How to Win a Beauty Pageant

CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
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Afia Ofori-Mensa
[email protected]
King Building 141E
Office Hours:
Tuesdays and Thursdays
12:00 – 1:00 pm
And By Appointment
How to Win a Beauty Pageant
Race, Gender, Culture, and U.S. National Identity
Comparative American Studies 240 / African American Studies 240
This course counts toward the GSFS major.
Fall 2010
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:30 – 2:50 pm
Course Description
In the past couple of years, beauty queens have appeared with increasing regularity in mainstream U.S. media. Tara Conner‘s frequent
partying and underage drinking were highly publicized when they almost lost her the Miss USA crown in 2006. The following year, Miss
South Carolina Teen USA‘s 30-second response about Americans and maps grew to such heights of popularity that it became one of the
most watched YouTube clips of its time. Last year, pageantry intersected with electoral politics, as debates arose around Miss California
USA‘s response to an onstage question about same-sex marriage in the wake of the passage of California‘s Proposition 8. And in recent
months, Rima Fakih‘s crowning as the first Arab American immigrant Miss USA drew criticism from conservative bloggists who
questioned her abilities to represent the US.
Since the Miss America Pageant began in 1921, the popularity of beauty pageantry in the United States has ebbed and flowed. In that time,
hundreds of other pageants have sprung up around the country, each with its own title and its own kind of claim on representative
Americanness. This course examines that history, from the 1920s through the present, by focusing on a variety of pageants—from Miss
America and Miss Universe to Miss Black USA and Miss India Georgia—and key moments in 20th- and 21st-century pageantry.
The aim of this course will be to use pageants as our case studies to understand the changing identity of the United States of America over
time. We will travel through U.S. pageant history by decade, considering contemporaneous cultural happenings and applying relevant
academic theories. Our investigations as a class will also consider what it takes to win a pageant and how notions like ―beauty,‖ ―poise,‖
―fitness,‖ ―the full package,‖ and ―the girl next door‖ relate to concepts of race, gender, class, sexuality, and nation. In addition, we will
learn about cultural studies methodology, including literary close reading, cultural history, critical discourse analysis, and ethnography, and
use those methods to ―read‖ beauty pageantry intellectually, as a pop culture phenomenon that tells us stories about ourselves.
CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
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Course Objectives
To engage in productive conversations inspired by common texts
To synthesize readings, videos, and ethnographic experiences with/in classroom conversations
To understand how to make and follow through on an academic argument in writing
To look critically at things in your world, which seem common or frivolous, as sites for understanding privilege and oppression
The requirements in this course are designed to be manageable so that you can finish them completely and on time, and arrive at each class
session fully prepared to engage in productive conversation. Our class is a teaching-learning community. That is not to say that I am
exclusively the teacher and you are exclusively the learners. Instead, we all come in with different experiences and various perspectives on
the course material. So your presence and participation, both as a listener and as a vocal contributor, are necessary for everyone else to
learn. It is not possible to build a community of trust and learning if the population of that community is always in flux. Because of that, I
expect you to be at every class session.
Laptops, cell phones, and iPods are not allowed out in class.
Attendance at every meeting of our class is absolutely mandatory.
That said, I know that we all exist outside the classroom and that things sometimes happen to us that are outside our control. So if you
need to be out one day for some dire, unchangeable reason, get in touch with me about it in advance. In addition, if you ever need to be
absent, you must make an appointment with me to discuss one-on-one in office hours the text(s) relevant to the missed class
Office Hours
Office hours are an integral part of this course. They are times when you can ask for help with any concepts from readings or lectures that
you don‘t quite get, seek guidance in advance of turning in graded assignments, talk to me about any future interests of yours that may be
relevant to the course (or to American Culture in general), and give me an opportunity to get to know you and your individual style and
needs better. You are required to attend office hours at least two times this semester, once within the first couple weeks of the class and
again at the middle of the term, after Fall Break, to discuss your progress and participation in the course.
CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
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Capstone: Miss Gay America Pageant
This course includes a mandatory field visit to the Miss Gay America 2011 Pageant at the Lifestyles Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio on
Sunday, October 17. There will be three written assignments associated with our trip.
Research Questions
An annotated list (2 pages) of questions you will draft in advance of the field visit. The questions are designed to help you synthesize
knowledge you have gained up to that point from course readings and lectures, and to use that knowledge to guide your participantobservations during the field visit. Due Monday, October 4 – Friday, October 8, 2010.
