Does Miss America Actually Give $45 Million in Scholarship Money? John Oliver Investigates
In the most recent Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, host John Oliver attacked the Miss America Beauty Pageant in a 15-minute segment during which he discusses the competition's sexist roots and practices, the ridiculousness of the Q&A segment, and the organization's most recent attempt to convince people that Miss America donates upwards of $45,000,000 in scholarship money to women.
Miss America and other similar beauty pageants have been under heat since the time they were popularized in the early 1920s, and often for very good reason. Think about it for a second — women are being judged and pitted against other women, almost entirely on the basis of physical appearance and outer beauty. The segments that don't emphasize looks, such as the "On-Stage Question" portion, aren't nearly given as much weight in the final score as the physical portions.
Miss America has also been criticized for being racist and therefore not truly representative of American women; in fact, until the late 1940s, contestants were required to "be of good health and of the white race" making "whiteness" a literal requirement to run. Many people attempt to debunk the conversation of the contest's racist tendencies by using the example of the Indian-American Miss America winner Nina Davuluri who took the crown in 2013, but they forget that Davuluri, unlike any of the white winners, was met with xenophobic and racist comments after her win.
Though there are some valid arguments to be considered in defense of beauty pageant contestants and the pageants themselves, it's pretty clear Miss America has a lot of work to do (or it could just stop existing but that's a whole different argument). While Oliver criticizes the organization for creating, perpetuating, and supporting problematic standards of beauty, his main focus becomes the organization's claim that they are the largest scholarship providers for women, making available $45,000,000 in scholarship money for women who compete. To me, this number seemed a little dubious, especially because the 2014 Miss America pageant hosts kept drilling it into our heads. My hunch was certainly not wrong — Oliver discussed the process he and his investigative team went through to determine just exactly how much the organization dishes out and whether Miss America is truly the largest scholarship provider in the world