“What’s Missing in Miss America’s Response”

The Miss America 2014 Top 15 Semi-Finalists (Picture Originally from http://www.pageantprofessors.com)

A Tale of Two Debates

Last week, social media exploded after the Miss America Pageant. Users complained either how terrible feminists were or how terrible Miss America’s answer was. But what was actually said?

Miss Nevada was asked the following question:

Recently Time Magazine said 19% of U.S. undergraduate women are victims of sexual assault in college. Why has such a horrific epidemic been swept under the rug for so long, and what can colleges do to combat this? [1]

Miss Nevada Nia Sanche replied with this statement:

I believe some colleges may potentially be afraid of having a bad reputation, and that would be a reason that it could be swept under the rug because they don’t want it to come out into the public, but I think more awareness is very important so women can learn how to protect themselves. Myself as a fourth degree black belt, I learned from a young age that you need to be confident and being able to defend yourself, and I think that’s something we should start to implement for a lot of women. [2]

Miss Nevada Nia Sanche (Picture originally from http://www.dailymail.co.uk.)

6 Things to Consider

There were various, emotional responses to what Miss Nevada Nia Sanche said. Some people supported and defended her, while others were outraged. Social media exploded with countless posts and comments based on Sanche’s two sentences. Here are six things to consider:

1. Under Pressure

During question time of the Miss America Pageant, perhaps the contestants feel pressured or put on the spot. They get nervous, they say stupid things, or they don’t think their argument all the way through.

Additionally, these women are probably not members of the debate team; they don’t have the time to go into the depth needed for these issues. Would you ever hear “I defend this position because of Reasons A, B, and C. Oh, and here are Counterarguments 1, 2, and 3 and all the reasons why those ideas are indubitably incorrect”? Probably not.

2. Money, Money, Money—Isn’t Funny

Self-defense is a good thing. Martial arts would be great for all women to take. But it’s expensive. Who is going to pay for self-defense classes?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “About half of all rape victims are in the lowest third of income distribution; half are in the upper two-thirds.[3] Working class women, including single mothers and women with lower income, would need child care, compensation for the hours missed from work, or both. However, even if free classes were provided on a weekend or later in the evenings, who would pay for those classes? And how would attendance be enforced?

Providing self-defense classes on college campuses are a complex issue. Even if a class is offered, some students may not be able to afford the additional costs to take the class. The costs for student loans, textbooks, food, car insurance, gas, and ever-increasing tuition take a huge chunk out of a student’s pocket. Also, the student may not have the time to take the credits, especially if the student is trying to graduate early.

Could universities and colleges all provide free self-defense classes? Sanche stated she had a fourth degree black belt—something that takes great skill but also a lot of time. How effective would one self-defense class be? Would there need to be a series of free classes?

Just stating that women need self-defense leads to more questions and issues that would need to be resolved. It is not a simple solution.

And change can happen. Unfortunately, rape occurs. But all of us can work on decreasing those numbers. Educating men and women can affect change.

3. Women Are Human, Too

The “that raped woman is someone’s mother, sister, daughter” technique isn’t working.

Obama is reported to have said, “We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence.”[4] Because of this statement, Obama was criticized for using the “Father-Knows-Best,” outdated rhetoric. Many people, including our president, have used this language. That needs to change.

Some women are sisters. Some women are mothers. Some women are daughters. But all women are human. Because we are human, both men and women should be treated respectfully.

Bernini, “Il Ratto di Proserpina” (“The Rape of Proserpina”)

4. Change: An Education

Many Twitter users were furious with Sanche’s response, claiming that she encouraged rape culture or was telling men that it was okay to rape. Others responded that rape has occurred since the beginning of time and will continue to occur, following the “boys will be boys” mentality.

But can’t we still push for men not to rape? People are often confused about what counts as rape or when it is okay. In America, we are obsessed with sex, but never really want to talk about it. Parents need to be better at communicating with children, both male and female, about sex and rape. There ought to be more open discussion in schools and colleges about rape.

5. Understanding What Counts as Rape

When does rape occur? Rape occurs if a male physically holds down a woman and forces her to have sex with him or if a man forces any type of non-consensual sexual relations. It still counts as rape even if any of the following occurs:

  • He spent a lot of money on her.
  • He is so turned on he thinks he can’t stop.
  • She previously had sexual intercourse with other men.
  • She is stoned or drunk.
  • She has any mental disabilities.
  • She lets him touch her above the waist.
  • She is going to and changes her mind.
  • She has supposedly led him on.
  • The man is sexually stimulated.
  • They have dated for a long time.
  • They are engaged.
  • They are married. [5]

Mad Men, “The Mountain King” (Season 2 / Episode 12) After repeatedly saying no, Joan is raped by her fiancé.

