I'm 100% Feminist To The Bone — And I Think Changing Miss America To 'Not A Pageant' Is A Serious Mistake

Photo: Allure
Why No Longer Judging Miss America Contestants On Physical Appearance Is A Step Backward For Feminism & The MeToo Movement
Self

As a woman raised in California by a mother who carried me as an infant on her back at rallies for NOW (the National Organization for Women) while my father stayed home caring for (NOT babysitting) my older brother, there has never been a single moment of my life during which I did not consider myself to be a feminist.

And when the MeToo Movement broke in October of 2017, I was on board without hesitation.

And yet, like most of you, I was shocked to read today's headlines announcing the Miss America beauty pageant is rebranding itself by eliminating the infamous swimsuit competition beginning with “The 2019 Miss America Competition” (and presumably for all years forward).

 

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Reading further, this is far from the only change being implemented by the pageant's parent organization. Not only will the 51 women representing their home states and the District of Columbia no longer parade across the stage in the bikini or one-piece of their choosing, but the pageant itself, they say, is "no longer a pageant."

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the Miss America Organization, Gretchen Carlson, Miss America 1989 and Chair of the Board of Trustees, stated the following:

“We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment ... We’re experiencing a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement.”

In addition to axing the swimsuit competition, the evening gown portion of the competition is getting a facelift of its own (pun absolutely intended), as it "will now give participants the freedom to outwardly express their self-confidence in evening attire of their choosing while discussing how they will advance their social impact initiatives."

Basically, women vying to be Miss America are now free to share their plans for ending poverty and implementing world peace while wearing fancy pants if they feel like it. Wow.

When the "groundbreaking changes" (please picture those as air quotes, even though they are, indeed, real quotes, too) go into effect this coming September, the swimsuit portion of the competition will be replaced by a "live interactive session with the judges, where [each contestant] will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion, and ambition to perform the job of Miss America."

I guess I always thought that was the whole point of the interview, on-stage question and talent portions of the competition, but OK, I'll go with it ... except that I can't.

Because while President and CEO Regina Hopper shared that Miss America’s new mission statement is "To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women," I cannot for the life of me discern how this isn't the exact same mission the organization had before.

“We want more young women to see this program as a platform upon which they can advance their desire to make a real difference," Hopper continued, "and to provide them with the necessary skills and resources for them to succeed in any career path they choose."

But ... isn't that what the Miss America Organization, the self-proclaimed "nation’s leading advocate for women’s education and the largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women in the United States", was already supposed to be doing over the course of the past 97 years of its existence?

What is going on here???

In my opinion, what's going on is the quintessential blaming of the dress.

Except that in this case, the "dress" is both a bikini and a ball gown.

 

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A closer look at the not-particularly-complicated scoring system only makes every single one of the logic and reason-inclined bones in my feminist body all the more weary with disappointment in the proposed changes.

While statements to the press from the organization publicly pronounce to future competitors, "We are not going to judge you on your outward appearance" — come on.

To begin with, the breakdown of scoring by category from the 2018 pageant shows the lifestyle and swimsuit portions to have accounted for 15 percent of a competitor's potential score for the preliminary half of competition and 10 percent of a competitor's potential score on the night of the televised event. This means the bathing suit category accounts for a mere 12.5 percent of a candidate's total score overall.

But Arianna, you forgot about the evening wear competition!

Nope. No, I did not. I'm just leaving it as it was, because allowing a woman to wear fancy pants instead of a fancy gown in no way signals to me that you will not still judge her based on her appearance.

If it did, why does she ever need to get fancy at all? If this is now a standard women's empowerment-type scholarship program, why does any single candidate need to dance or sing or orate? And why shouldn't she be expected to wear business attire at all times, as is the norm in interviews for standard women's empowerment-type scholarship program stuff.

I know this for a fact, as I was once told flat out — by a woman — that I was not being awarded a graduate school scholarship because the business suit I wore to the interview was pink. Sure, I had all of the necessary qualities, knowledge and qualifications they were looking for, but pink? How dare I?!

P.S. The following year I re-applied and wore a red "power" suit to the final interview. Scholarship granted.

People of all genders are constantly judged on the basis of their physical appearance. That's a scientifically proven fact. Sometimes that fact works in favor of women who are empirically considered to be beautiful, and sometimes, yes, it has been proven to work against them.

And just as many out there rightfully cry out against discrimination based on appearance that acts to hinder people who's genetic make-up or economic situation makes societal beauty standards impossible to achieve, believing in equality between all human beings also means not hating on anyone for the fact that they WERE born to such physical characteristics OR for choosing to celebrate and earn a living with them.

When the Miss America pageant came on TV every year over the course of my childhood, I could barely contain my excitement before sitting down to watch. I don't remember asking my mother how she felt about it, but she certainly never judged me for enjoying it.

That's because feminism, when it truly stands for equal rights among people of all genders, means I am free to choose to enjoy my own sense of the feminine in whatever way pleases me as long as it doesn't harm others. And no, sorry, a group of women electing of their own free will (and personal enjoyment!) to be judged on how they look in a bikini, an evening gown or a pair of dirty dungarees does NOT hurt you, just as your choice to focus on more intellectual pursuits should not hurt them.

That's what is happening here, after all, and once again, the people being harmed are girls, women and an entire industry of people who support them.

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There are girls out there who have been dreaming of and training for this competition with as much fervor as those dreaming and training to be the next Aly Raisman.

There are women who have been counting on the potential scholarship and other job opportunities the doors of the pageant world open for them.

There is an entire industry of people who rely on these pageants for their income.

Women aren't raped because of the clothing they choose to wear, and gender inequality does not exist in our country because of the Miss America pageant.

The message these changes to the Miss America un-pageant send, whether you admit to hearing it or not, is this:

"We acknowledge that men cannot manage to understand that when a woman elects to put on either a swimsuit or a beautiful gown, she does not automatically become free game for groping, harassment, and other forms of gender violence and discrimination. Therefore, women who take great joy, pride and satisfaction in this form of competition will simply need to cover up and change their entire life course, or give up and do the same."

"I have never felt more beautiful, more empowered or more confident than I did competing in swimsuit and evening gown on stage at Miss America. The greatest wealth is health and I thank the Miss America Organization for being a motivating force behind my healthy habits and lifestyle. I am proud to be a part of the strong and empowered Miss America Class of 2018!"

Yes, it is past time to address and end the deeply engrained sense of male entitlement over female sexuality that exists in our society.

I don't claim to know exactly how that can most effectively be done, but I feel more than comfortable asserting that telling women to cover themselves up and stop trying to look pretty is NOT a step in the right direction.

 

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Senior Editor and happily-former divorce coach/mediator Arianna Jeret is a recognized expert on love and relationships (except when it comes to her own life, of course) who has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Join her Sundays at 10:15 PM EST when she answers questions on Facebook Live on YourTango. For more, follow her on Twitter (@ariannajeret) and Instagram (@ariannajer).