Friday, June 08, 2018

Miss America, Beaches, and Modesty

I am not a fan of beauty contests. I don’t watch them when they are broadcast. I had always thought they were demeaning to women for a variety of reasons. Most of which have to do with presenting them as objects of physical beauty. The bathing suit competition in recent years has become more revealing than ever.  Making the contestants even more objectified than in the past. But this week something strange happened that not only reversed that trend, it has stopped it on its tracks.

The grand-daddy of them all, the Miss America Pageant will no longer feature the  swimsuit competition.

If there was anything more symbolic for these kinds of contests than women wearing swimsuits, I can’t imagine what that would be. Beauty contests have always been seen that way. All that other stuff was just filler for TV. People that watch beauty pageants don’t really care how talented a contestant is, where she goes to school, what her ideals are or what her plans for the future are. Those contests are really all about looks – despite all the PR about being much more than that. It really isn’t.

But - no more. Not only that, but women of all sizes and shapes will be considered for the competition as well. They will be judged more on accomplishment and character. (Not sure how that will play with viewers – but that is beside the point.)

I believe this is one of the positive offshoots of the #Metoo  movement which has exposed the massive degree of sexual misconduct going on in our world. I guess officials realize that western civilization’s obsession with the female body might just be part of the problem.

The argument about male self control being the real problem... and that women who dress in sexually provocative ways have the right to do that without being harassed or assaulted is legitimate. But that does not make the male libido any less functional. Men react to what they see. That most of us can control our impulses and behave under such conditions does not mean that it disappears. Nor does it mean that all of us have the same degree of morality, ethics, and self control.

When mental health professionals dealing with sexual abuse say that sex abuse is about power, not sex- they are only half right in my view.  True, powerful men that are ethically challenged can create opportunity and use it to their advantage. But I don’t think it can be denied that their sex drives are involved. Constantly being exposed to that kind of cultural conditioning makes it more likely for them to act on those impulses.

Which is what President Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky. And what Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein; Shlomo Carlebach and Meir Pogrow did to dozens of women. In their cases I think a lot of it can be traced to the hyper-sexualized culture in which we live. All of those men were exposed to this culture. Their libidos were working in overdrive conditioned by it and they used their positions of power to act on it.

This is not to say that there aren’t cases where culture may not have generated sex crimes. Unfortunately there are plenty of examples of that too. There are a lot of people that are not as exposed to the culture - and are even isolated from it - that are just as guilty of sex crimes. Their sex crimes are no less egregious based on a hyper-sexual appetite whereby their positions of power enabled them to act on it. Nechemya Weberman and Eliezer Berland come to mind. It is just that it wasn't the culture that generated the hyper-sexual appetites in their cases.

But I don’t think you can discount the role of an overly sexualized society in the majority of cases.
Which I think is what is at least partially behind this extraordinary move by Miss America Pageant officials.

Which brings me to another issue.  From the San Francisco Chronicle
NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City Council member says he will sponsor gender-segregated beach days for his Jewish and Muslim constituents this summer — a plan opposed by the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Councilman Chaim Deutsch announced the first-ever "Southern Brooklyn Beach Day," hosting separate dates for men and women.
"I have a lot of Orthodox Jewish and Muslim constituents in my district who have never been able to go to the beach before," the Democrat told the New York Post . "They've never been able to smell the beach, to walk in the sand. Everyone should be able to enjoy the beach.
Deutsch said he is raising private funds to cover the cost of taking over the beach for two days at Kingsborough Community College, which sits next to popular Manhattan Beach.
The beach would normally be closed on both Fridays since the college doesn't have summer classes that day.
Under his plan, June 29 would be set aside for men and boys from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and July 27 would be reserved for women and girls during those hours. 
In my wildest dreams, I could not imagine why this would be a problem for anyone. But it is for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union): 
"What chutzpah," said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman, employing the widely appropriated Yiddish-based term for audacity. "People don't have the right to impose gender discrimination on a city beach simply because it's mandated by their religion."
"It is one thing for the city to provide reasonable accommodation for religious practice and quite another to limit the public access of everybody else," said Lieberman. 
I - might - see her argument if religious people were the only ones benefiting from it. But in light of the societal shift away from objectifying women I do not believe that religious people will be the only ones taking advantage of this accommodation.

Ms. Lieberman calls Councilman Deutch’s plan the height of Chutzpah. I believe the reverse is true. It is the height of Chutzpah for her to deny citizens the opportunity to use a facility in ways that makes them more more comfortable. A plan that calls for renting a beach that is normally closed on those days.

If that isn’t religious discrimination, I don’t know what is. Besides, I’m sure that there are plenty of people – both men and women that do not feel comfortable going to a beach where so many women are almost totally undressed. Nothing to do with religion for those people. I’ll bet there are a lot of women that will appreciate this opportunity.

One would think that the Miss America Pageant’s seismic shift away over exposure of the female skin is reflective of a change in the direction of America’s obsession with that even for those that are not religious. Furthermore, enabling people that are otherwise denied an opportunity at the beach to actually enjoy it on days where it is otherwise closed –rented from the city with private funds should not violate anyone’s civil rights. It would be a win/win for all. All - that is but the ACLU.