Friday, August 28, 2009

All the Single Ladies (Put Your Fists Up)

A couple days ago I got a letter inviting me to enter to be a contestant to participate in this year's Miss Massachusetts USA Pageant. Rather than just throwing it out right away, I opened it in hopes of some amusing blog fodder. I got something a lot more blog-provoking than I'd expected.

Here are the eligibility criteria:
If you are single (never married/never given birth to a child,) a United States citizen, a resident of the State of Massachusetts, and between the ages of 14 and 26
That first criterion is the one that interests me.

I can understand that they want contestants to be single - this is, after all, the Miss USA pageant, not the Mrs. USA pageant - never mind the Ms. USA pageant. But what is really interesting is how they define single-hood. In my mind, someone who is single is someone who is not in a committed relationship. But the Pageant defines a single person (assumed to be a woman) as someone who has never been married and never given birth to a child.

Let's start with the first part: "never married." That means that the contestant can be in an exclusive, committed relationship so long as there have been no wedding vows. "Never married" as opposed to "not married" excludes women who were married but are no longer married - whether due to divorce, annulment, or the death of a spouse.

The second part, "never given birth to a child," is the one that first caught my attention. What in the world does parturition have to do with relationship or marital status? "Never given birth to a child" excludes single mothers and women who have given birth but are not the child's primary caregiver - such as women who have given a child up for adoption or women whose children have died. (Women who have had abortions would seem to still be eligible, interestingly enough.)

So what does this all mean? It boils down to two things, which are unremittingly intertwined: availability and virginity. They can't very well explicitly state, "Women must never have had sex," so they go with the traditional patriarchal markers of lost maidenhood: marriage and babies.

The letter I received says that contestants will be judged in three categories - Personal Interview, Swimsuit, and Evening Gown. What it doesn't say is that to even become a contestant, one will be judged in two other categories - Sexual Availability and Conformity to Traditional Family Values.

I think I'll pass.

No comments: