OPINION: Show host treated women ‘royally’ – but only for a day

Women objectified? You couldn’t do much worse than Queen for a Day and host Jack Bailey, seen here with his “ladies in waiting.” Submitted Image

Phil Egan

A young woman with brown eyes presses her hands against the screen, exuding confidence and determination.

“How will you #PressForProgress?” the words above her demand to know.

The image was from a website for International Women’s Day, observed on March 8, and which was a good time to measure progress.

As a man who grew up in a home with five sisters, I’ve long admired strong, ambitious women. And 46 years ago I was fortunate enough to marry a woman far more clever and intuitive than myself.

In my travel business in Toronto in the 1980s and ‘90s, female executives and managers abounded. Comparatively speaking, they were better organized and got more done than men.

And, indeed, there has been progress. According to the World Economic Forum, 56 of 146 nations studied in 2016 had a woman head of state or government.

To measure just how far we’ve come you need only revisit the early days of TV programming. And Exhibit A is a show called “Queen for a Day,” which was a forerunner of today’s game shows.

The program, which ran on ABC and NBC television in the 1950s, was hugely popular. It always began with host Jack Bailey asking a live studio audience, “Would YOU like to be Queen for a Day?”

Bailey then introduced three contestants he interviewed one at a time. Each had been encouraged to tell a sad tale about their lives – financial woes or broken marriages, sick or handicapped children. Often, the women sobbed as they shared their harrowing stories.

An applause meter registered the reaction of the crowd as Bailey stood behind each woman, holding an extended palm over their heads as the audience roared.

The contestant with the saddest tale was draped in an ermine-fringed robe and escorted to a velvet throne. A crown was placed on her head; a dozen long-stemmed roses in her arms, and Bailey, to the audience’s delight, would proclaim her “Queen for a Day.”

The gifts showered on the winner almost always including a washing machine or refrigerator donated by the sponsors. The losers got minor prizes.

For many, watching Queen for a Day was like watching a train wreck. You were horrified but you watched anyway.

When it came to objectifying women, the show was right up there with bathing-suit beauty pageants and Donald Trump’s Access Hollywood tape.