Miss America pageants are changing for the better, but that change has been slow to catch on in some state competitions.
On June 30, 2018, the emcee of the Miss Massachusetts pageant mocked #MeToo, blaming the loss of the swimsuit competition on the movement.
In a brief skit, a woman spoke to someone dressed as God, saying, “We may have very well seen the last ever swimsuit competition on stage. It’s very upsetting, and I’m trying to understand, God, why it happened.” And the person playing God held up a #MeToo sign and replied, “Me too, Amy.”
Some in the audience cheered and laughed, but one contestant, Maude Gorman didn’t find it funny.
I can’t believe I just attended my last Miss Massachusetts orientation (ever!!). The last thing I expected this year was to be competing in pageants again; yet alone with the Miss America Organization. I had previously aged out, and thought that was that. But, by some miracle, they the increased the age limit, and I knew I had to give it one last try! I’m extremely grateful to be a titleholder at a time in my life where I stand to show others just how beautiful STRONG is. I’m 30 lbs heavier than when I last competed 🎉🎉🎉, can now bench press more than I used to weigh when I last stepped foot on that stage, and I can’t wait to show myself (and everybody) that change and strength within self is one of the biggest wins of all 🙏 #missmassachusetts #missplymouthcounty #mao #strongisbeautiful #7seasroasting #rxathlete #beautyandabeast
“It was heartbreaking to hear,” said Gorman, who was competing in the pageant as Miss Plymouth County. “In that moment, everything collapsed right in front of me.”
She skipped the reception after the show and went home to draft her resignation from the pageant. With her experiences, this was something Gorman couldn’t let stand.
At 13, Maude Gorman was attacked and raped by three men — a secret she kept for years. Gorman and a friend had walked to a playground to swing on the swings, and as they were leaving, three highly intoxicated men approached them. The girls ran in different directions, but the men chased after and caught up with Gorman. They took turns raping her before finally letting her go. Embarrassed and ashamed, she didn’t tell anyone what happened.
For three years, she kept her story a secret, spiraling in and out of depression, suicide attempts, and other mental health issues. Finally, she told her mom about the rapes, and Gorman started intensive therapy. She and her family consulted a lawyer, but too much time had passed, she didn’t know who the men were, and there wasn’t enough physical evidence to prove the crime.
However, Gorman decided she wouldn’t stay silent any longer.
The top photo: I was 15 years old and completely lost in the world. I hated who I was, what I saw in the mirror, and the words “why me” were a constant thought in my mind. I had no sight of my future nor any hope for better days. The bottom photo: I am not only a survivor, but on a mission to be a voice for the unspeakable. Instead of asking “why me”, I now ask “what can I do”. Instead of hating the world, I’ve learned to discover love in improving it. Instead of fearing those around me, I am open to experience whatever life may offer. Do not give up your fight. You have no idea what tomorrow may bring. #missmaworld #missworldamerica #beautywithapurpose #beautyinaction #SAAM #alwayshope #knowthesigns
Gorman started competing in pageants to boost her confidence and help other sexual assault survivors.
In 2015, at age 21, Gorman made headlines for winning the Miss Massachusetts World America crown and telling judges that she wanted to use her platform to help victims of sexual assault. She started working with the Center for Hope and Healing in Lowell, Massachusetts, and sharing her story at various conferences. At the Miss World pageant, she won first place in the “Beauty with a Purpose” presentation — a three-minute speech in which Gorman spoke candidly about her experience with sexual violence.
“I think society blames victims,” she told the Boston Globe. “I’m trying to remove that blame. My goal is to be that light at the end of the tunnel for those who feel stuck in the darkness.”
Competing in the Miss America Organization pageant was a dream come true for Gorman. But the #MeToo joke crossed the line.
“I refuse to stand idly by and simply ‘let this go,'” says Gorman.
Today, I officially resigned from the title of Miss Plymouth County 2018. While I’m grateful for the opportunities that @missamerica creates for young women, I am also internally conflicted; as the #metoo movement was mocked on stage during the final competition of Miss Massachusetts. 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”. 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. #metoo #missplymouthcounty #nomore #rainn #surviveandthrive
In an Instagram post, Gorman explained why she resigned from her Miss Plymouth County title and turned in her crown. “I will stand up for every individual who has ever had the courage to speak out,” she wrote, “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.”
Joking about rape victims isn’t just tone deaf. It’s a part of the problem.
In a civilized society, there are simply some subjects that are too heinous to be used as comedy fodder. Until we start acknowledging the life-altering pain and anguish that sexual assault survivors have to grapple with, and start treating sexual violence with the gravitas it deserves, we won’t make the changes to our culture and our laws that are needed to prevent such assaults from happening.
Jokes that make light of sexual assault are part of the “rape culture” that spawned the #MeToo movement in the first place, and it’s long past time for them to end. Civilized people don’t joke about the Holocaust. We don’t joke about child trafficking. And we shouldn’t joke about sexual assault victims. It’s not funny. Period.
Three cheers to Maude Gorman for taking a stand and continuing to use her voice to support sexual assault survivors — a feat far more impactful than winning any crown.