It has been almost two weeks since Kira Kazantsev, Miss New York won the Miss America crown on September 15 in Atlantic City convention hall. Kazantsev was the third Miss New York in a row to win the title. She was crowned by her predecessor and fellow New Yorker, Nina Davaluri, who became the first Miss America of Indian descent to capture the crown a year ago. No state has had three consecutive winners. In a contest that has historically been dominated by Southern and Midwestern winners, this fact in and of itself is very noteworthy.
The current Miss America speaks three languages and was born in Russia. These facts, distinctive and interesting as they are, however, were not the major issues that has had so many people across he political spectrum buzzing about the new, current Miss America. While her cup performance talent while singing to Pharrell William's mega-hit "Happy" was a source of intrigue and controversy to many social media critics and observers. Indeed twitter, facebook, snapchat, pinterest, instagram and others were abuzz with intense chatter and at times, biting commentary about the newly crowned Miss America. She has confirmed that she was forced out of her sorority while attending Hofstra University but denies that it was for aggressively hazing recruits. Those matters aside, the issue that drew even more scrutiny -- in fact, even intense outrage in some quarters, particularly among a number of those on the political right -- is that Kazantsev worked at a Planned Parenthood Clinic during a three-month internship.
After hearing this news, some conservative organizations such as the National Right To Life (arguably the direct antitheses to Planned Parenthood) wasted no time launching into personal criticism of Ms. Kazantsev. A number of conservative websites personally denounced her, levying attacks against her character and what they perceived as her lack of moral values. For the most part, she (Kazantsev) has taken the criticism in stride, went on the offensive and has been unapologetic about her past internship.
Truth be told, Kazantsev is not the only Miss America that has come under occasional scrutiny for being involved or taking on taking on causes that have negatively aroused or jilted certain segments of the public. While the majority of Miss America's have served quiet, relatively uneventful reigns, there have been a few who have managed to garner ire and controversy. Miss America 1976, Tawny Godin (then Tawny Little), outraged many pageant fans when she stated that she supported a women's right to an abortion. Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1984 and the first Black woman to win the crown was the victim of racial hostility and death threats by those who saw her victory as an affront to the previous image of White, eurocentric womanhood image that was shattered upon her victory. Nina Davaluri, faced similar racial hostility as well from disgruntled internet bloggers. Miss America 1993, Leanza Cornett announced that she was pro-choice Christian republican. While her remarks did not generate the same level of outrage as some of her fellow winners, she was still viewed with a jaundiced eye by some hardcore pageant followers.
In fact, during the 1990s, there were a number of Miss America's who had controversial platforms and still won the crown. Leanza Cornett's adopted Aids Awareness as her platform. Her successor, Kimberly Aiken, Miss America 1994, took on the plight of the homeless for her cause. For Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998, safe sex and condom distribution in public schools was her platform. More Recently, Laura Kaeppeler, Miss America 2012 touted mentoring children of incarcerated parents. While Kaeppeler's platform may not be seen as controversial as some of the aforementioned examples, it is still nonetheless, a topic that a Miss America contestant would not have have touched in previous decades. This shows how the pageants, its judges and society has transformed despite the rigid viewpoints of certain people who have decided to remain latched to certain beliefs despite the fact that society is rapidly evolving all around them.
This should go without saying, but some people seem to fail to realize it. The reality is that Miss America's are complex human beings. Despite wearing a tiara and traveling across the nation for a year promoting their causes, they have emotions like the rest of us. Some are liberal, others are conservative, middle of the road, deeply political, apolitical etc... She should not be expected to harbor a particular ideology or to solely represent just one segment of the population.
There are some on the political right who need to realize that not every Miss America is going to be devoutly religious or necessarily be feverishly patriotic. There are others on the political left who need to come to the realization that not every single woman who decides to participate in the Miss America Pageant or any pageant is a person crippled with low self esteem, has limited intellect., entrenched with a hyper intensive level of narcissism, lacks a social conscience, is shallow or being manipulated by a sexist culture. It is probably safe to say that all of the Nation's Miss America winners have embodied characteristics that can be found in all of us. In short, they are human.
Elwood Watson is a professor of History African American Studies and Gender Studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the co-author of There She Is, Miss America:The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant (Palgrave MacMillan)