Do You Really Want Miss USA’s Opinion on Politics?

The Winner of Miss USA 2017 caused controversy by saying health care is “a privilege,” not a right.

05.15.17

Last night, Kára McCullough, Miss District of Columbia USA, won the 2017 title of Miss USA. As part of the competition, she was asked, “Do you think affordable healthcare for all US Citizens is a right or a privilege and why?”

“I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege,” she responded. “As a government employee I am granted healthcare, and I see firsthand that for one to have healthcare, you need to have jobs, so therefore we need to continue to cultivate this environment that we’re given the opportunity to have healthcare as well as jobs [for] all the American citizens worldwide.”

I’d like to open up the conversation about this controversy by saying the thing you’re not supposed to as a 29-year-old woman in 2017: Sometimes I forget that D.C. stands for District of Columbia. I don’t forget as in, “Oh crap, what’s the D for again? Can I phone a friend?” It’s more…a reminder of something I already know but don’t often think about, like how K.F.C. is an acronym for “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” or that not everyone thinks the same way I do in general.

That not everyone thinks the same way I do is most apparent on Twitter. Following McCullough’s remarks, there were tweets echoing my own belief about affordable healthcare (it’s a right), and there were those in support of what the new Miss USA said.

The internet also had mixed opinions about her answer on whether or not she considers herself a feminist.

“So as a woman scientist in the government, I’d like to…transpose the word feminism to equalism. I don’t really want to consider myself, I try not to consider myself, like, this diehard, ‘I don’t really care about men.’ But one thing I’m going to say is, though, women we are just as equal as men when it comes to opportunity in the workplace.”

Her transposition confused those who believe feminism means, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes,” myself included. The uproar online was quick, loud and furious.

But here’s my question: Is Miss USA the place for this discussion?

According to the official website of Miss Universe (Miss USA is part of the same brand as Miss Universe, not related to Miss America, no longer owned by Donald Trump as of 2015), the mission is, “to provide the tools which help women to be their personal best. Self-confidence is the key. Every woman should have the confidence to stand up in any situation and declare, ‘I am secure and that’s what makes me beautiful!’”

The prize is cash (not scholarship — that’s Miss America). There is a bikini contest involved. There is, unfortunately for baton enthusiasts, no talent portion. Although, as the website states, “the contestants and titleholders that have gone through the Miss Universe system are able to cultivate their personal career goals, advocate for humanitarian issues and be a voice to affect positive change in the world,” this is a beauty pageant. It is not a reliable news source, nor is it a bank of factual, helpful information with which to calibrate our own opinions. If I were anticipating the imminent vote of an issue I felt torn about, “Thank god Miss USA is on so that I can make the best possible choice at the ballots,” would not cross my mind.

If political perspectives are swayed by celebrity voices, however, it makes sense that there are viewers who form or cement political opinions based on what the contestants of Miss USA say. And if you disagree with what they say, this thought is alarming.

One cannot control the whim of a celebrity’s trigger finger on a political tweet; a media property can, however, control the script of what the judges of a television program asks a contestant. In theory, Miss USA could eliminate questions that might result in a politically partisan answer — one that has the power to influence viewers despite not being grounded in expertise. In theory, any program with a viewership of young, impressionable minds could do this.

Should they?

I’ve had a hard time shaking something the Digital Editorial Director of Teen Vogue and Allure, Phillip Picardi, said during his Daily Show With Trevor Noah appearance: That to tell a young woman she should only care about lip gloss when there are policies up for debate that directly affect her is “frankly, irresponsible.”

What would removing these kinds of questions mean for Miss USA? Does it then become “just a swimsuit pageant,” and does that teach its viewers — who are going to watch Miss USA with or without the hard-hitting questions, mind you — something worse than an opinion you may disagree with?

Microphone pointed at you, now: What do you think?

Photo by Ethan Miller via Getty Images.

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  • Fran

    I always thought Trevor Noah hosted The Daily Show. Anyway, gone are the days where being ignorant of social/political issues is acceptable for any of the citizens directly impacted by these very subjects. Not everyone needs to be an expert, but the inability to speak intelligently on these subjects is not “a luxury” but a liability.

    • Amelia Diamond

      I confused my humorous political shows hosted by ideal life partners again!

  • Natty

    if you agreed with her political opinions, would this question have been raised? food for thought

    • grace

      ditto. about to pose the same question.

    • Amelia Diamond

      Great question – likely not. Pieces that side with political opinions of celebrities etc. tend to sound more like, “So and So Gave the Acceptance Speech We Were All Thinking” or whatever. However, my response — perhaps I should have made this clear — came less from my personal views as they relate to what Miss USA said and more from the fact that people had SUCH a reaction to political comments made on Miss USA, the show. Like since when are we watching that show for political commentary? The only reason I heard about any of this is because of those who I follow on Twitter tweeting about the tweets.

