'Creating New Categories': Anglo-American Radical Feminism's Constitutionalism in the Streets
Posted: 7 Sep 2012 Last revised: 2 Oct 2017
Date Written: September 6, 2012
In 1968 and 1970, U.S. and British radical feminists organized provocative protests at the Miss America and Miss World beauty pageants. While the American New York Radical Women expressed their outrage at women’s objectification by picketing, engaging in street theater antics, and organizing a brief if peaceable outburst, British feminists raised a panic in London by throwing flour bombs and rotten produce at audience members and celebrity MC’s, scattering plastic mice, spraying ink-filled squirt guns, and even snubbing out a cigarette on a policeman.
Why were the U.S. radical feminists so much more decorous than their British sisters? In this article, I analyze how each of these radical feminist camps employed the strategies of outrage, law-breaking, and violence, noting that U.S. beauty pageant protesters were outrageous, but avoided the scandalous scofflawing and aggression of the London rebels. Investigating the historical and contemporary political worlds in which these two revolutionary groups worked, I show that U.S. and British attitudes toward law-breaking and violence were shaped by their native, early 20th century histories of feminism, as well as the American and European tumults and tragedies that characterized the age.
Drawing on the work of Reva Siegel, Jack M. Balkin, and Lynda G. Dodd, I will then consider how the U.S. and British protesters influenced their countries’ respective constitutional cultures and future feminist legal theories. Each camp’s approach to outrage, law-breaking, and violence in street protest would later be felt in successes and failures on the constitutional front, and also resound in a law-faithful U.S. feminism that differs significantly from its skeptical, anti-authoritarian British complement.
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