December was a month full of change in the Miss America organization. Following the leak of a stream of emails from Miss America CEO Sam Haskell which contained a multitude of personal attacks toward former contestants and winners, there was an uproar calling for his resignation. In these emails, Haskell, along with Miss America telecast lead writer Lewis Friedman, seemed to favor poking fun at 2013 winner Mallory Hagan. In one, which Haskell had forwarded to Friedman, he had gained information about Hagan’s love life as well as men she had been with from Hagan’s hairdresser. To this Friedman replied, “Mallory’s preparing for her new career… as a blimp in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade,” and went on to say that Hagan was destroying her own career. But then, Friedman ended the email by saying, “Ps. Are we the four ones not to have (slept with) Mallory?” The emails go on and on and on, but if you want to know exactly how far they go or how disgusting they get, check out this article from the Huffington Post by Yashar Ali that explains the full backstory.
After the release of these emails had spread throughout the Miss America community, the women started calling for Haskell, as well as the other board members who were also involved in this scandal, to resign. A petition was created by Mallory Hagan which did just that. In the description she says, “In 2013 I was crowned Miss America. I recently read—via these emails—this group of leaders use desparaging comments about my weight and insinuate that I have a sexually transmitted disease. There was also an organized effort to crush my personal business. In the wake of women’s empowerment and the #MeToo movement, I won’t stand for this type of behavior in our organization.” The petition received over 18,000 signatures and had a relitively incredible impact on the Miss America organization’s leadership.
Just 11 days after the leak, it was announced that former Miss America (1989) Gretchen Carlson will become the new chairwoman. This announcement marks the first time that a former Miss America will be able to serve as the leader of the organization which has been around for nearly 100 years. Carlson was not the only replacement to the previously misogynistic organization; also added were Laura Kaeppeler Fleiss (Miss America 2012), Heather French Henry (Miss America 2000) and Kate Shindle (Miss America 1998). Shindle was one of the women who were mentioned by name in Haskell’s emails.
The news of the replacement spread, making previous contestants and winners jump for joy. Alyssa Murray (Miss Delaware 2012) is an old dance teacher of mine as well as a friend and, upon seeing the announcement, she shared this article to her page and captioned it, “2018, I really like you so far.”
This victory was a rare but special win for women in the pageant industry. By creating a petition, spreading the emails and using their voices, previous Miss America contestants were able to disband an entire board and replace them with former winners who had not yet been given the opportunity to lead. While the organization’s true intentions might have been questioned, this win was a step closer to the overall goal of preserving the integrity of the program.