Perhaps the best way to dissect the intricacies of the Q&A is to revisit the famous A’s of the past. Let’s all take a moment to remember the instant classic that is Miss Teen South Carolina, Lauren “Everywhere else like such as” Upton:
The key to deciphering questions is to read between the lines. I think this is where most of the brain power goes in answering a pageant question. “One-fifth of Americans can’t locate the US on a world map. Why do you think this is?” Obviously, this isn’t a question about maps. This was not obvious to Lauren at first…but then she gets it, sort of (she did mumble something about education for US Americans, right?). The second thing to note, and the reason this A is so famous, is word choice. I know I’m not the only one who has a feeling that contestants are instructed to memorize a list of buzzwords to toss around in their answer. I’m sure this list is chock full of synonyms for world peace, our children’s future, third-world countries, and America. The problem occurs when your brain short-circuits and starts using these phrases back-to-back, creating nonsensical redundancies. I will attribute the short-circuiting to being befuddled by the question with a hint of "I don’t know how to answer that question and am therefore nervous about it". To recap this Q&A: decent question (How do we fix education in America?), bad answer (“Some people in our nation don’t have maps”).
Not all questions are decent though. And if the questions are terrible, aren't we setting these women up for failure? The recent Miss America pageant provides a stellar example:
The Q’s of pageants are supposed to bring the controversial issues plaguing America to the stage. In general, the most ridiculous thing about many controversial issues plaguing America is that they are treated and hyped like...controversial issues…plaguing America. You don’t need to be a media studies major to observe that news outlets sensationalize everything. For viewer ratings. For profit (please don't tell me you're surprised...). Many “issues” are “non-issues”, while the actual issues are too boring for anyone to watch (meaning less $$). My point in this being that the evolution debate is not a debate. Why are we asking people if evolution should be taught in public school? As this video points out, that’s like asking if math should be taught in public school. The other side to look at is the Answer. Sadly, like a lot of women and men in America, some of these women were also under the impression that evolution is controversial ("teaching both sides"???), and it’s kind of hard to label these as bad answers when the question (as an extension of America’s sensationalized approach to news) is just as bad.
And then there are the questions that are meant to draw the best middle-of-the-fence responses. I am not sure if these can be qualified as good or bad questions, because let’s be honest, what exactly are they training you to do? Stating your personal beliefs? The more controversial the question is, the more people will pay attention to your answer, and the more you will shrink away from saying how you really feel. Who gets rewarded in these situations? Certainly not the woman who speaks her mind (whether you’re right or wrong). I am of course, referring to the infamous Miss California, Carrie “No offense to anybody out there” Prejean and her opinion on gay marriage:
This question is a mess of all sorts. It combines key factors from the first and second Q, and adds in its own fun. First, let’s read between the lines on this one. Is this question solely about gay marriage? I would argue that the best way to answer this question is to focus on human rights...because in essence, it is about human rights. Second step: since this question is about human rights, why is this even an issue [plaguing America]? Thirdly, anyone, not just Prejean would have been expected to answer this question with the buzzwords “equality” and “rights”, both used positively, without ever agreeing or disagreeing with anything.
These sorts of questions seem to prepare you for a life of politics and diplomacy. By politics, I mean it in every sense: politics of the household, the workplace, the social sphere, and the government. It is the politics of compromise, where you say something to please everybody, and not because it’s the right thing to do. I wouldn’t say this is a terrible skill. In fact, it is probably a very useful skill. But, as I bring up in a previous post, do these skills ever serve the purpose beyond being someone’s puppet? Since when do women (or anyone) who stay centrist ever become a catalyst for change or activism? Is it the duty of a pageant queen to be a neutral ambassador who follows the script in order to make everyone happy? Or a woman who can lead others with her independent thinking style? Are these two things even mutually exclusive? What exactly are the duties and expectations of a pageant queen besides attending spectacles and making speeches about achieving goals? Maybe I am posing some difficult Q’s myself. But I am interested in hearing your A’s.