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Miss.Utah Messes Up, the World Rejoices?

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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:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TlgqWeuhJj4

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…..

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3 responses »

  1. It’s an interesting analysis, Lisa, and thanks for being willing to bring another side to the issue. Miss Utah was clearly panicked, maybe because the question NeNe asked was something that is more recent and specific news than the broad “how would you solve world hunger?” types of questions these women most likely are prepped to answer. What are the pageants ultimately supposed to judge? Are they ultimately about external beauty? If so, then a nonsensical, vague answer like this shouldn’t matter. Is it judging a well-rounded externally beautiful, thin, and well-informed person who will do good in the world? Even in that case, maybe this type of answer shouldn’t matter. What are the standards for these types of contests? What are the contestants told to focus on most?

    Maybe the reason people jumped on her (and the South Carolina Miss Teen USA candidate a few years back) is because people experience schadenfreude when a successful women shows a weakness?

    Reply
  2. I agree Jen – I think our collective propensity for schadenfreude is powerful, especially with people who are traditionally beautiful because it helps perpetuate the brains OR beauty paradigm people use to protect their egos. I think the internet has just given us a place to share extensive criticism that previously we might only have thought about, or talked to a friend about. It’s what I fear most about raising a daughter in this day and age – criticism and judgement is impossible to escape, and we hear many more people’s thoughts daily. When I was a kid, if you didn’t happen to catch the broadcast, you didn’t see it. And if someone didn’t call your landline, talk to you in school, or write a letter, you didn’t hear their reaction. I don’t think we’ve gotten any crueler, really, but I feel our cruelty is now easily accessible 24/7. Terrifying.

    Reply
  3. I think it’s (mostly) a schadenfreude issue, in the same way that some people think it’s REALLY, REALLY funny when somebody trips and falls. In the case of Miss Utah, she’s participating in a competition that, on some level, purports to identify “best in gender” – the perfect combo of beauty, talent and brains.** And when the “best of the best” take a tumble, it triggers a form of psychological self-defense in some people – “She’s not so great, so I must be okay.” It’s similar to the reaction to the Ryan Lochte show – “OMG that guy is so dumb!” equals “I’m smarter than a famous Olympian!”

    Also, the backdrop here is the Q&A segment itself, in which contestants almost always “answer without answering” – offend no-one, nod to conservative values, mention America, smile and thank the questioner. You could watch a highlight reel of 10 years of these answers and not learn one fucking thing, not have a single opinion challenged. Miss Utah clearly deviated from the norm in an unflattering way. But how about deviating in the other way – award the most points for the most provocative, thoughtful, challenging answers? Now THAT’S a pageant I’d watch.

    **That construct is probably worth a blog post on its own: Who decided that was the ideal and why? Were they ever right? Is a pageant even capable of identifying such? Who watches these things and why?

    Reply

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