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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My husband and I are no strangers to misunderstandings, which are expected in any relationship, but after 7 years of marriage, we were really being tested on how strong our bond was and it had nothing to do with the "7-year itch"--it was when I was diagnosed with PTSD. As a survivor of child sexual abuse who is a perfectionist, I felt guilty about not being the "perfect partner" in our relationship; frustrated that I might be triggered while being intimate; and worried about being seen as broken or weak because of panic attacks. My defense mechanism is to not need anyone, yet my biggest fear is often abandonment.
I am not a trained therapist or relationship expert, but since 2016, I have learned a lot about managing survivorship and PTSD triggers while being in a heterosexual marriage, so I am now sharing some of my practical relationship advice to the partners of survivors to support my fellow female survivors who may be struggling to have a stronger voice in their relationship. Partners of survivors have needs too during this process, but before those needs can be met, they need to understand how to support their survivor partner, and it isn't always an easy path to navigate.
To my fellow survivor sisters in romantic relationships, I write these tips from the perspective of giving advice to your partner, so schedule some quality time to talk with your boo and read these tips together.
I challenge you both to discuss if my advice resonates with you or not! Ultimately, it will help both of you develop an open line of communication about needs, boundaries, triggers and loving one another long-term.
1. To Be or Not to Be Sexy: Your survivor partner probably wants to feel sexy, but is ambivalent about sex. She was a sexual object to someone else and that can wreak havoc on her self-esteem and intimate relationships. She may want you to find her sexy and yet not want to actually be intimate with you. Talk to her about her needs in the bedroom, what will make her feel safe, what will make her feel sexy but not objectified, and remind her that you are attracted to her for a multitude or reasons--not just because of her physical appearance.
2. Safe Words = Safer Sex: Believe it or not, your partner's mind is probably wondering while you are intimate (yep, she isn't just thinking about how amazing you are, ha!). Negative thoughts can flash through her mind depending on her body position, things you say, how she feels, etc. Have a word that you agree on that she can say if she needs a break. It could be as simple as "pause," but it needs to be respected and not questioned so that she knows when it is used, you won't assume that you can sweet talk her into continuing. This doesn't have to be a bedroom only rule. Daytime physical touch or actions could warrant the safe word, as well.
3. Let Her Reconnect: Both partners need attention in a relationship, but sometimes a survivor is distracted. Maybe she was triggered that day, feels sad or her defense mechanisms are up because you did something to upset her and you didn't even know it (and she doesn't know how to explain what happened). If she is distant, ask her if she needs some time alone. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn't, but acknowledging that you can sense some internal conflict will go a long way. Sometimes giving her the space to reconnect with herself before expecting her to be able to focus on you/your needs is just what she needs to be reminded that she is safe and loved in this relationship.
4. Take the 5 Love Languages(r) Test: If you haven't read this book yet or taken the test, please at the very least take the free quiz to learn your individual love language. My top love language was Touch and Words of Affirmation before remembering my abuse and thereafter it became Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Knowing how your survivor partner prefers to be shown love goes a long way and it will in turn help your needs be met, as they might be different.
5. Be Patient: I know it might be frustrating at times and you can't possibly totally understand what your survivor partner is going through, but patience goes a long way. If your survivor partner is going through the early stages of PTSD, she feels like a lot of her emotional well-being is out of her control. Panic attacks are scary and there are triggers everywhere in society. For example, studies have shown that sexual references are made anywhere from 8 to 10 times during one hour of prime time television (source: Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media). My husband is now on high alert when we watch TV and film. He quickly paused a Game of Thrones episode when we started season 2 because he realized a potentially violent sexual scene was coming up, and ultimately we turned it off and never watched the series again. He didn't make a big deal about it and I was relieved.
6. Courage to Heal, Together: The Courage to Heal book has been around for many years and it supported me well during the onset of my first flashbacks of my abuse. At the back of the book is a partners section for couples to read together. I highly recommend it so that you can try to understand from a psychological, physical and emotional stand point what your survivor partner is grappling with and how the two of you can support one another on the path of healing and enjoying life together.