No More Miss America
No More Miss America!
By: Robin Morgan
Date: September 7, 1968
Source: Morgan, Robin. "No More Miss America!." New York Radical Women, 1968
About the Author: Born in 1941, Robin Morgan is a feminist speaker, writer, and activist. Her articles have appeared in the Atlantic, the Hudson Review, the Los Angeles Times, the New Republic, the New York Times, Off Our Backs, the Village Voice, and in Ms magazine, where she was a columnist or an editor from 1974 to 1993. Morgan is also the author or editor of over sixteen non-fiction books, novels, and volumes of poetry, including Sisterhood is Powerful (1970), Going Too Far (1977), The Demon Lover (1989), The Word of a Woman (1994), Sisterhood is Global (1996), and The Burning Time (2006).
On September 7, 1968, the New York Radical Women (NYRW), a newly formed women's liberation group, staged a colorful protest on the boardwalk outside the Atlantic City, New Jersey, Convention Center, the site of the Miss America pageant. Robin Morgan, one of the founders of the NYRW and a protest organizer, wrote "No More Miss America!" in order to explain the group's objections to the popular beauty pageant. Several hundred women from other feminist groups and cities came to New Jersey to participate in the demonstration. Many carried signs and chanted, a live sheep was crowned Miss America, and objects symbolizing female oppression, including magazines, curlers, cosmetics, girdles, and bras, were tossed into a barrel designated the Freedom Trash Can. During the pageant itself, protestors in the audience opened a banner that proclaimed "Women's Liberation" and yelled "Freedom for Women."
The Miss America demonstration is often described as the beginning of the second wave of feminism in the United States. It was certainly the first time that the mainstream media—the television news, magazines, and newspapers—covered radical feminist protest. The widespread stories on this women's protest provoked storms of controversy, introduced feminism to millions, and signaled an era of profound social change for women.
On September 7thin 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. In case of arrests, however, we plan to reject all male authority and demand to be busted by policewomen only. (In Atlantic City, women cops are not permitted to make arrests—dig that!).
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.
Male reporters will be refused interviews. We reject patronizing reportage. Only newswomen will be recognized.
The Ten Points We Protest:
- 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. 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.
- 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 [expletive deleted]. 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: 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.
- 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.
- 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.
NO MORE MISS AMERICA.
The Miss America protest and Robin Morgan's manifesto put forward many of the issues that were, and continue to be, critically important to feminists. First and foremost, both focused national attention on the objectification of women and their status and roles in American society. Many of the protestors, including Robin Morgan, were also involved with the New Left and other liberal concerns of the day, and a critique of the pageant's relationship to race, capitalism, and the war in Vietnam, is prominent in Morgan's work.
The Miss America demonstration was not without its shortcomings, however. Despite the fact that nothing in the Freedom Trash Can was ever burned—the protestors did not have a burn permit—one journalist mentioned bra burning as the equivalent of draft card burning, a current form of anti-war protest. The media soon fastened on New York Post reporter Lindsy Van Gelder's phrase, and over the next few months the image of feminists as out of control, neurotic, defiant bra burners emerged. The idea that radical feminists were unattractive, bitter, or jealous of other women, and that the protestors were criticizing the Miss America contestants, rather than the pageant and the society that promoted it, came to haunt feminists. Despite the fact that thousands embraced feminism after the publicity engendered by the Miss America protest, the new stereotype of women's libbers kept many others away from the movement.
The pageant and its feminist critique have recently been used to analyze the gains and failures of feminism itself. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Miss America pageant became progressively more liberal, emphasizing scholarship, achievement, and public service over female beauty, largely as a response to feminist led changes in society. In recent years, some contestants maintain that their involvement in the now less popular pageant is a personal, feminist-empowered choice. Critics argue that the continued existence of Miss America and the enduring relevance of Morgan's manifesto highlight the limits of liberal feminism, the problems inherent in the third wave or more recent manifestations of feminism, and the unfinished business of radical feminists.
Morgan, Robin. Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.
Rosen, Ruth. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America. New York: Viking Penguin, 2000.
Dow, Bonnie J. "Feminism, Miss America, and Media Mythology." Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 6 (1) (2003): 127–149.
Lieb, Thom. "The Emergence of a Myth: When Journalists, and Activists, Got Burned." Clio Among the Media. Winter (2005):3–4.
Tonn, Mari Boor. "Miss America Contesters and Contestants: Discourse about Social 'Also-Rans.'" Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 6 (1) (2003):150–160.