Cleavage and Campus Life

Karen W. Tice

in Queens of Academe

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199842780
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199933440 | DOI:
Cleavage and Campus Life

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This chapter traces the historical roots and class politics of campus pageantry from working-class nineteenth-century public exhibitions of women’s bodies to the subsequent legitimacy and popularity of national beauty pageants for middle-class black and white women, such as the Miss America pageant and the Miss Golden Brown pageant. Cultural anxieties surrounding suffrage and women’s education, migration and immigration, consumerism, and the increased visibility of women in public spaces and new opportunities for self-expression and identities paradoxically helped to popularize beauty pageantry. The genealogy of campus pageants in the 1920s includes fierce debates over women’s education and fears that college attendance would result in the loss of women’s “natural” virtues, especially for white women. African American college women, in contrast, faced the burden of rewriting powerful texts about their presumed inferiority. The chapter examines how both groups used campus pageantry to respond to tensions around self-display, respectability, and gendered bodies.

Keywords: miss America pageant; miss Golden Brown pageant; women’s education; gendered respectability; racial inferiority; class politics; cultural anxieties

Chapter.  8918 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Gender and Sexuality

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