Extinguishing the Myth of Bra Burning


In the wake of Women's History Month (yes, it was all March long, didn't you notice?) much of women's history certainly could be dusted off (Seneca Falls, anyone?) and re-told, some pieces are best left where they belong -- in the dustbin. Or perhaps I should say, the trash can. Take bra burning. It's a term that's used rather liberally by the right to talk about feminists. It conjures up women running into the ran into the streets and casting off the yolk of male oppression. It's an image that is at once rebellious and silly. It's not flag burning. Or draft-card burning. It's bras.

Except for this one thing. Women never burned their bras. To understand how this happened, we need to go back to 1968, Atlantic City. To the Miss America Pageant.

Women this year are mad, and I mean they are really mad. This is back when the women's movement is called women's liberation and women are not being taken seriously. This is before Ms. magazine. And, this is way, way before Victoria's Secret. 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.

This protest happens right after the 1968 Democratic Convention. The images of the absolute chaos in Chicago during that time was witnessed on television and shown over and over in classroom documentaries and is basically seared into our understanding of that time.

So it wasn't completely surprising that the actual draft card burnings and supposed bra burnings merged into one big memory of the '60s.

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