Former Misses America have become doctors, lawyers, government and nonprofit leaders as well as actors, singers and television journalists.
Now that Miss America Organization CEO Sam Haskell and other leaders have resigned, after vulgar emails disparaging the appearance, intellect and sexuality of Misses America surfaced, it may be time for one of them to take over the leadership of the competition itself.
Miss America 1984 Suzette Charles, who grew up in Mays Landing and now lives in Manhattan, said she would welcome a woman leading the competition.
“I think that would be wonderful,” said Charles, who was among 49 Misses America who signed a petition Friday demanding the resignation of Haskell and the Board of Directors.
On Saturday, Charles said she got an email from Miss America 1989 Gretchen Carlson, confirming more than 2,000 state and local pageant organizers had signed a petition to remove Haskell.
Men have dominated staff leadership positions at MAO. Haskell was CEO; Josh Randle, who also resigned Saturday, was president; Eli Popicg is chief financial officer and Marc Angeli is vice president of field operations.
The all-male top executive team was a topic of conversation in MAO for a long time, said Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan.
Hagan was the target of some of Haskell’s most vulgar emails. She said Haskell began attacking her after she began dating Brent Adams, who was then Haskell’s assistant. Haskell reportedly had told Adams he wanted Adams to date his daughter.
Despite Haskell bringing shame on the organization, it is going to survive, said Hagan, the co-anchor of the evening news at an NBC affiliate in Columbus, Georgia.
“Women are coming together swiftly to figure out how to better run the program, move forward from this and make sure we have a great pageant this year,” Hagan said. “Once people see there’s going to be a board in place that embodies the mission of Miss America … we’ll be able to operate like a real nonprofit, not a throne for someone to sit on.”
A woman was pageant director during Miss America’s heyday from 1941 to 1967. Lenora S. Slaughter is credited with greatly expanding the scholarship program in a time when few women went to college.
Deb Huber, president of the National Organization for Women New Jersey, said MAO leaders who did not treat women with respect should resign.
“There must be consequences to bad behavior — or else there will be no change,” she wrote in an email.
“The women’s movement has long had problems with the Miss America institution,” Huber said, protesting it back in 1968 for promoting an “ideal” appearance for women. “The current controversy shows that those in leadership at MAO have learned little about women in the ensuing half-century. They slut-shame and fat-shame, continuing to treat women as mere sex objects.”
India Karavackas, president of the board at the Atlantic County Women’s Center, said she was not surprised by the Haskell emails, which she called miso-gynist.
“These attitudes are pervasive across all industries,” said Karavackas, who is the director of global engagement at Stockton University and has volunteered for the Women’s Center for eight years.
She said the apparent complicity of women such MAO Board President Lynn Weidner and Vice President Tammy Haddad also is common. Haddad resigned from the board Friday and Weidner resigned Saturday.
“We see this happening across industries, with women feeling afraid to step up and say something,” Karavackas said. “Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, they are complicit in the activity.”
It’s important to realize this kind of behavior is no laughing matter, she said, because “words can become actions.”
“At the Women’s Center we deal with the fallout,” she said. “We see women who are physically and emotionally abused, and who have sexual violence committed against them.”
It’s all related, she said.
“A lot of education has to happen,” Karavackas said. “This is a powerful moment for women across America.”
Atlantic County Freeholder-elect Ashley Bennett, who was motivated to run for office after Atlantic County Freeholder John Carman made disparaging comments about the January Women’s March on Washington, said the email controversy didn’t surprise her.
“It’s sad. I’m not surprised by those particular comments, but it’s sad,” Bennett said Friday.
Carman shared a meme on Facebook during January’s Women’s March in Washington asking whether the protest would be “over in time for them to cook dinner.”
Bennett said the competition needs to make changes in more than just its leadership.
“There are aspects of the pageant that have to change with the times,” she said, such as the bathing suit and evening gown competitions that judge contestants on appearance.
“They are very talented, educated women who are involved in their communities and are passionate about causes,” Bennett said. “That gets lost in the show.”
Charles, who took over the crown when Miss America 1984 Vanessa Williams was forced to resign after nude photos surfaced, said she only recently has become involved with the competition again — in the last two years.
Haskell apologized to Williams during the 2016 competition’s national telecast in September 2015, with words that now seem disingenuous.
“On behalf of today’s organization, I want to apologize (to you) and to your mother. … I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be,” he said.
Williams was a judge that year.
The future of the Miss America competition in Atlantic City appears to be in jeopardy as state lawmakers Friday called on the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to pull a $4 million state subsidy over the emails.
On Thursday, MAO lost its television contract when dick clark productions cut ties with the Miss America Organization over the Haskell emails.