Ask a stupid question, they say, and get something like the answer that Miss Utah offered on air Sunday night when asked “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners, yet they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

The only thing more incoherent than the answer is the question, which, as Linda Holmes at NPR pointed out: is “basically a test of your ability to generate cow patties on command” and comes from “NeNe Leakes, who first became famous on The Real Housewives Of Atlanta before warring with Star Jones on The Celebrity Apprentice and is therefore exactly the person to whom we would entrust interrogations on major policy issues.”

Yeah.

Her answer: “I think we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive to — (LONG AWKWARD PAUSE) figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem and, I think, especially the men are seen as the leaders of this, so we need to — create education better so we can solve this problem.”

Our incoherent pageant answers, ourselves.

Rarely is the question asked, is we creating education better?

On the YouTube video, someone commented, “She isn’t telling us why men make more than women. She’s showing us.” This is more attention than the comment deserves; YouTube comments are generally regarded as whatever the opposite of the gold standard of commenting is. If the video is a tree, the comments are what dogs leave next to trees. And this is no exception.

She’s not showing us. The pageant itself is.

The problem is that this question is in some ways unanswerable. What does this say about our society? What is this, the SAT essay portion? The income inequality question is difficult enough on its own. When it was posed to Mitt Romney back during the debates, he wound up coming up with Binders Full of Women.

And ever since it hit the public consciousness, that 40 percent figure has been inspiring people to insert their feet into their mouths and wiggle them around, from Erick Erickson and his dubious science about breadwinnners in the natural world on down the line to Miss Utah. 

It’s a spectacular failure of public speaking. “We need to create education better!” Her response has that sublime quality of bad televised responses where you begin to speak and become somehow lost in the middle of the sentence. You gaze around, smiling, in panic. You remember starting to say something. You remember that you opened your mouth and confidently launched into a sentence that appeared to have a thesis. You have no idea what that sentence was. You smile some more. “I think we can relate this back to education and how we are continuing to try to strive to –“

Poof. Smile. Every fact, every insight, every thought you have ever had inside your head just vanishes. On the few occasions when this has happened to me, I generally start rambling about wildlife and hope someone will reel me back in. Then there comes a second wave of wonder when you hear yourself speaking and you float up into the ether above your head and think, “Did she really just say that about cows?” as you float off over Eurasia somewhere, hoping that someone will shut your mouth before you compare anyone to Hitler.

But frankly, I have no idea what a good answer to this question would be, other than punching Nick Jonas in the face, turning into a bat and streaking off into the audience.

Besides, only at the Miss USA pageant would you ask a woman, teetering in heels and an evening gown, who had just strutted her stuff in a swim suit on national television in a competition redolent of the Atlantic City beach in the 1920s, to explain the question of pay inequality coherently in a minute or less. That’s the bizarre double standard, in a nutshell. It’s a microcosm of what women have to deal with, in various less ludicrous forms, everywhere they go. Some people are capable of doing it. But not everyone. And they should not have to be.

“Please, look as beautiful in this swimsuit as you possibly can while telling me why gender should not determine your level of compensation.”

Don’t we notice how ridiculous this is?

No man will ever be asked this. There is no explicit beauty portion of the competition, whatever the competition. “Thank you, Jim, for that insightful reply about job creation. Okay, trousers off.” That’s not a phrase you will hear on national TV.

“Hey, person whom we just explicitly judged on the appearance of her finer points in a bikini, please talk about sexism.” It’s not just the answer that’s incoherent. Maybe what happened in there was she actually realized the full irony of the question and her brain spontaneously combusted.

This is the same question that Feminist Taylor Swift is trying to point out in 140 characters or fewer. “I don’t know about you / But I’m feeling 22 / cents underpaid on the dollar,” it quipped. Taylor Swift makes a point of not being a feminist, is seldom seen in public without impeccable, feminine style, and a solid percentage of her songs sound as though they came out of one of those nightmarishly pink aisles in the grocery store where Everyone’s A Princess and You Need Six Pink Hairbrush Accessories Pronto Or True Love Will Elude You And You Will Never Know Happiness. Yet she’s simultaneously a wildly successful, intelligent and ambitious pop icon to thousands, not really the passive princess standing at the top of a tower that her songs seem to imply. Do you really have to look and sound like the latter in order to get anywhere? Tell us, Miss Utah!

We need to create education better to stop this from happening.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.