By Judith Duffett, New York

On Sept. 7, nearly 150 women committed to women's liberation from New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Florida, Boston and Detroit, converged on Atlantic City to protest the degrading image of women perpetuated by the Miss America Pageant.

Our goal was No more Miss America! Our objections to the Pageant, its racism (there's never been a black contestant); its use of Miss America as a military mascot to entertain the troops abroad and symbolize the
"unstained, patriotic American womanhood our boys are fighting for"; the degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie symbol which puts women on a pedestal/auction block to compete for male approval; the consumer con game which makes Miss America a walking commercial and oppresses all women into commodity roles; the cult of youth and the American institution of planned obsolescence which makes last year's Miss America as stale as yesterday's news and makes all women "useless" when they are no longer ripe for exploitation as sex objects, the Madonna/Whore image of womanhood which means that Miss America must be seductive in a bathing suit and at the same time be pure and untouched; and the whole idea of beauty contests, which create one "winner" and millions of insecure, frustrated losers, who feel they must meet the imposed standards of beauty or face disaster: "You won't get a man!"

photo source: "The Liberated Woman's Appointment Calendar And Survival Handbook, 1971," by Jurate Kazickas and Lynn Sherr. Universe Books, 1970

Our purpose was not to put down Miss America but to attack the male chauvinism, commercialization of beauty, racism and oppression of women symbolized by the Pageant. We arrived on the Boardwalk at 2 p.m. Saturday and began picketing in front of Convention Hall. Some of our signs read:
"Everyone is Beautiful," "I am a Woman, Not a Toy, Pet or Mascot," "Who Dares to Judge Beauty," and "Welcome to the Miss America Cattle Auction."

Guerrilla theater was used to illustrate some of our points. A live sheep was crowned "Miss America" and paraded on the liberated area of the boardwalk to parody the way the contestants (all women) are appraised and judged like animals at a county fair.

photo:Miriam Bokser
Robin Morgan throws bra into Freedom Trashcan.

"Women are enslaved by beauty standards" was the theme of another dramatic action in which some of us chained ourselves to a life-size Miss America puppet. This was paraded and auctioned off by a woman dressed up as a male Wall Street financier. "Step right up, gentlemen, get your late model woman right here--a lovely paper dolly to call your very own property ... She can push your product, push your ego, or push your lawnmower ..."

The highlight of the afternoon was the giant Freedom Trash Can. With elaborate ceremony and shouts of joy, we threw away instruments of torture to women--high-heeled shoes, Merry Widow corsets, girdles, padded bras, false eyelashes, curlers, copies of Playboy, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, etc.

Throughout the afternoon activities, we were observed by some five or six hundred onlookers, mostly men, who
were by turns amused, perplexed, and mostly enraged by our presence. The heckling was led by two young men: "You're just jealous--you couldn't be Miss America if you were the last man (?) on earth!" "Get back on your broom!" "Why don't you go back to Russia?" "Which one of your girlfriends is your husband?" The women in the mainly lower middle class crowd by and large agreed with them. One woman, however, crossed the police line with her three children and joined us!

We generally ignored their jeers, but in the evening (we stayed until midnight), when the crowd was somewhat less hostile, we changed our tactics. Many of us put down our signs and went right up to the police line and began engaging in dialogue with the people. Two more women crossed the line to our side, though we did not make any noticeable conversions. But a dialogue was established, and women who had felt confused and hurt by the signs and leaflets which they didn't understand and demonstrators with whom they could not identify, began to go through some changes in their heads when we started to talk to them personally. Proving what many of us have felt for a long time: women who are unreachable on most radical issues can be reached on this one, since it involves their daily lives.

Sixteen of us purchased tickets to the Pageant and from seats in the balcony near the stage, began a disruption as the outgoing Miss America was making her farewell speech. Although there was no TV coverage of the disruption (we were told later that one of the cameramen was about to pan to the balcony when he was told that if he did he would lose his job), the cameras and microphones did record the visible turning of heads and the stuttering and trembling of Miss America as we shouted
"Freedom for Women!" and "No More Miss America" and hung a banner from the balcony reading "Women's Liberation."

The sixteen were quickly hustled out, and five were arrested, charges against them later dropped. Earlier Peggy Dobbins had been arrested and held on $1,000 bail. She was charged with disorderly conduct and
"emanating a noxious odor" for spraying a can of Toni home permanent throughout the audience. The Pageant and city officials were undoubtedly sensitive on this area of commercial products. We had already declared a boycott of the products sponsoring the Pageant, of which Toni is one (the others are Pepsi-Cola and Oldsmobile). We expected that they would sweep Peggy's case under the rug. Instead the charges against her were escalated to an indictable offense, with a possible sentence of two to three years.

All in all, the day was a tremendous success. We intend to be back in Atlantic City next year and every year until the Miss America Pageant is closed down. It may not take too long. There have been rumors that because of the disturbance, the Pageant next year may be taped with no studio audience.

We have also been in contact with a former Miss America who is on our side, and have heard from a woman who was asked to be a judge but declined, partly because she heard of our plans. I suppose it's possible to have the Pageant without an audience, but you can hardly have one without contestants or judges!



"There's a need for the beauty of the black woman to be paraded and applauded as a symbol of universal pride," said J. Morris Anderson, an organizer of the competing pageant. "We're not protesting against beauty. We're protesting because the beauty of the black woman has been ignored. It hasn't been respected. We'll show black beauty for public consumption -- herald her beauty and applaud it."

At Convention Hall, at least a few of the women pickets were Negroes. They were aware of the Miss Black America contest, but were not sure what they ought to do about it. "I'm for beauty contests," said Mrs. Bonnie Allen, a Negro Bronx housewife in her mid-thirties. "But then again maybe I'm against them. I think black people have a right to protest." "Basically, we're against all beauty contests," Miss Morgan said. "We deplore Miss Black America as much as Miss White America but we understand the black issue involved."

While the Miss America finalists stayed out of sight, reportedly primping for their last show in Convention Hall, the eight Miss Black America finalists were out on the town acting like


beauty queens. They rode in open convertibles from the Ritz Carlton past the hall, around the business district and on into the Negro community. They waved white-gloved hands, smiled perfect smiles and showed off themselves as well as their elegant evening gowns in the afternoon sun.

They were cheered everywhere. The predominantly white strollers along the boardwalk waved and applauded. But nowhere was the reception more enthusiastic than along the main streets within the Negro community. Besides a motorcycle escort, they were accompanied by music makers with bongos, cowbells and flutes. And after their automobile tour, they went off to swim, party and wait for the midnight judging to begin. The final's beginning coincided with the Miss America finale.