As the 1960s wore on, a new and more radicalized wing began to emerge in the women’s rights movement. Often referred to as the “women’s liberation movement,” this wing adapted some of their theories about gender and equality from socialist writings, emphasizing the importance of solidarity within the dissenting group as a means of resisting the imposed homogeneity of the majority culture. Paralleling the language of the African American civil rights movement decrying American racism, radical women’s rights protesters began to speak about the crime of sexism.
Robin Morgan (1941–) was one of a small group of female activists in the women’s liberation movement who helped organize a demonstration at the 1968 Miss America Pageant, which she and others saw as the piece de resistance of America’s sexist culture. Several hundred women, most from the New York metropolitan area but some from other parts of the country as well, converged on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, carrying placards and marching outside the hall where the pageant was being held. Among the most memorable parts of the protest was a “Freedom Trashcan” into which women were urged to throw anything they considered symbolic of male oppression (items “donated” ranged from cleaning rags and dish towels to diapers, high heels, and bras).
Source: Item 73665, Robin Morgan Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University, Durham, NC.
No More Miss America!
On September 7th in Atlantic City, the Annual Miss America Pageant will again crown “your ideal.” But this year, reality will liberate the contest auction block in the guise of “genyooine” de-plasticized, breathing women. Women’s Liberation groups, Black women, high-school and college women, women’s peace groups, women’s welfare and social-work groups, women’s job-equality groups, pro–birth control and pro-abortion groups—women of every political persuasion—all are invited to join us in a day-long boardwalk-theater event starting at 1:00 p.m. on the Boardwalk in front of Atlantic City’s Convention Hall. We will protest the image of Miss America, an image that oppresses women in every area in which it purports to represent us. There will be: picket lines; guerrilla theater; leafleting; lobbying visits to the contestants urging our sisters to reject the pageant farce and join us; a huge Freedom Trash Can (into which we will throw bras, girdles, curlers, false eyelashes, wigs, and representative issues of Cosmopolitan, Ladies’ Home Journal, Family Circle, etc.—bring any such woman-garbage you have around the house); we will also announce a boycott of all those commercial products related to the Pageant, and the day will end with a Women’s Liberation rally at midnight when Miss America is crowned on live television. Lots of other surprises are being planned (come and add your own!) but we do not plan heavy disruptive tactics and so do not expect a bad police scene. It should be a groovy day on the Boardwalk in the sun with our sisters.
Male chauvinist–reactionaries on this issue had best stay away, nor are male liberals welcome in the demonstrations. But sympathetic men can donate money as well as cars and drivers. We need cars to transport people to New Jersey and back. Male reporters will be refused interviews. We reject patronizing reportage. Only newswomen will be recognized.
. . . Get a group of women together, come to the Miss America Pageant . . . and raise your voice for Women’s Liberation. We will reclaim ourselves—for ourselves. On to Atlantic City!
The Ten Points
- The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol. The Pageant contestants epitomize the roles we are all forced to play as women. The parade down the runway blares the metaphor of the 4-H Club county fair, where the nervous animals are judged for teeth, fleece, etc., and where the best “specimen” gets the blue ribbon. So are women in our society forced daily to compete for male approval, enslaved by ludicrous “beauty” standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.
- Racism with Roses. Since its inception in 1921, the Pageant has not had one Black finalist, and this has not been for a lack of test-case contestants. There has never been a Puerto Rican, Alaskan, Hawaiian, or Mexican American winner. Nor has there ever been a true Miss America—an American Indian.
- Miss America as Military Death Mascot. The highlight of her reign each year is a cheerleader tour of American troops abroad—last year she went to Vietnam to pep-talk our husbands, fathers, sons, and boyfriends into dying and killing with a better spirit. She personifies the “unstained patriotic American womanhood our boys are fighting for.” The Living Bra and the Dead Soldier. We refuse to be used as Mascots for Murder.
- The Consumer Con-Game. The Pageant is sponsored by Pepsi-Cola, Toni, and Oldsmobile—Miss America is a walking commercial. Wind her up and she plugs your product on promotion tours and TV—all in an “honest, objective” endorsement. What a shill.
- Competition Rigged and Unrigged. We deplore the encouragement of an American myth that oppresses men as well as women: the win-or-you’re-worthless competitive disease. The “beauty contest” creates only one winner to be “used” and forty-nine losers who are “useless.”
- The Woman as Pop Culture Obsolescent Theme. Spindle, mutilate, and then discard tomorrow. What is so ignored as last year’s Miss America? This only reflects the gospel of our society, according to Saint Male: women must be young, juicy, malleable—hence age discrimination and the cult of youth. And we women are brainwashed into believing this ourselves!
- The Unbeatable Madonna-Whore Combination. Miss America and Playboy’s centerfold are sisters over the skin. To win approval, we must be both sexy and wholesome, delicate but able to cope, demure yet titillatingly bitchy. Deviation of any sort brings, we are told, disaster: “You won’t get a man!!”
- The Irrelevant Crown on the Throne of Mediocrity. Miss America represents what women are supposed to be: unoffensive, bland, apolitical. If you are tall, short, over or under what weight The Man prescribes you should be, forget it. Personality, articulateness, intelligence, commitment—unwise. Conformity is the key to the crown—and, by extension, to success in our society.
- Miss America as Dream Equivalent To—? In this reputedly democratic society, where every little boy supposedly can grow up to be president, what can every little girl hope to grow to be? Miss America. That’s where it’s at. Real power to control our own lives is restricted to men, while women get patronizing pseudo-power, an ermine cloak, and a bunch of flowers; men are judged by their actions, women by their appearance.
- Miss America as Big Sister Watching You. The Pageant exercises thought control, attempts to sear the image onto our minds, to further make women oppressed and men oppressors; to enslave us all the more in high-heeled, low-status roles; to inculcate false values in young girls; to use women as beasts of buying; to seduce us to prostitute ourselves before our own oppression.
NO MORE MISS AMERICA!
- What does “women’s liberation” mean? How is women’s liberation different from women’s rights?
- In this document collection, are there other women’s rights activists who, in their own words, blame men for “educating” women to view their worth as largely tied into their physical appearance by treating women as merely objects of beauty or sexual ornamentation?
- Emphasis in original.
- Emphasis in original.