Last spring break I took my 17-year old daughter to tour Ole Miss. As we followed our guide through their Lyceum, I asked when the first woman had been admitted to the University of Mississippi. Turns out, it was1882, almost a hundred years before the University of Virginia admitted women. I was pleasantly surprised.
Minutes later, our guide just as proudly announced that we were standing in one of the hallowed building’s three “Miss America rooms,” each decorated by a Miss America who hailed from the University. Including one by Mary Ann Mobley (any girl who teetered around on those plastic dress-up heels that cracked within 2 minutes of strapping them on remembers her). Some people gasped. I grinned.
Enlightened meets enthroned. Southern women aren’t afraid to own Miss America, the way we aren’t afraid to set a batch of pimiento cheese and Triscuits in front of our tony Northeastern friends and watch them lick the bowl clean. The same way we aren’t afraid to be partners in law firms and lobbyists for international corporations, save oceans and refugees and schools, and sling a lacrosse ball faster than the wind speed of a Category 1 hurricane.
So last night, my friend Kelly and I owned it. We have watched the pageant together for decades, even by phone when we are in separate states or quarantined with a sick child. And when Betty Cantrell went from Miss Georgia to Miss America, sporting a crop top evening gown and flubbing her answer, we kinda waited for Kanye to hijack the microphone and protest that Miss Alabama “had one of the best answers of all time!”
But the woman with the Julia Roberts smile who grew up in middle Georgia on 700 acres, who can plow and seed fields, drive a tractor and handle a shotgun, can also belt out some Italian opera. While the name Betty sounds like a relic of the 1960s, she is named for her Greek grandmother. “Baciliky” means royalty. You can’t make it up.
Yup, she jiggled around in a bikini and high heels, with the other 11 finalists. But so do Miley, Beyonce, J. Lo, Madonna and Katy –- businesswomen who are also judged by how they parade their skin and talent (not always in that order).
Today, Kelly and I can go back to our beloved careers and shoes and Wall Street Journal, and know we are teaching our daughters that having it all often starts with owning it all