Sequins, Sashes, and Sexism  

Tara Van Vliet

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The self-branded Miss America 2.0. We all thought every little girl’s dream of walking down the stage with a huge tiara and a sash was over this year. But it looks like eliminating the swimsuit portion of the pageant was all of the feminist movement that the decades old organization could handle.  

In August of 2014, the former CEO of the Miss America Organization, Sam Haskell, sent crude emails pertaining to the Pageant’s competitors, which were leaked by the Huffington Post. These emails showed that Haskell regularly shamed, made comments on the competitors’ sizes, and even suggested the death of a woman, according to a Huffington Post article. In December of 2017, Haskell resigned from the organization, along with the COO Josh Randle and chairwoman Lynn Weidner.  

A new CEO, Gretchen Carlson, a former fox news anchor, and 1989 Miss America winner, revealed in a Good Morning America interview, soon after her gaining the CEO position, that the swimsuit portion of the pageant would be eliminated. At the National Press Club she also revealed that the candidates will no longer be judged on physical appearance, and they will focus on representing “all shapes and sizes.” 

This will be a change for the decades old organization for the Miss America pageant started in the Great Depression.  In the 1940s, it created, according to the Miss America website, “the single most important innovation of its time—a scholarship program.” This continues today, with the current winner walking away with a $50,000 scholarship, and the foundation’s website boasting to be “the nation’s largest provider of scholarship assistance to young women.”  

The question of which women have access to these scholarships is an important one to raise. The answer is only those who are state pageant titleholders or have competed in a pageant at any level. This means for someone to win a scholarship funded by the Miss America Organization, one must have the time, funding, and confidence to compete in a pageant first.  

In the past few years, we have seen the Me Too Movement lead to the removal of high profile men, including Sam Haskell. While the removal of Haskell and the elimination of the swimsuit competition have been good steps forward, the aforementioned Huffington Post leaked emails show how far behind the Miss America Organization is from being a relevant part of the female empowerment movement. No matter how many changes they make to the pageant it is still just that- a pageant. Regardless of the amount of scholarships they give to young women annually, those young women still have to walk around on stage in a night gown to get it.  









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