I Can’t Hate on Miss Utah!

While I didn’t watch the Miss USA pageant, like a lot of people, this morning on Facebook I became acquainted with Miss Utah, aka Marissa Powell, and her awkward answer to a question during the interview portion of the pageant.

Admittedly, it was extremely painful to watch. The cheers of the crowd when she had already butchered the answer might of been worse than the answer itself.

You might be surprised, but I think that these pageants are pretty awful and sexist. Shocking, right? I had a friend who did pageants in college, and she would tell me about how the whole “scholarship” excuse for them was nonsense since so many of the girls competing spent thousands upon thousands of dollars to compete (hair, makeup, clothes, etc.). Also, trying to call the damn bikini portion the “fitness” part of the competition is nonsense because it doesn’t actually test fitness, it’s a panel of people judging how women look, and of course fit into a very specific standard of body shape. The interview portion is a joke, too, as women are rewarded for the most basic, PC answers, and not really expected to give thought provoking responses. Think of the whole “world peace” bit in Miss Congeniality, everyone answers with the PC “world peace” response, and when Bullock confidently responds with, “That would be harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan,” she’s met with an awkward silence. People cheer on again when she, like everyone else, gives a dull, vanilla response.

Whatever. At the same time, getting dolled up and parading around in fun gowns completely appeals to my inner showgirl, so I can see why these women do these.

Oh, honey. Even Guiliana feels awkward hearing this.

Oh, honey. Even Guiliana feels awkward hearing this.

Anyways, she gave a stupid response, but I’m sure she’s not stupid. And some of the comments I read this morning on the web made me pretty irritated. Our society has a fascinating response to women who are stereotypically beautiful. It’s as if they can’t have it all. They are put on a pedestal for being beautiful, and they are torn down, harshly, if they do or say anything wrong. As if being beautiful and intelligent are mutually exclusive. Do people feel less threatened if they think a women is gorgeous but dumb? Maybe. As I watched, I was judging her response harshly, and also thinking that damn, I want that women’s hair! I think people feel somewhat relieved when a knockout says something that allows us to write her off as stupid, as if we’ve figured her out somehow. It isn’t cool.

Anywho, I reflected on how I would have responded to this question: “In 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

“I believe it says that women aren’t as appreciated for their contributions to the work force, nor is work that is considered stereotypically feminine. In order to secure a better future for our children, both male and female, it is imperative that we rethink the gender socialization of children, enforce equal pay for equal work, and rethink how stereotypically female jobs that are imperative to a successful society, like teachers and nurses are presently devalued and therefore not adequately compensated.” – I would then smile and bow, in my absurdly cute gown that would of course have an obnoxiously big flower on it.

  Of course, my Sandra Bullock response wouldn’t be acceptable, because it is too controversial, and saying something anti-patriarchal in a venue that is EXTREMELY gender-norming and “traditional” would be possible career-suicide for beauty queens, who are supposed to be passive and palatable for everyone.
  I realized this when a friend commented about what he thought Marissa should have said. My knee-jerk reaction was sadly the same as Ola’s. The fact that saying women deserve equal pay for equal work would be too risky at a pageant says so much more about our culture than about Miss Utah, and, when given the opportunity to think through her response, she recovered beautifully. I admit that while the question was worded awkwardly, her initial response was still bad, like, of Sarah Palin/Katie Couric interview proportions.
 After given time to process the actual question, Miss Utah responded to Matthew Lauer on The Today Show,  “So this is not OK. It needs to be equal pay for equal work, and it’s hard enough already to earn a living and it shouldn’t be harder just because you’re a woman.”
Honestly, that’s a damn good response, and I totally applaud her. And her damn perfect hair.