A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

No More Miss America (1968)
Robin Morgan and New York Radical Women

On September 7, 1968, Miss Kansas (Debra Dene Barnes) walked down the runway in swimsuit and high heels. She was crowned America’s beauty queen as Bert Parks sang, “There she is, Miss America.” Outside, about two hundred women picketed. They crowned a sheep Miss America (just as the Yippies had nominated a pig for president at Democratic National Convention protests in Chicago the previous month). They threw what they called “instruments of torture”—high heels, girdles, bras, false eyelashes, and curlers—into a large “Freedom Trashcan.” Women carried signs: “Miss America Sells It,” and “Miss America Is a Big Falsie.”

The protesters had originally intended to burn the contents of the Freedom Trashcan. Atlantic City Police, however, were concerned that the wooden boardwalk might catch fire. No bras were burned that day, but shortly thereafter the mainstream press began to refer to bra-burnings when describing the movement for women’s liberation. In part, the idea that women were burning their bras connected their protests to the draft card burnings by young men. It also added a titillating element to news stories about the women’s liberation movement. By reducing the demands of radical women from social justice to sexual freedom alone, such accounts marginalized and trivialized their message.

In “No More Miss America,” the organizers of the protest explained their goals. Why, when women faced so many obstacles in contemporary American society, did they choose to protest a beauty pageant? Why might that be an effective strategy? After the protest, some participants felt that they had made a mistake by seeming to target the contestants. “Miss America and all beautiful women came off as our enemies instead of as our sisters who suffer with us,” one wrote. This document begins by inviting a broad range of women’s groups to join the protest. Is this statement (and the protest that followed) truly inclusive? How well did the Radical Women reach out to their “sisters”?

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