Worse than dumb, Miss Utah was a disappointment


It wasn’t even a softball question. It was more of the T-ball persuasion. The judge set it up so nicely for her, 40 percent of “women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

Easy. The ol’ fair vs. unfair theme. The kind of question anyone who has seen a couple of “Sesame Street” episodes could knock out of the park. Or the pageant.

But Miss Utah Marissa Powell, as has been witnessed on YouTube more than 7 million times, looked and sounded like Alex Trebek himself asked the question and the answer could only be found in an MIT classroom.

That alone is my problem with the woman who is now more well-known than the one with the big, sparkly crown.

It’s not that she’s so gorgeous I secretly hope she’s stupid. It’s not that moments earlier she enthusiastically walked across a stage in a bikini to be judged by a panel of C-list celebrities. And it’s certainly not because she’s a woman.

Those are all the reasons her online defenders claimed her critics had for calling her dumb, something that, in itself, they said could be argued as sexist and stereotyping.

We didn’t know whether she just had stage fright. We didn’t know whether her age, a tender 21, caused her to be completely devoid of that thing teenagers have aplenty: opinions. We didn’t know so we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

But here’s what we do know: the gender wage gap. Or income inequality. Or a bunch of malarkey, for lack of a more colorful, nonprintable word. Whatever you prefer to call it, if you’re a woman, you better be well-aware of the fact that you make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes performing similar work.

You better know it because it’s an injustice and you’re living it. Maybe not if your job is to smile and wave during public appearances (not too many men are vying for that job), but certainly when you join the real world. The one where you get called dumb for doing dumb things.

Let’s exercise caution when we stamp something “sexist.” There’s something very, I don’t know, sexist, about prohibiting the public from describing a woman as dumb when she behaves in a way that more than merits it.

I’ve been interviewing pageant title holders and contestants for seven years. If anyone has ever seen a Miss America pageant, they know perfectly well pageant queens do not equal ditzes.

The first Miss America I interviewed, Deidre Downs, was a Rhodes scholar finalist and medical student. To call her dumb because she participated in a pageant would be a stereotype and sexist. And really dumb.

The same goes for Miss Nevada 2011 Alana Lee, also of the Miss America Organization. She was as sharp as the claws that stereotypists associate with pageants.

I have a strong suspicion they’ve both heard of the gender wage gap.

Even if Miss Utah was introduced to this thing called income inequality for the first time right there on that pageant stage, the question was placed on the tee so carefully, just waiting for a swing. Even a tap would’ve done it.

Despite all the training she underwent to get to that spot, a spot 45 places higher than the other contestants. A spot she not only chose to be in, but hoped to be in. She couldn’t put two sensible words together.

Worse than dumb, Miss Utah was a disappointment.

She got her do-over Tuesday on “The Today Show.” Seated next to Miss USA, who has the sash but still not the stardom, Miss Utah smiled and said something about “equal pay for equal work.” There was also a “just because you’re a woman” thrown in for good measure.

And there you have it. Learning about the gender wage gap never comes easy.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.