‘Kathy Morningside: New Jersey, as you know, there are many who consider the Miss United States Pageant to be outdated and anti-feminist. What would you say to them?
Gracie Hart: Well, I would have to say – I used to be one of them. And then I came here and I realized that these women are smart, terrific people who are just trying to make a difference in the world. And we’ve become really good friends. I mean, I know we all secretly hope the other one will trip and fall on her face, and – wait a minute, I’ve already done that! And for me this experience has been one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences of my life.’
This film was one of my favourites as a teenager, purely because Gracie Hart is kick-ass and wasn’t afraid of being an intelligent woman. Also like me she’s spent most of her life not really caring about how she looked, as she didn’t need that to progress in the world. I’m not a girly-girl really; I’m not interested in using make-up, though I will admit I do like nice dresses.
Growing up watching this film taught me that I didn’t need to be a beauty queen in order to find my place in this world. I wasn’t aware of feminism as I understand it now, and I haven’t seen the film again since feminism has become part of my identity, but watching it again now I understand the question Kathy Morningside asked a lot better and I identify better with Gracie’s response. Feminism isn’t about women only being a certain way in order to be acceptable, it is about the freedom of women having the choice to be who they are and for that choice to be accepted without question, whether that be an FBI agent who doesn’t own a brush, or a beauty queen wanting world peace.
Not that I don’t think the film is without flaws. The plot and the antagonists are great, and the quality of the production, writing and acting can’t be questioned. What I’m not all the keen on is the character arc of Grace Hart being a screw-up and having to go through a make-over to make her more outwardly acceptable as successful.
While I’m aware that the nuances of her character arc are more subtle and include her own self-esteem, perseverance and instincts as an FBI agent, all of which play a part in her development as a character, but the more outwardly obvious transformation is her appearance and her recognition as a successful person. Even within herself it comes from that transformation.
Appearance is seen as more important than internal development in this film, most pointedly when Gracie Hart is covered in paint after a fun night out, and that is commented on and taken more seriously, than the vitally important information she is conveying about what is really going on, and I hate that.
I love this film, and I do find it empowering, but it is not without its faults.