Reprinted with permission:
AS I SEE IT
DONNA BAVER ROVITO
Don't dismiss Palin over beauty pageant role
Thursday, October 09, 2008
We've all seen the barely veiled derision in one form or another. That teensy little sneer on the face or in the voice of the announcer as he or she makes reference to Sarah Palin as a "former beauty queen."
Or the political cartoons of the reform-minded governor wearing a pageant sash, crown, big toothy smile and a vacuous expression.
Or the video created by "Republicans for Obama," which flips between clips of the Charlie Gibson interview and an embarrassing performance by a blonde Miss Teen USA contestant stumbling over a geography question, unfairly contrasting a clueless, petrified teenager with the sitting governor of America's largest state (in square miles, of course).
Feminists and the media and anyone else who wants to diminish Palin's accomplishments love to hearken back to Sarah's pageant days. She's clueless, they say, about women's issues because she participated in the world's most demeaning experience for a woman -- gasp, a beauty pageant.
Even worse, she almost won, coming in second in the 1984 Miss Alaska Pageant, a Miss America preliminary. How could she allow herself to be exploited like that, they say, to enable the objectification of women?
It brings to mind those old "Please don't hate me because I'm beautiful" commercials. It seems that a lot of Americans, including many in the media and some self-identified "feminists," are doing just that.
As usual, they're missing the irony. They dismiss Palin because they think she's too pretty to have substance. Cheerleaders, prom queens, bathing beauties and natural blondes to the back of the bus, please. Only unattractive -- and therefore smarter, better and infinitely more worthy women -- need apply. Everyone knows that pretty women are frivolous, foolish, flighty and, above all, not what feminism is all about (especially if they're pro-life or a Republican).
But wasn't feminism supposed to be about unlimited opportunity for ALL women? The term "bathing beauty" never applied to contestants in the Miss America Pageant system anyway. It applied to Miss USA, truly a "bathing beauty" contest created by Catalina Sportswear to market their bathing suits, and eventually grew up to be Miss Universe.
The difference is like comparing, well, a caribou to a polar bear. There's a universe of difference between Miss USA/Miss Universe and Miss America. Palin, along with thousands of other young American women (up to 12,000 each year), competed in a Miss America affiliated scholarship pageant, with the key word being "scholarship."
The Miss America Scholarship Program, along with its state and local affiliates, is the largest provider of scholarships to women in the world -- up to $45 million annually since Bess Myerson won the first scholarship in 1945. Scholarships are awarded at every level of pageant participation, from Miss Wasilla right up to Miss America. And it's not only title winners who are awarded scholarships.
Miss America contestants must display intelligence, personal and communication skills, poise, talent and a commitment to community service. Appearance counts for only 35 percent of a contestant's score -- 65 percent is based on a personal interview which tests intelligence, knowledge of current events and motivation, a talent performance and an on-stage question.
It's about much more than just being "pretty" -- and, frankly, it beats flipping burgers to earn money for school. It teaches the participants valuable skills which will serve them in later life. And since the addition of the "platform" aspect of the pageant in 1989, thousands of contestants have focused their abilities and the resources of the pageant to promote important causes like homelessness, domestic violence, literacy and HIV/AIDS prevention, to mention only a few.
It would be ridiculous to suggest that being a pageant veteran alone qualifies Sarah Palin for public office. But she shouldn't be dismissed for it, either. And she probably has her pageant experience to thank for at least some of that unflappable poise and self-confidence. Trust me, once you've gotten up the nerve to walk past a panel of judges in a bathing suit, hostile reporters are child's play.
So, to paraphrase the old ad, "Please don't dismiss her because she's beautiful."
Because if attractive women need not apply for power positions in American politics, we just might end up with Rosie O'Donnell as our first female president.
DONNA BAVER ROVITO of Allentown served on the board of the Miss Keystone Pageant, a preliminary Miss Pennsylvania Scholarship Pageant.