Rebecca, Gloria Steinem and I applaud you. I will point out that in order to be a contestant for Miss America, a young lady needs to be between the ages of 17-24. So while this old married lady actually was married at the ripe old age of 22, the average age of marriage in this country is older than 24 which could be why you don’t see more married women beating down the doors of the competition. That said, the fact that my husband made an honest woman out of me at such a young age should not prevent me from strutting my stuff in the pageant. The size of my stuff, however, is more likely my barrier to entry.
The fact is that the Miss America pageant–and really every beauty pageant–seems steeped in what now seem like a completely politically incorrect endeavor–the entire industry is essentially devoted to leering at a girl in a bikini. For those of you who think that Miss America is about more than beauty, I dare you to tell me the talent of Miss America 2009. The fact that it doesn’t seem unsavory to stare at any woman, but only unsavory to stare at the half naked body of another man’s wife is in itself a throwback. But since female chess matches don’t make for good tv ratings, the pageants will go on.
Don't put a ring on it...
I do think you’ve hit upon a really interesting issue: why is it that a pageant is able to get away with such obvious age and marital status discrimination? Under the law, an employer cannot discriminate on the basis of age or marital status in making a decision about interviewing, hiring, or promoting any applicant. So the first issue is whether or not the ability to participate in the Miss America Pageant is, in fact, a job application. I would argue that it is; becoming Miss America confers a title on a person who receives money from the pageant management in exchange for the completion of duties. Hard to see how that doesn’t qualify as employment.
As for whether or not allowing entrants ages 17-24 constitutes age discrimination, I’d say it does not. First, it’s not everyone who is protected by age discrimination prohibitions–only employees or applicants ages 40 and over. And since I don’t see a lot of 40 year olds (myself included) actually applying for the title I’d say it’s a non-issue. Additionally, I think there’s some argument that no one wants to see the 40+ crowd strutting around in a bikini so I’m comfortable with the argument that the age range is actually a bona fide occupational qualification for the job.
But back to your point: what’s marital status got to do with it?
How is it legal for the Miss America Pageant to discriminate against women who are married? Ultimately, I think that it isn’t legal.
The problem is that in order to file a discrimination lawsuit, you actually have to have standing to do so. And by standing, I don’t mean standing around in a bikini and high heels. I mean legal standing–a vested personal interest in the case. So until the next Leona Gage comes along–a woman who actually is a valid Miss America contestant harmed by the discrimination on the part of the pageant–and is willing to take up the case, the rules will likely stand until either the pageant management realizes the error of its ways or the EEOC steps in (which seems unlikely given its already overburdened caseload and complete lack of popularity already).
Perhaps Gloria Steinem was onto something, though. Maybe if we rename it the Ms. America Pageant, we wouldn’t have silly rules about whether or not someone who has committed herself to another should have the right to strut her stuff in a bikini and high heels while twirling a baton and whistling Dixie.
Intern Rebecca here, with thoughts on Miss America…
Bye, bye Miss American Pie...
A bit of sad news flew in today from LaLaLand: Former Miss America Leona Gage died Saturday at the age of 71. It’d be nice to say her legacy as Miss America died with her, but unfortunately that passed merely one day after Leona was rewarded the title.
For those of us who are hazy on our Miss USA trivia, Leona, posing as a single virginal woman in 1957, was in fact on her second marriage and mother to two children while competing for the crown. News of her scandalous life leaked soon after she stepped up to the throne, and Leona was promptly told to step back down, then run far, far away and never return.
53 years later, not much has changed – married women are still not allowed to compete for the title of Miss America. Divorced women? Sure. But married is out of the question. (The logic here baffles me. If you don’t uphold your wedding vows, you’re somehow more “wholesome” and living up to the Miss America “Character Criteria” better than a woman who is married and committed to her husband?)
Even though the pageant is currently flailing through the cable-time continuum, and even Mario Lopez can’t seem to save it, there may be a married women or two out there who’d like to compete. Or, Heaven forbid, a woman who’s been working her whole life to be Miss America, but who would also like to marry her boyfriend.
Isn’t there anything women can do? Can we somehow legally call for change to this seemingly archaic contest?
Intern Rebecca gave us a lot to think about when she asked her questions about the rights of roommates and issues of privacy.
Here’s Amy’s response to her questions…
Rebecca, I applaud your fearlessness. No one–NO ONE–has taken the side of the posters. Honestly, I had never even thought of a single justification for their actions, which they probably saw as a prank until the tragic happened.
The question I think we need to ask when we assign a level of culpability is: could they have foreseen that their actions would lead to so terrible an outcome? And should forseeability be determined by what a reasonable adult would be able to foresee, or what a thoughtless 18 year old would foresee. And of course, ultimately the question comes to the one people are not asking: is there something that the victim would see as more shameful in the fact that the sex was homosexual?
I think ultimately the heterosexual posters could not have forseen the shame that the victim would feel when he discovered that his sexual orientation was out in full view of the blogosphere. Until sexual orientation discrimination–the last bastion of legal discrimination–is wiped out I think that we need to be more sensitive to those who are persecuted. So ultimately I disagree with you; I think that if we need to teach sensitivity by punishing those thoughtless enough to post the sexual antics of their unsuspecting roommate on line, so be it.
We couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce a new voice to the So Sue Me blog, and that’s the voice of Rebecca Bohanan, a brilliant grad student at New York University, attending the Dramatic Writing program on a Tisch Fellowship for the Arts. Rebecca received her BA in Screenwriting from Chapman University in Orange, CA. This summer, she biked 700 miles down the West Coast, and she’s just now mustered enough courage to attempt bicycling through the streets of Manhattan. Rebecca regrettably, or perhaps luckily, doesn’t have much experience with the law… Except for her ongoing lawsuit against Justin Timberlake, for his failure to recognize her contribution in bringing sexy back.
As you’ll see in the coming weeks, Rebecca’s a big thinker — she’s not just posing to look pretty in the New York Public Library (that happened purely by accident… and because happens to be a stunner) — so we’ve asked her to give her opinion on various legal stories that are making news. She’ll introduce subjects and the Epstein sisters will occasionally jump to add other opinions and/or legal responses. The thoughts and ideas Intern Rebecca presents here will be her own and won’t necessarily reflect what Amy or I believe, which is to say feel free to cheer her, argue with her and retweet her musings, but don’t assume because it’s on this blog that it’s legal advice we’re giving to you. (And if that sounds like a disclaimer, yep, b-i-n-g-o.)
So without further ado, Rebecca Bohanan:
Intern Rebecca here, with some tricky questions on college roommates.
As a second year grad student, I’ve spent the last six years living with people who aren’t my immediate family. There have been great times, and there have been frustrating times – like the time I bought a pack of Oreos, only to come home to find the empty packaging in the trash, or the time my roommate borrowed my car, only to crash it (equally as upsetting at the Oreos).
Possibly the most trying situation, however, was a year I refer to as SEXGATE 2006 – The Raging Hormone Hootenanny. Long story short, my roommate (and former friend) liked to have sex with her boyfriend while I was in the room. Didn’t matter if I was doing my homework, socializing with my own friends, or even sleeping. At a reasonable hour. Like 4 AM. Nothing fazed this girl!
We had many chats with each other, and with our RA, but nothing ever changed. It’s a free country, I’m told, so I guess people are free to have sex whenever they want? Or isn’t there something in the law that protects roommates from having their space infringed upon by unwanted sex?
My confusion over my legal rights came rushing back to me this week when I heard the heartbreaking story of Rutgers college freshman Tyler Clementi. The 18-year-old committed suicide after his roommate streamed video of Tyler and another male having sex live to the Internet. Twice! Tyler left a message in a chat room, saying, “I don’t want to report him and then have nothing happen except him getting pissed at me.”
I understand exactly how Tyler felt, and, though I do not in any way want to defend his actions, I can also feel a little bit for Tyler’s roommate, Dharun Ravi. When you leap head first into the real world, without much guidance on “adult issues,” it can be hard to know what’s right and wrong, what you’re entitled to and what you’re not. If you’re sharing a room with someone, each of you should be able to have sex in your room whenever you want to… right? Or is it that no one can have sex? Or what’s the difference? And when things get complicated, who can you really turn to for help, when campus RA’s can’t do much?
Certainly one should never ever turn to streaming live to the Internet, but what can you do when you feel a stranger in your own home, either from invasion of privacy or invasion of sex?
A proud day here at SSMJ! Amy is consulted by one of her longtime heroes, Randy Cohen (yes, that’s right, the New York Times’s Ethicist), in his column today. Here’s the story…
A family member, who owns a small business, and his sole employee took out life-insurance policies on each other. The employee left the business about 10 years ago, but my relative still keeps up the insurance on him, something the ex-employee does not know. I think this is unethical; my relative thinks I am “hard-nosed and narrow-minded.” You? M.T., KIRKLAND, WASH.
Illustration by Matthew Woodson
Listen to the Podcast
The former employee should be told about this arrangement, but if he consents to it and your relative does nothing to hasten his death — no inviting him over for nightly steak-and-fried-egg dinners washed down with a quart of heavy cream and a pack of Marlboros — I see no problem.
State insurance laws vary, according to Amy Feldman, a lawyer I consulted, but “key employee” policies like the original arrangement you describe are generally permitted — “to protect a company from the financial losses that would result from the death of a key player,” she says. Feldman adds that “there is nothing illegal about continuing to pay premiums on the policy after the employee departs.”
What the law usually forbids, Feldman says, is insuring a random passer-by, when the temptation to reach for the heavy cream might prove irresistible: “Insuring a total stranger who may or may not have any redeeming qualities for all you know tips in favor of murder when you begin to consider how much better off you’d be without said stranger walking this earth.”
Perhaps that’s why your relative’s actions feel ghoulish. He has a stake in his former employee’s hasty demise: he’s betting on it. The quicker the ex-employee keels over, the fewer monthly payments your relative must make, the more he profits. Life-insurance companies are in the converse situation: the longer a policyholder lives, the more money the company makes. It would be great if there were immortality potions or rather elixirs just shy of that: no death, no need for life insurance.
