As the Miss America Organization continues its evolution, under the leadership of Gretchen Carlson, toward “Miss America 2.0,” there were bound to growing pains. But when the emcee of the Miss Massachusetts pageant decided to satirize the end of the swimsuit competition by also making fun of the #MeToo movement, many felt that it had gone to far.
The skit involved a woman praying to God about the swimsuit competition’s end, saying, “And I’m trying to understand, God, why it happened,” according to video obtained by The Observer. The actor playing God held up a “#MeToo” sign and said, “Me too, Amy.”
The contestants heard the skit from backstage.
The incident prompted one contestant, Maude Gorman, to resign her title of Miss Plymouth County. Now she and the new Miss Massachusetts, Gabriela Taveras, are both pledging to use their platforms to support fellow sexual assault survivors.
“Everyone was just taken aback,” Gorman tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I think they couldn’t believe that it had just happened. I think a lot of people were very shocked because they love the Miss America Organization and are proud to be a part of it, as was I.”
“As both a survivor, and advocate for victims rights and sexual violence on a whole, I refuse to stand idly by and simply ‘let this go,’ ” she wrote on Instagram last week. “Instead, I will stand up for every individual who has ever had the courage to speak out; and for every person who felt liberated by the #metoo movement. I will not allow ANYONE to take away that empowerment and liberation, or make it anything less than what it is: AMAZING.”
Gorman was gang-raped at 13 and didn’t feel she could tell anyone about what happened until she was 16, after years of suffering from PTSD and dropping out of school. She eventually became a rape crisis counselor, and told her story to everyone who would listen when she held the title of Miss Massachusetts World in 2015. After the skit, she went home and wrote her letter of resignation.
“I have spoken out on this issue to try to get it taken seriously and to encourage others to speak out,” Gorman tells Yahoo. “So to have something mocked that is so close to me, it was something that I just had to stand up for.”
The Miss Massachusetts Scholarship Foundation has apologized for the skit while also denying advance knowledge of its content.
“The Miss Massachusetts Scholarship Pageant Board of Directors supports Maude Gorman’s difficult decision to step down as Miss Plymouth County,” says a statement sent to Yahoo. “However, it is important to note that the Board had no knowledge of the skit pertaining to the elimination of the swimsuit competition from the Miss America Program, nor do we condone it. A formal apology from our board was released last week. The skit was not designed to make light of sexual assault or the Me,Too movement – but instead to poke fun at the uproar caused in the pageant community over swimsuit being eliminated.”
In the video, the audience can be heard laughing at the joke, and there has subsequently been the chorus of voices claiming that it was all meant well. But Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, explains why this cannot be a laughing matter.
“Joking about rape, trivializing sexual exploitation, and making fun of an environment that takes those things seriously is what creates a climate that silences people,” Houser tells Yahoo. “Nobody is saying you can’t talk about it. There have been comedians who used humor in an appropriate way to help lessen the stigma around talking about it. The way this joke was delivered does not meet that bar.”
After the competition, Gorman sent a message to Taveras, congratulating her for her win. Taveras is now the first black woman ever to hold the Miss Massachusetts title. Alhough she too is a sexual assault survivor, Taveras is taking a different approach to this controversy.
“[I want] to set that example that you can come from a poor town, a single-parent household, have an incarcerated father, be a sexual assault survivor, you can lose a friend when you’re 13 years old to gun violence, and you can still make it,” Taveras tells Yahoo. Her competition platform is called FEAR, which stands for “Face Everything And Rise,” and by everything, she is including the assault she endured from when she was in preschool until first grade.
“Every single person I encounter, I try to look them in the eyes and say, ‘You are unbreakable; take your worst fear and change it into something that is empowering,’ ” she says.
To that end, Taveras hopes that she can work with Gorman to respond to those who still want to make light of #MeToo, “to create a program to tell people where the lines are drawn and what is crossing that line.” “I’m a firm believer that you can’t just get loud, you have to get proactive,” Taveras adds. “If you see something, say something, do something.”
Houser thinks that both women are in a good position to help lessen the stigma of talking about rape and assault.
“If you have ever been assaulted and kept it a secret for some period of time, you know that when you hear somebody else be brave enough to speak about it in public, it sparks a little bit of courage inside of you and can make you feel like maybe it will be okay to raise my hand and say me too and get some help,” Houser says.
“[Taveras] has got a great opportunity to chip away at that stigma and isolation of other young women who might be looking up to her.”
Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle:
- Woman’s post about in-home assault by delivery person prompts fear. Here’s how to exercise caution.
- What to learn about trauma survival from Harvey Weinstein’s ex-wife, Georgina Chapman
- There’s a major sexual harassment problem at the World Cup