Miss America complains the organization marginalized her

A groundbreaking member of the #MeToo movement is now being accused of bullying, marginalizing, and manipulating women herself. At least one woman, anyway. The current Miss America, Cara Mund, penned a letter to 1984 Miss America Suzette Charles, now made public, that can only be described as highly unusual. The Chairman of the Miss America Organization, former Fox News anchor and pageant winner Gretchen Carlson along with the organization’s CEO Regina Hopper are called out for some very unempowering behavior.

Remember when Gretchen Carlson left Fox News and accused Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment? She brought a lawsuit against him and ended up with a settlement of $20M and an apology. Eight months ago, Carlson swooped in and declared herself the savior of the Miss America pageant, working to bring the beauty contest into the modern era.

It turns out, however, that Carlson and Hopper are victimizing the 2018 title-holder with much the same verbal and mental abuse that Carlson accused her former employer of during her time at Fox if Mund’s allegations are truthful. Mund’s letter is in response to the organization’s reaction after she gave an interview in Atlantic City that included less than glowing words about happiness in her job. She takes no prisoners. (emphasis hers)

Let me be blunt: I strongly believe that my voice is not heard nor wanted by our current leadership; nor do they have any interest in knowing who I am and how my experiences relate to positioning the organization for the future. I truly felt more valued, respected, and viewed as a real collaborator within my first three months rather than these last eight months. The differences in treatment are stark.

Our chair and CEO have systematically silenced me, reduced me, marginalized me, and essentially erased me in my role as Miss America in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis.

After a while, the patterns have clearly emerged, and the sheer accumulation of the disrespect, passive-aggressive behavior, belittlement, and outright exclusion has taken a serious toll.
She goes on to complain about talking points issued that she is expected to work into any speech or interview but most of all she is really not ok with Carlson being the face of the pageant. This stage isn’t big enough for the both of us, missy. 

Right away, new leadership delivered an important message: There will be only one Miss America at a time, and she isn’t me.

To reinforce this, they told me that I’m not important enough to do big interviews, and that the major press is “obviously” reserved for Gretchen. Step out of line there and not only do you get treated to being pulled into the office for a dressing down by Regina, but Brent Adams also joins in on the action.

Brent Adams is VP of Branding and Development. Mund didn’t like missing a trip to Cannes, either.

Gretchen and Brent went to Cannes, representing the organization at a global marketing and advertising conference where Gretchen spoke about Miss America in the era of #MeToo. While they were in France, I was back in North Dakota. If I’d been invited to attend and speak about the relevance of Miss America, I would have been able to tell the world how I, as a young leader, have firsthand knowledge and experience regarding the ways in which MAO is supposedly poised for the future. Such an invitation would require the leadership to care who I am and maybe learn why the judges selected me in the first place.

While I quickly became bored with her self-pity and complaints that she’s treated as an employee and not the boss, she does present an interesting resume which she thinks uniquely qualifies her for the job she holds. She began her full-time working career in the office of Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) and also worked in public relations for the fashion industry.

I have prepared for ups and downs and challenges not just for this job but for any job. My first full-time job was working in Washington, D.C. for Senator John Hoeven. This experience brought me in touch with a wide range of constituents, witnessing their passion for legislation and policies that positively impact their lives. I was working for the Senator during two major events of controversy: 2016 Election and North Dakota’s Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). I know the importance of communication because I was listening and responding to all sides of issues. From that job, I was inspired to continue being an advocate as Miss America. I did everything I could this year to take advantage of this opportunity. I even personally paid part of my airfare to attend the 2018 State of the Union because I wanted Miss America represented!

The final insult to Ms. Mund is the organization’s decision to whittle down her appearance in the 2019 pageant to only 30 seconds. Ouch. She calls it retribution for her interview with the Atlantic City press.

This is all very unusual. Miss America and other beauty pageants strive for an atmosphere that is non-controversial. They are only made possible with the help of corporate sponsors and have to appeal to middle America for television ratings. Though recent years have brought more and more openly political tone in the questions being asked of contest finalists, which is really the wrong path to take in my opinion, usually scandals come from past personal behavior of a winner that surface.

The Miss America Organization released a statement in response to Mund’s letter Friday.

“It is disappointing that she chose to air her grievances publicly not privately.  Her letter contains mischaracterizations and many unfounded accusations. We are reaching out to her privately to address her concerns,” says the statement. “The Miss America Organization supports Cara.”

The Miss America pageant is a business. It looks like Cara Mund had to find that out the hard way. Her first mistake was believing that a beauty contest was going to be all about empowering women in today’s world. Carlson made the decision to eliminate the swimsuit competition but it’s still a beauty contest. Most of the young women are pursuing educational opportunities and that is where the importance of the scholarships awarded to the winners comes in. Many winners have taken their time in the spotlight and made the most of it. Good for them. Make no mistake, however. When the audience looks at Miss America, the first thought is not about her intelligence.

Mund is learning a lesson that young people have to do as they get into the working world – in return for the paycheck, the boss calls the shots. Publicly calling your boss a bully isn’t a smart path to career advancement.