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Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 1999 /7 Tishrei, 5760

Mona Charen

Mona Charen
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Miss Divorced America --
LET'S BEGIN with the obvious: People who take the Miss America Pageant seriously are a few brain cells short of a quorum. If the feminists ever had a point about anything, they were right to disdain and despise this annual ritual.

Who knew that ventriloquism was such a popular pastime of so many single young women? And baton twirling, now there's a talent to last a lifetime! Actually, there were two parts of the show that featured ventriloquism: the talent exhibition and the interviews. Who can forget those Vaselined teeth and glazed eyes? Who can forget the ambitions -- "Well Burt, I'd like to work for world peace and be a brain surgeon." Uh-huh. Your baton skills will come in very handy there.

While there's nothing wrong with appreciating female pulchritude, the Miss America Pageant always seemed determined to do so at the expense of recognizing female intelligence or honoring female modesty. It's a measure of our vulgarity that even parading around in bathing suits and high heels is now considered too tame.

Within the past several years, the pageant has decided to change with the times. Officials announced recently that the women will be choosing their own swimwear from now on. Typical of an event that has misrepresented itself from the beginning (remember the claim that this is not a "beauty contest"? remember all that rot about scholarship contest?), those associated with the pageant explain that permitting all sorts of swimwear (except string bikinis and thongs -- sorry, Monica) allows the young women to "express themselves." Gee, if only Emily Dickinson had known she could express herself that way


Still, the pageant has demonstrated remarkable staying power, surviving feminist scorn and the even more rancid offerings in TV-land. And because the pageant has attained the status of American icon (even if only for kitsch), it is news when the pageant changes its rules in the way proposed last week.

According to USA Today, beginning in the year 2000, the Miss America Pageant will no longer exclude women who have been divorced or who have had abortions. Here is the wording the gals will have to swear to before getting a shot at that rhinestone tiara: "I am unmarried. I am not pregnant, and I am not the natural or adoptive parent of any child."

Who thinks this stuff up? In the past, contestants were required to swear that they had never been married or pregnant. Affirming that you are not pregnant at the moment seems less a moral stance than a matter of production values.

Moreover, if you pause over the new phrasing, you will rapidly deduce that young women who are not pregnant "now," but who were pregnant until last week's visit to the Planned Parenthood clinic, are being preferred over women who found themselves in the identical situation and chose the moral course of carrying the child to term and placing him or her for adoption.

And what is the meaning of this bias against adoption? Since divorce is no longer to be a barrier to the tacky tiara, it would be possible for two young women similarly situated to marry older widowers with kids. Suppose young woman A is family oriented and loving, and decides to legally adopt those kids. Suppose young woman B thinks, "Those are his kids ," and declines to do so. Later, both couples divorce. Under the proposed rule change, B would qualify for Miss America status but A would not.

Like everything else in modern America, this proposed rule change was the result of fear of litigation. The pageant was apparently afraid of a lawsuit by divorced women. But why didn't they fear a suit by married women? Under the proposed new rules (which are being reconsidered), you can abort your baby, you can divorce your mate and deny his children, but you cannot be the "natural" mother of a child now living happily in an adoptive home. "There she is, your ideal."

Perhaps it is asking too much for the Miss America people to think with their heads instead of their wallets -- but truly, for people who claim to be providing wholesome entertainment, this move is beyond stupid, it's shameful.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate