Thursday, April 19, 2012

Miss America Pageant Protest Photo Analysis

The visual image I have chosen appeared at the 1969 Miss American Pageant Protest in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a black and white photo of two women each holding a poster outside of what looks to be a conference building. One woman is looking straight at the camera, and the other woman is scowling at a man who is looking at her poster. The first poster reads, “Break the Dull Steak Habit,” with a picture of a naked woman’s backside charted out and labeled with meat cuts; and the other says, “Welcome to the Miss America Cattle Auction.” These women were protesting because they believed women should not have to measure up to the expectations the pageant was setting for females. Their argument was that the pageant paraded women around like cattle in an attempt to show off only their body. Feminist thought the pageant was demeaning to what really matters—personality and character. This visual is important to my group’s topic because we are researching the women’s movement.
Visual rhetoric must be symbolic, involve human interaction, and communicate with an audience (Foss, Theory of Visual Rhetoric). The image I have chosen symbolizes the female as cattle. They are attempting to convey the idea that she is getting ready to be butchered and made into food. The human interaction that had taken place was the two women creating their posters. The image speaks to an audience as well. This audience includes fellow protestors, the entire population viewing the Miss America Pageant, and even now people who come across the image.  
 Upon viewing the photo your eyes immediately go to the words “Welcome to the Miss America Cattle Auction.” After that they go over to the naked woman’s backside (White, Elements of Graphic Design). The visual is not intended to be read left to right, top to bottom, etc., but after observing the posters, you then notice who is holding them, who the women are surrounded by, and finally who is viewing the posters—a man. The man who is viewing the posters I backgrounded at first because he is standing on the edge of the picture, and he almost blends in with the pavement as he is wearing a light colored shirt (Opt/Gring, Naming as Social Intervention). However I believe he is one of the most important parts of this photo because he is a portion of the audience the women are attempting to target. 
I think men are the main targets to these posters because one of the posters is of a slender woman’s naked backside, which catches the male eye quickly. I think another main group the posters are supposed to attract are other females who may be swayed into the feminist notion being portrayed. I believe this for two reasons: 1) because the female whose back is charted and labeled is wearing a hat which shadows her face allowing one to imagine it as oneself. And 2) because the women holding the posters facial expressions are very intense, almost demanding that one would have to agree with the message they are portraying. The message/belief the women are displaying is that no woman should be treated this way—paraded around like cattle at an auction. That it is a repulsive thing to do, and that it simply gives men something to gawk at.
Visual Rhetoric is important because it lets the visual speak for itself. An image is worth one thousand words, and although the image I chose includes text, I believe it says a lot more for the Women’s Movement than the text includes.

"1960s Civil Rights Movements." 1960s Civil Rights Movements. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.
Foss, Sonja K. "Theory of Visual Rhetoric." Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <>.
Freeman, Jo. "No More Miss America! (1968-1969)." The 1969 Miss America Protest- Atlantic City. Web. 14 Mar. 2012. <>.
Opt, Susan K., and Mark A. Gring. "The Rhetoric of Social Intervention." Naming As Social Intervention. Web. 16 Feb. 2012. <>.
 White. "Elements of Graphic Design." Web. 12 Mar. 2012. <>.

Author: Molly F.

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