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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Beauty Pageants and the Grand Scheme of Things

It is a funny turn of events in my life that I now seem to be developing a habit of sponsoring girls endeavoring to compete in beauty pageants. - There is a deep irony here that has me pondering the nature of this and that and how my opinions and views on the topic came to be both what they were and now are.

When I was a little girl, my favorite books were those written by L. Frank Baum - the most famous of which is the Wizard of Oz. I wanted to climb in and live as a character in those books; they had everything a little girl could want - princesses, queens, oodles of jewels and beautiful gowns, magic wands, animals and a the right amount of danger and adventure. I envied Polychrome her ability to travel around in the rays of the rainbow wearing gowns made of moonbeams or sunbeams and diamond slippers on her feet. (Actually, I still do!) I think most people would agree that that is pretty girly stuff.

Fast forward 10 or 12 years and we find me newly enrolled at the University of California at Santa Cruz - that's right! that bastion of left wing lesbian/feminist militant thought and school of choice for upper-middle-class white kids who don't get into Berkeley.

Now I was aware of none of this as my parents drove me up the long entrance road to the campus in our station wagon which was packed full to the brim with all my worldly possessions. I recall being very concerned that there were so many trees and steep hills and that it seemed like one could easily fall off of this place or get lost.

The full force of Santa Cruz wouldn't hit me though until about three or four weeks later when my proctor roommate and I decided to organize a dance and we came up with the theme of "Pimp and Hooker". Seemed just dandy to me, what better of a mix for getting to know one's fellow students than lots of alcohol, scantily clad females and men without morals? (for an evening - and just for pretend) And as for being too risque - I recall telling my roommate that the fanciest country club in Santa Barbara had one of those every year for Halloween. Nope we were on solid ground socially. Except that I had absolutely no idea where I really was.

On the night of our dance we headed up to the cafeteria which had been transformed into our hall of lechery during the day and as we approached I could not quite understand what I was seeing. All the pimps and hookers were standing outside looking not at all happy, and not dancing either. Then I saw the reason why! There were hordes of frumpily dressed, rather unattractive females in Birkenstocks and no make-up! lying flat on their backs all over our dance floor. They wouldn't move and we weren't allowed to step on them so the dance was pretty much over before it started. In retrospect, it probably didn't help our cause much that it happened to be the very first National Women's Week and that they paid attention to such things there in Santa Cruz. Who Knew?

I spent the next hour or so on the phone with my mother screaming that I wanted to come home. And how could she send me to a place full of lesbians and feminists - I was, up until that point in my life, unaware of the existence of either.

I didn't go home though, and I came to really love Santa Cruz - even the trees.

Now I'm no dummy and I wasn't then either and it didn't take me long to figure out that my "girly-airhead-valley-girl" persona, that would open doors in Southern California, wasn't going to fly at UCSC. So I adapted, and I guess some of Santa Cruz had sunk in because by the time I graduated and had my first job in the City, I was writing checks to organizations like NOW and Planned Parenthood etc. Yup, I had learned that women were perpetual victims of white male oppression and the best and only cure for this was to become just like them.

So I bought a business suit at Ann Taylor with shoulder pads in it that made me look not unlike a football player.

Yes, they had convinced me that anything girly is bad and is simply a way for men to objectify women and keep them down and that includes beauty pageants and I never wanted to be a fairy princess when I was a little girl because that would mean I wasn't strong and all women must now be strong.

And that's what I've been pondering these days as I paypal off my little sponsorships to these girls who really, really want to compete in beauty pageants. I think that is fantastic! And I hope they never let anyone tell them otherwise.




WendyBee said...

Hi RH,
I just discovered your blog this week, and have read through the archives over the last couple of days. There are certain posts that I consider pure gold. I have often lamented in conversations with my mother that I thought I must be the only woman in my generation who felt that we had been sold down the river by Gloria (Steinem)and her ilk. I too was educated in a liberal feminist/lesbian institution-here on the East Coast (Smith College), and tried to do the have-it-all thing, only to be miserable and ridden with Mommy Guilt all the time, exhausted, etc. I have given up my career in medicine (yes, I have an MD and Board Certification and the student loan payments to make good on....). I wish I could say that I am now a hausfrau. I am not. But I work for my husband, fairly low-paid at a low-stress job which assists him and decreases his stress level, and gives me the flexibility to take kids to dr. appts., mother by phone, etc., occas. work from home. The office is located nearer to 2 of my sons' school than our home is and is equidistant between that school and the 3rd son's school. There is no call duty waking me up at all hours of the night, ruining holiday weekends, etc. I have for the most part gotten off the hamster wheel. So far, the only people with non-supportive comments have been Boomer women, former patients, who have bewailed the waste of my talents and education, etc. They sooooo don't get it, and I can tell they aren't listening when I try to explain. Reading your blog has helped me feel less alone, less misunderstood. You have been forthright and eloquent. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

so in which manner did you raise your children?

Retro Housewife said...

That's a good question. To be honest I don't force anything on them, however, as you can imagine they hear a lot about what is on my mind and what I think about this or that.

I try to tell them what I consider to be the truth - my own opinions tend to be less based on ideology these days and more on my own personal experience.

My daughter doesn't always agree with me, which is fine. My son is more interested in hanging out with his friends and playing video games.

I would say my daughter is more balanced - we enjoy the girl things guilt-free and don't freak out about the fact that there really are girl things and boy things in this world. (By way of natural interest.).

If you think I tell her not to pursue higher education and a career, you are wrong. I do try to instill in her my belief that caring for home and hearth - and children - is not of any lesser value than any other profession out there. It is NOT a cop out or a waste of your degree to decide to stay home, whether temporarily or for good (although women, at least since the 1940s, never really just stayed home - they were the caretakers of society).

A good housewife and mother needs a heck of a lot more knowledge and skill than we as a society give her credit for. Housewives are the foundation of society - and without a solid foundation anything built on top doesn't have much of a chance.

Judge for yourself: My daughter (17) wrote
this response
- I am not so tickled about the cooking comment - that little rat fink - but she is entitled to her opinion. When I get a chance I would like to add a bit of a contra.