In case you missed it, this weekend played host to the annual Miss USA Pageant in Las Vegas, Nevada. I’m not a huge fan of the world of pageantry, to be honest, but sometimes you can’t get around things like this. From what I can tell, things went largely according to plan; as usual, there were the bikinis, the evening gowns, the celebrity judges and hosts, and abnormal amounts of hairspray and lipstick.
And then, as does happen from time to time, there was a slip-up. A few years back, Miss Teen South Carolina, Caitlin Upton, was given a question, during the interview portion of the evening, regarding the startlingly low number of high school students who were able to locate the United States on world map, and froze like a deer in headlights. “I personally believe that… U.S. Americans… are unable to do so… because some people out there… don’t—have maps…?”
Come on. Admit it. We’ve all been there. As funny and cringe-worthy as the viral video may have been, it made us all want to run up to the stage and wrap Caitlin in a big bear hug. We have all experienced that horrifying moment when someone stops you and poses a query, only to be suddenly petrified of saying the wrong thing. Seriously, the other day, my co-worker asked me what half of $37.00 was in front of a client, and I stumbled blindly trying to remember how to form words before sputtering, “Uh… $20.00?”
That’s me! College-educated and library-stooping, Asian Nerd and classical pianist, Shakespeare-reciting little-ole-me. And my answer to “What’s half of 37” was “20.” Congratulations, self, for all your hard work, you’ve earned this moment of shame.
So it’s no surprise then that everyone has their moments. Unfortunately for Miss Utah, that moment happened in front of 4.6 million television viewers and an audience of thousands. When asked about the societal implications of the current gender/wage gap, Miss Utah, Marissa Powell fell flat:
As someone who only watched clips from the pageant during the following day’s media firestorm, I can’t tell you much about Miss Utah on a personal level. I don’t know her favorite food, her favorite television show, or how she takes her coffee. All I can tell you from watching the clip (400 times) is that her nervous smile in the midst of her nervous breakdown was one tiny gesture that itched to be a full-throated scream of “HELP ME, PLEASE”. As much as I laughed, I also felt her pain. I wanted to reach through the screen and hug her, tell her everything would blow over (in a couple of years) and comb her lovely, lovely supermodel hair and talk about boys.
What I did not expect, but should have, was the vehement discussion of Powell’s sexuality on nearly every single social media network available to mankind and chimpanzees.
Vitriolic hatred and disgusting, lewd comments spewed from every outlet. Phrases like “dumb b*tch” and “slutty wh*re”, accusations of sexual promiscuity and vile attempts at dirty jokes and imagery ran rampant. Not only did the misogynists descend in hordes, they immediately began grouping all women together and stupidly placing blame on them for everything wrong with the modern world. A few of the gems I found across the internet:
Exactly. This is just the kind of response we need. Let’s tell all women that the reason they are paid less than men for the same type of work is because they are “dumb h**bags” who “o**n their legs to a guy” and are too stupid to deserve it. Disgusting.
Fellas, I hope you know you’re the ones who contribute to the Rape Culture we live in. You are the ones who blame the victim for wearing short-shorts or looking “too hot”, telling them they were asking for it. You are the reason feminism exists. You are the sole proprietor in the business of selling sexed-up baby dolls and then turning right around and blaming them for being sexed-up baby dolls. You urge young, naïve girls to hike up their skirts, pull down their blouses, and forget their education because they’ll never amount to anything, and when they follow suit, you point and laugh and call them dumb wh*res. And when a woman has the audacity to spring to power after a long struggle to the top amidst a patriarchal, male dominated workforce, you spit in her face and call her ugly and a man-hater. You make sexist and racist jokes to cover for your own lack of understanding and class.
To the rest of the gentlemen out there who support women in their struggle for equality, thank you. Thank you for giving them the confidence to push further, to dive into the books, to step out of their comfort zones, and to trust you with their insecurities when they need a friend to sit and vent about work with. You prove to young women like Caitlin Upton and Marissa Powell that people on both sides of the gender gap support them and that sometimes life plays a nasty trick on you, chews you up and spits you out in front of your peers. Who’s to say that someday Marissa Powell won’t go on to become a really great, loving kindergarten teacher or a really tough military chick? Nothing’s stopping her, and with your help, she’ll understand that.
So this weekend we all had a few guffaws at Miss Utah’s expense… guilty as charged. Now it’s time to defend a fellow fearless sister in her time of need against the tide of sexism and misogyny.
Lady Avengers, Assemble.