Saturday, Jan. 24, 2009

The Feminists vs. the Contestants

Beauty pageants have never been a hit with the women's rights crowd — what with all the parading around in bathing suits, touting ambitions to become a "good wife and mother" and doing cartwheels to showcase one's "talent." But when 400 women showed up to protest the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, N.J., the pageant's conservative crowd wasn't prepared for the scandalous fanfare that followed — chants of "Ain't she sweet, makin' profit off her meat," the crowning of a live sheep on the boardwalk and the mass dumping of aprons, dust mops, cosmetics and bras into a Freedom Trash Can, an act that reportedly inspired the urban legend that feminists in the '60s liked to burn bras for recreational sport.

"It was the nexus of so many issues — beauty standards, money, women's freedom, objectification of women, patriotism," one of the organizers later explained. Eventually, more than 600 spectators came to watch the uprising — most of them men and most of them hostile. For his part, Bert Parks, the pageant's famed M.C., remained unfazed. When asked what he would do if one of the protesters stormed the stage during his performance of "There She Is," Parks replied simply, "I'll grab her by the throat and keep right on singing."