“Nuclear Chemist Crowned Miss USA!” That should’ve been the headline.
When a 25-year-old scientist from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wins a beauty pageant, it ought to rattle the cages of repressive, sexist stereotypes all around the world.
Instead, within seconds, Twitter was ablaze with partisan bickering over what the new Miss USA, Kára McCullough, said about healthcare and feminism.
In what might have been one of the happiest moments of her life, she inadvertently alienated countless fans and blew her chance to lay claim to a powerful headline linked to her message.
It’s one of the most public missed moments we’ve seen (outside the political arena) in a while. And it was so unnecessary. Knowing a handful of tips can help you avoid a fail like this.
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU
When asked if healthcare were a right or a privilege, Ms. McCullough said it was definitely a privilege. Posts on social media went through the roof. Conservatives opposed to universal healthcare praised her for supporting for their position. Liberals turned against her, angry and disappointed.
They were both missing the point.
The answer of the soon-to-be Miss USA 2017 wasn’t political, it was personal. “I definitely am not taking my health care for granted, and that’s why I said it’s a privilege,” she explained in a retweet of her Fox News appearance the next day. The message she had inadvertently telegraphed was far different.
Even after wearing the crown of Miss District of Columbia USA 2017 for months, she is still answering questions like a private person, not a public figure.
Once you step onto the public stage, you are obligated to think beyond yourself. People expect you to convey a message that is bigger than you are.
If I go on Fox News to answer questions about police brutality or sexual harassment, I can’t say, “Personally, I don’t have any experience of that. I’ve never felt threatened by police or lost my job because of sexual harassment. My life is great!” I need to be aware of the thousands of people who have suffered from these issues and try to shed new light on the problem. When I can’t speak from experience, I make it my business to get informed.
EARN YOUR EXPERTISE
It’s not just beauty pageant queens. People in the public eye are expected to be better informed than the average person—whether they expect that of themselves or not.
When asked whether he thought actors should be weighing in on Afghanistan, British actor Dominic Cooper famously said, “I think it’s madness. There’s too much weight and gravitas given to people who ultimately dress up in frocks and dance around.”
That may be true. But it’s the world we live in. A comedian from Saturday Night Live is a respected Senator from Minnesota and there’s a reality TV star in the White House.
All of us, every day, make public statements in ads and posts on social media. When you step outside the personal arena, whether on behalf of a personal or corporate brand, you can’t speak with authority unless you’re well informed.
You’re not talking to your besties, blurting out opinions based on things you’ve heard. If you expect to be taken seriously, you have to earn your expertise. Otherwise, you run the risk of embarrassing yourself with an out-of-date, superficial understanding of the issues.
When asked whether she was a feminist, Ms. McCullough said, “I try not to consider myself this die-hard, ‘I don’t care about men’ [type]. Women, we are just as equal as men …” Fans watching the pageant reacted as if a bomb had gone off.
“Who says feminists hate men? Gurl!!!” Makho Ndlovu
“What? Noooooo. This is the first #MissUSA I don’t approve of. Her answers show she is uneducated on women’s & health care issues” Tara Bowlin
She needs to recall that it was die-hard suffragists and feminists, fighting in the trenches for generations before us, who had made it possible for her to work outside the home, vote in elections, get an education and be “just as equal as men.”
In fact, feminism has come so far that enlightened women can support a beauty pageant as something more than the objectification of women, because they’ve carved out a place in the world where women can be powerful and beautiful and educated, too.
She was standing on that stage as a beautiful woman and a scientist because of feminists and she spoke as if she didn’t even know it.
Now as she’s about to embark on the biggest media tour of her life, her first task is to win back the women who are well enough informed about the history of that struggle to be offended.