Kara McCullough photo Kara McCullough was a fan favorite for most of the night at the Miss USA contest on May 14th (Mother’s Day), eventually winning the crown. It was the second year in a row that a contestant from Washington D.C. won the contest.

However, Miss McCullough lost much of her fan support when she answered some questions the wrong way at the end of the contest. McCullough was asked whether she considered herself a feminist, and she replied that she preferred the term “equalist.” She continued, “I try not to consider myself this die-hard, ‘I don’t care about men’ (type). Women, we are just as equal as men when it comes to opportunity in the workplace. Firsthand, I’ve witnessed the impact women have in leadership in the medical sciences as well as in office environments.” The audience fell silent.

Adding to the controversy, she answered another question in a way that didn’t suit many in the audience and on television. She was asked whether she thought health care was a right or a privilege. “I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege,” she said. “As a government employee, I’m granted health care and I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs.” The audience was again silent.

Twitter was abuzz with comments about her answers. “Miss USA, district of Columbia, u lost me when u said healthcare is privilege not a right, AND u r a equalist not feminist get educated.” Another tweet noted, “’I’m not a feminist, I’m an equalist.’ Oh Boy!” A long debate ensued on twitter that lasted into the morning.

Miss McCullough, who is a scientist for the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was born in Naples, Italy, and is the daughter of a U.S. Navy officer. She is definitely world-travelled, having lived in Japan, South Korea and Hawaii before moving to Washington, D.C. and working for the U.S. government. Perhaps it was her international upbringing that enabled her to think for herself on issues such as feminism and healthcare.

I don’t know where she got the term “equalist”—it seems to be a new world—and creating it shows a superior intellectual capacity. Also, by using that term to define herself rather than the word “feminist,” she opened the door to a brave new world. She is a role model and probably knows it, and she modeled a different kind of woman and a different way of thinking in those few seconds that she was given to answer two questions. She spoke of equality, something women haven’t done since the beginning of the feminist movement.

In 1970, Betty Friedan, who cofounded the National Organization of Women, orchestrated the Women’s Strike for Equality. The author of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan was credited with sparking the Second Wave of Feminism. However, she later felt that feminism was becoming too extreme and the focus had changed from equality for men and women to an attack on men and homemakers. She wrote her second book, The Second Stage, to try to point the movement back to moderation, but instead the book alienated her from the extremists, who had not taken over the movement. She later resigned from NOW and at the present time NOW is preoccupied with the fight against domestic violence, funding for lesbian health services, the prosecution of bias crimes, lesbian custody cases, employment discrimination protections and LGBTQ rights. Has now become out of touch? Does still represent all women? As its goal has become more extreme, it has become intolerant of criticism, and anyone who disagrees with it is punished.

This is of course what happened to the new Miss USA. As soon as she used the word “equalist” instead of “feminist,” and spoke of healthcare being a privilege, she was labeled as a conservative and viewed as a traitor to the cause. Hence she was hit by negative comments on twitter for the rest of the night. As one comment put it, she needs to “get educated.”

In actuality she is one of the most educated women to ever win the title of Miss USA. McCullough is a nuclear scientist who works for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, with a concentration in Radiochemistry from South Carolina State University in 2013. One of her notable quotes is, “The difference between a dreamer and a visionary is that a dreamer has his eyes closed and a visionary has his eyes open.

Not all the comments about McCullough were negative. One comment praised her for her answer on healthcare. “CHILL FOLKS…Freaking out about Miss DC’s answer on healthcare? She’s just saying that you need to pay for it it’s not free.” While she obviously violated some tenets of political correctness, she seemed to also be admired by some for her spunk.

Perhaps this will lead to a real dialogue about equality in the USA. The feminist version seems to be that only feminists can define equality between men and women. My idea, and perhaps that of the new Miss USA, is that equality between men and women can only come when both men and women define equality together. It can’t happen through pressure from a political movement, but rather from a free-floating and honest discussion.