Source: AP Images
I had the amazing opportunity to speak with Chhavi Verg, the current Miss New Jersey USA, and recent first runner-up in the 2017 Miss USA pageant. This article actually consists of two segments. The first half examines media ownership and its relation to both the Miss USA pageant as well as the infamous feminist question that got everyone and their pets all jazzed up this pageant. The latter half examines Chhavi Verg’s understanding and application of feminism through her efforts to improve female education.
The firestorm which ensued over last weekend’s Miss USA had many questioning the ever illustrious topic of feminism: the thing that does not have a clearly defined meaning and never will, thus eliminating the need for that colon.
The two finalists in the Miss USA pageant, Miss Washington D.C. Kara McCullough and Miss New Jersey Chhavi Verg responded eh, a little differently to the question: “What do you consider feminism to be and to you consider yourself to be a feminist?"
The winner, Miss Kara McCullough of Washington DC’s response: So as a woman scientist in the government, I’d like to transpose the word feminism to equalism. I don’t really want to consider myself, I try not to consider myself, like, this diehard, ‘I don’t really care about men.’ But one thing I’m going to say is, though, women we are just as equal as men when it comes to opportunity in the workplace. And I say firsthand I have witnessed the impact that women have in leadership in the medical scientists as well as just in the office environment.
So as Miss USA I would hope to promote that type of leadership responsibility globally to so many women worldwide.
The first runner-up, Chhavi Verg of New Jersey’s response: Feminism is striving for equality and I do consider myself a feminist. I think it's a misconception when people believe that feminism is women being better than men. But it's really not. It's a fight for equality. And we need to realize that if we want a stable society, a better future for every single individual, we need to be equal. And that's why I advocate for education for women. Women are still held back in places in the world. They still don't have that right to their independence, that right to their equality — all because of education. And, once we do take that step, I believe that an equal world will be a better world.
While feminism and many other concepts and words like: democracy, soup(is it cold or hot?) and the mysterious blue/gold/white dress that broke the Internet, are constantly debated. This is especially so as we are in the midst of what is known as the third wave of feminism where every definition is subjective to each individual’s previous experience and interpretation of the definition. So, to say one answer is correct and one is incorrect would be inconsistent with this subjective, non-linear and lack-of-definition, definition of feminism.
While many have argued that Miss Kara McCullough’s definition was antiquated and less reflective of the majority of feminists’ views, this piece is not meant to validate one meaning of feminism and discredit the other, but rather to explore how this incident reveals less about Kara McCullough’s definition of feminism and more about the media network’s definition. While third wave feminism is consistent with the meaning the individual assigns to it based on their own experiences and understanding, in this case, the definition might reflect the network’s understanding of feminism as consistent with its values and viewership.
Let us first remember the history of Miss USA’s parents. Yes, Donald Trump was partial owner of the Miss USA pageant alongside NBCUniversal. The pageant was continuously aired on NBC until 2015 when Trump’s offensive comments regarding Mexican immigrants surfaced. NBCUniversal owns the Spanish television broadcast network, Univision and decided Trump’s comments ran just slightly counter to those of its viewers, some, who you guessed it, are Mexican. NBC stopped airing the Miss USA pageant. Without a network to air the pageant, Trump was forced to sell the pageant to the organization WME/IMG, which now airs the pageant on FOX, a further right leaning network than NBC. According to Quartz, the median age of a FOX network viewer is 68. According to The Atlantic, FOX “has a monopoly on the older, conservative viewer.” It is then expected that FOX will appease their demographic.
It is dangerous to solely criticize Kara McCullough for her response, but the media network and system as whole.
How does the winner of Miss USA bolster FOX’s values and appease its viewers? Winner Miss Kara McCullough’s answer received immediate backlash from every tweeter, blogger, and breather in the US of A. We often forget FOX network’s role in the calamity. How did FOX reflect its own definition of feminism upon granting her the Miss USA title?
Many will argue the validity of the individuals of the competition.
Now, when burritos and Miss USA all come together.
Remember the E.Coli issue at Chipotle? Yeah you do! Over 100 people reported they had been infected by either E. Coli or the norovirus. Nonetheless, it was not the restaurant goers who were criticized, but the restaurant itself. Chipotle was forced to close many of its locations, watch its stock plummet and then beg for forgiveness by launching a free burrito campaign. We investigated Chipotle as a means of addressing a problem, rather than blame the individuals. So, when will we begin to examine FOX like we examine the current Miss USA?
What does first runner-up, Miss New Jersey think of all of this?
Runner-up Chhavi Verg does not know if the change in network affected the outcome of the event. Verg says her answers would not change regardless of the network airing the pageant. “As much as she would have loved for the crown to have been hers, staying true to myself and my values is the most important thing to me,” said Verg.
Chhavi Verg, who is a little(a lot) nicer than myself, preferred to focus on the empowerment of women, saying “feminism is not only about equality but empowerment…you can support me without putting someone else down,” in response to all of the criticism the current Miss USA has received.
Moving forward, Verg hopes to empower women and girls through education which Verg defines as the “sharing of knowledge and ideas”, a goal inspired by her grandmother’s lack of education and early marriage.
Like feminism, education is subject to a variety of meanings. Verg makes hopes to address the lack of education in which exists through all facets of the word.
Verg hopes to tackle education in the academic sense through her creation of a school in India. She is currently raising money to fund the construction of the actual school as well as the education initiative.
“When you don’t have an education, you don’t know what you can and cannot do,” Verg said. Throughout the world, many women lack general knowledge regarding things like family planning, financial literacy and basic legal rights. Verg believes many married women are especially affected when they lack understanding of their legal rights. Young women are often married off and fall victim to domestic abuse and sexual violence with little understanding of the steps they can take to stop it, Verg said.
Verg also aims to educate women through empowerment and inspiration. While more women in the developed world are more educated now more than ever before, the pace of the female climb up the corporate latter is still slow in comparison to the male stride.Verg credits this trend to a lack of female confidence and demand for promotion. She hopes to empower women through her social media campaign called Wonder Woman Wednesday where she highlights “women who have overcome obstacles and have come out on top.” This too, she believes, is knowledge.
“I hope to inspire other girls to continue pursuing their dreams no matter what they are facing, no matter what they want,” Verg said.
How to tie all of this together? Well with greater education for all, maybe we can begin to examine and measure issues on a systemic level rather than an individualized one, and isn’t that one of the many goals of feminism anyway?
Peace, love, feminism, burritos and E.Coli.