Elizabeth Newman

Much as many of the feminist women I adore are obsessed with watching “The Bachelor,” I have conflicting feelings about my long-term love for Miss America. 

On one hand, I know women being judged on wearing bathing suits while wearing heels is inherently ridiculous and awful. On the other hand, for better or for worse, the organization actually is the nation’s largest provider of scholarships to women, and I do believe that ultimately these young women can bring a taboo social issue out of some shadows. That was the case in 1998, the year of Kate Shindle and her AIDS platform, and I think it’s true in 2015, when Kira Kazantsev is making domestic violence her platform. This is a woman who, when asked about what issue needs to be focused on by female Senators, talked about military sexual assault. Salon noted last year how contestants also rattled off fairly good answers about gun control and Ray Rice.

In late December, Kazantsev went to Hebrew Home at Riverdale/RiverSpring Health, where she received an award for her advocacy efforts on behalf of domestic violence victims. The Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention, which is located at the home, is the nation’s first elder abuse shelter. It has provided over 61,000 days of emergency shelter since its 2005 opening.

“As Miss America 2015, I am committed to casting a spotlight on the issue of domestic violence and to empowering victims to break the cycle of power and control and create new lives of safety and freedom,” said Kazantsev.  “I am grateful to the Hebrew Home and the Weinberg Center for taking a leadership position to end elder abuse and domestic violence, two life-threatening issues that impact families daily.”

In addition, she made residents plain happy, judging from these photos and comments.

“She is not just beautiful but also a positive role model for young women by taking on such an important cause,” said 81-year-old resident Joan Jackson. Another resident, 91-year-old Alice Sebastian, commented, “It was so nice of her to come and see us here when she is so busy.”

Maybe other Miss Americas jaunt around nursing homes, but I suspect they are traditionally more likely to be found in schools. There’s not anything wrong with that, but it’s nice to see someone spend some time with the elderly.

It’s easy to throw out (often well-deserved) snark about beauty contests. It’s also easy to avoid scheduling certain activities, visits or programs at a nursing home out of worry that staff or family members may roll their eyes. And it can be hard to show up, yet in December, that’s what Kazantsev did.

And for that, I tip my hat to her, and to the Hebrew Home.

Elizabeth Newman is Senior Editor at McKnight’s. Once upon a time, she watched Miss America religiously with her family. Follow her @TigerELN.