Miss Utah says “Bep”

Miss Utah says “Bep” June 18, 2013

When I ask my kids an impossible question in a high-pressure situation — say, something like, “You thought it was okay to use a toilet plunger, a real, used toilet plunger, that is used for REAL POOP, for your Dalek costume?  What were you thinking?  Huh?  What made you think that was okay?” — they don’t know what to say.  They’re the ones who put themselves in that situation, and yet they know and I know that there is no acceptable answer to the question.  But I’m all caught up in the passion of the moment, and I actually stand there, glaring at them, waiting for an answer.  More than once, the answer I’ve gotten is ” . . . bep . . . ”

I don’t know what “bep” means.  It’s some kind of croaking that comes straight from the soul of a person who’s face to face with the impossible, I guess.

“Bep” is more or less what Miss Utah said in a widely circulated, widely mocked video from the Miss USA Pageant.  Someone named Nene Leakes asked her, “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”  Here’s Miss Utah’s response:

Dopey, right?  Of course it is.  But my response was pretty much the same as what NPR blogger Linda Holmes says here:  that there’s no possible way anyone could give an intelligent or meaningful answer to that question, especially in that setting.

Not to put too fine a point on it, what kind of a simultaneously (1) dumb and (2) impossible to answer question is that? First of all, it’s three questions rolled into one — what does it say that in 40 percent of homes, women are the primary earners, or what does it say that women earn less than men, or what does it say that we allow these two facts to coexist?

Second of all, “What does this say about society?” Really? Not “What kinds of help do families need to make ends meet?” or something with at least some policy meat on the bones, but “What does this say about society?” Asked by NeNe Leakes? While you’re standing next to Giuliana Rancic, whose other job involves making people walk their fingernails down a tiny, hand-sized red carpet? What would have been a good answer to this question that could have been delivered in the time frame she had?

I think about this kind of stuff a lot. I’ve studied it. I’ve had about 20 years longer than Miss Utah USA to think about it. I have no idea what I would have said if someone had asked me such a moronic question on live television.

This isn’t the kind of question that actually tests what you know; it’s basically a test of your ability to generate cow patties on command.

What do they want from this poor woman?  They starve her and paint her and wrap her up like a rhinestone mummy, dangle a cash prize in front of her, and then ask her about women’s place in society.

I don’t suppose she stumbled because she was suddenly struck by a paralyzing bolt of irony.  I suppose she just got mixed up, and didn’t know what to say.  But still.

I don’t have any particular opinion about beauty pageants.  They used to seem exploitative and demeaning, but boy, you have to work pretty hard to stand out in that field these days.  It almost feels wholesome and reassuring that all these women have to do is trot around in bathing suits and have very white teeth, and nobody expects them to live tweet an orgasm or something.

What does that say about society?  Ohhhh, I don’t know.  Bep.

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  • Yeah. I don’t think I could have done much better. Bep.

  • Tony G. Pizza

    But that’s the point. It isn’t that the pageant people wanted a definitive answer. They simply wanted to know how well Ms. Utah or any other contestant could think on her feet. It was a test of poise and eloquence much more than intelligence. What those people asked is no more challenging than the instant problems middle and elementary school students are asked to solve in Odyssey of the Mind.

    • I agree w/ Tony. It’s not an intelligence test; it’s a test of pose. And haven’t they been training for this stuff since they were toddlers in tiaras? I mean it’s not like the questions was asked unexpectedly – they all knew it was coming and part of the pageant procedure. She got asked a stupid question and gave an even stupider answer. Big deal. I’m sure no one there has any depth of character enough to even realize the irony.

      • Julie

        That was not a question to test poise. That was a question aimed at making sure that even beauty pageant contestants are drinking from the same thought trough.

  • Guest

    I never watch beauty pageants. I wanted to see how she expressed herself in response to this question. My own response would be full or part-time jobs for everyone who needs one and at all levels of education. How much talent is currently going to waste!

  • Spectrall

    They starve her

    They do? She looks healthy and fit to me. Maybe she’s not (I’m sure some of the people on stage have eating disorders), but I don’t really see a great reason to make that judgment of her.

    • simchafisher

      *shrug* Okay, maybe she’s not starving. Lots of people are thin and healthy, I got that. But surely you can see the irony of asking her about treating women as equals even as she tortures her skin, hair, boobies, feet and earlobes into looking like Barbie’s.

      • Spectrall

        Maybe. I’m not exactly sure though; her skin has makeup and her hair is done, but social conventions more or less have people changing appearance in these sorts of fashions pretty commonly in any case. I know I use hair gel sometimes. I don’t know that she’s “tortured” any of her other body parts either.

        I can see some incongruity between the very idea of a beauty pageant and basic equality, but not because the women involved make certain efforts with regard to their appearance. People do all sorts of things to present different appearances than their every day looks without people frowning on them for it.

        For what it’s worth, I’m basically with you on beauty pageants (or whatever they’re calling them these days), but I don’t like the angle of treating someone as though they’re dehumanized by changing their appearance. I look pretty different going to work than I do when I’m entering a duathlon than when I’m a groomsman in a wedding. None of these is some platonic “real” me, and dressing up for something isn’t being Ken.

        • simchafisher

          Well, as far as not being tortured, you’ve clearly never worn spike heels, chandelier earrings, or a push-up bra. It’s a bit more uncomfortable than hair gel.

