Pageantry encourages exploitation of women, sexism

Sunday evening as I settled into my couch for a relaxing, homework-free night, I turned on the TV in search of a mindless, moderately funny show that would entertain me. As the television screen came to life, so did the Miss America Pageant.

My first instinct was to change the channel immediately, so as not to grant the circus-like scheme a single second of my time. But as the women trailed past the announcers with their stiff, curled hair and flowing gowns, I was drawn in. And just like that, I was fascinated with the concept of it all.

I was utterly amazed that in the year 2013 we, as a society, still find it acceptable to watch women prance around on stage in string bikinis as they attempt to prove their talents to the world, just so they can be granted the esteem of wearing a crown for a few months. Yes, because apparently some of us never left kindergarten and still want to wear crowns.

As I sat there, I wondered — wasn’t there just a Miss America pageant a few months ago? And the answer is both yes and no. Yes, it was a pageant, but no, it was not Miss America. Miss USA aired its pageant a few months ago. Obviously, there has to be both a Miss America and a Miss USA; only having one would be ridiculous. For viewers like me who are not pageant savvy, both competitions seem identical — swimsuits, gowns and live questions accompanied by hysterical answers; however, it turns out that the difference between the two pageants is that Donald Trump and NBC Universal own Miss USA, and the crowned winner then goes on to compete in the infamous and wildly elaborate Miss Universe, which is also owned by Trump and NBC Universal, while Miss America is a separate organization that, unfortunately for its winner, does not hold the prospect of winning more crowns. Sigh.

In addition to different ownership, the pageants also have different criteria for their competitors. All the Miss America contestants endure personal interviews, display their selected talents (yes, baton twirling is an option), strut around in swimsuits, revisit prom by wearing bedazzled dresses and try their hardest to successfully answer live questions on stage without becoming a YouTube sensation.

Miss USA is totally different. You can’t even put them in the same category. Unlike Miss America, only Miss USA finalists have to answer on-stage questions, and Miss USA contestants do not have to prove their talents to the audience. The lack of baton twirling is appalling, and I question the effect it has on the pageant’s ratings.

Even with these differences, Miss USA appears to be more popular, as many characterize it as sexier and more glamorous compared to the more traditional Miss America that was founded in 1921. And by more traditional, I mean that the bikinis worn by the Miss America contestants are less stringy.

My amazement of the pageant world stems from the fact that there is not just one monstrous organization promoting the degradation of women by judging them based on their physical appearance; there are two of these organizational beasts running around America indoctrinating viewers.

Miss America does have an edge to it: It provide scholarships to the winners. Though Miss America serves as one of the leading scholarship distributors and stresses its role as a platform for women to express their opinions to further philanthropic needs, it is mind boggling that the competition is centered on superficial characteristics.

The connection between the company’s statement of purpose and the criteria by which it judges its contestants is comical — clearly how a woman looks in a swimsuit directly correlates to how well she can support her philanthropy of choice. Everyone knows that. The worst part about the scholarship concept is that these are smart, educated women who voluntarily place themselves in degrading positions to be judged by American voters. That’s scary.

Though demeaning as it may be, the pageant machine continues to drudge on as countless women still aspire to one day wear the over-sized crown and carry the bountiful flowers as tears stream down her face. And for the life of me, I cannot understand why. Why any woman would voluntarily place herself on a pedestal to be put down and critiqued by thousands is beyond me. Inevitably, viewers do not care about the contestants’ philanthropy; they want to be entertained — they want sex appeal and nonsensical answers about why Americans cannot locate their own country on a map.

As I watched the pageant on Sunday, I could see the hopefulness in the women’s eyes as they stood glimmering under the stage lights, ready and waiting for their respective states to be called. With heavy makeup and smiling faces, they stood, unaware that they represent a movement that continues to debase women and allow society to judge them based on their appearance.

Unfortunately, these organizations will continue to exploit women by masking this intent with the face of philanthropy, and the viewers will proceed to eat it up as they are blinded by the fluorescent white teeth and sparkly dresses.

Congratulations, Miss New York, you’ve ascended into the realm of pageant royalty. Don’t let the crown get too heavy.

Kate is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]