Emily Doyle will take the stage in this year’s Miss South Carolina pageant with a simple but crucial message for other women and especially little girls: that they can be anything they want to be.
“This organization isn’t really a pageant as much as it is a platform for women to grow,” said Doyle, the 2017 Miss Gamecock. “I have a passion for women’s empowerment.” She has made that passion her platform as a contestant for the Miss South Carolina crown, launching Operation Woman Up and partnering with national organization Lean In to bridge the gap between men and women in the workforce.
“It’s about teaching girls at a young age how to strive throughout their lives,” Doyle said. “It’s more about their self-confidence than it is about necessarily trying to succeed as a CEO.”
Doyle has spent a lot of time as Miss Gamecock speaking in schools all over the state, to girls and boys as well as to teachers. Not so many years removed from it herself, she remembers the struggles of being a middle school girl.
“Especially in middle school, a lot of girls struggle with being embarrassed around boys,” Doyle said, adding that many of those girls hide their capabilities and become stereotypical “ditzy girls” because stereotypes picked up in childhood have taught them to do so. “I definitely struggled with that.”
Doyle encountered those stereotypes and the people who reinforce them even long after her middle school days. “I had a professor my sophomore year of college tell me I was ‘too pretty’ to be in hard news” as a journalist, Doyle said. “We have to change that mindset.”
She focuses on boys and men and their role in creating and reinforcing that limiting mindset as well, and speaks to teachers about how they can sometimes unknowingly play a part too. Research shows that in many cases, “Teachers are much more open to reprimanding girls than they are boys,” Doyle said.
Doyle did not imagine herself on a pageant stage as a little girl. She was more focused on basketball, the sport her father coached at the high school level, and idolized NBA star Allen Iverson. Her father (in, Doyle said she suspects, consultation with her mother) encouraged her to try baton twirling to improve her hand-eye coordination for basketball. Doyle followed the suggestion and developed enough skill to become a feature twirler for the University of South Carolina, performing in front of sellout crowds at Williams-Brice stadium and elsewhere.
Doyle’s skill with the baton earned her an award for best talent by a non-finalist in the 2016 Miss South Carolina pageant, in which she competed as Miss Midlands. She hopes to improve even on that impressive performance this time. “I’m really excited for this year,” she said. “I feel like I have my feet wet a little bit.”
Whether she comes away from the pageant with the Miss South Carolina title will not be the ultimate measure of success for Doyle, however. She has already seen success as young people she meets ask for her phone number to stay in contact with her about their dreams and goals, seeing her as a role model. She always agrees to stay in touch. “It’s really cool that I influenced them enough that they cared to ask,” she said. “I love talking with everyone I meet.”
Doyle, who will graduate from USC in December, said her role in the pageant competition has prepared her for life after college too. “It’s a job,” she said. “You have to be very self-motivated… You truly are selling yourself and marketing yourself.”
As Miss Gamecock, Doyle has found herself a statewide figure already, and looks at the title as a responsibility and a privilege. “I’ve been trying to work extra hard not only for myself but also the people at the university.”
Like all Miss South Carolina contestants, Doyle works to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. Those who would like to help the cause may donate online.