The Miss America Pageant, which was held last night, always sparks a great deal of conversation about whether or not the event and title are relevant to modern American culture. While I disagree with those who find the pageant offensive - primarily because the contestants are consenting adults who have chosen to take part - I agree the pageant is out of touch.
To me, the very essence of the Miss America Pageant is intended to be about excellence. The Greek word "Arete" conveys this concept perfectly. But, the modern pageant system is still modeled on virtues that no longer fit our actual culture. So, I propose the following changes to the Miss America Pageant, so that it seeks young women who embody the concept of Ideal American Womanhood. A similar competition should also be designed for young men. Other than these changes, I would leave the pageant the way it is. The evening wear, interview, and talent portions of the competiton would be unchanged.
However, I would add the following:
1. Every contestant would take a timed standardized test - possibly the ACT or SAT - that covers the battery of knowledge Americans are supposed to learn in high school. The test would include an essay portion, just like the current ACT/SAT. Every student's score would be factored into the overall competition score.
2. Accomplishments Section. Every contestant would submit a list of accomplishments outside of the pageant circuit, which an independent firm would verify, and the judges would assign point values to be figured into the overall score. Accomplishments could be things like routinely working with charities, holding a part-time job for more than a year, winning non-pageant competitions and awards, etc...
3. The biggest change I would make is to replace the swimsuit competition with an athletics competition. Every contestant would compete in a triathlon (remember, we are looking for the ideal of American Womanhood). This would add a whole new level to the pageant competition, and limit the field to those who are not only beautiful, but in excellent physical condition. The results of the triathlon would be figured into the overall score.