The XX Factor

Miss Utah Said Something Really Dumb. Is It OK to Laugh at Her?

The ritual of sitting down at night to watch a nationally televised beauty pageant is becoming a relic in American culture, usurped by the ritual of sitting down the morning after to watch the video of the pageant contestant who gave the dumbest answer the night before. This year’s Miss USA winner of the unofficial Derpiest Beauty Queen prize goes to Miss Utah, who metaphorically face-planted when asked to register an opinion about the coming lady apocalypse of female breadwinners.

Judge NeNe Leakes asked Miss Utah, whose real name is Marissa Powell, “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?”* Powell answered:

I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are … continuing to try to strive to … … … figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are … um … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.

This ritualized rooting out of the biggest bimbo at the beauty pageant is tough to reconcile. On one hand, it’s kind of a cultural protest against the fact that beauty pageants, which feminists famously protested more than 40 years ago, continue to stick around in all their sexist glory. On the other hand, cackling at bimbos is not exactly progressive either. Hard to say which urge any random person is expressing when they pass along these videos. 

Of course, the real problem here is that the question-and-answer period at beauty pageants is set up so the contestants really can’t win. As ever, pageant contestants know they have to project an image of bland inoffensiveness, which precludes having political opinions beyond a moderate support for sunshine and, in this case, education. (At least until conservatives manage to make the latter controversial, too.) Powell was put in an untenable situation here. On one hand, she really can’t go full Fox News and denounce those evil salary-earning women without both offending large numbers of people and also causing the audience to wonder if she aspires for nothing more than trophy-wife status. On the other hand, if she applauds sisters doing it for themselves, the relatively conservative audience for beauty pageants will turn on her. You try coming up with a coherent 30-second sound bite while your brain frantically processes the no-win situation you’re in. It’s harder than it looks. 

Then again, all that empathy just went out to a woman who participates and supports the beauty pageant industry, so maybe it’s misplaced. What a dilemma! Clearly, the only solution here is to bring an end to this sordid practice of both beauty pageants and the Monday morning stupidity quarterbacking of them. Try forwarding a cat video instead. No one cares if it does something stupid. 

Correction, June 17, 2013: This post originally misspelled NeNe Leakes’ first name.