One of the biggest questions I ask myself about being in this pageant is: how does this affect me as a feminist? I think the short answer is that it shouldn't/doesn't. Yet, now I feel like I need to pose rhetorical questions à la Carrie Bradshaw in order to make this entry meaningful and worthwhile.
I've been thinking a lot about what this pageant is supposed to be about, aside from being a cover-up for a fundraising event for the Taiwan Center. The mantra that I've been hearing from Day 1 has been "You will become confident". The pageant CEO firmly believes confidence will lead to life success, as she tells us in the first few minutes of Saturday training. When she first immigrated here as a single mom, Pageant CEO worked as a janitor. Her son was still young, and in attempts to not worry him about their now lower socioeconomic status (I'm not sure what exactly she did in Taiwan before), she would change her clothes, put on make-up, and do her hair all nice before she got home. Eventually, through inspiring conversations with her mom over the phone, she learned to hold her head up high and...be confident. We land on the happy ending when she meets and marries a doctor from USC. By the way, this is where the story ends.
Confidence, it seems, is the key to a happy ending. Pageant CEO's vision of a happy ending has marriage as its key feature (whether or not she deems this as the ultimate success for a woman in general is inconclusive, and speculation about this can be saved for another time). What I want to dissect is what happens after her story.
After learning a few steps of choreography for, oh, 3 hours, we take a break to watch a different Taiwanese pageant she had directed before. What I thought would be a fun glimpse into how everything would eventually come together, turned into catty commentary hour. Pageant CEO spent some time showing us which girls had the best posture, made direct eye-contact with the audience, and had the best strut. I take all these components to mean exuding confidence, the purported goal of being in the pageant. However, it wasn't long before we came across some girls who were pageant failures. And by pageant failures, I mean disliked by Pageant CEO. Dress choices were critiqued, hair cuts were deemed terrible, and even talents were no good simply because they weren't very feminine. One girl, who appeared very confident to me, was criticized because she refused to get hair extensions and "looked like a tomboy". Even worse, she was in this pageant for enjoyment. The underlying theme to every failed contestant was that they didn't listen to my directions.
This is where the dichotomy of pageantry becomes apparent. It wouldn't be the first time I've heard defendants of beauty pageants ("scholarship pageants", <insert other euphemism here>) say that it's all about empowering/enabling women. Even on the surface level of being in the pageant, it is something that we are told is true, so I do not doubt that pageant enthusiasts truly believe that they are helping girls become confident individuals. It is everything else in between the lines that makes me skeptical of its effectiveness.
How many former pageant contestants have become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, leading scientists, or politicians?
I know what you're thinking...
Okay, let me rephrase that to serious politicians.
I know I will be making a sweeping generalization when I say that it seems like the post-pageant career of many women is to be the "face" of something, be it a philanthropic organization or...a Republican campaign for presidency. These women have learned the confidence to represent something other than themselves. They can stand proudly in front of an audience and recite exactly the lines they were taught. They will dress correctly and be nice to look at, and maybe people will believe that what they have to say is important.
I know there must be some exceptions (because even I don't know everything), so if someone could please do me the honors of finding these exceptions, I will be forever grateful.
Despite what this post might have led you to believe, I am not in this pageant to tear it apart from the inside; I am actually hoping to improve my poise, posture, and public speaking skills. I want to learn a fun dance in heels, speak about my accomplishments, and most importantly meet other young Taiwanese-Americans girls. To be quite honest, the girls I've met so far seem intelligent and talented enough to be more than just the face of a cause, and I know they all have the ability to be more than just a pretty face.
And now for the missing piece that links everything together:
What do you guys think? What does "success" mean for a post-pageanter? What does it mean to have been successful while in the pageant, other than just vague "empowerment" disclaimers?
These are questions my friend Rachel and I have been discussing (and Rachel brought up) and I think it's time to open the floor to everyone.
Please post all comments, criticism, and discussion; I'm sure I've left a lot of gaps to cover.