April 2, 2008

Did those crazy rad-fems really burn their bras? Telling women’s history right

Posted in body politics, feminism, myths, sexual politics at 6:02 pm by LB

So I hear in passing all the time people mentioning “bra-burning feminists” in the ’60’s. If I’m in any way involved in the conversation, I try to correct or at least clarify the story where that (in)famous image of second-wave feminists comes from.

Huff-Po has a good “let’s get the story straight” article just in time for Women’s History Month to be…over. Read it. If nothing else than then you can allude to the historical event without sounding like an idiot. The Cliff’s notes version is below:

Women’s underthings used to be ridiculously uncomfortable. In fact, the concept of comfort is a pretty new idea. So when feminism came along and suggested going au natural over being in pain to achieve the perfect hourglass figure, it was a pretty strong argument. And what better place to state your distaste for sexist undergarments than the Miss. America. Beauty. Pageant.

Back on the sidewalk outside Atlantic City Hall, hundreds of women filled a trash can with girdles, high-heeled shoes, false eyelashes, makeup and bras.

And in fairness to the myth, the desire to light a fire was there, but there was just one problem. No one could get permission to do it. Since the boardwalk was wooden, the fire would be unsafe. So, these radical women were left with a trash can full of the cast-aways of womanhood. But instead of a fiery protest, it was just a big trash can full of junk.

Let’s be clear here. These women in 1968 did burn. They burned with the desire for change, for equal rights, for comfort, for being free from the pressure of making their bodies mold to ridiculous looks that had nothing to do with an actual woman’s body. But they did not burn bras.

You know, it irritates me pretty good when I hear the “bra-burning feminists” label because it is usually said with contempt or at least annoyance–as in, “here go those man-hating feminists, complaining about femininity.” To be clear, feminists hate the ubiquitous compulsory, restrictive, male-centered expectations of femininity. It doesn’t mean a feminist can’t want to or enjoy putting on pretty underwear every once in a while, or that she won’t even indulge in any “feminine” pleasures. And if you don’t think a male-centered idea of femininity (and sexuality) is compulsory and not wholly “chosen”–which is really a topic for a post of its own–at least chew on this.

If you ask me, would could use a little more public trashings of high-heeled shoes, bras, makeup, and fake eyelashes…not to mention hot wax, anal bleach, dresses that only look good if you don’t move, a bunch of mainstream porn, diet pills, laxatives, and all that silicone we inject in our breasts, lips, butt, and what not…

But that’s just me.

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