Miss America Jumps Onboard with #MeToo

The annual Miss America pageant, held for the last 97 years,  is undergoing some major changes. Beginning with the next edition in September, candidates will no longer be judged for their bodies. According to an official tweet by Cara Mund, Miss America 2018, the competition is eliminating the swimsuit portion of the event altogether and saying “bye bye” to the bikini. Changes will be made to the evening gown component of the event as well, as contestants will be encouraged to wear attire that makes them feel comfortable, attractive, and confident.

Rather than taking part in the swimsuit competition, contestants will participate in a live interactive session with the judges to demonstrate their intelligence, passion, and knowledge regarding the role of Miss America. They will also be asked how they will go forward with their chosen “social impact initiatives”, drawing attention to their intellect, drive, and desire to serve their community rather than to their outward physical features.

These significant modifications are taking place under a leadership comprised entirely of women for the very first time. According to Gretchen Carlson, the first former Miss America named chair of the Board of Trustees of the Miss America Organization, Miss America is transitioning from a pageant to a competition. Carlson herself, who was crowned in 1989, is an activist within the #MeToo movement and a frequent advocate for victims of sexual harassment. In 2016, she sued her former Fox News employer, Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes, for sexual misconduct, and won, setting an example for young girls, women, and those who have undergone similar instances of abuse.  

Miss America has faced controversy in the past. In December 2017, CEO Sam Haskell and other top leaders stepped down after their e-mail exchanges containing sexist and degrading comments about former winners including Carlson, Mallory Hagan, and Kate Shindle were revealed to the public. Dick Clark Productions, a production key partner, ended a deal with Miss America upon review of these e-mails. Haskell has also been criticized for his unnecessary harshness toward women as well as his volatile temper.

With the #MeToo movement in full swing, blatant sexism, objectification of women, and double standards are not nearly as tolerated in American and Western society as they have been in the past. Beginning with the Harvey Weinstein scandal in October 2017, women have been praised and admired for coming out with their own stories as victims of sexual harassment and mistreatment. Prominent figures and celebrities within the women’s activist movement, particularly those within the film industry, have set an example for young girls and others throughout the world as they encourage others to be vocal about whatever experiences they have had as victims of sexual misconduct and/or assault.

But the #MeToo movement does not just encompass sexual harassment and violence. As part of the overarching feminist cause, it encourages women to be loud, to make their voices heard within society, and to demand equal treatment relative to their male counterparts. It combats the notion that the main things a woman can offer to the world are her appearance and sexuality.

Women continue to be objectified in fashion advertisements, commercials, and the media. But protesters continue to call for the de-sexualization of women in ads and forms of entertainment. This may be easier said than done, as films, magazines, television programs, music videos, and other depictions of women all throughout the world either unintentionally or purposefully objectify females in some way or another

Fortunately, Miss America has stepped onboard with the #MeToo movement. This serves as a major success for feminists all over the world as they continue to call for the elimination of double standards for males and females. It will be interesting to see how the changes in the competition will play out a few months from now in September and whether or not they will inspire change in other portrayals of women worldwide.

About Hyeonju Kwon

Hyeonju is a passionate environmentalist who loves to spend her time outdoors when she is not writing. She is also an avid yogi, hiker, reader, and bubble tea drinker. She finds that traveling is the best source of inspiration for virtually all things in life.

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