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LOOKING FOR MISS AMERICA

DREAMERS, DISSIDENTS, FLAPPERS, AND FEMINISTS—A PAGEANT'S 100-YEAR QUEST TO DEFINE WOMANHOOD

A cleareyed look at an iconic beauty pageant and its efforts to stave off irrelevance.

The Miss America program heads toward its second century still trying to shed its image as a “leg show” or “cheesecake with a side of culture.”

Journalist Mifflin offers a lively and probing appraisal of a pageant that will observe its centennial in 2021. Drawing on research that includes interviews with former Miss Americas from different eras, this well-balanced account shows that while the program has helped many contestants envision futures beyond their hometowns, it has always had unsavory aspects at odds with its organizers’ efforts to invest it with a wholesome image. The most egregious of these, formally adopted in 1940 and in effect until the 1950s, required contestants to be “in good health and of the white race.” Fresh troubles hit in later decades as feminists’ protests and expanding women’s rights made the program look out of touch. Organizers tried to adapt by killing the swimsuit competition (2018) and having each contestant choose a “social issues platform” to promote (1990). Still, the TV ratings tanked, the number of entrants plunged, and the pageant CEO was forced out after emails surfaced showing that he had “slut-shamed” contestants. Perhaps the most disturbing fact in this book is that since 2007, entrants have had to engage in what Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998, calls “pay to play.” Each contestant “must raise a minimum amount—by soliciting donations—to compete,” and while some of the proceeds go to children’s hospitals, much of it goes to pageant scholarships, so that “contestants themselves have funded 85 percent of Miss America’s scholarships.” Mifflin relates all of this without descending into ridicule or screed and with a keen sympathy for both the costs and benefits to entrants. Whether fans or foes of Miss America, few readers will see the pageant in the same way after finishing this book.

A cleareyed look at an iconic beauty pageant and its efforts to stave off irrelevance. (16-page color insert)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64009-223-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: April 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A JEW

An important dialogue at a fraught time, emphasizing mutual candor, curiosity, and respect.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

Two bestselling authors engage in an enlightening back-and-forth about Jewishness and antisemitism.

Acho, author of Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, and Tishby, author of Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, discuss many of the searing issues for Jews today, delving into whether Jewishness is a religion, culture, ethnicity, or community—or all of the above. As Tishby points out, unlike in Christianity, one can be comfortably atheist and still be considered a Jew. She defines Judaism as a “big tent” religion with four main elements: religion, peoplehood, nationhood, and the idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world through our actions”). She addresses candidly the hurtful stereotypes about Jews (that they are rich and powerful) that Acho grew up with in Dallas and how Jews internalize these antisemitic judgments. Moreover, Tishby notes, “it is literally impossible to be Jewish and not have any connection with Israel, and I’m not talking about borders or a dot on the map. Judaism…is an indigenous religion.” Acho wonders if one can legitimately criticize “Jewish people and their ideologies” without being antisemitic, and Tishby offers ways to check whether one’s criticism of Jews or Zionism is antisemitic or factually straightforward. The authors also touch on the deteriorating relationship between Black and Jewish Americans, despite their historically close alliance during the civil rights era. “As long as Jewish people get to benefit from appearing white while Black people have to suffer for being Black, there will always be resentment,” notes Acho. “Because the same thing that grants you all access—your skin color—is what grants us pain and punishment in perpetuity.” Finally, the authors underscore the importance of being mutual allies, and they conclude with helpful indexes on vernacular terms and customs.

An important dialogue at a fraught time, emphasizing mutual candor, curiosity, and respect.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9781668057858

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon Element

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2024

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BEYOND THE GENDER BINARY

From the Pocket Change Collective series

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change.

Artist and activist Vaid-Menon demonstrates how the normativity of the gender binary represses creativity and inflicts physical and emotional violence.

The author, whose parents emigrated from India, writes about how enforcement of the gender binary begins before birth and affects people in all stages of life, with people of color being especially vulnerable due to Western conceptions of gender as binary. Gender assignments create a narrative for how a person should behave, what they are allowed to like or wear, and how they express themself. Punishment of nonconformity leads to an inseparable link between gender and shame. Vaid-Menon challenges familiar arguments against gender nonconformity, breaking them down into four categories—dismissal, inconvenience, biology, and the slippery slope (fear of the consequences of acceptance). Headers in bold font create an accessible navigation experience from one analysis to the next. The prose maintains a conversational tone that feels as intimate and vulnerable as talking with a best friend. At the same time, the author's turns of phrase in moments of deep insight ring with precision and poetry. In one reflection, they write, “the most lethal part of the human body is not the fist; it is the eye. What people see and how people see it has everything to do with power.” While this short essay speaks honestly of pain and injustice, it concludes with encouragement and an invitation into a future that celebrates transformation.

A fierce, penetrating, and empowering call for change. (writing prompt) (Nonfiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-09465-5

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Penguin Workshop

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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