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Opinion: The Bra Burning Myth

bra-burning-1

Bloomers, suffragettes, The Spice Girls, Mindy Kaling, birth control, power suits. It all happened/happening. Bra burning? Whether that is fact or fiction depends on the source and the year. Most of us have an image of a bra burning blitzkrieg taking place outside the Miss America pageant in 1968. While I can’t speak from personal experience, that protest, from what I’ve read, didn’t go up in flames like most of us think it did.

Traveling from Florida, Detroit, New York, Boston and New Jersey, feminist protesters congregated on the boardwalk in Atlantic City on September 7. The feminist portion of the group – other civil right activists were also in attendance – was organized by the New York Radical Movement.  They marched with signs, passed out flyers and pamphlets (one of which was the famous No More Miss America!), crowned a live sheep, and threw symbolic feminine products into “freedom trash cans” – curlers, hairspray, shoes, girdles, corsets, pots and pans, fake eyelashes, cleaning supplies, tampons, and bras. Some say these trash cans were light on fire, albeit briefly, while other say nothing was burned at all. But it wasn’t these acts that initiated the myth, or non myth. What caught the media’s attention were four protesters who hung a banner from the balcony with “Women’s Liberation” written on it while Debra Barnes Snodgrass gave her farewell address. She was the previous year’s winner. Police quickly removed the women and nothing was broadcast, but a reporter ran an article making an analogy between the women and protesters during the Vietnam war who burned their draft cards. The connection was made and stuck.

bra-burning-graphic

The New York Radical Movement was a group started by Robin Morgan, Carol Hanisch, Shulamith Firestone and Pam Allen. Relatively unknown prior to the protest, they got the idea to take action at the pageant after watching a movie that depicted women parading in bathing suits. It was a gutsy move, but it would bring momentum to their cause – “the degrading-mindless-boob-girlie symbol” and the public worshipping of “the most beautiful girl in America”.

The winner of that year’s pageant was Judith (Judi) Ford. She was a trampolinist who first won Miss Boone County and Miss Illinois before being crowned Miss USA. She used her Miss America Scholarship to obtain her B.S. in physical education and was later appointed by President Nixon and Ford to be a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, where she served for eight years. After, she taught physical education (P.E.) for 18 years. She didn’t achieve world peace, but she did use the competition to achieve something.

“I know pageants aren’t for everyone,” Ford was quoted as saying in this article. “I had people tell me it was a cattle show, and that I was being exploited. But the goal of the Miss America pageant is to promote women and give them opportunities and scholarships that they might not get otherwise…. My ‘unofficial platform’ was women’s athletics. For me, the Miss America experience was extremely beneficial.”

Did the protesters win or lose? My opinion is both. The image of Miss America was forever changed. It went from being a can’t miss to a what network is it on this year? More women are in the workforce today, but it seems like our expectation to work outside the house was added to our work inside the house. Before, women were just expected to cook, clean and take care of the kids. Now, women have to do all that, have a career and more. I hear more women complaining about juggling it all than men, don’t you? But I guess that’s what we asked for, so can we bitch? I certainly feel the pressure to do it all, to be superwoman, and that’s what I worry about most often, handling it all. Women who participate are still typical pretty, and let’s not forget the obvious, Miss America is still on TV today.

Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on the bra burning myth and the Miss America pageants?

References + More Reading

One: Opinion: Feminism, Bra Burning & Hating Men
Two: Bra Burning, Gray Hair, Other Illusions
Three: Miss America Pageant Shaming: A Feminist Trap
Four: Media Myth Alert
Five: Makers “Brought To You By The Woman’s Movement”
Six: Atlantic City Is A Town With Class; They Raise Your Morals While They Judge Your Ass
Seven: There She Is, Miss America: Catching up with Judi Ford Nash

22 Comments

  1. Reply

    Melissa

    Theatrics aside, I am grateful for all the opportunities and freedoms I have that were hard won by the feminists before me. That said, I’m constantly reminded that we still have much work to do and it saddens me that one of the reasons that we haven’t carried on the momentum is because we as women still fight, compete and tear each other down. I am not advocating an extreme let’s help each other out just because we’re both
    women but rather a let’s change the environment and let’s respect each other and not tear each other down. There is plenty of room for you and me.

    I have seen many examples of men who network and recommend a friend or colleague for a role. The friend works hard to live up to the recommendation and develops his career and then helps another friend out and both the original man who did the recommending and the friend in turn both strengthen their network and their credibility. In a specific industry it then becomes well known and then opportunities arise for both.

    For what it’s worth I’ve have done many recommendations for other women professionally and all but one of them have become obnoxious, arrogant, bitchy and turned around and stabbed me in the back.

  2. Reply

    Elise

    I’m really grateful for the feminist movement. My father left my mother with 4 children and no workplace experience for 15 years. It was traumatic for all of us. The lesson I learned was “always be able to take care of yourself and any new life you bring into the world”. I got married (as was expected at the time) and had 2 daughters. Then, thanks to the feminist movement, found a job which would allow me to support my family should the need arise. The government began ENFORCING laws which were on the books, which stated that any company who did business with the federal government had to have equally qualified women in jobs which were traditionally male (and vice versa), and pay them equally to men in the same job. I remember driving home the day I was hired (for a technology job that was much more interesting and amazing to me than beautician or flight attendant which as a young girl were the options I thought I had) singing at the top of my lungs “I’m rich! I’m rich”…..for $6.25 an hour. Haha. I did end up having to take care of my little family and was so happy to have opportunities to move up, have insurance, and use my brain for my entire career. I also opted to go bra free for many years (sorry Maddie). It felt good. My biggest fear is that young women today have no idea or appreciation for those women you are talking about. Even almost 10 years after the movement you are writing about, the environment for us women in my job was pretty hostile, with men groping us and saying that we wanted to be there so shut up and take it. We did, but it wasn’t pleasant. They didn’t like giving up/sharing the good jobs with us. It gave us the power to make our own decisions. Even though I had a job which paid a little more than my husband, I had to have him or my father co-sign for a loan to buy a table. That’s another benefit they fought for. Women didn’t buy houses or cars or anything on their own. We didn’t have our own credit. Then women started pushing for the sexual harassment laws. At the time, men were still in all the management positions and any woman who complained was basically stuck where they were and harassed even further. I remember having to stand for my boss, who was 30+ years older than me, and just awful to boot, patting me on the rear. Putting his arm around me and grabbing my breast, smiling the whole time. I’d stand there, tense as could be, wanting to slug him in his smug face. Instead I put up with it till I got my promotion and a new job. A few years later, I ended up with a wonderful female boss. My old boss ended up in the same department, and complained to my new boss that I was “stuck up” for not wanting anything at all to do with him. I explained it all to her, and by God, she let him have it. She told him in no uncertain terms, that if he laid a hand on any of us he’d be gone. She’s still my hero, almost 40 years later. What they did was brave (feminatzi, anyone?) and wonderful, and right. They gave us the freedom and right to choose, whether it’s the traditional role that fulfills us or not. They gave us birth control, so we don’t end up having children every year or so. Another huge fight which amazingly is still going on today in some circles. They gave us the chance to live our lives free from boredom and/or abuse (still a LOT work to be done on that front). 12 years after my divorce I ended up marrying a man (just had our 24th anniversary) who is wonderful and helpful. My daughters did the same. They both have masters degrees, great jobs, and children. Their husbands help with everything, including cooking and housework. It’s hard doing it all, but with a good partner you don’t have to. And doing it all sure beats the limited options we as women had before. Thanks to them, you can have and run your own business without having to hook up with men to finance you, like Coco Chanel had to. It is a great question you posed, and I’ll be interested in seeing what others have to say. I look at you and think what an amazing young woman you are. I truly hope that we never forget those who came before us, and what they did for us all.

