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English 212
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

Miss America

Nancy Evans

Miss America
In most cases, hindsight truly is 20/20. Had I known we were to eventually plan a sex ed program for the group we chose, I probably would have left the Miss America contestants alone. How can you prescribe an effective sex ed curriculum for adult women? First, I think it is important to decide what exactly these women represent about our culture that needs changing/updating. Obviously, they are in some way represen-tative of the female culture. I mean this in a general sense; for example, while the majority of women are not beauty pageant contestants and are never literally judged by beauty, most women are incapable of openly expressing ideas about sex. While they most likely do not need a sex ed intro outlining ¡®The Birds and The Bees¡¯, they probably do need a chance to re-think their definitions of ¡®being female¡¯ and a chance to learn how to ¡®push the envelope¡¯ a little in order to move the Miss America system towards a more liberal way of thinking. This sex ed program will cover a range of topics, from language to re-thinking outdated modes of thinking about sex and moves beyond the traditional background material often taught in sex ed programs.
Since these women are not much older than many of us in this class, I believe it is safe to assume their sex ed programs were similar to those we have described: some had effective experiences and some have had no sex ed background at all, but most fall somewhere in the middle. With that idea as a starting point, we can examine outdated models of sex ed make up their backgrounds and find an appropriate curriculum that exists beyond the traditional definitions of sexual education.
A plausible reason for the taboo nature of sexual subject matter stems from an ultra-conservative, abstinence-only view of teaching sex ed. Groups advocating this method often use scare tactics to blur the lines between sexual promiscuity and responsible sexual activity. For example, one group advocating abstinence-only, the American Christian Right, has a website entirely devoted to declaring the sins of
teaching children and young adults any ¡®sex ed¡¯ other than abstinence. The resource guide ( ¡®Keep Out of Reach of Children!¡¯) declares the immorality of comprehensive sex ed programs with exclamation-point-bulleted criticisms: ¡°! The sheer quantity of explicit material presented in mixed groups year after year removes inhibitions¡± 2. To re-enforce the message, all sex ed programs that are not exclusively abstinence-only are referred to as ¡®promiscuity education¡¯. This misconception, that all sex acts are restricted and promiscuous, plays mainly on the fears of teenage girls, afraid to be labeled ¡®promiscuous¡¯. Aside from perpetuating false stigmas, these programs perpetuate a certain level of fear associated with sex, a fear that is very difficult for a young woman to shake later in life, when attempting to function in a society where sex is ever present. It
also does not provide for students who have already had sexual experience and may never ¡°admit to [their] first mistakes¡± for fear of being ridiculed or punished5. This kind of restricted thinking is the antithesis of the ideas needed to make sex okay to talk about.
By the time young women are old enough to compete in Miss America, their feelings toward sexuality are pretty much decided. This poses a problem and a solution in itself. The problem, obviously, is that the same conservative view has pervaded in the Miss America pageant for many years; the solution draws on the diversity of sexual backgrounds in the group. If every woman expressed her views on sex and sexuality, the issue would be so abundant it would be difficult to extinguish. This hasn¡¯t happened because of the delicate nature of the issue as well the absence of a large group demanding change. Platforms that have become socially acceptable to discuss (for example AIDS) are for the contestants to uphold. A former Miss America, touring the nation¡¯s schools to promote AIDS awareness was faced with restrictions on her speeches. In many schools she was informed that aside from suggestive words, such as ¡°condoms¡±, homosexuality¡±, ¡°intercourse¡±, she was ¡°free to discuss whatever she pleased¡±3.
Why does such a conservative view of sexuality pose a problem, and how can a sex ed program amend such a deeply varying and personal problem? It seems sexuality pervades every aspect of our culture and lives. Speaking about and understanding sexuality is essential. As Leo Bersani contends in his essay ¡°Can Sex Make Us Happy?¡±, if women are ¡°denied the opportunity to take an intellectual interest in sexual problems¡¦ they are deterred from thinking at all.¡±1
The formal sex ed program challenges women to take control of sexuality and of language. The main fear of vocalizing aspects of sex is the apprehension of being condemned or labeled. However, if all 51 women learn to embrace their opinions about sex, own them, and present them in an intelligent and effective way, the roadblocks that prevent the contestants from vocalizing sexual subject matter dissipates6. By creating a community based on openly expressing issues of sexuality, a new value system can begin to emerge. According to Ruth King and Susan Ehrlich, linguistic meaning¡¦ is determined by the dominant culture¡¯s values.¡±4 By taking the role of ¡®dominant culture¡¯, the contestants can make the informed decision to implement a dialogue about issues of sex.

Works Cited
1. Bersani, Leo. ¡°Can Sex Make Us Happy?¡±. Raritan. 21.4. Spring 2002. p15-30.

2. Grant, George. ¡°Promiscuity Education¡±. [Online] Available: January 2002.

3. Hess, Scott. ¡°Let¡¯s Talk About Sex¡±. [Online] Available:

4. Lakoff, Robin. ¡°Language and Woman¡¯s Place¡±. The Feminist Critique of Language.
2nd Edition. Deborah Cameron. New York: Routledge, 1998. 242-252.

5. Sholl, Betsy. The Red Line. Pittsburgh, 1992.

6. Wright, Susan. ¡°Report on the Suppression of Sexual Diversity in the Arts¡±. [Online]

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