          Anyway, my main point wasn’t really “Oh lordy, these beauty pageants are so dehumanizing.” I was thinking more about how much has changed in the last few decades. When I was growing up, Barbie dolls (and women who tried to look like them) were the scandalous, dehumanizing things that decent people everywhere would avoid.

          But now, I more or less agree with you: her appearance is not shocking or terrifying. But that’s because the rest of the world has shot so far beyond just push-up bras and heavy makeup. You see porn stars treated as celebrities, etc. etc. You know what I mean.

          • $50360981

            He hasn’t even experienced pantyhose. Ignorance is bliss.

    • KL

      Having known a few girls involved in pageants, I can tell you definitively that even if she is technically consuming enough calories to sustain her bodily functions, she is on an incredibly restricted diet (probably grilled chicken breasts and undressed spinach every day!) and following a grueling workout regimen. You just don’t get to the highest level of pageant competition without doing so. She’s probably incredibly relieved, now that the pageant is over, to be
      able to eat something with carbs in it and to go a day without spending
      three hours in the gym. That’s not to mention, as Simcha points out, the stilettos, the poke-y, compress-y undergarments, the uncomfortable jewelry, the hours sitting in hair and makeup, etc. ad nauseum. All of these things are psychologically confining as well as physical, by the way. These girls spend all day, every day, for months leading up to competitions consumed with concern about their physical appearance. Comparing a man running gel through his hair in the morning to the myriad aspects of physical preparation for pageant competition is wildly inaccurate.

  • Billiamo

    Not to change the subject, but may I just say how brilliant the Venus-of-Willendorf -in-an-easy-chair image is, how it made me laugh, and that I suspect it was your idea?

  • tt

    You don’t know that she is starved. Adding that word is just subtle body shaming. Many women are naturally thin, particularly in their teens and twenties. They should not be shamed for it any more than an overweight woman should be shamed for her body.

    • simchafisher

      I suppose it might be “body shaming” if I were criticizing the woman. But if you read the post, instead of just hunting for key words, you’ll see that I’m on her side. Context! Context! It’s a thing!

      • simchafisher

        Sorry, that was unnecessarily snarky.

        • Fiddlesticks

          I am one of those naturally very thin people. It’s a worry when it comes to pregnancy/miscarriage risk, but I just can’t put on weight. I need to put on weight for this baby, but I just can’t!

          But I was not offended by your comment. Some people are ridiculously easily offended!

  • I guess I’m far too partisan. What does it say about society? That we don’t value women, marriage, or the next generation, and that we’re soon going to go the way of every culture that fails to value actually having a next generation.

  • pagansister

    I tried posting last night and had a problem with Disqus. Will try again. IMO, society still doesn’t understand that women are just a capable as a man in every job there is and thus–lack of equal pay Women continue to prove their abilities, but again, society overlooks this and chooses to live in the unequal past. Perhaps this is a very simplistic answer to the question.

    • Nan

      Wow! You do live in the past. When pay is equalized for choices, such as getting married right away, staying out of the workforce with children, etc., women’s pay is 95% of mens. Young women are out-earning young men these days. Do you realize that more women go to college than men do? And that more women are going to law school and medical school than men are going? That’s a societal problem as boys are looked down upon these days.

      • pagansister

        Actually, my mother was a working mother, I was and both my sisters are—so no, not living in the past. I was responding to the post above about the question asked Miss Utah. You used an example of pay for equalized choices etc. That wasn’t presented in the question to the contestant. I will accept, for now, the contention more women are going to law school etc. as I have no facts to contradict you. If indeed that is true, good for “use girls”, as it is about time.

  • TheReluctantWidow

    “and nobody expects them to live tweet an orgasm or something.” I am so glad you are on Patheos now Simcha. You make me laugh. I got the point of your piece. It wasn’t about the starving, the objectification, or the thought police. It was just an impossible question to answer, poise or no poise, and it was a dumb question to ask in that setting. My answer would have been “World Peace.”

    • simchafisher

      Heh – right. Like when I’m teaching my kids catechism, and they don’t know the answer, so they say, ” . . . .God?”

  • LOL! Oh I’m laughing so hard tears are coming out. I think the girl went into the question with a stock answer of education, no matter what the question, thinking she could adapt her answer to whatever the question, but she couldn’t do it. It didn’t fit the question.

  • TheReluctantWidow

    Our summer break is almost half over in Oklahoma. My kids have had way too much screen time and it’s my fault. Before my husband died last year, I hadn’t had a Facebook account for YEARS. I read some blogs but mostly I just read. Good books. My husband and I would take turns reading to each other in the evenings. Shortly after he died, I had my Facebook account activated and a Netflix subscription. I drowned out the lonely hours of the evening with Internet noise. Now we are almost to the one yer anniversary and I realize that I needed that last year, but I don’t really need it anymore. On my rough days, I need my kids glued to electronics, but not on the good days. On the good days, we go screen free, and while the four of them will sometimes look at each other like “what are we going to do?” they eventually settle in to having a great time. I definitely feel I am the gatekeeper though and the example I set is what they will follow.

    Oh, and, they do have to earn it. I take time away for disrespectful, irresponsible, and unkind behavior toward me or sibs.

    • TheReluctantWidow

      Sorry, not sure why this showed up here instead of on NCR in response to yor post on screen time. Tried to delete. Must be something funky with Disquis.