Beauty pageants are mostly about female objectification, and Miss America is no exception. John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight reminded viewers that the show started by evaluating contestants based on a body breakdown:
“5 points for the construction of the head, 5 points for the limbs, 3 points for the torso…”
For all the Miss America organization’s claim to be about “Style, Service, Scholarship and Success since 1921,” it’s hard to see what service is performed when pretty women (unmarried, with no history of pregnancy) display their bikini-clad bodies in front of a jury.
To support their claim to be selecting “role models” not purely based on their appearance, Miss America quizzes the contestants on current affairs, giving each a whole 20 seconds to reply. This inevitably generates a wealth of viral videos of contestants’ dumb replies, which only strengthen stereotypes. As Oliver asks:
“It is easy to make fun of beauty pageant contestants, but which is really crazier: that they sometimes give stupid answers, or that they are almost always asked ridiculously complex questions?”
Miss America also prides itself in being the “world’s largest provider of scholarships for women,” claiming to make $45 million available for scholarships to the pageant’s contestants. That turns out to be only virtually true: in theory, all the money is made available, but in reality Miss America ends up spending only about a tenth of the sum in scholarships.
What’s especially troubling is that the organization is indeed the biggest provider of scholarships in the US exclusively for women. Not only is the sum itself abysmally low, it is distributed among women chosen first for their looks.
Oliver sums it up in one sentence, which, in the wake of Emma Watson’s excellent speech at the UN, perfectly explains why, in 2014, we still very much need feminism.
“Currently, the biggest scholarship program exclusively for women in America requires you to be unmarried, with a mint condition uterus, and also rewards working knowledge of butt adhesive technology.”
Correction: a previous version of the article stated that Miss America claims they have $450 million available for scholarships. The sum they advertise is $45 million.