Everywhere and Nowhere: Contemporary Feminism in the United States

By Jo Reger | Go to book overview

4
Doing Contemporary Feminism

IN AUGUST OF 1968, women’s liberation groups took a stand against “Miss America, motherhood and marriage” by protesting the Miss America beauty pageant. According to historian and feminist Sara Evans:

With a sharp eye for guerilla theater, young women crowned a live sheep
to symbolize the beauty pageant’s objectification of female bodies, and
filled a “freedom trashcan” with objects of female torture—girdles, bras,
curlers, issues of Ladies’ Home Journal. Peggy Dobbins, dressed as a stock-
broker, auctioned off an effigy of Miss America: “Gentlemen, I offer you
the 1969 model. She’s better every year. She walks. She talks. She smiles
on cue. And she does housework.”1

Fast-forward to fall 2008—in a college course, The Contemporary U.S. Women’s Movement, my students and I spent several weeks going over how contemporary feminists are doing feminism. As we discussed zines, blogs, crafting and the role of performance and presentation in everyday life, my students came to refer to these actions as “taking things out of the freedom trashcan.” Instead of seeing those actions such as crafting as symbols of patriarchal control, they saw them as representing tools for women’s empowerment. In their view, the ability to choose (one’s appearance or activities) is what matters. This metaphor of the recycled trashcan was so powerful that after the semester was over, a former student posted as her Facebook status that she was learning to knit and was “taking it out of the freedom trashcan.” The idea of recycling political actions is what social movement scholars call drawing on a tactical repertoire, meaning that movements often turn to a range of previous actions to bring about their strategies for change.2 A strategy is the overall plan of a movement to accomplish broader goals. Tactics, then, are the actions meant to achieve these plans. As movement actors survey the resources, goals and opportunities available to them in the political and social climate, they decide upon the ways of accomplishing

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