Miss Utah Marissa Powell: Is It Sexist to Single Out Her Rambling Pageant Comments?

At the Miss USA pageant this weekend, a judge asked Marissa Powell, currently Miss Utah: “A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

Instead, I would like to pose an alternate question: What does it say about society that there perhaps are more people now talking about one rambling answer, which you can hear in the video below, to this question rather than the cold hard sexist reality to which this question refers?


Miss Utah's answer was incoherent, and beauty pageants are stupid and normative and fat shaming and classist and oppressive in pretty much every way. However, sexist internet trolls calling her a bimbo (or other worse things not fit to print) are still just sexist internet trolls excited about their brief window in time to feel superior to an earnest human being.

Yes, Marissa rambled. But I would imagine that a lot of people would produce incoherent answers given a very short time to answer a staggering question asked in a high-pressure competition on live television. She was probably coached to try to tie difficult questions around to big, bland, vacuous concepts like "improving education." This strategy makes sense; we don't select beauty queens that present incisive analysis or potentially divisive opinions. We select beauty queens who can comfortably deliver platitudes, and Marissa stumbled a little bit in the execution of this strategic and logical evasive maneuver.

I still need some time to process this event, but most simply I think that it's time for beauty pageants to give up the pretense of judging character, ability, or intelligence. Because I think that it is more demeaning to presume that these qualities have any connection to physical beauty, and that they can fairly be judged in competition that includes a swimsuit round.

We think that these things are connected all of the time, outside of pageants. People who are more attractive are consistently presumed to be more confident, more intelligent, and more capable (that is, as long as they aren't a curvy woman — in which case we assume that their success is due to their witchlike feminine wiles). Do we really need a competition justifying itself internal and external beauty are correlated, when this itself is a fiction every bit as harmful as the shallow pursuit of normative female beauty?

So, yes. Watch and share Miss Utah's rambling answer. But think about the context that produced this answer, the ridiculous structure and logic of the pageant, and then imagine yourself in her shoes. Think a little, chuckle a little, but do not, I repeat do not, call her a bimbo.

 

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Sam Bakkila

Originally from Pittsburgh PA, Sam graduated from Harvard College, where he studied the social determinants of health, served as the Co-Director of the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, and Co-Chair of Harvard College Queer Students and Allies. He is interested in global health, homelessness, and LGBTQ activism. Sam can be reached at sbakkila@gmail.com and on twitter @sbakkila.

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