Commentary: Make Miss Strawberry Days more inclusive
About a week ago, my editor and I made a joke that the rules of Miss Strawberry Days must have not changed since 1898.
As it turns out, we weren’t terribly far from the truth.
These are the official rules of Miss Strawberry Days, a pageant and scholarship contest that has been a Glenwood Springs tradition longer than I’ve been alive:
1. Resident of Re-1 or Re-2 school districts
2. Age 16-20 by May 31, 2015
3. Never married
4. Never had children
5. Plan on attending college in the next two years
As a young woman who is still friends with other young women who had children in high school (and are doing just fine, thank you very much), it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how someone’s marital or parental statuses play a role in her worthiness of the Miss Strawberry Days title and college scholarships.
After a conversation with the chamber about the rules, I learned that they have been around for at least 30 years, and they were most likely put in place because Miss Strawberry Days used to be affiliated with Miss America, which still has these same rules (Miss America’s rules are that contestants must not “currently” be married and must not “currently” have a child).
I was also told that nobody has ever complained about the rules.
If that’s true, it’s easy to see how the chamber may not have even considered the rules for decades. Besides, it has enough going on to make Strawberry Days happen, right? It’s the biggest weekend of the year for Glenwood Springs.
But I’m complaining about them now, and I have a feeling I can’t be the only woman who’s offended or even hurt by them.
According to the Strawberry Days website, “Miss Strawberry Days is not a beauty pageant or a popularity contest. … Miss Strawberry Days is judged on personality, how she connects with others, and her ability to work with and motivate a group. … Miss Strawberry Days should be a true ambassador for Glenwood Springs, having contributed to her school and community.”
I can’t understand how being married or having a child would prevent a young woman from meeting these criteria.
All that these two outdated rules accomplish is maintaining a virginal ideal for girls that has served as a double-standard among the sexes for centuries (which is ironic considering the swimsuit portion of the Miss Strawberry Days fashion show — be virginal, but here, show us how you look in a bikini — I swear this isn’t a beauty pageant!).
I’m not saying young fathers don’t face stigmas or judgment, but young fathers don’t carry a child in their bodies for nine months. Young fathers don’t have swollen bellies that cruel classmates use as a scarlet letter.
The Post Independent reported about a year ago that teenage pregnancy in Garfield County is almost twice as high as the state average. In that story, reporter Will Grandbois interviewed a few teenage mothers from Yampah Mountain High School.
“You lose a lot of friends, and you get a lot of looks,” said Haley, a 16-year-old at the school.
As if losing friends and getting looks at school isn’t enough, girls are also receiving the message that they’re not the right fit for Miss Strawberry Days.
I can understand the chamber’s decision to comply with Miss America rules when that affiliation existed. I can even understand why the rules haven’t been discussed since then, if nobody in the community has spoken out. But now that the Miss America affiliation is no more, and now that I’m speaking out, I hope for the sake of young girls in Garfield County that the chamber considers getting rid of those rules. It may not affect that many young women, but if even one young wife or mother feels more welcome in her own community, at one of the biggest community events of the year, I think it would be worth it.
“You’re not just thinking of yourself anymore,” Haley said of motherhood. “You have to wake up in the middle of the night. I put him on this planet, so I needed to be responsible and raise him.”
She sounds like a good role model to me.
Jessica Cabe is the self-proclaimed feminist correspondent at the Post Independent, and she loves and admires all the young mothers in her life. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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