Steven Ivory

*Last week the Miss USA Pageant presented official pictures of  contestants in lingerie under the theme, “Waking Up in Vegas.”  That same week in Pomona, California, a troupe of seven  and eight year-old girls  in  barely-there outfits made headlines dancing  provocatively to Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies.”  

Uncanny coincidence? More like a sad sign of the times. In an age where man routinely lives in space, on earth women still can’t catch a break. In the 21st century, the exploitation of women is as systematic and shameless as it has ever been in any period of time.  

The Miss USA organization didn’t even bother to deny its pandering.  On the morning TV new shows, its president, Paula Shugart, gloatingly admitted the media wouldn’t be talking about the pageant if it weren’t for the racy photos; she appreciated the exposure, no pun intended.

Donald Trump, who has a financial stake in both Miss USA and Miss Universe contests, insisted the black and white photos   of  entrants  in various stages of undress, were “art.” The images, he said, “Push the envelope.”  

Hardly.  Women wear less in fashion magazine ads. To be fair, based on what we’ve come to accept in popular culture, the photos aren’t a big deal. It’s just that you don’t expect  contestants of Miss USA–which, despite the  swim suit competition, has  long claimed the pageant celebrates the intelligence and emancipation of women–to be scantily clad in photos designed to portray waking up half dressed and alone in a hotel room, presumably after a night of all-liberating,  shackle-breaking…sex?

It all seems a tad hypocritical on the part of Trump and company.  Last year the organization terminated the contract of   Miss California 2009/Miss USA 2009 runner-up Carrie Prejean  (who took heat for saying she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman), because of  a past that included a  sex tape–a real version of  what the “Waking Up In Vegas” photos emulated.  It wasn’t disclosed whether  Prejean returned the five grand the Miss California organization fronted her for breast implants.  

I’m probably reading too much into the Miss USA photos. Those images very well could be how those women look after a torrid night curled up with  “The Tipping Point.”  As Miss USA officials kept harping, these young women weren’t required to pose for the photos, they CHOSE to–as if  a mere willingness to participate is the difference  between personal empowerment and centuries-old, institutionalized objectification.

However, unlike those Miss USA contestants, the seven and eight year-olds in the dance troupe weren’t allowed the opportunity to grow up and decipher the distinction and make the choice to perform like this before an audience or, as it turns out, a camera; some irresponsible adult teacher/choreographer made that decision for them.  

I saw three different  TV news stories featuring the dance troupe.  Each time they teased the segment,  I’d get up for it.  I phoned people and told them it was coming on. I took more interest in watching that footage than I should have.  

But I was fascinated: car-wreck curious that BABIES who know nothing about men and sexuality and the myriad of emotions that go along with all that,  could move with such passion  and subtlety, accordingly.  I wondered what was going through their  minds as they did some of the more provocative moves.  I wondered what provoked the teacher. And I wondered what the hell the parents were thinking.  

And what were these impressionable  little girls so suggestively shimmying to?  “All The Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It),” which, to these innocents, is a tune from “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel,”  but to adults is Beyonce’s  anthemic taunt  to men, on behalf of single women, to either propose marriage or suffer the consequences of having other men pursue them.  

It’s been said that money makes the world go ’round. While love might compose its axis, Single Ladies the world over, whether divorced, or brand new to the game,  make the planet rotate.  All that running–to and away from men, forever in pursuit–that’s what makes the world go around.  And in the meantime, man exploits woman and woman exploits woman.

A man on the street asked a TV reporter if the little girls didn’t know what some of the moves suggested, then where is the harm? My answer would be that whether or not the kids know, WE know.  As adults, we know what those moves symbolize; we know the trouble those moves got us into. Let babies be babies. They’ll be Single Ladies soon enough.  

Steven Ivory’s book, FOOL IN LOVE (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) is available at Amazon.com (www.Amazon.com).  Respond to him via [email protected]