Last week, the media was buzzing following Miss Utah’s flubbed response at the Miss USA Pageant to a question about pay inequity and women’s rights. The question from judge NeNe Leakes was: “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does it say about society?” Miss Utah (aka Marissa Powell) for all intents and purposes could not answer the question, and under the pressure of the lights and the cameras, vaguely responded with allusions to increased education and job creation. I’ve been fascinated by the coverage of this issue as there appears to be some level of outrage, at least across the media, to the fact that Marissa botched the answer to this question, and of course the commentary about the relative intelligence of beauty pageant contestants has been part of the ribbing. ( I found this media reaction particularly interesting given the fact that, in general, mainstream media does not seem to be aware of or interested in women’s rights issues and reporting on the continued inequality in this country).
At the end of the day, I think this contestant’s inability to answer the question is less about beauty pageants, and in fact more reflective of the lackluster state of the women’s rights movement, and in particular, the lack of awareness among young women about the issues that women continue to face in this country. For me, this is a call to action – women’s organizations, policymakers, and leaders need to do a better job of educating the public on the need for continued focus on women’s rights and re-galvanize women of all ages to continue to fight for equality. Only then will we have the voice and power to shift policy and institutions that continue to hold women back.
Nicky is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.