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  • NYS Writers Institute

Q&A with Hilary Levey Friedman

The author of an acclaimed new book tell us her reasons for optimism about the coming year.

The daughter of Miss America 1970, Hilary Levey Friedman is a sociologist who teaches at Brown University's School of Education. She also serves as President of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Her new book, Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America ​ (2020), uses the history of beauty pageants to trace the arc of American feminism from the 1840s to the present.

Bitch magazine named it one of "15 Books Feminists Should Read" in August 2020, and said, “Here She Is traces beauty pageants from their origins during the suffrage movement to their evolution and their push to become more inclusive, and it makes a clear argument: Whatever we think of beauty pageants, they’re a tradition that we’re unlikely to shake.”

Noted sexuality researcher Peggy Orenstein said, “Friedman reveals the symbiotic relationship between beauty pageants and feminism, showing, unexpectedly, how their trajectories intertwine over a century, with each reflecting and responding to the other. The result is totally original, utterly compelling, wholly entertaining social history that surprised and challenged me in the best of ways.” Publishers Weekly named it a "Big Indie Book of Fall 2020."

Purchase Here She Is from the independent Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza:

What is your biggest hope for America in 2021?

A return to health- physically, mentally, and emotionally.

What's the most important thing we can learn from the pandemic?

Here are my top ones, but there are so many:

*We need to take childcare seriously. In America, Second Wave feminism left childcare on the table and we must, must fight for affordable, accessible, quality childcare now in the Third Wave.

*Inequality is real and it has extensive consequences.

*A pandemic can't stop voters, and we should embrace ways that more engaged including early and mail voting.

What activity are you most looking forward to enjoying after pandemic restrictions are lifted?

My parents live a plane ride away. They haven't seen their grandkids in a year-plus. So that's a priority. I've also promised my kids Disneyworld/Universal and I can't renege on that one!

Is there anything on Earth that you find unexpectedly beautiful?

The gloaming.

What new social or technological development excites you the most?

Per some of my previous answers (childcare, kids), I am grateful each day for iPads and Chromebooks that enable my young kids to do "school." Not exactly new, but I am sure they will continue to innovate.

What did you most enjoy about writing Here She Is?

It's a privilege to be able to dive deeply into a subject. Mastering a niche area and discovering an old document, finding new data, or landing an elusive interview are all parts of the research process I really enjoy. And, of course, at the end having people read it!

What idea, subject or field are you most looking forward to exploring in 2021?

I have found that the law is an area that impacts all the issues and areas I really care about. I'm looking forward to learning to speak and understand the language of the law more in 2021.

Learn more about Here She Is:

​Hilary's previous book was Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture (2013).


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