3min readCulture 07 October 2019
Photo courtesy of Brittany Netta; Photography by Jessielyn Palumbo
Is Miss America a walking contradiction to what our society expects of the modern young woman? Well, I am sure she is screaming a big fat yes from under her illustrious crown. Because it seems that some organizations cannot get behind the idea that an educated, respectable woman also has the ability to confidently strut her stuff in a swimsuit.
The Miss America Organization (MAO) is a "a non-profit scholarship organization led by women for women." Despite this fact, it seems that their female leadership has fallen for the antiquated notion of how a truly accomplished and intelligent woman should represent herself in today's society. In the #METOO era, have these female leaders progressed or regressed in their opinions when they equate a woman's intelligence to how modestly she dresses?
The answer to this question becomes painfully obvious when looking at recent events, specifically, MAO releasing a donor's misogynistic statement that "an educated woman does not parade around in a swimsuit." This donor, who gave money towards MAO scholarships (ironic, given the statement), was discussing why her parents would never allow her to compete in pageants. Although they have since apologized due to outrage among fans and alumni, this is a scene one's eyes cannot easily un-see.
And I say, regardless of the apology, "If you repeat it, you believe it." And that's exactly what MAO did.
For those who feel that this comment may have been taken out of context, I have two questions. Could this donor's motivation to fund these scholarships have anything to do with Miss America 2.0 eliminating the swimsuit portion of their competition only one year earlier? And, was The Miss America Organization, in sharing this statement, attempting to hail a righteous victory flag for what they believed to be the start of a successful new beginning for their now-swimsuit-less competition?
The Miss America Organization wants us to believe that the swimsuit portion of the competition was eliminated because a woman's outward physical appearance does not determine her intelligence in today's society. While that all sounds very progressive, it was simply not the motive that lead to this change. The truth about Miss America 2.0 is that they are really more concerned with updating their company's brand image in order to re-validate their place in a society that no longer values pageantry as it once did. But this resulted in little more than a pretentious façade.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was voted into office as the governor of California after years of competing in a thong on stage, but no one ever severely questioned his intelligence or ability to lead one of the nation's largest states. So why are we questioning the intellectual integrity of the women competing in Miss America today? That difference is a prime example of a double standard, and only proves we have a long way to go before true gender equality is achieved.
Consequently, I believe MAO completely missed the mark and made a huge mistake. They did not consider the broader message that their contestants send to women globally as they proudly strut in a swimsuit on national television. They forgot about the women who silently suffer from gender bias in the workplace and extreme oppression in many parts of the world who may be empowered by seeing a woman so boldly displaying herself with pride.
With that said, I'm not saying it's okay to disregard the standard dress code in the office, but women should be made to feel comfortable in embracing their sexuality and femininity in the appropriate settings. This should obviously include the Miss America stage, especially considering its rich history in their 100-year anniversary next fall.
Having competed in the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) for the past three years while working for one of the world's most admired technology companies and working towards achieving a Masters of Engineering, I can proudly say that the women who enter these competitions are some of the most disciplined, educated, and intelligent women around. Beauty and brains are not and never have been mutually exclusive.
The current Miss USA competed in a swimsuit portion of her competition, and she is also a Division One athlete as well as a practicing attorney. Miss America is an accomplished singer composer with a degree in music composition. Most of the young women who earn their state titles in MAO and MUO are highly educated, holding bachelors and master's degrees obtained by some of the most sought-after universities in the country.
Competing in MAO and MUO leave young women with wonderful professional skills, strict self-discipline, and an intense work ethic that have been a meaningful catalyst towards their careers. Furthermore, it can help elevate a woman's status nationwide to highlight many of her academic/career accomplishments through advocacy initiatives, philanthropy, and public appearances.
Instead of taking a progressive stance and believing in their contestant's intellectual fortitude to pave a path for the organization's future, MAO took the easy way out. They bowed to the antiquated notion that women's skin is inherently inappropriate. MAO holds a responsibility to celebrate how young women today choose to represent themselves —the true forward thinkers—whether they are prancing around in a swimsuit or dominating in a power suit.
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"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.