Warning: This piece contains spoilers for Masters of Sex
While Miss Arkansas Savvy Shields happily danced her way to the 2017 “Miss America” title in Atlantic City, N.J., on Sunday night, a flashback to the 1968 pageant overshadowed by protests was airing on Showtime.
The Season 4 premiere of Masters of Sex opened with renowned sex researcher Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) watching televised footage of women chanting “no more bras” and stuffing the undergarments, which a voice on screen describes as “hideous symbol of patriarchal oppression,” into a “Freedom Trash Can.”
The women never set fire to the waste bin because “starting a fire on the boardwalk was illegal,” but the protest is known for fueling “the association of feminists as ‘bra-burners,'” as Jennifer Lee, director of Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation, wrote in 2014.
That volatile moment in the history of feminism was a point of reference throughout the show’s season premiere.
Masters’ wife Libby (Elisabeth Ellis in real life, played by Caitlin FitzGerald) is referred to a “women’s group” run by one of her lawyer’s former clients — a woman who some viewers have noted looks like a young Gloria Steinem. The group encourages women to air their grievances and views of current events. At the group, Libby dismisses the Miss America protest as “silly” and “useless,” until the leader asks her why she’s so attached to a “breast restraint that’s become a multi-billion dollar industry owned and operated by men.”
TIME’s August 31, 1970, cover story described meetings like the one Masters attended as the “heart” of the Women’s Liberation Movement. Such meetings promoted a “common awareness of problems” throughout the 1960s. As the magazine explained:
For a show all about how Masters and Johnson seemed like the only ones talking about the real science behind sex, it’s already clear that Season 4 will take place in a period of history when social movements empowered people to talk about sex, among other topics once considered taboo.
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