One might have thought beauty pageants, throwbacks to a pre-1960s world, would be political correctness-free zones. This is not the case as Marissa Powell—aka Miss Utah—learned the hard way Sunday night when she flubbed a politically-charged question at the Miss USA pageant.

The 21-year-old became an instant media sensation, ridiculed as a brainless beauty. The question was posed by Miss USA pageant judge and “Real Housewives” star NeNe Leakses. It could have been planted by the Obama administration. Note to mothers who aspire to turn their daughters into beauty pageant contestants: subscribe to Ms. magazine. It's boring and behind the times, but it'll come in handy when question time rolls around.

The New York Daily News labeled Powell’s deer-in-the-headlights performance “cringe inducing.” But you know what was really cringe-inducing? NeNe Leakses’s question.

Relying on a Pew study that she obviously hadn’t fully digested, Leakes asked a loaded question. “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?” Ms. Leakses wanted to know.

What does this question say about Ms. Leakses? Unlike Miss Utah, she had plenty of time to prepare for this moment in the spotlight, and yet she asked a question based on false information and ideology. The politically correct answer to the question is that women are victims of discrimination and we po’ things need more laws and bigger government to close the gender wage gap.

According to the wage gap theory, women earn only 77 cents on the dollar on what a man makes for the same work. This claim has been debunked time and time again, yet it lives on as a feminist urban legend. While some cling to guns and God, grievance feminist cling—for dear life—to the wage gap. And there’s a good reason for this: it is the most powerful tool in their arsenal when it comes to their political agenda.

Let’s start with the basics. The 77 percent figure does exist and come from the Department of Labor, but it isn’t measuring what feminists say it is. That statistic simply compares average salaries of men and women—doctors and dog catchers—working in the U.S.. It doesn’t take into consideration the choices people have made such as college major (you’re going to earn more from an engineering degree than one in social work), hours worked (even women classified as full-time on average spend less time in the office than men do), and whether the worker has taken time out of the workforce. When these factors are accounted for, a study for the Labor Department found, the wage gap shrinks to 94 cents on the dollar.

Now, I want my six cents as much as the next gal, but grievance feminists never cite this number and complain about making 94 cents on the dollar. It’s not impressive enough. (If you want some “straight talk” on the wage gap, the Independent Women’s Forum—disclaimer: I work there—has a snappy video aimed at young women. It advises them to think hard about their choices and then to make the ones most appropriate to their goals.)

It’s too bad NeNe Leakes didn’t dig a little deeper into the headline-grabbing“Breadwinner Moms” study from Pew Research when formulating her question. There’s interesting information in there that do tell us something about the state of women in America today. First off, one of the key findings was that the number of married women who earn more than their husbands has risen steadily since 1960 when it was four percent. It was fifteen percent in 2011. If that doesn’t show the growing economic power of women, nothing does. Sure, there is more to be done, but female workers and their bosses are clearly on the case.

Yet Ms. Leakses forty-percent figure is also the result of another, less optimistic, finding highlighted in the Pew study: the rise of the single-mother-headed household. What does that say about our society?

Never-married mothers, by the way, do have fewer options, earn less money, and live more stressed out lives. Having a child out of wedlock is a recipe for poverty. Children brought up in such households have a greater chance of engaging in criminal activity, abusing drugs and alcohol, and are less likely to graduate from high school. What is the solution to this national problem? That might have been a great question for a pageant contestant. Leakes obviously preferred to skip over this in favor of something a bit trendier.

Sure, I’d love to have seen a smart, sassy Miss Utah turn the question on itself 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. Such an answer would not have endeared Miss Utah to wage-gap clingers anymore than what she said. But it would have been true.

But that, of course, is not what happened. Having flubbed once, however, the cultural powers that be generously gave Miss Utah a “second chance,” as the Today show’s Matt Lauer phrased it. Lauer invited Miss Utah on to answer the question again.

This time Miss Utah came with grievance feminist talking points memorized. “This is not OK,” she said. “It needs to be equal pay for equal work. It’s hard enough already to earn a living, and it shouldn’t be harder just because you’re a woman.”

“Perfect!” proclaimed a delighted Lauer. Now that’s cringe-inducing.