Jewish World Review Sept. 15, 1999 /5 Tishrei, 5759
Though I preferred Matchbox cars to Barbie dolls, Miss America enchanted me in childhood. I still remember crying into my pillow in 1976 when my parents forbade me from staying up late to view the crowning of Miss New York, Tawny Godin. Later, I provided piano accompaniment to local and county Miss America wanna-bes.
When my high school held its commencement ceremonies at the Atlantic City Convention Center in 1988, my friends and I couldn't help sneaking in a few of those famous "Miss America Waves" - elbow locked, hand cupped, swiveling stiffly from the wrist -- as we strolled across the stage during our graduation rehearsal.
The pageant aura permeates South Jersey like secondhand-hairspray. Giddy residents just can't avoid inhaling the heavy scent of wholesome glamour, poise, and femininity. So it was with great dismay that I read in the papers this week that the contest has taken a Clintonesque twist: Beginning next year, one lucky young contestant will be crowned Miss America 2000.
It depends, however, on what the meaning of "Miss" is.
In a radical departure from tradition, the pageant organization voted to lift its ban on women who are divorced or have had an abortion. Yet those who have borne children and kept them will still be barred. Will Donny and Marie Osmond, the wholesome sibling entertainers who have 11 children between the two of them, have something to say about this when they host the pageant live this Saturday night? Will pageant directors let them say it?
Miss America officials say the rule change came in response to liability concerns. Though the half-century-old rule has never been challenged in court, litigious murmurings across the heartland had the Miss America Organization scared stiff. No specific suits were cited, but pageant officials were undoubtedly spooked by the recent New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that the Boy Scouts of America -- a private organization -- had no right to expel an assistant scoutmaster when it learned he was also a gay rights leader.
If the Boy Scouts can't impose their own high standards on which young men can and can't be members, it follows that neither can Miss America pageant organizers exact such standards on its young female contestants. The pageant's convulsive reaction to legal threats is a sad and ugly consequence of the New Jersey high court's judicial coercion and social engineering.
Another troubling problem with the contest's new anti-discrimination policy is that it continues to discriminate, and perversely so. It punishes those young women responsible enough to live with the consequences of their actions. And it rewards those young women ruthless enough to rid themselves of the evidence of their life choices - whether by divorcing their high-school sweethearts, taking a pit stop at Planned Parenthood, or giving up their children for adoption to preserve their pageant eligibility.
Is this "our ideal?"
Kama Boland, Miss Delaware, is right. "The word 'miss' stands for something," she told the Associated Press in response to the rule-change announcement. "It would be a shame if they allow it. It would change the image of Miss America, and not necessarily for the better."
Indeed. If Miss America can be an ex-Mrs., why not an ex-Mr. or Miss/Mr.?
Pageant officials, so sensitive to shifting legal winds, should look to the Pacific Northwest. The city of Seattle recently extended existing discrimination protections for transsexuals and transvestites to "transgendered individuals" -- those who adopt a gender appearance opposite the one they were born with, but have not necessarily altered their bodies physically. Now that divorcees and the formerly pregnant can vie for the title of Miss America as a result of organizers' misguided attempt to preempt court battles, drag queens and the formerly masculine surely can't be far behind.
Watch your backs, girls, RuPaul's already practicing his best Miss America
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