December 11, 2017
What an exciting opportunity I had to write an article for Harper’s Bazaar about the fascinating Miss Subways contest (the story behind my novel THE SUBWAY GIRLS) and its fraught position within the evolving history of women’s ambition. Here’s how it starts:
There was a time when certain sexist mores were accepted as normal: needing a husband’s permission to work after getting married, oppressive Ozzie and Harriet gender roles, and contraptions like sanitary belts. Today, many of those customs—though they may make us cringe—seem almost quaint and charming. We are comfortable knowing that, for the most part, women’s roles have progressed, that the pernicious ideas and ideals of generations past are finally being exposed for what they are.
It is from that comfortable distance that we can appreciate one particular relic of the last century; an example of how the objectification of women has evolved over the years: the Miss Subways contest.
For 35 years, from 1941 to 1976—which took us from Rosie the Riveter to home economics classes and eventually to Gloria Steinem—200 young New York City residents were chosen for the title of Miss Subways. The faces and ambitions of these women, mostly working class and ethnically diverse (there was a black Miss Subways more than 30 years before Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America), were plastered on posters in subway cars for all to see. Read the rest of the article in Harper’s Bazaar.
Hope you enjoy!