June 17 2013

Miss Utah's Bad Night

Charlotte Hays

We don't want to pile on Mariss Powell, the 21-year-old Miss Utah, whose "cringe-inducing" reply to a question asked during the Miss USA pageant has become a viral sensation.

In my book, the question posed to Ms. Powell was more cringe-inducing than her answer. It concerned the gender wage-gap, a misleading talking point that has now become so widely accepted that it is almost an urban legend.  

Ms. Powell was asked:

“A recent report shows that in 40% of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does it say about society?” celebrity judge and “Real Housewives” star NeNe Leakes asked.

NeNe Leakes was apparently alluding to the recent, headline-grabbing “Breadwinner Moms” study from Pew Research.  The story did say that in 40 percent of U.S. families mothers are “either the sole or primary source of income for the family.” But the study further reported that women out-earn their husbands. Other studies have found the same thing. What does this say about us as a society? Well, it says that companies pay valuable female employees more than their male counterparts.

The American Association of University Women recently released a study about the so-called wage gap. It stated the wage gap as 82 cents to the dollar—i.e., women earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. But when you delved into the data, the wage gap was at most six cents and more likely three cents. Yet the AAUP clings to the wage-gap rhetoric. In urban settings, young college graduates out-earn their male counterparts.

I’d love to have seen a smart, sassy Miss Utah turn the question on its side and say, “Are you kidding? American women have more opportunities than ever before.” And then she could have talked about women and choices and the progress and achievements of the last fifty years. She could have said that legislation fifty years ago outlawed gender pay discrimination and we women have done well since then. She could have said that women face work-life balance conundrums that maybe we didn't five decades ago, but that we should be on top of the world. 

Instead Ms. Powell replied:   

I think that we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive to...figure out how to create jobs right now, that is the greatest problem. I think especially the men are, um, seen as the leaders of this so we need to try to figure out how to create education better so we can solve this problem.

Okay, I have no idea what Miss Utah was saying, but I don’t want to be too uncharitable. This has to be a tense situation. Let she who has discoursed like Plato while standing before a television audience of millions clad only in a strapless evening gown cast the first stone.  

Nope, it was the questioner who had time to make up the question I blame for the fiasco. She should have read more about the wage gap. She wasn’t being put on the spot. She had time to think and reflect. She had time to know that the Pew study found that many women out-earn their husbands. She also had time to find out that the really devasting finding in the Pew study was the number of children being raised by overworked single mothers.

But she preferred to use the pageant to make a factually-challenged political statement by way of asking a charged question. 

 

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