3min readCulture 07 October 2019
Photo courtesy of Brittany Netta; Photography by Jessielyn Palumbo
Is Miss America a walking contradiction to what our society expects of the modern young woman? Well, I am sure she is screaming a big fat yes from under her illustrious crown. Because it seems that some organizations cannot get behind the idea that an educated, respectable woman also has the ability to confidently strut her stuff in a swimsuit.
The Miss America Organization (MAO) is a "a non-profit scholarship organization led by women for women." Despite this fact, it seems that their female leadership has fallen for the antiquated notion of how a truly accomplished and intelligent woman should represent herself in today's society. In the #METOO era, have these female leaders progressed or regressed in their opinions when they equate a woman's intelligence to how modestly she dresses?
The answer to this question becomes painfully obvious when looking at recent events, specifically, MAO releasing a donor's misogynistic statement that "an educated woman does not parade around in a swimsuit." This donor, who gave money towards MAO scholarships (ironic, given the statement), was discussing why her parents would never allow her to compete in pageants. Although they have since apologized due to outrage among fans and alumni, this is a scene one's eyes cannot easily un-see.
And I say, regardless of the apology, "If you repeat it, you believe it." And that's exactly what MAO did.
For those who feel that this comment may have been taken out of context, I have two questions. Could this donor's motivation to fund these scholarships have anything to do with Miss America 2.0 eliminating the swimsuit portion of their competition only one year earlier? And, was The Miss America Organization, in sharing this statement, attempting to hail a righteous victory flag for what they believed to be the start of a successful new beginning for their now-swimsuit-less competition?
The Miss America Organization wants us to believe that the swimsuit portion of the competition was eliminated because a woman's outward physical appearance does not determine her intelligence in today's society. While that all sounds very progressive, it was simply not the motive that lead to this change. The truth about Miss America 2.0 is that they are really more concerned with updating their company's brand image in order to re-validate their place in a society that no longer values pageantry as it once did. But this resulted in little more than a pretentious façade.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was voted into office as the governor of California after years of competing in a thong on stage, but no one ever severely questioned his intelligence or ability to lead one of the nation's largest states. So why are we questioning the intellectual integrity of the women competing in Miss America today? That difference is a prime example of a double standard, and only proves we have a long way to go before true gender equality is achieved.
Consequently, I believe MAO completely missed the mark and made a huge mistake. They did not consider the broader message that their contestants send to women globally as they proudly strut in a swimsuit on national television. They forgot about the women who silently suffer from gender bias in the workplace and extreme oppression in many parts of the world who may be empowered by seeing a woman so boldly displaying herself with pride.
With that said, I'm not saying it's okay to disregard the standard dress code in the office, but women should be made to feel comfortable in embracing their sexuality and femininity in the appropriate settings. This should obviously include the Miss America stage, especially considering its rich history in their 100-year anniversary next fall.
Having competed in the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) for the past three years while working for one of the world's most admired technology companies and working towards achieving a Masters of Engineering, I can proudly say that the women who enter these competitions are some of the most disciplined, educated, and intelligent women around. Beauty and brains are not and never have been mutually exclusive.
The current Miss USA competed in a swimsuit portion of her competition, and she is also a Division One athlete as well as a practicing attorney. Miss America is an accomplished singer composer with a degree in music composition. Most of the young women who earn their state titles in MAO and MUO are highly educated, holding bachelors and master's degrees obtained by some of the most sought-after universities in the country.
Competing in MAO and MUO leave young women with wonderful professional skills, strict self-discipline, and an intense work ethic that have been a meaningful catalyst towards their careers. Furthermore, it can help elevate a woman's status nationwide to highlight many of her academic/career accomplishments through advocacy initiatives, philanthropy, and public appearances.
Instead of taking a progressive stance and believing in their contestant's intellectual fortitude to pave a path for the organization's future, MAO took the easy way out. They bowed to the antiquated notion that women's skin is inherently inappropriate. MAO holds a responsibility to celebrate how young women today choose to represent themselves —the true forward thinkers—whether they are prancing around in a swimsuit or dominating in a power suit.