    • Reply

      didyoumakethat

      Elise, thank you for such a calm, eloquent and personal championing of the continuing importance of feminism in 2015.

      • Reply

        Elise

        Hey thanks. I enjoy your writing too.

    • Reply

      maddie

      I second Karen (Did You Make That), thank you for the honest response championing the importance of feminism. I never lived in a time where women didn’t have equal opportunities, so it’s hard for me to imagine. I consider myself a driven women. If I couldn’t achieve something – a goal, a dream, a project – because I was female, I wouldn’t take that very well. It is because of these women that I have been able to accomplish so much in my life.

      And no need to be sorry for going braless! For as many bras as I make, I have a lot of days where I don’t put one on either. The perks of having small boobs. Pun intended.

      • Reply

        Elise

        I used to have a really cute black t-shirt that said “small is beautiful” in tiny white letters where the pocket would be. Anyone who wanted to read what it said had to lean in, then they’d look confused, then laugh. It was meant to be a statement because EVERYONE was either talking about or getting implants. Instead I ended up with a lot of people staring at my chesticular area. Unintended consequences.

        Due to having the same perks as you, it was never necessary to learn to embrace the bra. For the last couple of decades it’s just been sad. But I follow your blog, and figure that if anyone can design a bra that pushes the side boob back to the front and holds the old girls in place without using a wire, it’ll be you. No pressure. I know what your goal and mission is, but you’ll need a new challenge one day. And provided I can still learn and thread a needle, I’ll be here. There would be lot of money in something like that (a pretty, comfortable bra that works) because us baby boomers do not like to grow old gracefully (if that means wires digging into our ribs). Oh, and could you make it a kit? Again, no pressure.

  3. Reply

    Debbie Cook

    Judi Ford won the Miss America pageant in 1969, not 1978 as your graphic shows. And Miss USA and Miss America are not the same. Just FYI

    • Reply

      maddie

      Thank you for the FYI.

  4. Reply

    talespinnerwordweaver

    What a thought provoking article and great comments by Melissa and Elise.
    I don’t see the “Feminist” movement as being one that fought for us “to have it all.” Rather that they fought for equality of life on every level without being gender specific.
    When I was at school (I’m 58) women didn’t have a career, they maybe had a little job for “pin money” though where I grew up in the North of England that was frowned on, as it implied “Your man” didn’t earn enough and “the little woman” had to top up the family income.
    Divorce was legally possible, but rarely done because of the shame it brought on the woman and the difficulty in getting a home, care of the children and a job. So many people stayed in lousy marriages.
    My Aunt was one, she brought up 2 children (3 if you count all she did for my Uncle). She was “allowed” a part time job to “gossip with the girlies” but every penny of her wages went to him. She had to ask permission to come on holiday to see me (I paid all travel expenses) for 1 week a year when the “children” were grown up.
    One day after 50 years of marriage my Uncle packed his suitcase and left the house without a word to her. That afternoon a “For sale” board went up on their home. 2 days later a solicitors letter advised her that her marriage was over and she needed to find alternative accommodation. This in 1970’s!
    Women didn’t go into pubs alone, unless they had no reputation! Ha, who would even think such a thing?
    Even in ’70’s trousers were worn by the men! Unless you were a young child, a teenager = jeans or an “older lady” in which case elasticated waist & seam up front. Nothing that looked like “mens” trousers :~)
    Like Elise I was subject to sexual problems at work, in my case not just my boss. I was 17 and doing an Apprenticeship in Horticulture, a job for the “boys. ” This meant that I got every job going, no matter how hard, lifting 56 pound bags of fertilizer on/off lorries ext. “She wants a man’s job, let her work like a blo*dy man then.” Yet at brew up time guess who made the tea, or was expected to keep our shed clean and tidy, “give it a woman’s touch.” And as a bonus I got manhandled and groped by guy’s old enough to be my Father/Grandfather because I was “asking for it”.
    I too married as was expected (though I was in danger of being “on the shelf” at 22), I was abused by husband of 8 hours, real shock we’d lived together for 6 months with no real issues.
    When it continued the attitude was “what happens behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors”, he’s entitled, your his wife.”
    Thankfully he left after 10 years having for the first time hit me where it was visible. A wife with one side of her face being black & blue, plus the loss of sight in that eye, even he couldn’t pass off as the clumsy wife taking a fall when we went to church.
    Though I was asked by the Vicar what on earth I’d said to upset him so?
    I am saddened by one thing in the Feminist movement and that is the part that looks down on women who choose to be stay at home Mums raising the next generation ~ a vital job in it’s own right.
    Had I been able to have children (early childhood and spousal abuse put paid to those plans), then I hope I would have raised Sons and Daughters to equally take their place in society. To be able to run a home and take care of a family from dirty nappies up.
    Equality the noun means ” the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities” I don’t see anything there about “having it all”.
    Although Nature denies equality in that (at the moment) only women can be pregnant and give birth. I’d love to be part of a society where the “right” parent stayed home with the children without stigma. Right being the one who wants to, is emotionally better at parenting. Not all women are maternal, not all men have no “maternal” instincts.
    A society where the work you do (in or out of the home), the person you are is valued as an individual unrelated to your gender.

