.

If I could go back, I’d do it again, and I’d do it the same way – without spending much, without a “coach” – even knowing that I’d only win 1 local pageant and not place at Miss Michigan. The scholarships I earned STILL were more than what I spent. Scholarships aside, my confidence, my ability to speak in front of a crowd, and my interview skills all improved. Yes, there are other, less “controversial” ways to improve those skills…but I had fun and also made friends. And $$!

I’d be very happy to see Donald Trump’s involvement with pageants end, I’d be happy to see the swimsuit competition done away with entirely, and I’d be happy to see the Miss USA (and to a lesser extent Miss America) telecast go away…but the year I spent as a local titleholder was AWESOME.

I got to talk to kids about math and science and reading, and about working hard in school. I got to host science fairs and math nights, and family night at the library. And again, there are other ways to be involved in these things, but being a local titleholder made it much easier, and having a sparkly crown got kids’ attention-then I learned how to keep their attention.

So…I’m cool with taking it off TV, and reducing the objectification, but please don’t take away my MAO :)

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kim June 20, 2013 at 3:56 pm

The friend I had that did it also did it very similar to you–no coach, no big spending and truly did use it as a scholarship. If you enjoyed it and I know she did, then great….I’m glad you did it and that it was there for you.

i don’t think it’s that there are less controversial ways to sharpen those skills, it’s that for far too long there haven’t been many other avenues for women to sharpen those skills except the one that requires them to strut around and look pretty for pretty’s sake. That’s what bothers me.

And, again, the Miss America organization is much better about platforms and community service and all that. I’m glad I knew my friend and learned about that otherwise I’d be completely jaded…and wrong…about the organization.

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