In the recent Miss. USA pagent, Miss. Utah received a question about income inequality between the genders. It was a great question, and her answer was thoroughly nonsensical. Take a look:
It’s truly cringe-inducing, and there has been a swift public excoriation of Miss. Utah, pageants, and everything in between. A very smart woman I know responded to it in a different way. She notes that we may be calling a woman “stupid” who was in truth panicked. She goes on: “Perpetuating ‘stupid’ as a label for women (for anyone) who are trying to at least do something with their lives (even Miss. America) is a little harsh.”
I think my friend brings up a great point. It’s as if by participating in a beauty pageant, we think these women are fair game for pure hatred and ridicule, and that one admittedly terrible answer is a reflection on their general intelligence and worth. As my friend said, that’s a little harsh.
In my opinion, women who participate in pageants are taught a strange method to answer questions that a) offends no one, b) is not predicated on being super familiar with the topic. Those are pretty bizarre circumstances to try and answer a question. It’s a shame, though, because the question is fantastic, and so relevant. I’m just not sure we should be so upset that we didn’t get a clear answer there!
I think more at the heart of this is our blood-thirsty joy at the opportunity to flay and humiliate this young woman, whether or not her answer was terrible. Is it possible to use it as a chance to discuss the question she was asked, or discuss why it’s so difficult to answer that question without offending people? Why should it offend people to say that women are viewed through a prism of nostalgia, so they are kept at lower salaries because the larger forces of American society (masculine forces, for the most part) still longingly cling to women as homemakers, not breadwinners?* If that statement wouldn’t offend people, she might have been able to say it. But at that moment, I’m sure she knew it would cost her the crown. She searched for a mild, glossy answer to that question, and she failed. Because there is no glossy answer to that question.
What do you think? Are we being too hard on Miss. Utah? Or is it justified criticism?
*And that’s a fairly vague answer, even if I think it’s honest! Can you imagine a pageant contestant looking out at the audience and saying that women are paid less because of racism, sexism, and widespread marginalization? Because they are still, after everything, considered second class citizens in the professional world? Oy…..