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4 Min Read
During a recent meeting on Microsoft Teams, I couldn't seem to get a single word out.
When I tried to chime in, I kept getting interrupted. At one point two individuals talked right over me and over each other. When I thought it was finally my turn, someone else parachuted in from out of nowhere. When I raised and waved my hand as if I was in grade school to be called on (yes, I had my camera on) we swiftly moved on to the next topic. And then, completely frustrated, I stayed on mute for the remainder of the meeting. I even momentarily shut off my camera to devour the rest of my heavily bruised, brown banana. (No one needed to see that.)
This wasn't the first time I had struggled to find my voice. Since elementary school, I always preferring the back seat unless the teacher assigned me a seat in the front. In high school, I did piles of extra credit or mini-reports to offset my 0% in class participation. In college, I went into each lecture nauseous and with wasted prayers — wishing and hoping that I wouldn't be cold-called on by the professor.
By the time I got to Corporate America, it was clear that if I wanted to lead, I needed to pull my chair up (and sometimes bring my own), sit right at the table front and center, and ask for others to make space for me. From then on, I found my voice and never stop using it.
But now, all of a sudden, in this forced social experiment of mass remote working, I was having trouble being heard… again. None of the coaching I had given myself and other women on finding your voice seemed to work when my voice was being projected across a conference call and not a conference room.
I couldn't read any body language. I couldn't see if others were about to jump in and I should wait or if it was my time to speak. They couldn't see if I had something to say. For our Microsoft teams setting, you can only see a few faces on your screen, the rest are icons at the bottom of the window with a static picture or even just their name. And, even then, I couldn't see some people simply because they wouldn't turn their cameras on.
If I did get a chance to speak and cracked a funny joke, well, I didn't hear any laughing. Most people were on mute. Or maybe the joke wasn't that funny?
At one point, I could hear some heavy breathing and the unwrapping of (what I could only assume was) a candy bar. I imagined it was a Nestle Crunch Bar as my tummy rumbled in response to the crinkling of unwrapped candy. (There is a right and a wrong time to mute, people.)
At another point, I did see one face nodding at me blankly.
They say that remote working will be good for women. They say it will level the playing field. They say it will be more inclusive. But it won't be for me and others if I don't speak up now.
- Start with turning your camera on and encouraging others to do the same. I was recently in a two-person meeting. My camera was on, but the other person wouldn't turn theirs on. In that case, ten minutes in, I turned my camera off. You can't stare at my fuzzy eyebrows and my pile of laundry in the background if I can't do the same to you. When you have a willing participant, you'd be surprised by how helpful it can be to make actual eye contact with someone, even on a computer (and despite the fuzzy eyebrows).
- Use the chatbox. Enter in your questions. Enter in your comments. Dialogue back and forth. Type in a joke. I did that recently and someone entered back a laughing face — reaffirming that I was, indeed, funny.
- Designate a facilitator for the meeting: someone leading, coaching, and guiding. On my most recent call, a leader went around ensuring everyone was able to contribute fairly. She also ensured she asked for feedback on a specific topic and helped move the discussion around so no one person took up all the airtime.
- Unmute yourself. Please don't just sit there on mute for the entire meeting. Jump in and speak up. You will be interrupted. You will interrupt others. But don't get frustrated or discouraged — this is what work is now — just keep showing up and contributing.
- Smile, and smile big. Nod your head in agreement. Laugh. Give a thumbs up; give two! Wave. Make a heart with your hands. Signal to others on the call who are contributing that you support and value them. They will do the same in return when your turn comes to contribute.
It's too easy to keep your camera turned off. It's too easy to stay on mute. It's too easy to disappear. But now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to stay engaged and networked within our organizations and communities.
So please don't put yourself on mute.
Well, actually, please do put yourself on mute so I don't have to hear your heavy breathing, candy bar crunching, or tinkling bathroom break.
But after that, please take yourself off mute so you can reclaim your seat (and your voice) at the table.