Sex, the Church, and Miss California: Women’s Lib and Beauty Pageants

meatcutsI graduated from high school in 1972, the first class not to have a draft number. It was the age of hippies, war protesters, and assasinations. And women’s lib.

The Equal Rights Amendment was in the headlines daily, and the struggle was for women to have equal pay for equal work. The Equal Rights Amendment never passed, but sex discrimination in employment was banned by the Civil Rights Act, and other gender distinctions were eliminated by numerous changes to state laws by legislatures and courts. Alabama, for example, eliminated nearly all gender distinctions as to property rights during the 1970s.

And by the standards of the 1970s, I’m a feminist. That is, I believe women should receive equal pay for equal work and should be hired for whatever work they qualify for. I distinctly remember that when my wife got her first job after college (as a CPA), she was paid less than men of equal or lesser qualification. You see, many of the firm’s clients wouldn’t allow a woman to audit their books. She passed the CPA exam on her first try. And we really could have used the money she didn’t get paid.

Many of the women who graduated with me from law school in 1978 faced severe discrimination — often from judges — but they battled through it. Women getting their first jobs today have no idea of the debt they owe to the women a generation older.

And in those days of rapid, radical change, women’s liberation popularized the image you see at the beginning of this post. It’s a woman marked for carving as though she were a side of beef. The message was supposed to be that women should not be judged as sex objects — for just their bodies. Indeed, there was a time when a man had to be careful about complimenting his date on her figure — because we men were supposed to be attracted by her mind rather than her body. (Yes, really.)

While I was in college, I remember reading an editorial in a college newspaper by a college woman declaring her pleasure with the fact that the college women were all wearing blue jeans and tee shirts (sweat shirts in the winter), so that the rich and poor looked much the same. Times have changed.

I enrolled at David Lipscomb College in 1972, and one of the prettiest girls in the freshman class was named Cindy (I think. It’s been a really long time.) She was a Nordic blond with hair cascading down her neck in ringlets. And when the sororities social clubs invited the freshmen girls to join, she joined what was obviously the wrong club. You see, the girls clubs sorted the girls out by physical attractiveness just as surely as if the men had scored them 1 to 10.

This was shortly after the movie “10” and the 1972 summer Olympics with Olga Korbut. One day, a bunch of guys set up a table at the cafeteria line and held up cards with numbers scoring the girls walking through the lunch line 1 to 10 as though they were judging the Good Looks Olympics. They got in BIG trouble. And yet the girls sorted themselves out by looks, too, as they were invited to join one social club or another. And Cindy should have been in the club with the prettiest girls (every school has one).

But Cindy joined the club filled with the passed-over girls. The ones with bad complexions, or who weighed too much, or who had bad teeth. And for the rest of her time at Lipscomb, there was beautiful Cindy (a solid 10) in amongst her less-than-10 friends. But, you see, her beauty wasn’t in her ringlets. In was in having Jesus’ heart, because if Jesus had been a girl, that’s the club he would have joined.

In the 1970s women wanted to escape being judged by their bodies — as mere sex objects — but today the women’s liberation movement has radically changed. Rather than seeking a higher, nobler ideal, the question has been rephrased in terms of power — women should not give men the power to decide how they’ll be viewed or how they’ll present themselves. Thus, true liberation is being whomever you wish to be. And if you wish to be a sex object, well, if that’s your decision, you go girl!

Therefore, rather than being about self-improvement, it’s about self-actualization, defined as autonomy. You can be a pole dancer or a nun. It’s all good so long as it’s you. In Christian terms, women’s liberation has descended into the degradation Paul speaks about in Romans 1.

(Rom 1:24)  Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

We see the change reflected in the popular culture. TV and movies are fascinated by pornography stars, strippers, prostitutes, and lesbians, seeking to change our perceptions of these images to be normal. But mistresses are never praised or normalized. You see, prostitutes can be envisioned as using men (not true, but that’s the image), whereas mistresses are plainly being used by men. They don’t get paid.

All of which brings me to beauty pageants. In the 1970s, beauty pageants were badly out of fashion. They were often picketed. Participants were seen as allowing themselves to be viewed as mere sex objects. After all, in contests such as Miss USA, the only question was how pretty the girl looks in a swimsuit or evening gown. (Miss America was seen as a little less degrading because the contestants had to have a talent in addition to runway and swimsuit skills.)

And I bought the arguments. I thought women should be viewed as much more than cuts of meat, and so I’ve been opposed to beauty pageants my entire adult life. I don’t attend them, and I don’t watch them on TV.

But then, I’m the father of four boys. I have no daughters, and so I’ve never had to deal with a daughter wanting to participate in her school’s beauty walk. Do they do beauty walks anywhere else? Around here, the public schools have learned that people will pay money to see their daughters, granddaughters, and sisters stand on stage in evening wear — thereby raising money for their schools. This sometimes happens at the middle school level, even.

