Columns, Opinion

Miss Leading: Clearly, this is not your mother’s Miss America pageant

Times have changed. If you haven’t noticed, 2018 is indeed the year of the woman. Women from everywhere — every background, ethnicity, shape and age — have come forward to talk about issues that have been, in the past, simply swept under the rug. This year’s Miss America pageant was no different.

The newest Miss America competition, or “Miss America 2.0,” as it was renamed, was dedicated to empowering women. If you watched it, you would have noticed the changes: the women wore sashes sans the “Miss,” there was no swimsuit section (due to inherent sexism in this country and in light of the #MeToo movement), the women were called “candidates” interviewing for the job of Miss America rather than “contestants” and as the show’s introduction stated, this competition is much more “diverse and inclusive.”

The candidates this year were also much more diverse than years past because of their backgrounds: one was a neuroscience graduate from Harvard, and others talked openly about growing up with incarcerated parents and campus sexual assault.

One of the candidates, Emily Sioma, aka Miss Michigan, stood out to me particularly because of the power and tone in her voice when she introduced herself and her home state. She said, “From the state with 84 percent of the U.S. fresh water but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan, Emily Sioma.” Many people have the privilege and power to talk about certain issues and even create change, but don’t have the awareness to speak up. Others don’t have the voice to talk about issues that plague a group of people, much less the platform.

However, I believe that when you’re blessed with both the knowledge to speak about certain issues as well as the platform, you have to say something. To have someone like Sioma, a graduate from the University of Michigan, speak up for the residents of Flint, Michigan, after four years since the start of the water crisis, is increasingly important and also a testament to what our nation’s president should be doing in his position.

This is not the first time Sioma has stood up for something that is both important and that personally affects her. While in college, Sioma was sexually assaulted, and her cap at graduation said “I survived,” not just to say that she had survived college, but also that she had survived campus sexual assault. Many people claim that Sioma is an “edgy” Miss Michigan, but with Gretchen Carlson’s — former Miss America of 1989 and new chair — rebranding and creation of the “Miss America 2.0 Competition,” Sioma fits right into the mold of the new and improved embodiment of the pageant.

Unlike past years, the women this year were empowered and encouraged to display other parts of themselves beyond their physical appearances, such as political causes they back or what they majored in in college. This new version of the competition proves that change is already starting to reform. For that reason alone, I would say that this new version of the Miss America competition is unlike anything ever seen before.

After the pageant, people took to social media, especially Twitter, to talk about how powerful a position like Sioma’s is — her being dedicated to fighting for issues that actually mean something in today’s political environment,  especially taking those stances in front of the nation. Some went on to say that Sioma was using her privilege as a white woman to talk about issues and how other people should take notes on what it means to accurately, yet powerfully, tell the story of underprivileged and overlooked people.

While Sioma wasn’t the winner of the competition, she used her eight-second introduction wisely to talk about something other than herself.  This year’s Miss America competition was much more progressive and female-positive than years past, and I hope that for years to come, people realize that women are not just things to be objectified, but humans with very valuable, important and empowering messages. It’s about time for change, and while I’m glad that 2018 has already brought so much, I’m excited to see if more change can be implemented so that crises like Flint can be resolved.

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