The Miss America Organization (MAO) has issued an apology after a quote included in its recent scholarship announcement sparked backlash.
On Monday, organizers for the pageant — which has rebranded itself as Miss America 2.0 — announced a new equity and justice scholarship funded by an unnamed donor. As NJ.com reports, the donor had longed to compete in the famed pageant during the ‘80s but was barred from doing so by her parents “because they believed ‘Miss America does not look like us, and an educated woman does not parade around in a swimsuit.’”
As MAO eliminated its swimsuit competition last year, the current reigning Miss America, Nia Franklin, is the only winner thus far who was not required to rock a swimsuit in order to vie for the crown. The vast majority of the MAO community, including Miss America 2018 Cara Mund, took part in swimsuit competitions, and many were offended by the quote’s implications about their intelligence.
Mund — a graduate of Brown University, an Ivy League school — fired back at the announcement in an Instagram post which showed her sporting a black bikini during the competition.
“Female empowerment doesn’t mean insulting, alienating and discrediting the thousands of women who paved the way,” the former Miss North Dakota wrote. “To those who have ever had the courage to pursue their dreams, overcome obstacles or competed at the local, state or national level, you are STRONG. You are SMART. You are UNSTOPPABLE. As the last Miss America to ever compete in swimsuit, I am an Ivy League honors graduate, current law student and proud supporter of ALL women.”
Her impassioned post was met with a wave of support — and some swimsuit shots from women who argued they didn’t have to choose between brains and bikinis.
“Pretty sure I have a law degree and ‘parade’ around in a swimsuit every time I go swimming,” read one comment.
“Can I get an amen?” Miss America 2016 Betty Maxwell (née Cantrell) responded, while Savvy Shields, Miss America 2017, wrote “Amen sister.”
The backlash prompted MAO to apologize for including the quote without clarifying that it disagreed with the stereotype it presented.
“Yesterday, MAO announced a new scholarship and included a quote from the donor’s parents that has offended members of the Miss America community,” the statement, issued Tuesday, said. “MAO did not put the quote in the context of the 1980s in which it was spoken and the erroneous stereotypes that were prevalent at that time.
”Several MAO board members, including the board chair, as well as the CEO are former participants in the program who competed in the swimsuit competition. They, like many other past and present participants, have gone on to use their MAO scholarships to further their educations.
”It is by no means the opinion of the MAO, its leadership, nor of the donor of the Equity and Justice Scholarship that educated women should not wear swimsuits, onstage or otherwise. We sincerely apologize to our dedicated participants, volunteers, and fans. We genuinely hope our misstep does not detract from the intent of this valuable new scholarship or the openness and inclusivity of the Miss America Organization's vision.”
Last June, organizers — including former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, who has since been replaced as board chair in favor of an advisory role — announced that the swimsuit portion would be cut from future pageants in an effort to be more “inclusive” and sensitive to the #MeToo movement. The break from tradition was celebrated by Mund, who helped promote the #byebyebikini campaign, though others have said it’s a step too far.
The Miss America 2020 pageant is scheduled for Dec. 19.
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