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THERE SHE IS, MS. AMERICA

Miss America pageant officials beat a hasty retreat from a decision to drop requirements that contestants have never been married or pregnant after it became known and produced an avalanche of criticism from state chapters, some of which threatened to defect from the annual event.

Robert L. Beck, CEO of the Miss America Organization, said the idea behind changing the rules was to bring the pageant into compliance with New Jersey's anti-discrimination laws. The pageant notified state chapters of the changes last month, telling them their representatives would have to sign the new contract in order to participate in Saturday's 79th annual Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

Some state chapters went to court to fight the edict. In an out-of-court settlement, the pageant agreed not to require contestants to sign the new contract. In return, the National Association of Miss America State Pageants agreed to withdraw its request for an injunction against the national organization.

Beck indicated the matter hasn't been settled permanently. He said that the pageant's board of directors decided to table discussion of the matter until after this year's event and will then discuss it with state pageant directors. Given the general downward slide of such things as marriage, the military, politics, movies that chant the F-word as if it were a mantra, television (which is not just a prime-time but a most-of-the-time sewer) and even the Disney product, it's amazing Miss America has held out this long.

This year's hosts are Donny and Marie Osmond. If the revisions go through, next year's host might be RuPaul. Drag queens and those who have had sex-change surgery might be eligible to compete. Why not, if there are no standards?

We are so rapidly defining decency down that what used to embarrass us is now accepted. What once was "your ideal" is now embarrassing to some. An ideal is defined as "a standard of perfection, beauty or excellence . . . often taken as a model for imitation." Virginity and self-control are now mocked in an era when Cosmopolitan magazine encourages young women to have sex anywhere, any time with anyone.

What's wrong with one institution holding out for a standard that will not only benefit women who adopt it for their own lives, but whose winner can often be expected to proclaim it as beneficial for the general good? Does anyone believe we have too few divorces and not enough abortions? Is there no room for an ideal, a standard to which young girls can aspire? Does the Miss America pageant want to send the message that there is no moral difference between virginity and promiscuity, and that marriage is just one of several relationship choices, but is not necessarily to be preferred to any other?

This year's Miss West Virginia, Lucy Ours, summed up the objections of those who want to keep the old rules: "The most important thing Miss America does is she's a role model. If she's been married and divorced by age 24, people might not look at her as a very good role model."

Lucy Ours doesn't understand the intent of the proposed revisions, which are not about ideals but about making everyone feel good. Test scores are being adjusted so that people can't fail. Some have suggested that no score should be kept in athletic contests so that participants would never feel the sting of losing. Some teams get awards just for showing up, thus diminishing the value of the hard work it takes to win.

If the Miss America pageant insists on imposing its new rules starting next year, it will also have to change its name. "Miss" means "a young, unmarried female who is representative of the thing indicated." If divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion are not only representative of America, but what we want America to be, then perhaps a more accurate title would be "Ms. America."

Bert Parks must be spinning in his grave.

Los Angeles Times

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