By Jaya Dixit
Ball gown, bikini and birth control endorsement in hand, the newly-crowned Miss USA pageant winner has established two new benchmarks in the business of pageantry. First, she has become the first ever Lebanese-American to win the pageant. Also, she has somehow managed to locate a space within the narrow corridor of the pageant Q&A segment to speak out — imagine the nerve — on behalf of women’s reproductive rights while identifying herself as a person of religious orientation. Okay, so there was a bit of post-pageant buzz about some pole-dancing photos, but her coronation was confirmed as pageant officials determined that the photos displayed activities no more provocative than those held during pageant events.
The pageant’s runner-up, Miss Oklahoma, was asked to comment on the recent immigration legislation passed in Arizona, which would allow law-enforcement authorities to verify the citizenship of any person they suspect of illegally residing in the country. She was asked whether she believed that this legislation should be mandated by the state or federally. Miss Oklahoma’s denouncement of both illegal immigration and racial profiling amounted to the ruffling of many conservative and right-wing feathers, prompting supporters of the immigration law to criticize the pageant for structuring the question in a way that privileged answers of a certain ideological disposition.
This situation merits some reflection. I can’t help but wonder what qualities or talents these questions are evaluating. What function of the “beauty queen” do highly charged, often political and otherwise controversial questions serve? Opinion is not a metric of intelligence and could be judged independently of eloquence. If it is the skill of diplomacy that is at question, then are judges actually judging women on their presentation of a moral stance, or the moral stance itself? What metric of pageantry does this segment of the competition evaluate? Let’s just be honest for a minute. Responses to these questions, whether they are manifestations of right- or left-wing views, represent the opinions of women who consider breast implants, diuretics, airbrush tanning and back-combed hair in the same breath as contraceptive use, illegal immigration and other contentious social issues.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there aren’t smart and empowered women involved in the enterprise, but when our best example of an empowered beauty queen is cartoon character Lisa Simpson then I think that the list of socially pressing questions we need to ask ourselves may just have gotten a little bit longer.