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.
Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019