Get a Divorce, Have an Abortion, Be Miss America
carolyn By Carolyn Gargaro
Rightgrrl Co-Founder
September 15, 1999
On 9/13/99, the Miss America Pageant board lifted its ban on women who are divorced or have had an abortion. The new rules would require simply that they sign a document saying "I am unmarried" and "I am not pregnant and I am not the natural or adoptive parent of any child." This means that divorced women, women who have had abortions and women who had children who later died, would no longer be prohibited from participating in the pageant. According to court documents, the rule change was made to avoid violating New Jersey's discrimination laws.

So if you abort your child, or you give birth and the child dies, you are eligible, but if you choose to give birth, or give your child up for adoption, you aren't? If you break your marriage vows you are eligible, but if you keep your marriage vows you're out of luck? Doesn't this then discriminate against women who choose to keep their child or give their child up for adoption, or who may have even adopted children? What kind of MESSAGE does this send? That it's a bad thing to -- heavens! -- carry a pregnancy to term or stay married?

Who on the board came up with these new rules, and what drugs were they on at the time?

There are two issues here:
  1. According to those who founded the pageant, the contestants are supposed to personify the "ideal" and "wholesome" young woman. (I am not arguing as to whether the original criteria for the pageant are correct or not -- that is another issue.) If the contestants are supposed to exemplify the "ideal" and the "ideal" according to the pageant directors, is for the young women, at that stage in their life, to be unmarried and childless, how on earth can a woman who is divorced or who has had an abortion still fit that criteria? The implication here is that a woman who breaks her marriage vows, or who kills her unborn child is still "ideal" but one who keeps her vows or keeps her child, or even adopts a child, is not? What kind of message does this send -- that it is more "ideal" to have an abortion than to keep your child? That it's more "wholesome" to be a divorcee than a married woman? What if the woman gave birth but then gave her child up for adoption? The message this sends is that being pregnant is something women should hide -- get the abortion and hey -- you can be in the Miss America pageant! But...tsk tsk... if you keep your child, you're out of luck! To exclude married women or women with children, while allowing divorced women or women who have aborted is still very discriminatory, and sends a negative message to young women. And what about lesbians who are in a "committed" relationship? Is that allowed? Or is that considered the equivalent of marriage? What if the woman is living with her boyfriend? Would this be seen as acceptable?

  2. There is a cultural definition of what constitutes a "Miss" and in watering down that definition, the pageant will eventually become meaningless. Miss America is called MISS America because the women entering are supposed to be unmarried. However, if they want to implement such changes, they should allow married women with children. Is it not discriminatory to ban women who KEPT a child, or who chose to stay married? If the rules are being changed so as to be "more inclusive" then the contest should include married women or women with children. And what about age? Doesn't the pageant "discriminate" based on age? Or how about sex? What if a man wants to be "Miss America?" I say a woman who has kept her child, a man, and a 45 year-old woman, should slap them with a discrimination suit!
Vanessa Williams was forced to give up her title because she posed for nude pictures prior to becoming Miss America. The rationale behind kicking her out was that Miss America is supposed to be a "wholesome role model" and posing for such photos violated the "wholesome" image....yet now they are telling women that it is wholesome to get a divorce or abort your child, but it's "not wholesome" to choose otherwise?

My opinion, apparently, mirrors that of many people. Shortly after this announcement was made, the Miss America Board said they would reconsider their policy change, due to the number of complaints received. I'm not surprised though -- the message the new ruling sends is that it's better to hide your actions (abortion) or to break your vows (divorce) than to adopt a child, keep your child, or stay married. Either they should, in addition to allowing divorcees and women who have aborted, allow married women and women with children, or they should not modify the rules. The current change does nothing but send the discriminatory message that pregnancy should be covered up with an abortion, and divorce is preferable to working out marital problems.

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This article copyright © 1999 by Carolyn Gargaro and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.

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