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March 3, 2008

No More Miss America

In 1968, a group of several hundred women gathered on a boardwalk in Atlantic City to protest the Miss America pageant. What could possibly be wrong with sweet innocent wholesome American-as-apple-pie wonderful Miss America? I'll let New York Radical Women, the group that organized the protest, tell you themselves. Below are their ten points of protest from their press release announcing the event. (The full flier can be read in the archives on the Chicago Women's Liberation Union's website, which is ridiculously awesome, or in the book Dear Sisters.)

The Ten Points
We Protest:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. The Consumer Con-Game. Miss America is a walking commercial for the Pageant's sponsors. Wind her up and she plugs your product on promotion tours and TV-all in an "honest, objective" endorsement. What a shill.

  5. 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."

  6. 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!

  7. 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!!"

  8. The Irrelevant Crown on the Throne of Mediocrity. Miss America represents what women are supposed to be: inoffensive, bland, apolitical. If you are tall, short, over or under what weight The Man prescribes you should be, forget it. Personality, articulateness, intelligence, and commitment- unwise. Conformity is the key to the crown- and, by extension, to success in our Society.

  9. 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 clock and a bunch of flowers; men are judged by their actions, women by appearance.

  10. 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; women as beasts of buying; to seduce us to our selves before our own oppression.

The protesters carried signs with slogans like "No More Beauty Standards", "Miss America is Alive and Well -- in Harlem", "Welcome to the Cattle Auction", and "Girls Crowned -- Boys Killed". A live sheep was crowned Miss America and pageant host Bert Parks was hung in effigy. A small group of women managed to get inside to hang a large protest banner during the pageant. And, most famously, the Freedom Trashcan. The women threw "bras, girdles, curlers, false eyelashes, wigs, and representative issues of Cosmopolitan, Ladies' Home ]ournal, Family Circle, etc.-bring any such woman-garbage you have around the house" into the Freedom Trashcan. The women had wanted to burn the items in the trashcan but weren't able to get a fire permit so they didn't. Sorry, no bra-burning, although the image and the phrase certainly did catch on since we're still not totally rid of it all these years later. I guess 'bra-trash-can-dumping feminists' isn't as catchy as 'bra-burning feminists'.

The protest drew a lot of attention from the media, and so many women and girls around the country were introduced to the idea of "women's liberation" and a women's liberation movement by watching the coverage of the "groovy day on the Boardwalk in the sun with our sisters". The 1968 action also inspired more protests against pageants at the national, state, and local levels in the following years. We think that's pretty damn cool.

In some ways we've come really far since that first protest, and Miss America certainly isn't as popular as it once was. But we still live in an America with an unpopular war, a great deal of skepticism remaining among some people about whether a woman could ever be elected or make a good president, racism and sexism alive and well in many corners, a bazillion dollar beauty industry, TV shows like Extreme Makeover, The Swan, The Bachelor, and Dr. 90210, the Maxim 'Hot 100' list, and $45 Victoria's Secret bras with "infinity edge technology". We think that this protest still serves as a nice reminder that it can be healthy and fun and, although this word is so overused, even empowering sometimes to just say fuck it and throw your own personal "woman garbage" (whether it's emotional baggage like hating your body or literal garbage like that overpriced push-up bra that pinches and digs into your skin) right into the trash with no regrets or apologies.

So where's the Miss America pageant being held this year? Maybe we'll see you there.

1 comment:

Bill said...

It reminds me both how far we've come (in more widespread awareness of the misogyny of it all) and how far we have yet to go (most of us don't care enough to act, even though we know).

I'm looking forward to the rest of the month!