The organizers of the Miss Massachusetts pageant say that changes are coming to the contest — and it's not just doing away with the swimsuit competition. A skit at last month's event touched a raw nerve. It seemed to make a joke of the #MeToo movement. In the sketch, performed at the Hanover Theater in Worcester, a woman discusses the Miss America pageant -- which Miss Massachusetts feeds into -- with a character playing God. The woman says she's confused why Miss America has done away with the swimsuit competition. The man playing God says "Me too," then holds up a sign that reads "#MeToo."
The joke didn't sit well with at least one Miss Massachusetts contestant. Maude Gorman of Hingham spoke out, and resigned her crown as Miss Plymouth County. Gorman spoke with WGBH's All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about why she gave up her crown. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Barbara Howard: You were standing backstage when this happened. Take me back to that moment.
Maude Gorman: Even just hearing it now, replayed, I have a similar feeling in my stomach of just kind of disgust. You know, my stomach just dropped. It was just, 'This is your next move, Maude, this is what you have to stand up for now.' I’ve had a voice against this for years now, and I knew I had to use the power that I have now to make it known that this is not ok, that it’s not a joking matter. It is unacceptable.
Howard: Did you talk to the other contestants around you when this happened?
Gorman: I did, yes, and I think everyone was just in total disbelief.
Howard: Did you go right then to the organizers and say, 'I’m done?'
Gorman: It was that night that I started drafting my resignation letter. It took me a little while to put my thoughts together and present it how I wanted it to be.
Howard: And you put those words together because of your own experience with sexual abuse?
Gorman: Yes I did.
Howard: And you spoke pretty candidly about your experience back in 2015, before the #MeToo movement, when you were representing Massachusetts at the Miss World pageant. And here’s what you said back then:
Sound clip of Maude Gorman speaking about her experience with sexual assault:
"When I was 13 years old, I was brutally raped while leaving a playground on a summer’s night. The mentality of, 'I cannot believe this happened to me' quickly occupied my every thought, as worthlessness, shame, and hopelessness became everyday battles in the terms of my life."
Howard: With that sort of history, do jokes about #MeToo feel rather tone deaf?
Gorman: Definitely. I don’t know why anyone would think that it is something to joke about, especially given that it has empowered so many men and women to share their stories.
Howard: Tell us what happened when you were 13.
Gorman: I was raped by three men on a playground, and I ended up keeping it a secret for almost four years of my life. And it just took a deep, deep turn and it truly has changed my life and the life of my family members, too.
Howard: What was it that made you finally talk to your mother about it?
Gorman: I saw my life going in a direction that would be too late to turn back. And it was when I was 16 years old that I realized who I was becoming in the world, and it wasn’t who I wanted to be. And I realized I needed to get help for something that was deeply misguiding me.
Howard: And so that’s become your cause, really, is to help women who have been silent about their abuse?
Howard: The organizers of the Miss Massachusetts pageant have apologized. They say that the skit was not meant to poke fun at the #MeToo movement, but they say that going forward all skit material will be reviewed in advance and contestants will be part of that review process. Do you think that’s enough?
Gorman: I think that it is definitely a step in the right direction.
Howard: Have you heard from the organization?
Gorman: I sent an email just kind of resigning, and they replied, 'I’m so sorry.' They’ve apologized publicly, so I think they have owned up to what they have done and realized that it was a mistake. There is no hostility that I hold towards the Miss Massachusetts organization or the Miss America organization. I just need to stand up for survivors and defend what is important to me.
Howard: Is there a place for pageants like Miss America in this day and age, especially considering the #MeToo movement?
Gorman: I think there is. Pageants offer people so many great opportunities, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities they have offered me. I’m very excited to see what Miss America 2.0 will bring. I think eliminating the swimsuit competition and giving contestants more power to use their voice on stage is a huge step in the right direction, and is really trying to make the pageant — or should I say the competition, now — more relevant to our times.
Howard: Ok, thank you so much for being with us.
Gorman: Thank you so much.
Howard: That’s Maude Gorman, a participant in last month’s Miss Massachusetts pageant. She spoke up and resigned her crown as Miss Plymouth County after the Miss Massachusetts contest featured a sketch that seemingly made light of the #MeToo movement. Pageant organizers say they’ve heard her loud and clear. They’ve apologized, and they say that changes will be implemented ahead of future contests. This is All Things Considered.