Opinion: The new Miss America’s compelling take on domestic violence

Miss America 2015, New York's Kira Kazantsev, waves to the crowd after getting her crown. Domestic violence questions and answers figured front and center in the competition.
(Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

To tell you the truth, I’d completely forgotten there still is a Miss America pageant.

I was reminded by news accounts of pageant judge Kathy Ireland asking Miss Florida an inept question that we once would have categorized as “have you stopped beating …” well, you know.

Ireland asked about the video of NFL star Ray Rice cold-cocking his future wife in an elevator, and her staying with him. Ireland asked, “As a woman, what do you think of her decision?” Miss Florida wisely answered the question Ireland should have asked — about Rice himself. “I don’t necessarily believe that he deserves a second chance,” she said in part.

It fell to the new Miss America, Kira Kazantsev, to speak more compellingly about it. Domestic violence is the cause she chose for herself, partly because of an abusive relationship in college.


She hadn’t then known about help available to women like her, and even if she had, she told NPR, “That’s not the mind-set that you’re in when you’re in that situation. You just feel alone.… You don’t feel like anyone could possibly understand.”

“I want people to stop asking, ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ Every woman is an expert in her own case, and there are so many extenuating circumstances that lead to a woman staying with her abuser.”

The right question is not “why does she stay?” but “why does he do it, and how can he be stopped?” As the new Miss A remarked, “In the United States, the justice system is driving the getaway car for abusers.”

This year’s contestants were also asked about beheadings by Islamic State militants, and college and military sexual assaults. It’s strong stuff for the pageant and a vast improvement from, say, 1960, when, as Frank Deford wrote in his book about Miss America, contestants were so carefully noncontroversial that one said with a straight face that she couldn’t decide who was better looking, Richard Nixon or John F. Kennedy.


So good on you, Miss A. Keep it coming. All that remains is this: When “the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women” no longer makes scholarships dependent on looking glamorous on national TV in a swimsuit and high heels — or, as it’s called, “lifestyle and fitness in a swimsuit” — I’ll gladly join it in calling it a “scholarship program” and not a beauty pageant.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes