Study Guide

Beauty Queens Gender

By Libba Bray

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"I don't know, maybe it's a Midwestern thing, but where I'm from, you're not supposed to brag about yourself. That's what my mom says. She says you should wait for people to recognize your good qualities. And then you should say, like, 'Oh no. I'm not really that great at whatever-it-is. I'm just okay.' And then they'll say, 'No really. You're great.' And you say, 'I'm really not, but thanks anyway for saying so.' And they'll say, 'Yes, you are. You so are!' And you say, 'Gee, do you really think so?' And they'll say, 'Totally!' And then people think you're good at whatever it is you're good at, but they don't think you're braggy about it 'cause that makes you seem like a real tool. Plus it's unladylike." (4.8)

What Mary Lou is saying is sadly so real. A lot of people look down on girls who admit to being proud of themselves for things that they should be legitimately proud of themselves for. Which is why a lot of girls find themselves doing these long verbal dances so it doesn't sound like they are bragging.

Shanti clapped a hand over her mouth and fought to regain her composure. Carefully, she lifted her fingers, which no longer felt like her fingers but like butterflies, light and free. "Why didn't you tell us, Tiara?" "I didn't want to bother you." (8.119-120)

Tiara didn't tell the other girls that she was hallucinating because she was afraid of bothering them. That's a pretty big-deal thing to hide.

"It is important for girls to be likeable." "But why?" Shanti asked. If Mrs. Mirabov had an answer, she wasn't sharing. (8.160-162)

This time it's Shanti's turn to be hallucinating. But the hallucination makes a good point. Likeability is definitely a part of pageant scoring, but does it have any bearing on real life? Mrs. Mirabov's hallucinated silence is as good an answer as any.

"You have a wang-dang-doodle!" Tiara squeaked.
"Is that all that makes a guy a guy? What makes a girl a girl?"
And the girls found they could not answer. For they'd never been asked that question in the pageant prep. (9.82-84)

Transgender activists often make the point that Petra is making here: being one gender or the other is about more than just genitals. After all, the pageant girls experience being "girls" a lot differently from young females who play sports, or do other, less beauty-based activities—so if there are multiple kinds of girls, gender might not be as black-and-white as lots of folks are taught to think. At least Petra is getting the girls to think about it.

"Like it's so much pressure all the time and if you get upset or angry, people say, 'Are you on the rag or something?' And it's like I want to say, 'No. I'm just pissed off right now. Can't I just be pissed off? How come that's not okay for me?' Like my dad will say, 'I can't talk to you when you're hysterical.' And I'm totally not being hysterical! I'm just mad. And he's the one losing it. But then I feel embarrassed anyway. So I slap on that smile and pretend everything's okay even though it's not." (13.139)

Miss Montana doesn't feel like she is allowed to be angry, even though her father is. She's just labeled as emotional, and possibly PMS-ing, because she's female. Double standard, anyone?

"Why do girls always feel like they have to apologize for giving an opinion or taking up space in the world? Have you ever noticed that?" Nicole asked. "You go on websites and some girl leaves a post and if it's longer than three sentences or she's expressing her thoughts about some topic, she usually ends with, 'Sorry for the rant' or 'That may be dumb, but that's what I think.'" (13.142)

This remind you of anything? It's sort of like how Tiara didn't tell the girls useful information before because she was worried about bothering them. She didn't feel like she was important enough to take up space in their conversation. That may be a dumb quote to include, but it fits into the topic. (And no, we're not sorry.)

Good God! All you had to do was introduce the scent of testosterone and perfectly capable, together girls were reduced to giggling, lash-batting, hair-playing idiots. She hated when girls did this. When they got all goo-goo-eyed over Y chromosome-carrying creatures instead of taking care of themselves. (21.78)

Adina has a point. The beauty queens built their shelter and caught their food themselves, but they just give it to the pirates (who did no work) without a second thought. Not to mention tune their IQ's down by about 50. Sigh.

The other guard shrugged. "They're a bunch of girls. How dangerous could they be?" (30.81)

Famous last words.

"You b****es!" a guard snarled at Miss Montana. "Excuse me? You try to kill us, we defend ourselves, and we get called b****es? So typical!" Miss New Mexico head butted the man, knocking him out with her tray. (37.57-58)

Miss New Mexico was right. That was a really unfair insult. Lucky she had a tray stuck in her forehead to get back at this dude.

"And what did you find?"
"I love myself. They make it so hard for us to love ourselves." (37.115)

Who do you think is they "they" Taylor is referring to here? Here's a hint: it's not just people out to kill her.

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