Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of Miss America.
I’ve always thought of it as nothing more than a glitzy dog and pony show featuring pretty women doing cutesy things, trying to make noncontroversial statements about the oftentimes most controversial of subjects.
Yes, the idea of awarding promising young women scholarship money and entry into the world of entertainment is a noble one. But Miss America started in 1921 as a “bathing beauty revue,” as in, its roots are in objectification. The Miss America Pageant is the epitome of allowing a woman’s value to be determined by the arbitrary standards of men.
That’s why we shouldn’t be that surprised by the nasty, disrespectful e-mails Miss America CEO Sam Haskell wrote about former pageant winners.
On Thursday, the Huffington Post reported details from three years of email exchanges between Haskell and his colleagues in which he mocked former contestants, slut-shamed them, fat-shamed them, and, instead of correcting a colleague who referred to a former Miss America as a particularly nasty four-letter word for female genitalia, he replied from his iPhone, “Perfect … bahahaha.”
On Friday, the Miss America Organization announced that Haskell had been suspended, and that its board of directors would investigate the matter.
“The board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained,” the organization said.
That’s their response? Seriously?
I get that Haskell, the waxy-faced, 62-year-old Miss America CEO, is credited with bringing life back to a shoulda-been-left-for-dead event. He joined the board in 2005. He was instrumental in helping Miss America return to network television in 2011, and in 2013 he helped move the pageant back to its original home in Atlantic City.
But shouldn’t a person who leads an organization that claims to empower women actually respect them? (Then again, look at President Trump’s history as owner of the Miss Universe pageant.)
What makes the Haskell allegations even more unfortunate is that, according to the Huffington Post, they were enabled by other women, namely media consultant Tammy Haddad and D.C. power connector Lynn Weidner. Haskell and Haddad, according to the Huffington Post report, often “maligned the former Miss Americas, calling them ‘malcontents’ and treating them as embarrassing inconveniences instead of honored alumnae.”
The emails also showed that Haskell was particularly vicious toward former Miss America Mallory Hagan, who he said had too many sexual partners and whom he straight up called fat.
It’s a pity that instead of coming to other women’s defense, these women instead took part in their abuse. We don’t know why they chose to heckle instead of help — maybe they thought it was the only way to get ahead — but that speaks so much about the culture at the Miss America Organization, and that’s not OK.
Although sad, the silver lining — or the jeweled tiara, if you will — is that these emails have come to light.
The #MeToo era has surfaced a litany of sexual harassment and abuse accusations. Identifying these physical harassers is only the first step.
This is the second step. Comments like the ones made by powerful men like Haskell are damaging in ways that women can’t fight against, because it’s not happening to our faces. Before Haskell was CEO of the Miss America Organization, he was the worldwide head of television for the William Morris Agency, now WME, one of the world’s most powerful media entities.
Imagine the power that men like him have.
These comments are where the abuse and harassment are born, grow up, and live. The only way to kill them is to expose that way of thinking.
I can’t think of a better place to snuff them out than in the emails of the Miss America Organization.