  • tmm16

    I think it’s important that questions like these are asked. Even if the answers of contestants don’t align with your beliefs, it allows women to voice their opinion, and that’s important (and a right, the irony).

    Now, while I respect her opinion… Her answer on feminism rubbed me the wrong way. It directly implied a negative connotation with feminism, which makes my blood boil. We (men included) need to work together to eliminate the dirtiness behind the word. Also, are women not allowed to be equal than men anywhere else outside the workplace? That’s how her statement reads. The equalism mention confused me because to me, it’s a part of feminism, but I digress. Equality goes further than just the workplace – it proceeds into all areas of life, every day, all day.

    Maybe this is my personal bias reading her statements because they do not align with my own beliefs. A more impartial statement would’ve sat better with me, but she’s also entitled to her opinion and the *feminist* in me respects her for that.

    • Natty

      I think a lot of men and women who agree with and live their lives by the feminist principle at its core– equality of the sexes– are hesitant to say “I am a feminist” due to the way that word has been branded, if you will, over the last few years. Every time it is printed on a shirt, it is stigmatized. Every time someone uses “feminism” to belittle or attack someone with a conflicting ideology, it is stigmatized. Maybe that’s where she is coming from.

    • ESW

      But it is such an inauthentic way to express opinions. And would she have still been chosen as Miss USA if her opinions were different?

  • Kristen J

    She’s exercising her Constitutional right of freedom of speech. It’s a bit un-feminist to say “only women I agree with can speak their minds.”

    Interesting that right now, freedom of speech is a Constitutional right, but at the end of the day, we are all individually held responsible for our speech. Many are arguing that paid healthcare is a right, but with the infrastructure in place to make that happen, we are all making someone else responsible for our “right”.

    • Mary

      Agreed, thank you.

    • Amelia Diamond

      To be clear: I definitely did not mean “only women I agree with can speak their minds” and hope it did not come off as such. Miss USA or any of the contestants can say whatever they want, think whatever they want, and use their platforms however they see fit. I think it’ important to hear all angles of an argument in order to make the most informed decision. >>My argument is that I don’t think the judges need to ask questions that lead to these right versus left answers. That’s because>

      That’s because I don’t believe Miss USA to be the place for helpful, productive political discussion that educate viewers on both sides, on the issues, the various arguments. With no data in front of me, I would argue that many if not most people watching Miss USA do not watch for political discussions. There are so many better outlets for this kind of information. Why ask political questions to Miss USA contestants? What’s the benefit? To add weight and bring respect back to what is often criticized as an antiquated operation? Because the ideal Miss USA is the kind of woman who Americans can look to as a guiding voice on political issues? If the latter is a yes, then should Miss USA even be partisan? <- And maybe that's a better question.

      • Kristen J

        Thank you for clarifying, I really appreciate it. I’d agree that the Miss USA pageant isn’t the best venue for political discourse, especially if the contestants are given about 30 seconds to answer. That’s a sound bite, not a discussion.

        Maybe they’re running out of questions, especially since “describe your perfect date” and anything involving world peace are pretty much off-limits (thank you Sanda Bullock).

      • Adardame

        They have these questions because it brings more media attention to a program that otherwise wouldn’t get a glace from me.

  • Adrianna

    One phrase that’s stood out to me lately is “I’m not a political person” or “let’s leave politics out of this.” At this rate, it’s impolite to ever discuss politics at the risk of getting into an argument and actually understanding opposing viewpoints – or even understanding the policies we argue about, quite frankly.

  • Molly D

    Anything with a bikini contest is fuckin bullshit unless it’s a bikini contest itself

    • frannypaul

      That’s it.

    • Ella Durán

      hahaha preach.

  • Kristin

    “equalism” = “all lives matter” and totally missing the point
    And a beauty contest is probably not the venue.
    I feel like she did not understand the question regarding right or privlege–after she says privlege then says we should all have jobs and healthcare.

    • Hajni

      I agree, I also believe she didn’t really get the question. Probably she wanted to say that she feels privileged to have health insurance and a job

  • Kay

    In the spirit of that book “so you’ve been publicly shamed” Idk whether her answer actually had enough context to really prove how she meant it- like im reading it and it’s possible to read it as “healthcare is *treated* like a privilege, for those who can afford it with a good paying job” so she meant to point out a problem, not say it should be that way. She goes on to say in effect “so there should be more jobs so that no one has to go without either a job or healthcare” which to me is pretty innocuous, although it’s accepting of the current link between healthcare and employment rather than what liberals want which is guaranteed healthcare. Her answer is vague and word-salad-y enough that it’s hard to know how she meant it, but beauty pageant answers are almost always like that so I assume they’re coached to be noncommittal.

