When the Miss America beauty pageant abandoned its outdated (and sexist) swimsuit portion last month, it was congratulated with enthusiastic applause. Many thought that the deletion of the particular section, in which female contestants were required to compete with each other based off who looked the hottest in a bikini, was a major step forward for the pageant industry. In the age of #MeToo, pitting girls against each other in a battle based entirely on physical appearance seemed voyeuristic, inappropriate and objectifying.
The chairwoman on the Miss America board of directors, Gretchen Carlson, said on “Good Morning America” that the swimsuit portion would be replaced with an interactive session between the contestants and the judges where each girl “will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion and ambition to perform the job of Miss America.”
Good riddance to the beach bod.
It now seems, however, that the pageant circuit hasn’t entirely shaken off the remains of its outdated anti-feminist ways.
Over the weekend, Miss Massachusetts contender and winner of Miss Plymouth County Maude Gorman shone a light on the still-lingering sexism of Miss America.
On June 30, Miss Massachusetts put on a skit just before the finale of the show. In it, the host and an actor playing God made light of the #MeToo movement: “We may have very well seen the last ever swimsuit competition on stage. It’s very upsetting,” said the host. “And I’m trying to understand, God, why it happened.”
The person playing God responded, “Me too, Amy,” and held up a sign that read #MeToo.
Gorman, who was gang raped by three adult men when she was 13 years old and has used her pageant platform to advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, heard the skit from backstage.
“It was heartbreaking to hear,” Gorman told The Boston Globe. “In that moment, everything collapsed right in front of me.”
In an Instagram post from last Thursday, Gorman announced her resignation from the title of Miss Plymouth County 2018. “While I’m grateful for the opportunities that @missamerica creates for young women, I am also internally conflicted; as the #metoo movement was mocked on stage during the final competition of Miss Massachusetts,” she wrote in her post. “As both a survivor, and advocate for victims rights and sexual violence on a whole, I refuse to stand idly by and simply ‘let this go’.”
Gorman also spoke to NBC Boston on Saturday, saying that she felt “betrayed” by the skit. “To mock a movement that has empowered survivors to stand up is inappropriate, and especially a women’s empowerment organization, should be unacceptable.”
The Miss Massachusetts Board of Directors took to Facebook to issue an apology to Gorman and “those offended by Saturday night’s skit… Moving forward, we will review all content with future emcees and other participants prior to our show to be sure offensive or potentially offensive content is not allowed. We are proud of our contestants and even prouder to be part of an organization that celebrates what makes all of them truly extraordinary.”
It was certainly groundbreaking for Miss America to bid adieu to the swimsuit portion, but it negated that necessary decree with a thoughtless and heartless joke. Even though the pageants have made great strides in emphasizing a woman’s brain over her body, the current predicament proves that they still have a lot of work to do.