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September 7: Protesting the Miss America Pageant

September 7, 2013

bra-burning_freedomtrashcanNew York Radical Women, a feminist collective that included Shulamith Firestone, Alix Kates Shulman, and Robin Morgan, among other liberation pioneers, led close to 400 women in protest against the Miss American Pageant in Atlantic City on this date in 1968. They threw items of oppression into a “freedom trash can,” including girdles, high-heeled shoes, brassieres, copies of Playboy magazine, and hair curlers (which led to the myth of bra-burning on the boardwalk, though nothing was burned). They also crowned a live sheep, announced a boycott of the sponsoring corporations, and received a great deal of media attention (protest organizers demanded that the media send women reporters), as well as hostility from some 600, mostly male observers. At the end of the pageant, as the winner was crowned (Debra Dene Barnes, Miss Kansas), several of the protesters who had sneaked inside unfurled a banner from the balcony that read “Women’s Liberation”. The group’s manifesto, written primarily by Robin Morgan, described “the degrading mindless-boob-girlie symbol[ism]” of the pageant and its “ludicrous ‘beauty’ standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.” To win approval, she wrote, women “must be both sexy and wholesome, delicate but able to cope, demure yet titillatingly bitchy or should we say [ill-tempered] ... Miss America and Playboy’s centerfolds are sisters under the skin.” The statement also condemned Miss America’s visits to troops in Vietnam. To see a high school student’s excellent video about the protests, look below.

“Where else could one find such a perfect combination of American values -- racism, militarism, capitalism -- all packaged in one ‘ideal’ symbol, a woman?” —Robin Morgan