Gretchen Carlson, the former Fox News anchor who helped ignite what would become the #MeToo movement in 2016 when she took on former FNC chairman Roger Ailes, is still fighting.
She is lobbying Capitol Hill for potentially powerful anti-harassment legislation, calling for an end to corporate secrecy around harassment litigation — and in her spare time making a musty pageant relevant in the Time’s Up era.
Watch out if you tell her the new, rebranded Miss America pageant, now called a “competition” with ”candidates,” won’t be the same without women in swimsuits and high heels when it airs Sept. 9.
“Everyone said no one will watch it,” Carlson, the 1989 Miss America and current chair of the organization, said Friday at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. “The swimsuit segment was nine minutes out of a two-hour telecast. So that means if we put on an in-depth interview with a candidate to learn the substance of a candidate, that’s not entertaining. I find that a sexist comment.”
Carlson is leading the charge to make Miss America more relevant. For a bit of historical context, remember that it was just in 2005 when Donald Trump told Howard Stern he was planning “even smaller swimsuits” for the Miss USA pageant he had just purchased.
Carlson said she was a “short violin prodigy” who had burned out on the instrument when her mother persuaded her to enter the Miss America pageant. She says she did so reluctantly, just for the chance to win the scholarship money. The hardest part for her, she said, was getting in shape for the swimsuit segment.
(After winning the pageant, Carlson used her scholarship money to pay for her last year of tuition at Stanford University.)
She says young women who might never have dared bare their bodies for the pageant may now consider trying out for the competition.
“We will be much more inclusive,” Carlson said. “Young women think, ‘I’d like to enter, but my body is not perfect. I can’t.’ Well, now you can.”
Carlson said she was hesitant at first to take such a key position in the Miss America organization. Then she realized the “messaging” about how the contest involved smart, accomplished women with often incredible talent had never been correct.
“There’s such a disconnect with regard to a woman who’s smart, talented, accomplished, funny — and by the way she’s physically attractive as well — there must be something wrong with her,” Carlson said.
The new Miss America competition will still include an evening wear segment, but now contestants can choose to wear pants if they like, or short dresses.
Appearing onstage with ad executive Leslie Sims of Y&R, which is working on the Miss America account, Carlson appeared to relish her new, unexpected career as feminist heroine.
“I thought I’d be at home every day crying my eyes out,” she said after deciding to sue Ailes. (Fox settled with her for $20 million.)
Instead, Carlson heard from so many women similarly victimized and realized this was a “fricking epidemic.”
A high point of last year? Seeing Harvey Weinstein in handcuffs.
Said Carlson, “We could never have dreamed that would have happened.”