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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

SCATHING BEAUTIES

I find it depressing that there have been only two choices for defining women for so long; Madonna or whore. The exception, of course, is Madonna, who has made a career out of playing the whore. But the social definition of womanhood for the last two hundred years has remained Queen Victoria. She took the throne in 1837 and made such an impression that ever since women have been forced into one of two boxes marked either “saint” (like Victoria) or “tramp” (un-like Victoria). Aphrodite was not so neatly compartmentalized, and neither were the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome. And no more, it seems, is Miss USA. Could we have reached a tipping point in the evolution of the feminist movement?The Assyrians first recorded a female deity associated with Aphrodite more than 4,000 years ago. The Phoenicians liked her so much they transported her to Greece via Cyprus and from there the Romans adopted her, although they changed her name to Venus. She was the goddess of love, both of the mind and of the body, but mostly of the body. During the festival of Aphrosdisia, when ritual prostitution was practiced, having sex with the high priestess of the temple was a sacred act; which must have made their church fundraisers a lot more popular than a Lutheran ice cream social. It may sound odd to modern ears, but parents in ancient Greece would have been proud to learn that their daughters had been accepted into the priesthood. At least the were learning a marketable trade.At the other ancient extreme were the Vestal Virgins of Rome, charged with maintaining the ritual “fire of Vesta” which protected the city. But even they were only required to remain virgins for thirty years. In return they got the best seats at the coliseum and they were the only women in Rome who could own property and vote. On the down side, if convicted of a sexual indiscretion they would be thrown in a tomb with some water and pomegranates and left to starve to death in the dark.In 394 A.D. the newly Christianized Emperor Theodosius I odered the Vestals out of their temple and put out their light. But that was not quite the end of them. At some point Theodosius’ niece, Serena, slipped into the deserted temple and stole a necklace from a statue of Rhea Silvia, the mother of Romulus and Reamus. Out of nowhere an old virgin appeared and, in a scene any graduate from a Catholic school can imagine, laid such a curse on Serena that she had nightmares for years. Worse, the curse seems to have taken. In 409 A.D. Serena was sacrificed in a desperate attempt to placate the angry Vesta. It did not work, and shortly thereafter the Goths burned Rome to the ground. It may be sacrilegious to point out, but Rome had never been so completely destroyed before the Christians came along.And then came Victoria; the epitome of virginal motherhood, who gave birth to 9 children and outlived her husband by 40 years. In fact she was spoiled, stubborn and demanding and as governed by superstition as she was by religion. As Queen she fashioned herself after Heathcliff from Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights”, but I find her more like Lady Honoria from Dickens’ “Bleak House”, arrogant, conceited and obsessed with her own reputation. When Prince Albert died in 1861 Victoria’s widowhood established Victorian morality as the cultural norm; absolute and contradictory, just like its namesake. The only problem was most women are not widows.But recent events seem to offer a hint that perhaps custom is shifting, and the mileposts of this shift may be the outcome of scandals involving two Miss USA winners, one in 2006 and the second in 2009.
The Miss USA pageant was created in 1950 to fill the desperate need of not enough women wearing swimsuits and high heels in public. Specifically the problem was neo-feminist Miss Yolande Bethbeze who refused to pose in a bathing suit after winning the Miss America pageant that year.
In response to this “Women have brains and are not simply sex objects” foolishness, Miss USA contestants are not required to display a talent of any kind, and to wear swimsuits as often as possible, preferably while wearing high heels.
It was thus inevitable that billionaire pseudo-personality and creepy old toupee head Donald Trump would buy the pageant in 1996; which, a decade later, would make 17 year Dallas teenager Tara Conner, Donald’s problem. Tara Connor won the Miss USA tiara on April 21, 2006. By December the grinding schedule of personal appearances and swimsuit wearing combined with Tara’s approaching 18th birthday, drove her to partieee.
On December 14th the New York Daily News, that bastion of morality on the Hudson, published a photo of an obviously plastered Tara Connor swapping spit with Miss Teen USA, Katie Blair. There were also reports that Tara had been sneaking men up to her apartment in the Trump Tower, specifically Katie’s boyfriend. This raised the question of Tara’s virginity, and Katie’s too. The idea that teenagers, with their young firm bodies and raging hormones might be stupid enough to drink and be sexually adventurous was so unprecedented that Mr. Trump felt his personal tower had been belittled.
Miss Connor had her tiara publically removed and was forced to enter rehab and make a public apology for endangering Mr. Trump’s investment in her. And she was prohibited from ever again appearing mostly naked in public while representing Donald Trump’s tower.There were tears and drama and cleansing of the soul and forgivness from the father confessor, The Donald.
Clearly, Miss USA might look like a high priced hooker, but professionally she was to remain a virginFlash forward to 2009 when, Miss California, Carrie Prejean, was asked on stage if same-sex marriage should be legalized. She still had to display no talent, and in fact showed no talent in answering this question. And that, some have alledged, is why she lost the competition. But I can not imagine such a question being asked of a Miss USA five years ago. I can not imagine such a question being asked of Yolande Bethbeze . I cannot imagine why anyone would want the answer to such a question from someone whose work clothes consist of a wearing a bikini and high heels. The response from Donald Trump would be just as valid. And I certainly don't consider him qualified to pass judgement on gay marraige, either.In fact I was more interested in the Donald’s reaction as expressed on “The View”, where the tower himself said the controversy was actually a good thing for his tower; “No one is talking about the young woman who won. Nobody knows who she is.”
She is Kristen Dalton of North Carolina and she is now the paid Vestal Virgin of Mr. Donald Trump. The toupee went on to say, “We went back and added up the scores, and she (Carrie Prejean) would not have won anyway.” Does that remark seem a little “catty” to you? Cause it sure does to me.It seems to me that somewhere history has taken an unexpected turn, at least in America, and a turn which would have amused Aphrodite and maybe Queen Victoria, too. Somehow it seems that where we were talking about women, we are suddenly talking about gay men. And does that mean that talking about the sexual definition of straight men can be that far beyond? But that should not be a surprise. We have been talking about tramps and Queens, and we all fit into those categories, one way or another - often at the same time.

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