Feldman notes that the prohibition on insuring a stranger “doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from his death.” She cites viatical settlements, the purchasing of the benefits of a life-insurance policy from someone still living. This was debated, starting in the late 1980s, when some AIDS patients made such deals. They immediately gained desperately needed cash; purchasers of the policies eventually scored a big payout. Happily, improvements in AIDS treatment and greater access to health care have reduced, at least somewhat, the sad urgency of those transactions.
We’re approaching wedding season, kids, and that means one thing: our mother’s fingers will again start tapping the kitchen table wondering when one of her daughters will finally make her proud. But it also means that divorce lawyers are about to get 50% busier if statistics are to be believed.
He loves me not...
Well Amy and I have a fun little piece about pre-nuptial agreements today on wowOwow, a fantastically cool website that’s worth checking out even if we were not featured today.
Here’s just a little teaser. More, as they say, after the jump:
Traditionally, in exchange for getting to dress up in a fancy white gown and walk down the aisle to become Mrs. Him, it was the doting bride who was asked to sign a prenuptial agreement, considered by many to be a skittish groom’s James Bond-like marital ejector seat. If he wanted out, the prenup easily and elegantly allowed him to bail from the wreckage with his satchel full of money intact. But these days women are frequently coming into marriages with more than their loving — if less financially secure — grooms. Across the United States, 22 percent of wives are out-earning their husbands, which means the assets in need of greater protection are those swaddled in white tulle… [To keep reading about this and the divorces of famous people, click HERE]
In our last week as Bintel Brief gurus, we abandon any pretense that we’re giving legal advice and instead harness our inner Dear Abbys to help a letter writer with confidence issues…
Dear Bintel Brief,
When I was growing up, and throughout college, I would characterize myself as a pretty confident person. I felt excited by the world, and all the possibilities in it; almost nothing seemed impossible. But a couple of years out of school, and into the working world, my faith in my own abilities has diminished. During meetings at work, for example, I’m often silent — having convinced myself that whatever question I ask or statement I make will sound silly to my colleagues. Where I used to see possibilities, I now see limitations, and that’s holding me back. What should I do to become a confident person (and therefore, a happy person) once again?
YEARNING FOR MY OLD SELF
Despite the fact that neither of us Epstein sisters has ever been much for athletics, we are about to throw a few sports metaphors and a pep talk your way, so let’s get ready to rally!
Okay, the first thing we need to remind you of is that even though you’re older now, anything is still possible. Likely you’re capable of making more things happen now than when you were just a little pisher, so don’t let your puppy dog sense of self trump the adult that you’ve become. Remember, you’re living in the Land of the Second Act, which is where all the good stuff happens anyway. And if you’re a former celebrity you get at least two more acts beyond that and a trashy reality show documenting your fall and recovery. But the true reality is, the only thing that changed between the salad days when you believed you could accomplish anything and today is your perspective (and okay, maybe a pants size or two.)
Don’t misunderstand, we know that feeling like you have limitations can be crippling, but what’s actually holding you back is the feeling itself, not your abilities. So here’s where we encourage you to “get your game face on.” Confidence — and the sense of self-esteem you project to others — is what people like your co-workers will respond to. They’ll respect views and comments that are spoken with authority. You may feel like it’s not the greatest idea or the best proposal, but guess what? Simply by stating it with confidence will make it sound sexy. Self-doubt gives off a stink and everyone in the room can smell it. That’s why it’s critical to believe in yourself and if you can’t do that, then make like a porn star and fake it.
When athletes face teams with better records, they don’t just throw in the towel and ride the bench till the time runs out. They get themselves into a mind set where they believe they can win then they go out and give it their all. Those athletes, like porn stars, fake it till they make it, too. In case you were wondering, yes, there’s definitely a Tiger Woods reference in here somewhere… But the same holds true for everyone. Self-defeatism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy so just by conning yourself into the belief that you can achieve things, believing in the value of your ideas and contributions, that’s how you start to make things happen again.
Now sometimes we forget how to be our own cheerleaders, and sometimes we can’t even remember which race we want to run. We find ourselves running on the treadmill we hopped on years ago because it was there in front of us, not necessarily because it was a road we would have taken if all paths seemed open to us. Maybe the reason you’ve lost confidence is because you haven’t fully committed to the career in which you find yourself. So here’s your assignment: Go buy a journal. Start out on your first page detailing the interview Oprah will have with you when you’ve achieved your goal. Figure out what the accomplishment is that you’d be most proud to tell her about, and then write it down as if it’s already happened. Explain in detail how you got to your goal, and what you will do with your success now that you’ve achieved it. Have fun with the assignment and you will see that as you let the words flow, you will begin to refine your dream and your path to get there until it is achievable. Continue writing entries to refine the steps you will take, and write them down as you check them off until you get to your goal. One more thing: Don’t be embarrassed. Brag! This is your private space to express your dreams in a no judgment zone. Once you know what you want to do and have a roadmap of how to get there, you will find that your joy will return.
And perhaps needless to say, that’s something we state with confidence. Go you!