Why It's Not Sexist to Criticize Miss USA

May 15th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

The newly crowned Miss USA, Kara McCullough, is getting a lot of backlash from liberals over her controversial statements about about health care and her rejection of the "feminist" label —  this controversy, and the ensuing debate, is actually the most feminist thing about the pageant. 

As a former one-time contestant for Miss Massachusetts USA in 2012 — my mother made me do it, for the first and last time, as a 25-year-old (honest) — I have my own take on the controversy and interview section of the pageant in particular. Although I didn't have to do it on stage, I too had to answer questions about politics and social issues, just like everyone else who competes. And, to me, that was one of the best parts of an unattractive process.

My family and I after the Miss Massachusetts USA pageant in 2012.

Asked about health care policy while on stage Sunday at the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas, McCullough, a scientist at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission representing the District of Columbia, said access to affordable health care is not a right.

"I'm definitely going to say it's a privilege," McCullough said. "As a government employee, I am granted health care and I see firsthand that for one to have health care you need to have jobs, so, therefore, we need to cultivate this environment that we're given the opportunity to have health care as well as jobs to all the American citizens worldwide."

"Newly-crowned Miss USA Kara McCullough, who represented the District of Columbia, claimed health care is a privilege and not a right.."

Whether you think access to health care is a right or a privilege, her answer is convoluted. What is the correlation between the question and watching people struggle to get jobs in order to have health care? I'm not sure. And "American citizens worldwide" need jobs? What girl? If they're Americans living a "worldwide" lifestyle they probably already have jobs (or trust funds). She may have a well thought out argument that supports her answer in her head, but at least for me, it didn't come across when she was on stage. 

McCullough also said that she's not a feminist, a term that literally just means you think men and women should be treated as equals.

"I don't want to call myself a feminist," she said. "Women, we are just as equal as men, especially in the workplace." This suggests she doesn't understand the meaning of the term, or she is rejecting some of the negative connotations she perceives as associated with the word.

People on Twitter were disappointed or even angry with McCullough's answers. 







Others supported her. 





Some argued we shouldn't even be asking pageant competitors political questions. 




data-conversation="none" data-lang="en">

@mashable Who care what a beauty queen says. She needs to stick to maps!!!

— #RESIST (@tarheelmary) May 15, 2017

The last time there was this much backlash at a pageant contestant was after former Miss South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton's incoherent "the Iraq" answer during the Miss Teen USA pageant in 2007. Upton was asked why a 1 in 5 Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map and she responded by vaguely mentioning the education systems in South Africa and Iraq. Her jumbled response became viral gold. 

There is an argument to be made that pageants, by their very nature, focus on physical characteristics over talent or intelligence, and perpetuate antiquated ideas of female beauty. However, I think that criticism is overly simplistic. Women are allowed to be proud of their bodies, own them, and show them off — if they choose to do that. The judging of those bodies is, of course, where the conversation gets complicated.

Besides the name-calling and sexist tropes that are commonly used to insult women, though, the substantive conversation about McCullough's interview answers is probably the most obviously feminist thing about pageants, because it shows that we care about what's in her head. Simply dismissing her answers as if they don't matter either way is terrible. They do matter. 

Don't freak out, but women are allowed to be pretty and smart at the same time, and many are.

Miss Massachusetts USA 2012.

If we don't care about the questions section of the pageant, that means all we care about is women walking around in bikinis and evening gowns, not their thoughts. That implies pretty women have nothing to offer intellectually. 

Beyond the physical preparation for a pageant in the Miss USA system, the interview section shows women's ability to think on their feet and show their knowledge about the world and current affairs.

Every woman who steps on that stage has been coached.

I had a coach for everything from interview answers to walking to fitness and nutrition; so did every other pageant contestant. Yes, I walked around a room in heels and a woman told me what I did wrong. Likewise, the purpose of the interview training wasn't to tell me the "right" answers, but to allow me to better articulate my own opinions.

If McCullough truly believes access to affordable health care is a privilege, then her training failed her. McCullough is a scientist and clearly intelligent, but she was not able to get a coherent point across — and for that she probably should be dragged.

Considering she won, however, perhaps judges valued the physical aspects of the pageant over these confusing answers, which is problematic.

RELATED: This Amy Schumer Sketch Nails the Problem With Pageant Culture