  • meme

    She is in a beauty pageant. If she identified as a feminist, then she would be a confused one. I’d love to know even what “equality” means to someone who participates in an event like that. I’m sorry but the watered down version of feminism isn’t helping. I prefer people still feeling unconfortable about it because that means feminism is still challenging the status quo. So I say no, these meat parades should’t have the nerve to ask the contestants if they are feminists.

    • Molly D

      I’m sorry but the watered down version of feminism isn’t helping
      Agreed.

  • itsallabouttheg

    Do I think pageant queens have the right to voice their opinions (whether or not it’s in response to a question posed during competition)? Absolutely.

    Do I think pageant queens opinions carry any weight? No, because they have no political power. At best, their answers may lead to some living room discourse or introspection. Miss “Whoever Whatsit” mostly focus on charity/pet causes, so unless a lady gets up and says her mission for her reign is to abolish abortion or something, I don’t really care about their answers. These questions are lobbed at contestants as an attempt to prove that pageants aren’t about looks despite the elaborate gowns, hours of hair/make-up, & bikini-clad “fitness” rounds.

  • Loz

    I find it ridiculous that she noted healthcare is a privilege…yet it’s because of her government job that she gets lifetime healthcare. It’s very sad that all Americans do not understand healthcare should never be a privilege…it should be just as constitutional as the polarising “right to bear arms”.

  • Yana Georgieva

    I agree with you, Amelia, those questions should not be asked. And not so much because these shows try to introduce political discussions in beauty pageants, which may or may not impress certain views on their viewership, but because they use these segments as an example that their programs are *more* than *just* beauty contests, that they give their participants the chance to express their viewpoint on *complex* issues, “advocate for humanitarian issues” and what not, making the show not just a meat market. But the contestants are still given 30 or so seconds to discuss health care or terrorism or any controversial topic of the day. Would I be able to give a shining example of an answer thoroughly expressing my views in this amount of time? Maybe, but most probably not. So I say bullshit to any half-assed attempt of making a show seem more relevant under the guise of “giving women the chance to voice their opinion”.

    By the way, John Oliver did a segment on that a while back:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDPCmmZifE8 (Miss America, not Miss USA, but his point was rather similar).

  • frannypaul

    What do I think? Internalized misogyny is a thing. False consciousness is real. When The Clampdown calls, answer! That’s what I think.

  • Kay Nguyen

    I think it’s ridiculous to bring up one’s political view to a beauty contest, that’s the mistake of the contest itself. For her part, I do agree with her since I live in both DC and Virginia, but let’s put that aside, where is the freedom of speech right? She spoke out about her personal opinion and got bashed for it?

    Isn’t feminism about supporting women especially but people disagreed with her because she doesn’t associate herself with being a feminist? Isn’t the point of this is to support women regardless of where they stand? She is also a scientist so she definitely knows what she is talking about. It’s just sad to see modern feminism turning to a bad direction from its original’s purpose. Modern feminism is becoming un-feminism.

    https://www.myblackcloset.com/

  • Bruce9

    Not, a “privilege.” ‘Entitled’ Prog.

  • Kimberley Boehm

    McCullough has the right to say whatever she pleases, but she’s learned that she’ll face consequences for her remarks. I suspect she rushed her remarks and since the event she’s clarified her remark and said: “it’s a privilege to have her job and a right to have healthcare.” She grew up in a military family and, now, she has a government job with healthcare. Her healthcare has been subsidized by taxpayers most of her life. Maybe she meant that it was a privilege having such access to healthcare. Most of us aren’t so lucky.

  • oliviafortune

    The fuck did I just watch

  • courtney b

    i think the final woman’s answer was amazing and very clear to understand for those younger children who watch the event. personally i thought miss usa’s answer was all over the place and confusing but it is good that she believes in equality at work but it also seems that she knows the definition of feminism and to say she isn’t one i find confusing. most people who say they aren’t feminists don’t know the actual definition but those like miss usa who know the definition and aren’t feminists i can’t comprehend the fact that they don’t see themselves just as important/equal to men. yes men and women have they’re differences scientifically but it doesn’t mean that one gender should be treated differently than the other in their rights, education, athletissima, etc.

  • Imika

    People need to learn to agree to disagree again. I feel like many people seem to gather a self entitlement around their opinions and too quickly label people a bigot, a racist or chauvinistic if they are to disagree with a point of view. i don’t enjoy sharing views anymore through fear of passive aggressive remarks or condescending attitudes. The road to the moral high ground is much travelled in 2017

  • catryne

    No one is allowed any belief but the right…sorry LEFT belief. How sad to have such a lovely hour and a half spoiled by those who can’t resist dragging their own agenda into the mix. At least they are consistent.