Miss America, sexism, and “American Values”

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2013 Miss America, Nina Davuluri

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2013 Miss America, Nina Davuluri

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So when we hear bigoted online voices stating their disappointment that “An Arab”, a “sand nigger”, or a “Muslim” has won the Ms. America prize, the correct response is not to merely point that Ms. Davuluri is in fact both American and Hindu. The conversation is also about America, and American identity. It is not about who Ms. Davuluri is not. It’s about who we as Americans are, who we wish to become.

  • Ahmed

    These are the occasions I miss George Carlin.

  • Well said Professor Omid. Though I am just not into beauty pageants for some of the reasons you mention in your post – sexism is a beast; it did strike a sad note regarding what some believe it means to be an American. From some of the tweets that I have read, the message seems to be that to be American is to be White and all others are allowed to be here but not be granted full participation and privilege.

    Thank you for writing to help us think beyond some of the surface and obvious issues to yet another layer of problematic rhetoric.

  • Nate

    Men don’t have contests where they’re wearing speedos? Really?? Mr. Olympia? Ever hear of it? Not to mention the other countless bodybuilding contests that happen all over the world!

  • Patrick

    I hardly think that body building contests are built on the notion of sexual objectification, and more of “look at that mass of muscle pretending to be human.”

  • Doc Anthony

    Finally, Omid Safi writes something that I can totally agree with. Heh.

  • LisaB

    If body building were truly the equivalent, then it would be nationally televised with its own theme song. It would also reflect the consensus standard for male beauty, which it does not. In fact, most Americans could not tell you what the Mr. Olympia competition consisted of, when it happened, or the race/ethnicity of the last winner.

  • Nate Bostian

    How ironic that another guy named Nate wanted to make the same point (although I will use fewer question marks). I once had a acquaintence who won the Mr. America bodybuilding contest, and he wore a speedo and shaved his body:


    As for the substantive content of the article- the reflexive racism of far too many in our “open, free and egalitarian” society- I completely agree.

    This article does raise a related issue: Do contests that judge physical beauty have to be sexist or demeaning? In a society where people denigrate others on the basis of percieved race, perhaps we are too immature, and thus unable to separate physical beauty from sexualization. But surely there is a place for showcasing physical beauty in society- whether that of natural beauty or bodybuilding- without sexualizing and demeaning the contestants.

  • Ravi

    It’s amazing how Nate, Patrick & LisaB, could just focus on just one sentence about Men wearing Speedos in contests, and conveniently forgot the message from the entire article. This is my personal favourite form of racism, where you dont comment or sound racist but completely ignore the topic on hand.
    I think we could add their names to the racists anonymous list.

  • John

    How is that racist?
    1. The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race
    2. Prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.

  • LisaB

    I was replying to a comment that attempted to equate bodybuilding contests to beauty pageants simply because men wear a Speedo. I feel it’s a false equivalency of the sort men usually try to set up when women discuss their objectification in the popular culture. There’s always a “See! We wear swimsuits too!” that misses the entire point of what objectification is.

    As for the comment being “racist,” I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  • Natasha

    What they call “talent” is ridiculous. Should girls do erotic Bollywood dancing to win scholarships? Here in India men don’t respect women and are taken as “item girls”. Everyone is aware that Bollywood is responsible for India’s rape culture. Now America is going this way.

  • Kimberlydawn Mostenkirk

    All this means is that an Arab woman has been objectified – just like an American woman. The point isn’t whether a woman is white or Indian or Asian or African American….the point is that WOMAN are STILL objectified in this day and age….turned into mere PRODUCTS to be judged and evaluated by looks…..(let’s see that “Men in a Speedo” contest…how many MEN who support the Miss America Contest would support a contest like THAT)????