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This Is Why Miss USA Judges Are Right to Ask Tough Political Questions

2 minute read

This week, I’ll wrap up my fourth year volunteering as a Girl Scout leader. I’ve been with the same troop for this entire time, and I’m pretty confident I know exactly which meeting the majority of our girls consider their favorite: The time that Miss Staten Island came to visit and she took turns “crowning” each of them.

I thought about that meeting this morning when I saw all of the headlines about Sunday’s Miss USA pageant.

I thought about how, when the girls met Jamie Lynn Macchia (who is currently serving her term as Miss New York, not to be confused with Miss New York USA), they were engrossed by the details of how she raises funds and awareness for childhood cancers. I thought about how several of the girls walked out that night saying they wanted to be Miss Staten Island one day (never mind the fact that they all live in Queens).

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Adults can debate the relevance or lack thereof of pageants all they want, but the fact remains that, when many young girls see that gown and sash, they listen. They see someone they respect and admire—someone who they may even aspire to be.

That’s why I was so pleased to see judges ask contestants real questions during the interview portion of last night’s competition. They asked Miss District of Columbia Deshauna Barber (who ended up winning the competition and being crowned Miss USA 2016) about the Pentagon’s decision to make all combat jobs in the military available to women. They asked Miss California Nadia Mejia about social and economic inequality. And in a move that drew plenty of criticism, judges also asked Miss Hawaii Chelsea Hardin who she would be voting for in the upcoming election.

Yes, there was probably a more nuanced way to ask Hardin about the current political climate. But given that all of the women who competed last night will spend the next year—and beyond—serving as role models for young girls, I appreciate that the pageant really celebrated smart women who can think critically and are informed about current events—rather than focusing solely on swimsuits and evening gowns.

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Write to Robin Hilmantel at robin.hilmantel@time.com