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.
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.