Earlier this week I posted an article about Ms. Veteran America. By all accounts, it appeared to be a dignified and fun way to honor female vets. Good for them.
Because not all beauty contests are that way.
Back in the day, things were different on ships. Not better, but different. There was no internet. Ships were all but isolated from the outside world when they were out to sea. Hazing was tolerated. And women were not allowed to serve on combatants.
Consequently, when a ship crossed over the equator, instead of marking the event with the more civilized celebrations seen today, the Crossing the Line ritual became more of a rite of passage.
Bad things happened. People were pelted with three foot sections of fire hoses. Men in underwear were sprayed with frigid salt water. “Wogs” were forced to crawl through rotting food and suffer other indignities at the hands of those salty sailors (the “Shellbacks”) who had crossed the equator before.
And there was a beauty contest.
Theoretically, the Sailor who won would become King Neptune’s bride, and avoid the nasty hazing that the rest of the Wogs would be forced to endure. It was a lie, of course, but the new guys did not know that.
They wanted to win.
They would use mops as wigs, towels as skirts, and whatever gimmicks they could find to increase their odds of winning. They were, quite frankly, not very good at it.
I saw many such ceremonies over the years, but the one that stands out involved a young man who had obviously prepared well for the beauty contest. When he walked out, instead of the usual hooting, laughing and hollering that you would expect when ugly men wear skirts, an uncomfortable hush fell over the crew.
He was not pretty, per se. But he was not ugly either. He walked with a certain grace, a certain … familiarity that no one expected.
It was unsettling. I cannot remember whether he won or not, but I do know that if he didn’t, he should have.
Today, things are better. Crews are integrated. The raunchy days of yesteryear are gone. Beauty contests, as far as I know, are no longer a part of the Crossing the Line ceremonies.
Some may say that we have lost our traditions, that we have gone soft.
If you had ever seen a Crossing the Line beauty contest, you would think differently.
You would call it progress.