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Sex and Gender

As I sat in the theater at the Aladdin Hotel on the Strip [Las Vegas, Nevada], I was enclosed by a sea of crowns. Little girls and teenagers attended the [Miss America] Pageant in droves, many wearing the crowns and sashes that represented their biggest pageant victories. Sitting in the middle of the cheering section for Miss Kansas, surrounded by cardboard daisies on wooden sticks with Miss Kansas’s face in the center and shouts of You go girl I felt as if I were at a political CUI .vention or a religious revival. Also marooned in the Miss Kansas section, without any daisies, were a little girl, her mother (who had twice competed in the Miss Nevada state pageant), and her grandmother, who sat in front of me. The twelve-year-old watched the Pageant with wide eyes the whole night. She wore no crown or sash, but she looked smart in a black velvet dress. After the talent segment, the girl turned to me and asked, “When I’m in the Miss America Pageant, I want to play the piano and the saxophone for my talent. I can switch back and forth. Do you think that would work? Well, it would certainly be different I replied. “Good, then that would help me win:’ “So, you really want to be Miss America someday? The girl nodded her head, her face solemn. Before replying, I paused. “Well, you can do that. But, you know, there are so many other things to do besides being a beauty queen. The little girl did not hear me. She was rapturously watching as Miss Oklahoma was crowned Miss America 2006. All the other girls in the audience, those with crowns and those without, stood together, mouthing the words to the famous theme song as the new Miss America was serenaded by the voice of the great Pageant.

Many little girls are similar to the one that Hilary Levy encountered at the Miss America Pageant: They have their hearts set on being chosen as the winner of a beauty and/or talent competition such as Miss America or Miss USA. Tens of thousands of beauty pageants-ranging from local beach bikini pageants to international scholarship competitions-are held annually. Two competitions-the Miss America scholarship program and the Miss USA Pageant-involve more than 7,500 local and regional pageants across the country each year (Banet -Weiser, 1999). Of course, all pageants are not identical. For example, organizers of the Miss America Pageant claim that their competition focuses on both talent ‘and beauty and that it exists “to provide personal and professional opportunities for young women and to promote their voices in culture, politics and the community” (Miss America, 2(08). By contrast, Miss USA, which is part of the Miss Universe system and partly owned by Donald Trump, originated as a “bathing beauty” competition that was sponsored by a swimwear company. Today, Miss USA and its younger counterpart, Miss Teen USA. continue to look for female models who look outstanding in swimsuits and evening gowns, and who can promote a variety array of products ranging from suntan lotion to flashy diamonds (Angelotti, 2006). Regardless of somewhat different stated goals. these talent and beauty competitions are really about physical beauty and appearance. For this reason. competitions such as Miss America. Miss USA. Miss Universe. and Miss Teen USA have been the subject of both praise and criticism for the ways in which they portray girls and young women. Some individuals believe that beauty pageants are good for women because they encourage individual achievement and promote self-confidence. Pageant winners are often praised for being positive role models for young women. particularly if the title holder remains scandal free during the year of her reign. However. some critics of beauty pageants claim that these events promote an unrealistic beauty ideal that is not attainable for most people and that is not necessarily desirable in the real world (see Banet-Welser, 1999). Other critics believe that pageants are degrading to women because the contestants arc ranked “like prize horses” and given a sash to put around their neck (Corsbie-Massay. 20051). Some feminist analysts argue that beauty pageants objectifywomen (Watson and Martin. 2004). What is objectification? Objectification is the process whereby some people treat other individuals as if they were objects or things, not human beings. For example. we objectify women-or menwhen we judge them strictly on the basis of their physical appearance rather than on their individual qualities. attributes. or actions (Schur. 1983). Although men may be objectified in some societies, the objectification of girls and women is widespread and particularly common in the United States and many other nations (see. Table 11.1). In regard to beauty pageants. organizers seek to deflect this criticism by providing contestants with an opportunity to talk about themselves and their interests or to answer questions that supposedly will show that they are intelligent and knowledgeable about current events. At the end of each pageant. however. the winner’s physical attricuveness ., (highlighted rather than the true substance (Angelotti, 2006) A some think of the Miss America Pageant at as a vestige of the past many won the twenty first century are strongly, I the images that these competitions project regarding beauty, body image, race/ethnicity, identity, and consumerism (Watson and Martin, 2004). Some differences between men and women are biological in nature; however, many differences between the sexes are socially constructed. Studying sociology makes us aware of differences that gender (a social concept) as well as differences there based on a person’s biological makeup, or sex is chapter, we examine the issue of gender what it how it affects us Before reading on test your knowledge about body image and gender by taking the quit in Box l l .1.

Posted on September 5, 2014 in Sex and Gender

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