6. The Facts

Rape is not an issue about whether it’s good or it’s bad. But many people don’t realize that rape is not just physical assaults. Rape involves additional issues, such as the mentality about, objectification of, and violence against women. Rape is about power and control, not love and understanding.

But rape doesn’t always occur when a woman is attacked on her way home from work. There’s date rape, and if a woman is unconscious, knowing martial arts isn’t going to help her.

Often, the survivor of rape culture knows the rapist, whether it is a boyfriend, husband, lover, coworker, family member, etc. For example, “Of female rape or sexual assault victims in 2010, 25 percent were assaulted by a stranger, 48 percent by friends or acquaintances, and 17 percent were intimate partners.”[6] Approximately two-thirds of rape survivors know their rapist. Survivors are often manipulated and must deal with scarring emotional trauma.

The age of raped survivors varies. Of course, rape on campus is a huge problem. But rape survivors include underage women: “5% of sexual assault and rape victims are under age 12; 29% are age 12-17; 44% are under age 18; 80% are under age 30; ages 12-34 are the highest risk years.” [7]

Rape isn’t always reported: “The FBI estimates that only 46% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported to the police. U.S. Justice Department statistics are even lower, with only 26% of all rapes or attempted rapes being reported to law enforcement officials.”[8]These hard facts are horrible but true.

 So What’s Missing?

What’s missing from Miss America’s response—and the responses of many social media users—is that we need more education, more encouragement for survivors, more prevention, more access for recovery, more understanding, more open communication, and more opportunities to fight this terrible injustice. Being sensitive of the struggles that these women suffer is vital for communication to happen.

People often trivialize rape culture. They don’t understand it—they don’t even try. Pause before a statement is blurred by frustration or ignorance. Some of us may not be able to empathize entirely with what’s it’s like to be a rape survivor. But we can and must try to understand.

Let’s talk together, listening and opening our hearts without judgment and hate. Make survivors feel like they are heard by recognizing rape culture as a complex, emotional experience that real humans suffer.

Let’s talk to survivors, not tell them what to do.

Let’s talk.

For More Information:

Listed originally on http://www.feminist.com, the following websites list valid statistics about abused women:



[1](See http://www.ijreview.com/2014/06/145792-feminists-spew-scorn-miss-usa-pageant-winner-self-defense-stance/)

[2](See http://www.ijreview.com/2014/06/145792-feminists-spew-scorn-miss-usa-pageant-winner-self-defense-stance/)

[3](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)

[4](See http://www.salon.com/2013/02/13/stop_calling_us_wives_and_moms/.)

[5](See http://www.fearus.org.)

[6](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)

[7](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)

[8](See more facts and statistics athttp://www.feminist.com/antiviolence/facts.html.)




13 thoughts on ““What’s Missing in Miss America’s Response”

  1. I think at the heart of this matter, the crux that should be focused on in this exact instance, is that this was a beauty contest, not a Mensa test. Everyone knows rape is wrong. Society is focusing on something that is totally irrelevant to that contest.

  2. I don’t put any stock into the Miss American pageant. Although it’s come a long way from what it was back in the 60s and 70s, I deplore setting up women to think they must be beautiful in order to be intelligent, interesting and worthwhile. What any of the contestants have to say on any subject is bound to be tarnished with whatever might get her crown. It’s all a show, nothing else.

  3. While I understand what Miss Nevada was trying to say and I do think that it can be difficult to talk under pressure, in front of millions of people, I definitely think that her answer could have been much better, and in some ways I do think that it is a damaging idea to put out there. To me, the fact that men succeed in raping and/or sexually assaulting women isn’t the only issue. Even if 100% of women took a self-defense class and were successfully able to fend off their attackers, it would STILL be a problem that men were attempting to sexually assault women — even if their attempts were unsuccessful. People who promote the idea of women taking self defense classes seem to think that as long as potential victims are able to get away before the attacker is able to successfully complete the crime, then all is well and there is no harm done. But why should women be living in a world where they HAVE to take self defense classes in order to not have their bodies and rights violated in the first place? There’s a reason that “attempted rape” and “attempted murder” and even “attempted robbery” are crimes — because it’s not the completion of the act that makes it a crime, it’s the fact that the attacker is attempting it at all.

