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Looking for Miss America : A Pageant's 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood
by Margot Mifflin




Overview -
Winner of the Popular Culture Association's Emily Toth Best Book in Women's Studies Award

From an author praised for writing "delicious social history" (Dwight Garner, The New York Times) comes a lively account of memorable Miss America contestants, protests, and scandals--and how the pageant, nearing its one hundredth anniversary, serves as an unintended indicator of feminist progress

Looking for Miss America is a fast-paced narrative history of a curious and contradictory institution. From its start in 1921 as an Atlantic City tourist draw to its current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the pageant has indexed women's status during periods of social change--the post-suffrage 1920s, the Eisenhower 1950s, the #MeToo era. This ever-changing institution has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of television and reality TV, and, significantly, by contestants who confounded expectations.

Spotlighting individuals, from Yolande Betbeze, whose refusal to pose in swimsuits led an angry sponsor to launch the rival Miss USA contest, to the first black winner, Vanessa Williams, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade, Margot Mifflin shows how women made hard bargains even as they used the pageant for economic advancement. The pageant's history includes, crucially, those it excluded; the notorious Rule Seven, which required contestants to be "of the white race," was retired in the 1950s, but no women of color were crowned until the 1980s.

In rigorously researched, vibrant chapters that unpack each decade of the pageant, Looking for Miss America examines the heady blend of capitalism, patriotism, class anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual.

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More About Looking for Miss America by Margot Mifflin

 
 
 

Overview

Winner of the Popular Culture Association's Emily Toth Best Book in Women's Studies Award

From an author praised for writing "delicious social history" (Dwight Garner, The New York Times) comes a lively account of memorable Miss America contestants, protests, and scandals--and how the pageant, nearing its one hundredth anniversary, serves as an unintended indicator of feminist progress

Looking for Miss America is a fast-paced narrative history of a curious and contradictory institution. From its start in 1921 as an Atlantic City tourist draw to its current incarnation as a scholarship competition, the pageant has indexed women's status during periods of social change--the post-suffrage 1920s, the Eisenhower 1950s, the #MeToo era. This ever-changing institution has been shaped by war, evangelism, the rise of television and reality TV, and, significantly, by contestants who confounded expectations.

Spotlighting individuals, from Yolande Betbeze, whose refusal to pose in swimsuits led an angry sponsor to launch the rival Miss USA contest, to the first black winner, Vanessa Williams, who received death threats and was protected by sharpshooters in her hometown parade, Margot Mifflin shows how women made hard bargains even as they used the pageant for economic advancement. The pageant's history includes, crucially, those it excluded; the notorious Rule Seven, which required contestants to be "of the white race," was retired in the 1950s, but no women of color were crowned until the 1980s.

In rigorously researched, vibrant chapters that unpack each decade of the pageant, Looking for Miss America examines the heady blend of capitalism, patriotism, class anxiety, and cultural mythology that has fueled this American ritual.

 

Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781640092235
  • ISBN-10: 1640092234
  • Publisher: Counterpoint LLC
  • Publish Date: August 2020
  • Page Count: 320
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.35 pounds


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BookPage Reviews

Looking for Miss America

If you’ve disregarded the Miss America pageant as nothing but frivolous cheesecake, you are not alone. But consider taking a closer look at this cultural artifact, which has been around nearly as long as women have had the right to vote. In Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood, historian Margot Mifflin encourages us to view Miss America as more complicated than just sashes, hairspray and high heels.

If you’ve disregarded the Miss America pageant as nothing but frivolous cheesecake, consider taking a closer look at this cultural artifact.

Miss America has never represented all American women—and that was kind of the point. From its beginnings on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1921, the pageant has rewarded an idealized version of young womanhood: white, childless, unmarried, thin and beautiful (by the beauty standards of the day). 

As patriarchal white America ceded its control of women and people of color, Miss America slowly changed along with the culture. The pageant grappled with social revolution regarding women’s “ideal” bodies, sexual expression, sexual orientation, educational opportunities, gender roles and careers. “The pageant has been in constant dialogue with feminism, though rarely in step with it,” writes Mifflin.

Mifflin’s deep research, numerous support texts, nuanced analysis and punchy writing weave an engaging account. (The history of the bathing suit portion of the pageant is especially fascinating.) She interviewed over a dozen past pageant contestants, pageant employees, a judge and others for a comprehensive behind-the-scenes narrative. 

Even if you’ve never watched a single Miss America pageant on TV, anyone with an interest in American history would benefit from this deep dive into a complex cultural figurehead. 

 

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