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English 212
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Thinking Sex Paper #1

Nancy Evans

To examine a sub-group in our culture and ultimately spell out how they put sex into language, I thought it might be interesting to choose a fairly small group (50 women; well, 51 if you count D.C.) whose group is designed to be sexy and represent a cultural ideal of sex without actually being able to translate it into language. What section of society, I thought to myself, better represents this kind of a double standard than the 51 women who vie for the Miss America title each year? The idea that Miss America is at once sexy, beautiful, and virginal presents an interesting dichotomy, if one cannot express sexuality in language, how can she portray the level of sexiness America expects of its queen? The answer, it seems, is body language. Everything from dress color to a suggestive Carmen aria, it becomes apparent that among these women, those who will succeed have mastered the art of innocent seduction.
I had originally decided on an entirely different approach to this paper; writing about group I probably have more knowledge and experience dealing with but, procrastinating on a Saturday night, I flipped on the pageant and began taking notes.
The idea behind the Miss America system seems antiquated in itself- pitting young women against each other and measuring them by attractiveness, and their support of a 'platform', an issue she "wholly supports and would pursue as Miss America." The rules of the show seem to dictate a certain level of implied virginity required to be the winner. The young woman must be between the ages of 18-24, she cannot be married, and she may never have had any children. However, how interested is America in watching a nice, wholesome young woman answer questions about the dangers of obesity? Apparently not very interested. In the U.S., at least on television, sex sells. A few years ago, when ratings for the pageant were declining sharply, a movement to get rid of the always-controversial swimsuit competition came to the forefront. The ultimate vote (to keep the bikinis) came from a survey in which a majority of viewers stated they would no longer tune in without swimsuit portion. Instead of nixing the suits, it seems producers ran with the idea that America was ready for a little more sex in the pageant.
This year, as the final fifteen competitors paraded in swimsuits and stiletto heels, it became apparent that communicating sex was the common denominator. As fourteen of fifteen contestants sported bikinis (sashaying to the "A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action") during the competition, the final contestant, wearing a semi-conservative one piece, seemed almost prudish.
What if a contestant did attempt to vocalize an aspect of sexuality? Miss Nevada, a composed, articulate Latina woman wearing a peach colored business suit and sporting a low ponytail, found out during the talent portion of the show. During a tearful rendition of the speech Mathew Shepard's father delivers in the courtroom (from "The Laramie Project"), Miss Nevada emotionally declared, "Mathew was NOT my gay son!" and finished to mediocre applause. Miss Connecticut performed a seductive aria from "Carmen" complete with flowing hair, swaying hips, and a red rose that was sniffed with near orgasmic pleasure before being discarded.
At the end of the night, the new Miss America was crowned in a white gown that was saved from being completely reminiscent of virginity by an excess of cleavage. The runners-up, including Miss Nevada in second-to-last-place, showed no visible signs of disappointment
For a group of women where verbally expressing any kind of sexuality, be it pro-abstinence or even hinting at homosexuality, is detrimental to achieving the collectively sought goal, one must employ other means of communicating sex. When relaying sex is at once required and forbidden, body language and mental cues (i.e. color) serve as vehicles to communicate sexuality. The idea of body language as a type of sexual language is something we have not explored yet. We have heard, many times over, that many of us feel that language is an inadequate way of expressing sexuality, but I think we have been limiting our discussions of 'language' to the spoken word. It was not the idea of writing a paper on the Miss America pageant that intrigued me, but the alternate mode of 'thinking sex' that is just (if not more) effective at producing an unmistakably sexual effect. Body language seems to be a form of sexual expression evident in almost every aspect of life, that is generally accepted and often unnoticed; yet it is effective at parlaying sexual messages without assaulting the reader with unabashed sexual content, and, (at least for the Miss America contestants) assuring some lucky young woman a good chance of supporting twelve pounds of metal and jewels on her head while she cries and trips down the victory runway.

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