Marissa Powell, the Miss Utah entrant in the Miss USA 2013 pageant, has attracted substantial interest on social media thanks to her somewhat confused response to a question regarding the gender inequality of wages in the US.
Attempting to address the question by referring to education, her poor use of grammar added a sense of unconscious irony to her otherwise awkward answer.
Naturally, the first response has been to lampoon the girl. To a certain extent this is not unwarranted, given that the contestants know well in advance they are required to answer such questions.
But the example serves as an interesting insight into the way the presentation of women in events such as these affects the way they are perceived generally, and how commentary or even discontent about that presentation manifests in the public sphere. First, it is worth keeping in mind that the girl in question is only 21 years old.
Second, there are plenty of people who aren’t great public speakers at the best of times, who, under bright lights and a fair amount of pressure, might not be able to construct their best turn of phrase in response to even simple questions.
Though Powell may not be much chop even in conversations of a more casual nature, the inanity of her words distract from a larger question that should be asked of pageants in general. But first, why are these girls even asked to answer questions?
My personal suspicion is that it allows the slippery promoters of the events to defend against accusations that they are outright perv-fests that objectify women and attempt to do little more than venerate a subjective view of ”beauty”.
By being required to raise funds for charity, or being asked questions just as vapid as most of the answers about ”values” and how to solve complex social issues that would require far more than a one-liner from even the most learned anthropologist or philosopher, the pageant attempts to paint a very thin veneer of respectability over what is otherwise merely a mechanism for men and women to judge the contestants on their appearance.