5. Finding Feminism’s Audience: Rhetorical Diversity in Early Second-Wave Feminist Discourse
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139 5 Finding Feminism’s Audience: Rhetorical Diversity in Early Second-Wave Feminist Discourse Bonnie J. Dow I n September 1968, at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey, a group calling itself New York Radical Women (NYRW) led a protest on the boardwalk outside the pageant hall decrying the sexist politics of the annual event. The one hundred or so protestors used guerrilla theater to dramatize their critique of the pageant. They chanted and sang songs, threw bras, high heels, girdles, women’s magazines, and other feminine appurtenances into a “Freedom Trash Can” (which, despite later reports that alleged “bra-burning” at the event, they did not light on fire), and they passed out a ten-point press release titled “No More Miss America!” to journalists and onlookers. The protest received extensive coverage from major newspapers and the wire services, becoming “the moment when the women’s movement made its debut on the national stage.”1 Yet this major moment in the development of public awareness of the second wave of U.S. feminism was not accompanied by oratory. NYRW’s “No More Miss America!” press release was the closest the event came to producing a traditional rhetorical document, but it received only minimal attention in a surge of press coverage that focused largely on describing the visually arresting performance of the protestors. The dynamics of the 1968 Miss America Pageant protest serve as a useful introduction to the general challenges of bringing traditional rhetorical perspectives to bear on the second wave of U.S. feminism. Unlike the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which has been the object of a great deal of rhetorical criticism focused largely, although not exclusively, on the oratory of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., the second wave produced no great speeches, or at least none that have been widely recognized as such. To take another point of comparison, the field of rhetorical studies has generated a considerable body of scholarship on the oratory SOCIAL CONTROVERSY AND PUBLIC ADDRESS IN THE 1960S AND EARLY 1970S 140 of the first wave of U.S. feminism, particularly on its best-known orator, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.2 Yet, although the second wave had leaders, such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, who became well known to the American public, those women first garnered attention as writers rather than speakers and were not closely associated with specific oratorical texts in the same way that King will always be known for “I Have a Dream,” or Stanton for “The Solitude of Self.” This relative paucity of rhetorical scholarship treating the second wave is a result of the movement’s uneasy fit with norms of rhetorical study that emphasize oratory and that rely on traditional conceptualizations of rhetorical situations, purposes, and effects. For example, a majority of the second wave’s most enduring rhetorical documents were written, not spoken; many movement groups eschewed traditional forms of leadership that promote rhetorical visibility; and much feminist discourse did not address immediate and recognized exigencies to be remediated by legislation or other public measures, making its impact difficult to discern. Unlike Jim Crow laws or the denial of the franchise, the “hidden injuries of sex” that the second wave sought to ameliorate were often not public or not acknowledged as problems.3 As a movement largely driven by “writerly [and] textual” activism, the second wave produced a large and diverse volume of discourse, and it was, inarguably, a phenomenon with public persuasion as a goal.4 The Miss America Pageant protest, for example, was certainly a rhetorical event designed to provoke awareness regarding the sexism of the pageant, although the “No More Miss America!” document did not prove to be its most potent rhetorical tactic. Like many second-wave radical feminist documents, “No More Miss America!” was the outcome of consciousnessraising (CR), a process in which small groups of women met to share their thoughts and experiences about various topics related to their lives in a male-defined and male-dominated culture. The purpose of CR was to enable the recognition that what women had viewed as personal problems were, in fact, political problems that reflected the disparities in power between men and women under patriarchy, and radical feminists’ commitment to CR was the origin of the well-known phrase: “The personal is political.”5 NYRW member Carol Hanisch described the CR process that led to the Miss America Pageant protest this way: The idea came out of...


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