Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Problematic Priority of Pageantry

This weekend the Miss Ohio contestants were in Mansfield for Community Service Weekend, an event started in 2002 or 2003, I believe. Check out Amy’s blog to view the groupings of contestants and which facilities they visited. The weekend also included a Bowl-a-thon to raise money for MOSP.

In my experience, community service weekend was sometimes rewarding, like the year I painted a Habitat for Humanity home; other years it felt a bit contrived, like when I merely toured a state owned care facility and then had to eat their horrible lunch. The event has been a work in progress and hopefully this year all the women feel like their time is well spent.

Unfortunately, not all the contestants are able to participate this weekend; some ladies couldn’t make it to the Spring Forum either. This happens every single year and is always followed by grumbling on the unofficial message board.

I was not only compelled to respond there, but I think the issue warrants this blog entry.

The argument is that women who do not show up to these mandatory Miss Ohio events don’t have heart in the program. Some say Miss Ohio must not be a priority to them and ask how they will handle the job of Miss Ohio if they can’t show up to these events? Others feel that it’s just not fair to the girls who do follow all the rules and attend all the events.

I totally understand the idea that everyone should be held to the same standard. I agree it’s frustrating to think not everyone is spending money on gas and giving up their time equally. To be very candid – I remember one of my first years competing - a contestant attending college out of state couldn’t make it back for something. I jumped right on the “it’s not fair… I’m obviously more committed than she is...” bandwagon. I was upset because she had done better than me in the past and I knew she’d do better than me again, even thought she didn’t attend the stupid, mandatory event and I had. How’s that for some self defeat! In retrospect I was so clearly jealous and lacked confidence.

First and foremost, if that’s where your head is, you’re not on your best game. YOUR is the operative word; we all know you compete against yourself in pageants, but truly knowing and living that is a whole other, difficult thing. E.D.s and parents, if you have this type of bad attitude, please realize it’s just as bad as adding butter and sugar to all of your contestants’ meals!

Okay, so once you just get over yourself, I think there’s another issue at hand, an issue that you may not see if you’re either a contestant involved in the program with blind faith, or a longtime fan that is a bit overzealous and out of touch. (Of course I say that in the kindest possible way; I don’t mean to be rude, we all realize this program wouldn’t be possible without overzealous individuals.) Anyway, I’m done playing the role of perfect, rule abiding, unquestioning, contestant and now I realize two things: #1. It’s not realistic for a women’s number one priority to be pageants. #2. Pageant women sacrifice a great deal!

#1. Whether you’re a pageant contestant or working mom, the demands on women are greater than they’ve ever been. We’ve rightfully fought for career and educational equality, while still having to live up to beauty and domestic expectations. Pageant women are not only getting an education, they’re expected to have major academic accomplishments. They need to be involved with clubs and organizations in addition to tireless platform work. Don’t forget exercising and practicing your talent right after you feed starving children and before your write another 10 page paper! Oh yeah, then there’s wardrobe shopping, getting paperwork notarized and watching CNN 24/7.

Some may say that’s just the way it is and if a woman can’t handle it, then she shouldn’t compete. I’m cynical, but I’m not that cold. I understand it’s a difficult journey. In order to have a stellar pageant resume and amazing experiences to talk about in any interview, you have to have a lot on your plate. If your world only revolves around pageants, I think you’ve missed the point and I doubt you’re well rounded enough to be a successful contestant. The thousands of state and local contestants each year who never become Miss America need nonpageant experiences to get real jobs in the real world.

In the extremely busy months of April and May it is not at all surprising that a titleholder will have other obligations like musical/theatrical performances, end of the semester requirements and graduation. If fulfilling these requirements means a woman has to miss Spring Forum or Community Service weekend, I don’t necessarily think that means the pageant isn’t important to her. Further, it does not indicate an inability to do the job, as most Miss States take a year off from school or work.

If, for example, a woman is a theatre major, you can’t honestly expect her to forgo a role in a production, can you? Given the education emphasis of this scholarship program, wouldn’t that be hypocritical?

#2. Sadly, many women do forgo other opportunities and E.D., parents, fans and even the contestants themselves refuse to acknowledge the sacrifice. Pageants are subjective contests, yet we compete over and over again based on hope! We’re taught that perseverance is a rewarded quality and we ignore the jobs drawbacks and the competitions odds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the things I learned from pageants – poise and stage presence, interview skills, emotional endurance, people skills, confidence, determination; the list goes on and on… But, I put all my eggs in the pageant basket, so to speak. I never really came close to winning Miss Ohio and I missed out on other opportunities.

For me, it was summer stock theatre; as a theatre major it could have gotten me class credit as well as valuable experience and lines on my acting resume, but it always conflicted with Miss Ohio. I’ve known of other contestants for whom winning would have meant taking a year off a very lucrative job and no longer being about to afford their home or car! State pageants make finding a good summer job very difficult, as most don’t want to give a seasonal employee that much time off. Think of the women who just graduate, then have to wait until a pageant is over to figure out their career!

I know some of you will not agree with a word of this – you so truly believe in the pageant ideal that you can’t possibly define it as anything less than the best opportunity this world has to offer young women! As a contestant I lived in that romanticized place too, but looking back, especially considering my abysmal Miss Ohio record, I wish I had taken at least a year off to pursue other opportunities.

Therefore, I can’t possibly judge the women who have to miss Forum or the stupid Bowl-a-thon. They’re probably better contestants thanks to whatever they were doing instead and they’ll have less pageant-related regrets in the future!

I hope this blog entry was not a huge downer to current contestants. My intent was quite the opposite; I want E.D.s, parents, fans and contestants to be supportive and respectful of all the things going on in each others lives.

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