    And to those readers thinking I wouldn’t have put up with it 10 years, I thought that too before I married.
    The first slap was a shock, it was followed by abject apology and reasons (time showed them as excuses), stress of the Wedding Day, alcohol “you know I don’t usually drink, it must have been that.” The later beatings followed a subtle long term destroying of my sense of self.
    Even in 80′ & 90’s it wasn’t that easy to walk away and get a good job.
    I had completed my apprenticeship in Horticulture, another 2, one as a printer and one as a tailor. Worked in Children’s Homes, as a Nanny and in playgroup but nothing that was high wage.
    When he left I was at University as a Mature Student doing a BA Hons to become a Teacher, the beatings were increasing as I didn’t have permission to go to Uni and I refused to hand over my grant check. I used grant money plus a secret part time job to get driving lessons and bought a second hand wreck of a car that lasted me 8 years.
    The final beating was because of that car, I went out without permission, worse actually, expressly after being told I couldn’t.
    I’d left school with no qualifications and that coupled with a childhood of abuse had left me expecting nothing better.
    The Head teacher of my final school believed in and encouraged me, so I did night classes after work and got qualifications. Marriage put paid to further ones until a friend persuaded me to sign up for Uni “as a lark, we’ll never get in.” We both did!
    This was the beginning of me not taking control of, but gradually (in my late 30’s/early 40’s) learning it was ok for me to have a life.
    When you’ve been walked over from birth it’s hard to know you’re not a doormat.

  5. Reply

    Linda

    I graduated high school in 1973, and was told I’d be a good candidate for secretarial school. ( oh like THAT would ever happen!) I was in the top six of my class! My senior year’s highlight was organizing a sit-in to be allowed to wear slacks to school. It was a struggle for women back then. Divorce was shameful and women were not considered to be able to take care of themselves. It was awful. Men had absolutely no problem making the demeaning comments right to your face, or the pass saying you asked to be here. I think the mistake women made, while claiming their right to work with equal pay and opportunity, was to not demand men share in the housework and childcare department. I think many forgot to raise their sons differently to prepare for the future. It’s getting better now for sure! I never learned shorthand and never took any nonsense from a man. My son does laundry, sews, cooks and can take care of himself.

    • Reply

      Elise

      My daughters were smart enough to marry men like your son. So from me, a big fat “thank you”!!! I love visiting them and watching how everyone just naturally pitches in. My sons-in-law spend loads of time with the kids too, teaching them to play musical instruments, to cook, taking time off work to go on field trips, etc. With one grandson and 2 granddaughters living this way we can, I believe, expect things to only get better for everyone.

