Cut Beauty Queens Some Slack

Linda Holmes offers a measured defense of “Miss Utah” Marissa Powell, who fumbled a question about income inequality during the Miss USA Pageant:

These dumb questions aren’t intended to actually see whether you’re smart or not. Miss Utah USA might be smart and she might not be, but the last thing I’d use to guess at whether she’s smart is whether she can answer this kind of question “correctly.” Because “correctly” here just means smoothly, expertly, without hesitation or stammering. Had she said, “What it says is that we live in the greatest country in the world, and every day I get up and thank my lucky stars that I live in the United States of America,” she would not be in the news, despite having given just as irrelevant a non-answer. Had she said, “What it says is that family is the most important thing in the world, and we need to figure out how to help all families be happy families because it’s the most important thing in the world,” she would not be in the news. … She’s not a dumb person; she’s bad at public speaking. And if she were good at it, nobody would have ever heard of her.

PZ Myers agrees. Laura Bennett laments that “pageant shaming has become a part of our viral culture”:

[P]ageants theoretically used to be at least partly about female empowerment, even if that took the form of duking it out for the most canned, family-friendly commentary on world affairs and the most sculpted glutes. But now that the interview has become a public shaming ritual, it makes the whole ordeal of the pageant seem like a sadder spectacle. I doubt many people know who won Miss Teen USA in 2007, but far more remember Miss South Carolina and her geographical nonsequiturs. If the old pageant stereotype was the cutthroat behind-the-scenes catfighting of Drop Dead Gorgeous or the frivolous girliness of Miss Congeniality, now it’s the thousand-yard stare of a contestant realizing that her failure of poise is about to hit YouTube.

Marcotte’s view:

[T]he real problem here is that the question-and-answer period at beauty pageants is set up so the contestants really can’t win. As ever, pageant contestants know they have to project an image of bland inoffensiveness, which precludes having political opinions beyond a moderate support for sunshine and, in this case, education.