While we were all gearing up for the holiday season in mid-December, there was an email scandal brewing that was destined to change the future of one of America's most treasured television spectacles, forever.
On the 21st of the month, The Huffington Post broke a story of salacious emails from the upper echelons of management in the Miss America pageant. The emails paint a bleak view of the pageant's hierarchy - a male-dominated, crude system grounded in what can only be described as the purest form of "bro-culture," and chaired by Sam Haskell.
It's nothing we haven't seen before. From tech, to Hollywood and beyond, every industry has been plagued by this behavior, 2017 just happened to become the year it was exposed.
In the wake of the story, Haskell and other executives implicated by the emails quickly resigned, while former Miss Americas Gretchen Carlson, Mallory Hagan and Kate Shindle put together a petition with a view to restructuring the entire board behind the organization. They succeeded, and what we have now is Miss America 2.0.
Leading the new phase of the pageants's history is Carlson as Chairwoman, with three other titleholders, Heather French Henry, Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss, and Kate Shindle, gaining seats as well. The news has been greeted with applause across the board, with many predicting Carlson's resounding accomplishments for female empowerment will have a massive impact on the future of the pageant.
Below we've rounded up why we think her appointment as Chair is significant, both literally and symbolically.
“In the end, we all want a strong, relevant Miss America and we appreciate the existing board taking the steps necessary to quickly begin stabilizing the organization for the future."
1. A win for women
It was an enormous year, for women, for the workplace, for Carlson herself who released her second book, Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back. But wins like this are few and far between. Yes, there have been breakthroughs and those who would uphold the Mad Men era of misogyny today are slowly being weeded out, but a shift of this proportion bears a resounding significance for women everywhere.
Regardless of whether Carlson was coming in to chair Apple, Walmart or Uber, the symbolism of the shift in leadership is enormous in and of itself. Haskell, a man who evidently cared so little for those who worked for him and competed in his competition has endured a very republic removal from his seat, and Carlson, a woman who has displayed on countless occasion her respect and admiration for women and fellow contestants, has taken the role.
Whether you're a fan of pageantry or not, it's hard not to see how positive an influence this new dynamic in leadership will bear on the competition itself, and the pageantry industry worldwide.
2. Stability for Miss America at a time of tremendous turmoil
Carlson is perhaps the wisest and most conscientious pick for an incoming chair for any organization that has gone through the ringer in recent months for similar scandals.
Her championing of female causes, from her women's leadership initiative, to public outreach following the Roger Ailes scandal, makes her a terrific candidate given the climate we find ourselves in.
Turning the pageant's image around after the enormity of an email scandal such as this won't be easy. However, when you've got the approval rating of a woman who veritably began the crusade against workplace sexual harassment, there's a great probability that the organization's reputation won't remain in the gutter too long.
Gretchen Carlson. Photo courtesy of Variety
3. Changing the pageantry narrative
It's no secret that pageants themselves are contentious subjects. At its most basic level, participants are objectified, scrutinized and judged based on their physical appearance, and for ultra-feminists, this is particularly problematic.
Former Miss America Nina Davuluri notes, however, that while these are the aspects of the competition that might get the most attention, they're not nearly the most important. "I chose to enter this organization because of the values and integrity associated with the title and organization," the 2014 titleholder told SWAAY. "Empowering women through service and scholarship has always been at the forefront, and we must continue to uphold those values. Yes, Miss America is relevant. Yes, our voices are being heard. And yes, we're here to stay."
With four former titleholders on the Board who are evidently in an open dialogue with many of the others former participants out there, this indomitable network are sure to be the force for change the pageant needs right now to remain relevant and embrace a different approach going forward.
"It's unrealistic, and frankly outrageous, to think that judging women walk in swimsuits and heels is an all-encompassing approach to understanding an individual's overall health and/or lifestyle."-Nina Davuluri. Photo courtesy of Parade
4. A lesson for the masses
Justice really does taste so sweet when it's wearing heels and a fresh blowout.
Before Weinstein, Ailes, O'Reilly, Trump, there was little to no chatter about this kind of shift in power - in fact, it was almost unfathomable. A man, making $500K a year, on top of this long-held institution, would have been near untouchable, regardless of the scandal. The times, however, have well and truly changed.
The public fall from grace of the innumerable men embroiled in similar scandals will serve as cautionary tales for those in the future who might deign to treat women as they subservients, but this tale, and the rise to prominence of these women, will serve as an emphatic lesson. Do not bite the hand that feeds you.
For over a hundred years these women have been the focal points of this pageant and, gone unrecognised, they have become a force that has overhauled the board and plans to drastically change the very premise of the competition.
"As a former Miss America I feel positive & optimistic about the change of leadership at the organization. It's important to note that we also democratically elected among ourselves the four women who we felt could help usher (us) through this challenging transition: Gretchen Carlson as Chair, along with Heather French Henry, Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss, and Kate Shindle."
- Nina Davuluri
5. No better woman for the job
As Davuluri mentions above, Carlson was elected by the ladies of the organization to take charge and given our experience with her, we have no doubt as to why. Above all, she is dedicated to the cause of female empowerment with a ferocity that is unrivaled. Her passion for the cause in the aftermath of her suit against then-Fox CEO Roger Ailes undoubtedly served as the straw that broke the camel's back in the sexual harassment scandals that were to follow. Her book, Be Fierce, is a veritable guide for women to find strength enough to emerge from these difficult situations. She is a mouthpiece for the movement that has swept the nation and the world, and indicted a response never before seen.
"Gretchen has always been a woman I've admired and viewed as a role model for many years even before competing in the Miss America Organization--she is a true testament of our values," says Davuluri.
Once the dust settles and she and her fellow Miss Americas get to work on the reinvention of the pageant, we can only imagine what they will achieve.
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.