One of my sons was invited by a middle school girl to watch her in her school’s beauty walk, and he came home afterwards explaining how degraded he felt, with middle school girls dolled up to be viewed as, well, cuts of meat. He was particularly disturbed that there were older men there with cameras taking photos of middle school girls they were plainly not related to. I’d never shared my antipathy toward beauty pageants with him until then, but we had a good talk about the whole thing and how he really should judge girls.

Now, whenever I discuss these concerns with women, well, it gets ugly fast. I suggest that girls shouldn’t be taught that their value is in their looks, and their mothers look at me with that “This does not compute” look. They can’t even process the concern. I mean, of course girls should be taught that beauty matters. It does! And in modern society, it really does. (Does anyone think the newswomen on FoxNews and CNN get their jobs based on some other criteria?) But does that mean we should encourage this attitude? Or that we should encourage our daughters’ to build their self-esteems on their looks?

It’s just as true that height matters. Tall men tend to get promoted faster and make more money than, well, men like me. Should we have height pageants?

So maybe I’ve just not caught the new feminism wave yet. Maybe society is actually teaching our daughters good, healthy Christian lessons about who they really are. Maybe our mothers and daughters know exactly how Jesus wants them to see themselves. And maybe our sons are being taught to correctly view women by all this. Maybe.

But when I read about the hooking up culture on college campuses, where college boys and girls have casual sex with no commitment, I have to figure that someone is telling our daughters that they should allow themselves to be prostituted by boys, and telling our sons that it’s okay to use women. Right? And where did they hear that message?

Now, the tough question is this: does encouraging a culture where girls are valued on their beauty and men are encouraged to evaluate girls on their beauty encourage men to see girls as sex objects? and encourage women to see themselves as sex objects?

It’s my view that it’s the nature of the male to equate beauty with sexuality. Men are visually stimulated, much more so than women. I doubt that most women realize how arousing visual stimulus is to the man. I mean, there’s a major pornography industry doing nothing but producing visual stimuli for men — and there’s not one for women. Not really. Men and women are just different in this respect. And most women have no idea how a man views a seductively dressed girl.

Therefore, mothers and daughters often don’t realize how they are seen by men. Put a girl in a bikini on stage, and her mom thinks she’s “cute.” The men think she’s “hot,” meaning sexually stimulating. Therefore, if I had daughters, we’d probably struggle quite a lot over these things. I mean, I just don’t think you can, consistently with Christian values, present yourself on a stage where the entire goal is to be objectified. It degrades our daughters, our sons, and our society — even if the pretty young thing is opposed to gay marriage.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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16 Responses to Sex, the Church, and Miss California: Women’s Lib and Beauty Pageants

  1. Carolinagirl says:

    Interesting entry for the day. I'd have to agree. I've a niece and her family overseas who are involved with mission work. I remember a conversation in which her husband and my niece have decided to put their daughter in one piece bathing suits from the beginning. I've no issue with that. Recently I noted a picture of the family at the beach. My niece and my great niece were both in one piece, modest swim attire. Sad that my niece's husband was shirtless. Talk about a double standard.

  2. Rich says:

    I attended an all engineering college in the late 70's. My class was the first to have about 20% females (3 times the national average). The olympic judges were in our lunch room, also.

    Discrimination based on looks happens with men as well. Several studies associate pay with height (more) and weight (less).

  3. Jerry Starling says:

    Is it possible that in a visceral way Carie Prejean reacts against homosexual marriage as against a competition for sexual notice and attention, which she cannot win?

    For a beautiful girl to be shut out of the sexual attention that comes her way could be a real blow to her own self-image.

    This has been a great series. I'm saving all of the posts in a single document that would form a good basis for study in a class of teen-agers or young married couples! (Or even some grandmas!)

  4. Jbo says:

    You hit it on the head when you talked about visual stimulation and how most women just don't understand the power it has on a male. I have a wife, two daughters, had six exchange daughters (female dog, female dog, and female bird). For the most part, they have no clue. They just don't fully appreciate the fact that what they wear causes men to make a discernment concerning what kind of person they might be. There were times when my girls looked at me like I had two heads when I tried to explain to them why they shouldn't wear that outfit or that swim suit. We really do, in a large sense, live in two different worlds.

  5. Larry Short says:

    Jacob wanted Rachel, not Leah because she was beautiful. God gave lots of strong sons from the second choice including Judah (kings & Messiah) and Levi (Moses & priests). Perhaps He was teaching Jacob a lesson.

  6. I am confused. I am hearing what I think are contradictory messages.

    (1) Women are not sex objects.
    (2) Women take care what you wear.

    Item (2) used to be the first question in rape cases. What was she wearing? Was she putting out signals saying she wanted sex?

    Please help me hear here.

