The Miss America pageants have been fraught with controversy ever since their inception, such as the 1968 Miss America protests, home of the famous “bra burnings” rumor which now has become associated with feminism. Urban legends aside and 46 years later, the Miss America pageant still stirs the pot among feminists. This year’s ceremony has come under fire on the Internet, especially after John Oliver’s brilliant takedown on his show “Last Week Tonight.”
In his segment, Oliver expertly demolishes both the pageant’s scholarship program—lauded by Miss America as the “largest provider of scholarships to women”—to the various stages of the competition, especially the interview portion of the pageant.
Scholarships and complicated questions barely mask the patriarchal nature of the Miss America pageant. While the contest seems to attempt a change in image, the fact that the pageant seems to place little importance on actual intellect and more on looks doesn’t make its case compelling. While the idea that women are more than just two DDs and a body that looks good in a bathing suit is catching on more and more, Miss America seems to have not gotten the message.
Miss America’s claim that they are the largest provider of scholarships to women is, unfortunately, true: they are larger than the Society of Women Engineers, the Patsy Mink Foundation, and the Jeanette Rankin Scholarship Fund. However, Miss America doesn’t give nearly as much as it would lead the viewers of the pageant to believe.
Oliver pointed out that after going through a thorough analysis of the pageant’s tax returns—which are public because Miss America is a not-for-profit organization—the money given as scholarship funds is just shy of $500,000. Certainly not the millions of dollars the spokespeople claimed.
In addition, Oliver tore apart the interview section of the pageant, in which contestants were asked complicated questions and allowed 20 seconds for a concise answer.
The interview portion has received criticism in the past, and the answers of pageant contestants have been subject to ridicule for years. This year, the various Misses of America were asked for their opinions on complicated national issues. This included everything from phone tracking to prisoner exchanges to solving the ISIS crisis. The one contestant asked about ISIS answered in 20 seconds and was more clear and concise than some of the answers given by our government, but this was not, of course, what was focused on.
Miss America may boast large scholarships, but, as John Oliver revealed, they are a few million dollars from what they claim to be.