Along with the rest of America, I cringed as I watched Miss Utah’s now infamous answer from Sunday night, as her dream of becoming the next Miss USA turned to ash in her mouth. Marissa Powell, desperately floundered and failed to answer a question pertaining to the gender wage gap. Most Americans saw this as further proof that pageantry is more about bod than brains.
But speaking as a former Miss Delaware and competitor in the Miss America competition, I saw this as further proof of what Miss USA is not. Not all pageants are created equal, and the value of pageants like Miss USA and especially Miss America goes beyond the contest, beyond the losers, and beyond any individual contestants' flubs. Pageants like Miss USA and Miss America are about finding a spokeswoman who serves her community.
The question should have been a softball for any talking head worth her salt:
“A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”
Almost as if she knew it was already over, Miss Utah wrapped up her wandering reply and her pageant career with “...we need to try to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.”
Predictably, the tweets and the pundits took to the web calling for the end of the sexist pageantry industry.
But what many Americans miss is that the competition we see on television is not the pageant. The real pageant lasts an entire year. As Miss Delaware, I spent 365 days in over 250 hospitals, schools, fundraisers, and charitable functions. During that time I served as a spokeswoman for Delaware. I visited the sick, raised money for those in need, and hopefully demonstrated to young women the importance of hard work. Miss Utah did the same for the state of Utah and that honorable endeavor was made possible by pageantry.
Sure, in beauty pageants, beauty is rewarded, but it's clearly not everything. It is important to remember that the Miss USA and Miss America pageants are a competition for spokeswomen, which is why looks matter. This is why judges place an emphasis on the exterior virtues of the women competing. Is she charming? Does she have poise? Can a state or a country look to her to convey messages to fellow Americans?
But just as essential are articulation and charisma. You are expected to be in touch with and informed on the issues concerning your organization—in this case the United States of America. The judges are looking for a woman who can comprehend and articulate important social issues. These are all important features in a desirable spokesperson.
So while it was painful to watch Miss Utah’s moronic answer, let's not forget Miss Utah did not become Miss USA. The most articulate spokeswoman won.