Field Notes
Notes you will submit, based on jottings you made during the Miss Gay America 2011 Pageant, that describe your observations during the
field visit. Due Monday, October 18 – Friday, October 22, 2010.
Miss Gay America Ethnographic Essay
An essay (3-5 pages) in which you choose a topic relevant to our experiences at the Miss Gay America 2011 Pageant and analyze that topic
together with course readings and lectures. Due Monday, November 15 – Friday, November 19, 2010.
A research paper (5-7 pages), group presentation, or video in which you develop a pageant of your own—including title, eligibility criteria,
rules, judging criteria, and prizes. Your pageant design should identify a community you are attempting to construct or define, give some
background on that community, and describe a rationale for articulating that particular group identity within the context of the United
States of America. Presentations and videos due Tuesday, December 14 and Thursday, December 16, 2010. Papers due Sunday,
December 19, 2010.
We‘ll talk about grading on the first day of class. These are the basic guidelines:
You earn an A or A- if you do everything you are supposed to do outstandingly.
You earn a B+, B, or B- if you do everything you are supposed to do well.
You earn a C+, C, or C- if you do everything you are supposed to do.
You earn a D+, D, or D- if you do not do everything you are supposed to do.
You earn an F if you do not do most or any of what you are supposed to do.
CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
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I take plagiarism very seriously. I have also found that it is not always clear to students what constitutes plagiarism. To clarify that, you
should take this very helpful quiz at Indiana University‘s website: To
familiarize yourself with Oberlin‘s Honor Code, which has bearing on plagiarism and other issues of academic integrity, you should go to: An incident of plagiarism initiates procedures that no one wants to go through—not
you, not me, not the administrators. So avoid all that by using the resources above to understand what plagiarism is and, most importantly,
by giving yourself time to come to me for help if you need it, well in advance of when an assignment is due.
If you need accommodations for any sort of physical, psychiatric, or learning disability, please talk to me about it the first time we meet
during office hours. Also, I encourage you to contact the Office of Disability Services in Peters G-27/G-28 (440.775.5588 or, if you have not already done so. If something unforeseen comes up during the
semester—like injury, debilitating illness, or clinical depression—please let me know so that we can discuss arrangements for appropriate
Comparative American Studies 240 / African American Studies 240 Fall 2010 Readings
The readings are available via links on our course Blackboard site. Books with chapters that appear on this syllabus are also available to
borrow on reserve for limited periods of time at Mudd Library.
American Experience: Miss America.
Miss India Georgia.
Miss Navajo.
Week 1: Introduction
Thursday, September 9
Read Before Class
Cohen, Colleen Ballerino, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje. ―Introduction: Beauty Queens on the Global
Stage.‖ Beauty Queens on the Global Stage: Gender, Contests, and Power. New York: Routledge, 1996. 1-11.
Thursday, September 9
American Experience: Miss America. Part I.
CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
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Week 2: The 1920s
Tuesday, September 14
Read Before Class
Hamlin, Kimberly A. ―Bathing Suits and Backlash: The First Miss America Pageants, 1921-1927.‖ In “There
She Is, Miss America”: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant, edited by Elwood
Watson and Darcy Martin. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004. 27-51.
Thursday, September 16
Read Before Class
Bordo, Susan. ―The Body and the Reproduction of Femininity: A Feminist Appropriation of Foucault.‖
Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing. Alison M. Jaggar and Susan R. Bordo, eds.
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989. 13-33.
Week 3: The 1930s
Tuesday, September 21
Read Before Class
Craig, Maxine Leeds. ―Ain‘t I a Beauty Queen?: Representing the Ideal Black Woman.‖ Ain’t I a Beauty Queen:
Black Women, Beauty, and the Politics of Race. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 45-64.
Thursday, September 23
Read Before Class
King-O‘Riain, Rebecca Chiyoko. ―Japanese American Beauty Pageants in Historical Perspective.‖ Pure Beauty:
Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. 59-73.
Week 4: Performativity
Tuesday, September 28
View In Class
Thursday, September 30
Read Before Class
Butler, Judith. ―Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions.‖ Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of
Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999. 163-180.
Week 5: The 1940s
Monday, October 4 –
Friday, October 8
Miss Gay America Pageant Research Questions Due No Later Than 5:00 pm in Afia’s Mailbox
Tuesday, October 5
Read Before Class
Banet-Weiser, Sarah. ―Miss America, National Identity, and the Identity Politics of Whiteness.‖ In “There She
Is, Miss America”: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant. Watson and Martin. 67-92.
CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
Thursday, October 7
Read Before Class
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Dyer, Richard. ―The Matter of Whiteness.‖ White: Essays on Race and Culture. London: Routledge, 1997. 1-40.
Week 6: How to Study a Beauty Pageant
Tuesday, October 12
Read Before Class
Emerson, Robert M., Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw. ―In the Field: Participating, Observing, and Jotting
Notes.‖ Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. 17-38.
Thursday, October 14
Read Before Class
Emerson, Robert M., Rachel I. Fretz, and Linda L. Shaw. ―Writing Up Fieldnotes I: From Field to Desk.‖ In
Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes. 39-65.
Sunday, October 17
1:00 pm – 12:00 am
Miss Gay America 2011 Pageant Field Visit, Lifestyles Auditorium, Columbus, OH
Week 7: The 1950s
Monday, October 18 –
Friday, October 22
Miss Gay America Pageant Field Notes Due No Later Than 5:00 pm in Afia’s Mailbox
Tuesday, October 19
Read Before Class
Lim, Shirley Jennifer. ―Contested Beauty: Asian American Beauty Culture During the Cold War.‖ A Feeling of
Belonging: Asian American Women’s Public Culture, 1930-1960. New York: New York University Press, 2006. 121154.
Thursday, October 21
Read Before Class
Klein, Christina. ―Sentimental Education: Creating a Global Imaginary of Integration.‖ Cold War Orientalism:
Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945-1961. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. 19-60.
Week 8: Fall Break
CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
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Week 9: The 1960s
Tuesday, November 2
View In Class
American Experience: Miss America. Part II.
Thursday, November 4
Read Before Class
Craig, Maxine Leeds. ―Standing (in Heels) for My People.‖ Ain’t I a Beauty Queen: Black Women, Beauty, and the
Politics of Race. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. 65-77.
Week 10: The 1970s
Tuesday, November 9
Read Before Class
Wu, Judy Tzu-Chun. "'Loveliest Daughter of Our Ancient Cathay!': Representations of Ethnic and Gender
Identity in the Miss Chinatown U.S.A. Beauty Pageant." Journal of Social History, 31.1 (Fall 1997): 5-31.
Thursday, November 11
Read Before Class
Kozol, Wendy. ―Miss Indian America: Regulatory Gazes and the Politics of Affiliation.‖ Feminist Studies, 31.1
(Spring 2005): 64-94.
Week 11: The 1980s
Monday, November 15 Friday, November 19
Miss Gay America Pageant Ethnographic Essay Due
Tuesday, November 16
Read Before Class
Banet-Weiser, Sarah. ―Bodies of Difference: Race, Nation, and the Troubled Reign of Vanessa Williams,‖ The
Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press,
1990. 123-152.
Thursday, November 18
Miss Gay America Ethnographic Essay Workday. NO CLASS.
Week 12: The 1990s
Tuesday, November 23
Read Before Class
Awkward, Michael. ―Representing Rape: On Spike, Iron Mike, and the ‗Desire Dynamic.‘‖ In Negotiating
Difference: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Positionality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. 95-136.
Thursday, November 25
Thanksgiving Day. NO CLASS.
CAST/AFAM 240 Syllabus
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Week 13: The 1990s
Tuesday, November 30
View In Class
Miss India Georgia.
Thursday, December 2
Read Before Class
Lieu, Nhi T. "Remembering 'The Nation' Through Pageantry: Femininity and the Politics of Vietnamese
Womanhood in the Hoa Hau Ao Dai Contest." Frontiers, 21.1-2 (2000): 127-151.
Week 14: The 2000s
Tuesday, December 7
View In Class
Miss Navajo.
Thursday, December 9
Read Before Class
Nez Denetdale, Jennifer. ―Chairmen, Presidents, and Princesses: The Navajo Nation, Gender, and the Politics
of Tradition.‖ Wicazo Sa Review, 21.1 (Spring 2006): 9-28.
Week 15: The 2010s
Tuesday, December 14
In Class
Final Group Presentations and Videos
Thursday, December 16
In Class
Final Group Presentations and Videos
Final Exam Period
Sunday, December 19
Final Written Assignments Due No Later Than 4:00 pm in Afia’s Mailbox
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