Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Problem with Pageants

“Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good looking, good tempered, well groomed and unaggressive” -Leslie M. McIntyre

The other night I watched an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras, TLC’s show detailing the lives of several young children involved in pageants. While I’m sure quite a few viewers would agree that placing your four-year-old daughter in a pageant is a waste of time, money and an unnecessary stress on the family, I’m worried about the deeper implications of the pageant.

The Miss Universe Organization, owned by Donald Trump, holds a number of pageants each year, including the well-known Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA pageants. While the Miss Universe Organization website boasts that the group has become an “international organization that advances and supports opportunities for… young women,” one has to wonder just what kind of opportunities this organization holds. Let’s look at a Ms. magazine article:

“[To compete in the Miss USA pageant,] today's "delegates" must be between the ages of 18 and 26, single, and willing to parade in a swimsuit. They can't be engaged, previously married, or have children. Each must cover her own expenses (sponsorships defray some costs). The winner receives a trophy, cash prizes and sponsorships totaling about $200,000, luxury digs in New York City for a year, and she must represent the organization during her "reign." The other 78 contestants get to pay for their plane tickets home.”

Hmmm. Is this the kind of ephemeral fame and fortune we want to raise our daughters to lust after? Let’s read on. 

“The real winners are, of course, Donald Trump and CBS. After tallying the more than $10 million extracted from the host country, the seven-figure exclusivity deals given to pageant sponsors, and the sale of broadcast rights to roughly 110 countries, the final score is at least $100 million for Trump and CBS, and zilch for 78 of ‘today's women.’ ”

Ms. magazine, 2000

Don’t you think the thousands of dollars contestants spend on pageants could be put to better use? What about the months’ worth of pageant events contestants are required to devote to proving themselves worthy of the top prize? Couldn’t this time be better spent?

Let’s be honest. If the Miss Universe Organization was truly concerned with advancing and supporting young women, they would be giving prizes to worthy women all over the globe regardless of their age, marital status, or how they look in a swimsuit. Pageants like those held by the Miss Universe Organization are most interested in the money these women can bring to the Organization, not in the positive difference each of these intelligent, talented (and, by chance, beautiful) women can make in the world.

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