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Women's Liberation to Today

Miss America Pageant, September 7, 1968

The Miss America pageant was created in 1921 as a publicity stunt. Atlantic City businessmen devised the two-day event as a way to keep tourists in town after the summer season. There was early criticism of the pageant from many who did not think young women should stand around in their bathing suits to be judged. Years later, the pageant attempted to evolve with the addition of a talent competition, but took backward steps with a new age limit for entrants. The pageant aimed only to reward a very narrow type of beauty: young, single, and white. Soon, the criticism of the pageant shifted from conservatives worried about women’s propriety, to liberal feminists who considered the contest demeaning.

 

In the summer of 1968, the fledgling Women’s Liberation Movement thought to gain exposure for their cause by disrupting that year’s pageant. They penned a ten-point “womanifesto” detailing their reasons for protest, including sexism, racism, commercialism, and, in the words of protest leader Robin Morgan, “the degrading mindless-boob-girlie symbol.” Some of the women marched with farm animals on leashes, arguing the pageant judged women as animals might be judged at the county fair, and “crowned” a sheep as the eventual winner. Widespread coverage of the protest drew the hoped for attention to the women’s rights movement, although not all of it correct. It was inaccurately reported that the marchers burned their bras in protest, giving rise to the “bra-burner” stereotype used to malign women’s rights activists and belittle their concerns. There was a “freedom trash can” into which women could throw their bras, makeup, and other symbols of oppression, but nothing was ever burned. 

 

Take Back the Night, October 1975

Take Back the Night is an international event and non-profit organization with the mission of  ending sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, sexual abuse, trafficking, and all other forms of sexual violence.  The word “night” was originally used to literally express the fear that many women felt during the night but today expresses a fear of violence in general. The first Take Back the Night march to protest violence against women was held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October 1975, after the murder of microbiologist, Susan Alexander Speeth, who was stabbed to death while walking home alone. 

 

Early Take Back the Night events included a protest in San Francisco against pornography in 1978. Hundreds of events are held in over 30 countries annually and have grown into hundreds of events on college campuses and in communities of all sizes and locations.  Events often include marches, rallies, and vigils intended as a protest and direct action against rape and other forms of sexual, relationship and domestic violence. 

 

Events typically consist of a rally followed by a march and often a speak-out or candlelight vigil calling attention to violence against women. Early marches were often deliberately women-only in order to symbolize women's individual walk through darkness and to demonstrate that women united can resist fear and violence. The mission of Take Back the Night has since grown to encompass all forms of violence against all persons, though sexual violence against women is still the main focus. 

 

Take Back The Night Events have been held in over 36 countries, in over 800 communities, and is being organized in more locations every year. They have reached over 30 million people with a message of strength and support, and a commitment of ending sexual violence.

 

March for Women’s Lives, March 9, 1986 & April 25, 2004

The mission of The March for Women's Lives, organized by the National Organization for Women (NOW), was to keep abortion and birth control legal. On March 9, 1986, 125,000 women marched in Washington, D.C. One week later on March 16, a companion march in Los Angeles attracted 30,000 people. This was the largest march in Los Angeles since 1968, in spite of the heavy rain and thunderstorm. There were a total of eight such marches for women's lives in 1986 - in Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO (some 5,000 -  the largest march in Denver's history); Harrisburg, PA; Trenton, NJ; Boston, MA; Seattle, WA; and Portland, OR. 

 

On April 25, 2004, up to one million protesters arrived on the National Mall in Washington D.C. to show support for women’s reproductive rights and their opposition to the Bush administration’s policies on women’s health issues. A variety of prominent figures attended the protest, including Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former NOW Presidents Eleanor Smeal and Patricia Ireland. Many protesters, wearing pink and purple shirts, covered the Mall from the base of Capitol Hill, a mile back, to the base of the Washington Monument. They held signs reading, “Fight the Radical Right,” “Keep Abortion Legal” and “U.S. Out Of My Uterus.” Despite the success of the march, the Bush administration did not change its stance on reproductive rights.  

 

Women’s March, January 2017

The Women's March was a worldwide protest on January 21, 2017, to advocate legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women's rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, reproductive rights, the natural environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion. Hundreds of thousands of women gathered in Washington on Saturday in reaction to the inauguration of President Trump who took office on that Friday.


It was the largest single-day protest in U.S. history with over 470,000 people participating in the Washington March and between 3,267,134 and 5,246,670 people participating in the marches around the U.S.

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