  7. Jay Guin says:


    Lust is a sin. Therefore, it's a sin to tempt others to lust. The fact that a woman might tempt men to lust does not excuse his lust. But neither does the fact that the man has a choice not to lust excuse the woman from tempting him.

    Christian women do not have the right to dress immodestly. Christian men do not have the right to lust after women, whether or not they are immodest.

    There is no contradiction. Rather, it's all about love. If a woman loves the men in her life, she'll not want them to sin through lust. If a man loves the women in his life, he'll not view them as mere sex objects, nor would he want other men to view her that way. Nor would he want her to tempt them to do so.

  8. Zach Price says:

    Jr. Miss has no bikini contest and is graded Academics->interview->talent->physical fitness (they do an aerobics routine to see how tired they get)->on stage question.
    Jenny's sister won this pageant/"scholarship program" and i'm pretty sure i would have remembered it a lot more if there was a beauty component like bikini, so they aren't all bad.

  9. Zach Price says:

    oh the grading was in order of most weight to least

  10. Chloe says:

    Hey, I’m a teenage girl, and I completely agree with what you’re saying. Beauty does matter, but it is disturbing how much we judge each other by appearance and teach ourselves to accept it. I have always disliked beauty pageants.

  11. abasnar says:

    Now, the tough question is this: does encouraging a culture where girls are valued on their beauty and men are encouraged to evaluate girls on their beauty encourage men to see girls as sex objects? and encourage women to see themselves as sex objects?

    You answered this question yourself – and in a very good way, Jay. I think there is a pressure coming from culture. My brother once referred to a story from the Fiji-islands in Bible study. He said before TV arrived on these Pacific isles, women were a bit rounder, but all in all content. But when they became confronted with the veauty standards of society things changed rapidly: depressions, dieting-competition …

    Isn’t it intersting that women dress beautifully not so much in order to please men but to gain the approval of other females? Probably that’s why men “need” the bigger cars: Not to impress women but first of all to have something to boast about at the bar. But in fact both goes hand in hand.

    As David Bercot in a speech on modesty and cosmetics once pointed out: “The only man that sees a woman without make-up is probably her husband.” So for whom is she painting over her God-given natural beauty then? Think it through: God made us in His image and all His works are marvelleous. Is there anything we can do to enhance the beauty God has given us? Can we improve God’s work?

    This is a very intersting question, because culture urges us to conform to ever changing and ever frutrating standards, while God invites us to find peace in Him. To please Him, we have to show the beauty of our inner being – He is not impressed by gold, jewels, fancy clothes, elaborate hairstyles and make up (see 1Pe 3:3). Therefore these things become a distraction in our pursuit of God.

    I wonder how often Christian sisters are encouraged to let go of the worldy race for sensual beauty, how often they are told that God made each one of us beautiful and that we should not hide His glorious work behaind thick layers of paint – nor profane the pure beauty by following the dress codes of harlots.

    When we just accept the culture we live in as something we must live by, then we deny the fact that God is concerned about our holiness even on the physical level. So we must teach these things – we must expose the fruitless works of the darkness as what they are: fruitless and leading to death. Maybe we first have to wake up ourselves, however, before we can call out: “Wake up, sleeper, and arise from the dead!” (see Ep 5:11-14)

    And: since the world operates through strong peer groups, churches must become peer groups for holiness again, where Christians find a group to identify with and belong to which gives them strength to go against the flow of society. As soon as we leave these qustions (or the applications thereof) up to the individual, the individual will be swept away by the flow (there may be one or two steadfast and radical exceptions to this rule).


  12. Jenny says:

    I’d hate to rain on a parade here, but there story about that girl Cindy doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t know her. Maybe you’re right that her choice in clubs reflects her godly character. But girls also have egos. Did she join the “wrong” club because she wanted to appear righteous? Did she join the “wrong” club because she’s one of zillions of women who likes to be seen in the company of less attractive women so that she doesn’t feel like there’s any competition for onlookers’ attention? Just wondering…

  13. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks, Chloe, for joining in the discussion! It’s really good to hear from someone other than a middle-aged man on that subject.

  14. Jay Guin says:


    Why not accept that some women are sufficiently in touch with God’s will that they act contrary to social convention because they find social convention un-Christian?

    PS — While she wasn’t the only pretty girl on campus, she would have stood out in any crowd.

  15. Jenny says:

    Please note that, in my first post, I did say that you might be right about her. I’m just asking why you didn’t seem to consider alternatives. Just because you, as a man, can’t image her having any competition, doesn’t mean she didn’t think she did. The prettiest girls can often be the most insecure and competitive ones.

  16. JMF says:

    Jenny —

    I’d like to apologize on behalf of Jay who, obviously, doesn’t have an understanding of the complexity of the fairer sex. I, on the other hand, understand these complexities, am a great listener, and am very sensitive. 🙂

    *Jay, I will not make a habit of trying to woo your female blog visitors.

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