      The shame that came with divorce was awful. My mom, who was going crazy trying to find a job to support us had the additional shame of needing to get food stamps. She drove 2 cities away from where we lived, wore sunglasses, and cried every time she had to use them to buy groceries. She’d done everything “right”, yet she was the one who had to go through this.

      Sit ins for pants, such a trip down memory lane. Haha! I grew up close to Berkley California during the war protests and hippie age. The high school I attended, just a year or two before I was there, thought they’d be progressive and experiment with “no dress code”. The girls apparently started wearing bikinis to school. It was a big scandal and ended that little experiment pretty quickly. We did get to wear jeans, show our shoulders, and wear skirts above our knees though. So thanks again!!

  6. Reply

    pipersprings1

    I am seeing slow but gradual progress. My mother was a member of the feminist movement, I am a working mother who tries to do it all, and I hope my daughter will have a partner who equally balances career and family along with her.

    • Reply

      maddie

      An equal partnership is the type of relationship I’m looking for as well. I hope you have found one, and that your daughters and I do as well.

  7. Reply

    Rachel

    Your statement regarding feminism advocating for women ‘juggling it all’ – and that women were the ones who ‘asked for’ that is erroneous. Feminists do not advocate that women do all the work – rather they argue for equality in work of all kinds – meaning if they are partnered with a man that he too shares the cooking, cleaning and care of children. Your statement that ‘But I guess that’s what we asked for, so can we bitch?’ illustrates why feminism is so important today… Please take care when putting forward arguments regarding feminism – you have a large readership of women and I loathe to think that a reader will take away the message that she can’t expect an equal divide of home duties with her male partner because of feminism. The pressure you speak of experiencing to ‘do it all’ is actually a by-product of patriarchy – women can go to work, but only if they do all the cooking, cleaning and childcare too – because men don’t do that.

  8. Reply

    Ellen

    An intrinsic part of the ’60’s and 70’s feminist movement was our push for liberation from sexual stereotypes; not only the Miss America pageants but the Playboy bunnies as well. We had the pill and enjoyed our sexuality but we sick and tired of being “Sex objects”. First, we went bra-less, as a rebellion against push-up and cone bras of the era, then we wore powersuits, partly to emulate men in the workplace to demonstrate our equality and partly as “body armor” to hide our sexuality at work. Then, something shifted backwards in what I think was a bad way. We became sex objects again, with CFM heals, boob jobs, etc. Today in much of the media, you cannot be a “normal” looking woman and expect to get a job in front of a camera, no matter what your credentials are. It used to be only the “weather girls” who wore short skirts and heals; we rebelled against that back then. Now, the news media is saturated with glamorous women; you can’t a job in front of the camera unless you look like Miss America. Fox/Faux news is notorious for that, but CNN is not much better. Even our local news features only “beautiful” , young women, while the male newscasters come in just about all sizes, ages and appearances. That filters down to other fields, as well. …and don’t get me started on Disney and its stereotypical imagining of women. Only beautiful, perfect-figured women are heroines while sidekicks, villains, etc. are plain, skinny, fat or otherwise “flawed”. We’re still being led by the nose by how we’re defined by men. Ugh!

  9. Reply

    Ali

    A good review to read given this discussion: https://theconversation.com/review-suffragette-helps-us-see-why-we-still-need-feminism-today-48797

    Whilst this article is a review of the film ‘The Suffragette’ as it’s set in Britain think that the issues covered mean that it’s pertinent to this discussion. I also have to say that from personal experience that it’s important to recognise that there are some women who use feminism to tell other women how to behave, how to dress and how to be. I dislike it when one has to encounter these especially as they’re often using feminism to cover up the fact that they are bullies. This is when, in my mind, we’ve got problems with feminism being hijacked by other women. I dislike being told by other women – and I have been told in much of Canada – that I’m not allowed to wear the colour red as “I’m over x age”, or that I can’t wear dresses or skirts a certain length – just above my knees (I was supposed to be wearing dresses to my ankles – jeez I’m just 5 ft 4 so I’m not tall! I dislike wearing trousers as they get boring. I’d never wear clothes that were indecent. I don’t need these ‘rules’ especially when if these ‘rules’ which I’ve never found written down indicate that women should frankly being be wearing sacks with holes so that they can see out. I’ve complained to other Canadians and asked why no-one objects and the women to whom I’ve complained have told me that I ought not to be objecting to these ‘rules’. I ended up leaving this part of the world as it seems pointless trying to be there – it wasn’t as if I was wearing a bikini on the street – I’d not do that…that’s just not a good idea.