    Also, I think that the self defense notion generalizes and simplifies rape into the common notion of a hooded stranger popping out from a dark alley and forcing himself on a woman. This the is the concept of rape that people prefer to have because it makes it seem more distant, like something that only terrible, scary men in dark alleys do. In reality, the vast majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows — often a friend or significant other. They occur in apartments, dorms and at parties. There isn’t always explicit violence involved, in which the attacker physically holds the victim down or holds a knife to their throat. Simplifying the narrative of one in which women are physically attacked and therefore self defense classes would help prevent rapes does nothing to actually get to the root of the problem and it also stifles the experiences of millions of women (and men) who did not experience this type of “stranger in a dark alley” type of attack.


  4. Sorry, I know my last comment was really long, but I just wanted to note something else really quickly — rape doesn’t only happen if a male “physically holds down a woman and forces her to have sex with him.” Rape includes any type of non-consensual sex.


  5. Sorry, but there are no excuses for her ignorant comment. It is never the rape victim’s fault for being unprepared. It is the fault of the creep who commits the crime. The whole blaming the victim thing is getting old and needs to stop. Furthermore, as the lesfemmesvoice said, rape is not always a physical violence and thus mutes the point of being “prepared” for it.

  6. Amazing blog! I think that self-defense courses are helpful for everyone, but should never be cast / advertised as a solution to / prevention of rape. (And I’ve taken those classes, they don’t make you an action hero by any means.) Let’s please focus on teaching all people not to rape and abuse.

  7. Interesting blog, and I know you’re relating it to Miss Americas comments, and that the statistics for women being raped are very high, but I’m not sure where you’re going with point five. I also know that I’ll sound like I’m a Male Rape Apologist by saying the following, but when you’ve written “Rape is about power and control, not love and understanding.”, it’s hard not to:
    It’s not just men who rape.
    The myth that men always want sex, so women do not have to force themselves on men is as sexist to women as it is to men. We live in an age where women are free to go out with who ever they chose, dress how they want, drink as much as they want, but for some reason they can’t force themselves on guys? Male erectile response is involuntary, and if Cierra Ross pointed a gun at my head I’m pretty sure my wife would understand what happened.
    Western society is changing, yet social standards say men want sex all the time, end of.
    Perpetuating the myth that all men want is sex means men can no longer pay a woman a compliment without it being seen solely as them wanting to have sex, rather than him actually agreeing with her that she looks good in what she’s wearing (I’m not a fan of the Miss World competiton, that’s my opinion. If the contestants want to do it, that’s theirs). That the only reason he would want to converse with her is to chat her up, rather than because of her intelligence. A woman can hug a woman, she can hug a guy, but if a guy hugs a woman it’s unwarranted sexual contact.
    I often joke that if Jane Austen novels where written now, the love interest wouldn’t lean in for a stolen kiss, but get her to sign written permission that she consents to the kiss. That will probably be the follow up to Senate Bill 967, and soon we’ll all need to sign waivers before giving our spouses a hug, in case we’re causing sexual harassment.
    Using power and control over someone else for sexual gratification is wrong. Intimate Partner Violence is wrong. Given most rapes are carried out by people the victim knows, discussion should be the greatest defense, before aggression, but sadly self defense is still needed for both genders.

  8. I thought the post insightful and brought to mind that I too have often allowed misconceptions and misunderstandings lead me to a quick judgment without knowing all the facts. To me,vocal responses of the kind such as those who already probably rail against anything that objectifies us as women don’t seem to realize that rushing to judgment without knowing the whole story objectifies all of us, regardless of race, creed, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. It also leads to people wanting to disown parts of their own humanity in the name of political correctness.and being accepted by their peers.

  9. Really deep and insightful thoughts…different people have paradoxical views about this serious issue and its prevention but the focus should be on reorientation of the image of women so that the issue is dealt at grass root rather than fighting over the ways to achieve the same….
    Thanks for following my post…:-)

  10. Beauty pageants(sorry..scholarship pageants) are trying to appear “feminist” by asking these loaded questions. In the end, it’s still a beauty pageant with women being objectified. Miss America will never speak for the average woman.

  11. It was a beatuy contest for Christ’s sake. Cut the girl some slack. She wasn’t speaking for the entire nation, just stating her opinion. Beauty contests are in themselves subjective, as in “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” It’s a good thing they didn’t ask her which beans give people the most gas. Then we’d had all the folks who enjoy Pintos, Navy, Great Northerns, Limas, and every other variety up in arms (or possibly other body parts).

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