Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Great Bras of Fire

Look, I’m trying to keep this rated PG here.

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Bra-burning feminist.” Everyone knows that in the 1960s or possibly the 1970s, feminists were so enraged by men that they ripped off their bras and tossed them into a fire.

Or something like that, anyways. It must have, I mean, it’s referenced in passing in news columns like it’s common knowledge at least. 

There must have been tons of bra burnings, right?

Well, no, not exactly.

The incident that sparked off the idea of feminists burning their bras was at the 1968 Miss America Beauty Pageant. Photographer Jo Freeman does a good job of summing up the rest of the protest if you want some background and an idea of how the rest of the event went (and she’s got some great picture of the 1969 protest as well). You can read that HERE.

There were no bras burned at the 1968 protest. There was just this:

At the Freedom Trash Can, 1968 (Duke University, special collections)

It was called the “Freedom Trash Can” and it wasn’t simply a depository for bras, but also for high heeled shoes, girdles, cosmetics, and magazines that objectified women such as Playboy. There was not a single fire given that day.

But fire was reported. Well, kind of. Lindsay van Gelder's had been sent to the protest by the New York Post. She had been sent there to do a humor piece on the protest, so she chose to attempt to link the protests to those protesting the draft – something that the media was treating more seriously. (You can read more about the Vietnam Draft Resistance HERE).  Van Gelder's headline ended up being "Bra Burners and Miss America."

It’s like the bra equivalent of the flameless candle. It’s totally a candle… without the flame, the wick, the heat, or the burny bits.

There have been “bra burnings” since then, however.

Toronto Canada, 1979. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis

This bra burning (it was just the one bra) was done by the protesters as a way to get media attention for their protest. The group Women Against Violence Against Women wanted to draw attention to their protest of what they considered “an illogical report prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police about rape.” [*

So what basically happened was that there was no bra burnings, but the story spread as if it was fact, and inspired some people to actually burn a bra in protest – and using said burning to garner media attention instead of actually protesting the bra or anything bra-like.

I suppose the moral here is that as far as the media is concerned, stories about ladies undergarments, especially when they’re on fire, sell really well.

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