Fifty-two women stand in a line for the Miss America 2016 pageant, each of them thin, pretty, and out to defeat the others. A beauty pageant is the last place I would personally expect to find even one feminist pageant moment, but surprisingly, there were a few that stuck out as self-aware, conscious, and engaged at this year's event.
I know, I know: Feminism is probably the most counterintuitive thing you could expect to see at a beauty pageant. Then again, why the hell shouldn't feminism rear its magnificent head during an event that is specifically about women, and more specifically, about women doing their jobs?
The fashion and beauty industries are a great parallel for this, because most of the people working in them are women. Each job, whether it be as a model or retail worker or even a celebrity endorsing a brand, comes with a script and a performance. Most beauty store employees don't find it horribly disempowering to up-sell someone at the register, just as most models and celebrities wouldn't have a problem identifying as feminists while selling us clothes and endorsing brands. When I write an article recommending a beauty product that you absolutely must buy or a great pair of plus size jeans, I don't walk away from the transaction questioning my feminism either. In some ways, Miss America isn't any different: The script for their job is more elaborate (and slightly absurd), but if we can leave our jobs at the end of the day feeling tired, paid, and still feminist, why can't we imagine Miss America contestants flying home from Atlantic City with their own beliefs still intact?
That being said, let's take a look at some of the most feminist moments from the Miss America 2016 pageant, because believe it or not, there were a few.
1. When Miss Florida Started The Show With A Powerful Statement
At the beginning of the show, each of the finalists was able to give a statement about what being Miss America would mean to them. Most of the answers were pretty great, but the one that stuck out to me was MaryKatherine Fechtel's, the reigning queen from Florida. "We're not competing against each other," Fechtel said. "We're competing against ourselves. We're all just trying to be more impactful women."
2. When The Pageant Powers That Be Apologized To Vanessa Williams
Miss America Executive Chairman Sam Haskell apologized to Vanessa Williams during the pageant for the way his predecessors handled the scandal surrounding the 1983 queen after it was discovered that her nude images appeared in Penthouse. The controversy forced Williams to resign the title in 1984, and Haskell's apology says a lot about how far the pageant — and the culture around slut shaming, especially when it comes to WOC embracing their sexuality — has come.
3. When Miss America Welcomed Its Former Queens
The Miss America stage is a place where you expect to see young, beautiful women. But celebrating women means celebrating all women, regardless of their age. This year, some of the pageant's former winners were invited to take the stage, and they were absolutely resplendent.
4. When They Invited Zendaya To Host
Zendaya is an unapologetic WOC who isn't scared to call out injustice where she sees it. She's made headlines for pointing out Giuliana Rancic's racist comments about her hair, and unabashedly shut down Internet trolls on Twitter. Zendaya is an excellent feminist role model, and hiring her for this show indicates that the Miss America organization is striving for a more feminist consciousness.
5. When Some Of The Finalists Got Real
With just seven finalists left, the remaining contestants were asked a series of questions. Apart from a few eyebrow-raising responses, the women deftly handled politicized questions about Planned Parenthood (Miss Tennessee believes funding to the organization shouldn't be cut off), and Kim Davis (Miss Mississippi believed that Davis violated the law by refusing marriage licenses to gay couples). Speaking critically on behalf of marginalized groups and organizations that protect women is fundamentally feminist, and their responses were a breath of fresh air.
While these moments are only stepping stones for a more feminist future in the world of pageantry, they're definitely pretty something.