God Save the Beauty Queen [The Best of jaceonline]

Author’s note: I used to blog at jaceonline.com, and in an effort to introduce myself to new readers and hopefully wring a little more entertainment value out of those old posts, I’m going to be dipping into the old site and re-posting some of my favorite entries. Hey, if Leo Sayer can have a “best of” collection, so can I.

Newsweek’s Anna Quindlen listens to the death rattle of the Miss America Pageant and hears a beat she can dance to:

Feminism killed off Miss America, but instead of leaving us with our memories, the pageant organization is presiding over a slow sad demise, like a deathbed with a talent component.

But the revolution offered women many more outlets for the pursuit of power and prominence, outlets in which they didn’t have to walk around in the truly strange combo of swimsuit and stiletto heels….When I was a kid, Miss America had clout. Schools and hospitals and rubber-chicken dinners jockeyed to get her to come and say a few words. Incredible as it seems today, everyone knew her face. Like Paris Hilton, but with white gloves. And clothes.

But Miss America was supplanted by her sisters, who carried briefcases instead of roses and preferred a suit to a maillot-and-heels ensemble.

Ah, yes, let us praise the modern woman, no longer just Evening Wear Barbie, now Lawyer Barbie and Astronaut Barbie and even Presumptive-2008-Democratic-Nominee Barbie. But Quindlen is so locked into her feminist dogma, she can’t see that the decline in Miss America’s popularity really is a minor tragedy, and not just for the freakishly lean and toothy pageant fodder, but for all women.

For Miss America was only popular when the concept of idealizing women was still feasible. Feminists could not stand for that. Idealized womanhood–always smiling, pretty, poised, and pure–was a burden on the fragile shoulders of little girls; it was too much to ask them to live up to all that.

But after taking away an ideal, feminists gave girls nothing to aspire to. The void left by the decline of beauty pageant culture was filled by the slut culture that has served today’s girls so well, introducing them to all manner of interesting diseases at earlier and earlier ages. Boys have learned the same lesson: there’s no such thing as an ideal woman, so there’s no reason to put yours on a pedestal. Make her split the check at dinner. And she better put out, too!

Quindlen and her ilk see the death of Miss America as a sign of great progress for women, and they could not be more wrong. The crown of the beauty queen has been replaced by the tank top of the Hooters girl.

I’m not saying that the pursuit of a pageant title is some kind of higher calling for women. But I am saying that, as little as I know about women, I do know that they want to see themselves as princesses. The Miss America pageant was our culture’s way of saying, “We want to see you like that too.” This was a good impulse, because, like I said, women civilize men. The higher women are, the higher they can lift us.