In 1968 and 1969 women’s liberation staged demonstrations at the annual Miss America Beauty pageant held in Atlantic City, NJ. The 1968 protest shocked the country, creating a lot of publicity, and some myths, about the new movement. The 1969 protest was smaller and was largely ignored.
The 1968 protest originated with New York Radical Women, one of the earliest women’s liberation groups in the country. About 150 feminists from six cities joined them to show how all women were hurt by beauty competitions. They argued that the contest declared that the most important thing about a woman is how she looks by parading women around like cattle to show off their physical attributes. All women were made to believe they were inferior because they couldn’t measure up to Miss America beauty standards. Women’s liberation would “attack the male chauvinism, commercialization of beauty, racism and oppression of women symbolized by the Pageant.”
In anticipation of disruption, on September 4, 1969 the Pageant got a court injunction prohibiting actions similar to the ones that took place in 1968, and some that were merely rumored but had neither been planned nor had happened. As soon as women’s liberation marched onto the boardwalk the local police read them the riot act — the injunction — and threatened arrest if it was violated. An officer examined the protest signs to see if any had prohibited “offensive language.” Afterwards, the women were kept on the beach side of police barricades, well away from the entrance to the hall. They marched and performed skits while members of the public gawked from the other side of the barricades. Lacking much else to do, the feminists went up to the women gawkers and engaged them in conversation about what was going on.
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