    So, I’m of the view that not all women which that all women ought to be treated equally …and that are women who are determined not to help other women and these women think that some women are better than others and that not all women are equal. I have wondered whether these women who dictate rules and set social norms really have understood hat they’re behaving as men and are more concerned about control, understand how they’re only abusing the fact that women several generations before them fought desperately hard to make the gains that they see as ‘theirs’ in society. i doubt it.

  10. Reply

    Ali

    Eeck, I missed out a few words in my last sentence of my last paragraph. What I meant to say

    “So, I’m of the view that not all women think that that all women ought to be treated equally …and that are women who are determined not to help other women and these women think that some women are better than others and that not all women are equal. I have wondered whether these women who dictate rules and set social norms really have understood hat they’re behaving as men and are more concerned about control, understand how they’re only abusing the fact that women several generations before them fought desperately hard to make the gains that they see as ‘theirs’ in society. i doubt it.”

    I ended up leaving Canada for many reasons but I’d reached my limits of being told what ought to wear ie where the hemline ought to be (I generally prefer having my hemlines just above my knees and being only 5ft 4″ I’m swamped if it’s any longer and I wouldn’t wear anything shorter), that I had to wear turtle necks, that I was supposed to wear long shorts….- down to my knees, I wasn’t supposed to wear dresses or skirts, I frankly stopped sewing which is tough as most clothes aren’t designed for small, thin, short women…as it’s tough finding clothes in size 4 who work in a office/laboratory environment. I liked sewing but I stopped as I was tired of verbal abuse by my colleagues who were women. I’ve even been berated for wearing perfume by women.

    I work in a predominately male profession where 95% of my colleagues are men.There are the usual difficulties of being a scientist in a male dominated profession but it’s possible to deal with that. It was the women who commented on my clothes – the men said nothing as regards clothing.

    So, as regards clothes and social niceties the women who I encountered were predominately awful. I think Margaret Attwood books as she frequently writes about reality for many women who are strong, dare speak up and being individuals…..and have their own minds. It’s why, I think, she’s so disliked as a novelist. Her novels are social commentary on society and the role of women in Canada.

    Thank goodness I’m somewhere else where I can wear what I like, what colours I like, what shoes I like, basically be myself and not have the knowledge that my clothes will be commented on when I got to work or just go out the front door. Women have a tough time as it is and they don’t need to beat others up…or try to. Self confidence is the issue here…and before we can get more equality with our male contemporaries…women have to be comfortable with themselves.

    • Reply

      maddie

      Feminism is about being free and able to make choices you want so that you can achieve the things you want. It was and is still a movement to be able to be the best possible version of ourselves. That includes both men and women. It has absolutely nothing to do (or should have nothing to do) with anyone approving of the choices you make.

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience in Canada, but I’m happy you were able to make the choice you wanted and are in a better place now 🙂

  11. Reply

    Emili Day

    Oh Maddie, you must have been in a pot stirring mood this morning. Fun conversation among like minded women. Love this community. xo

  12. Reply

    justineabbitt

    Interesting read Maddie! And you are totally entitled to your opinions about feminism, whether or not your extremely opinionated commenters agree or not. My goodness! But I enjoyed reading their life stories! Seems like you have a big audience from across the pond…

    • Reply

      maddie

      Thanks Justine. Feminism is a touchy topic, and I didn’t mean to offend anyone. Just expressing my two cents.

  13. Reply

    Kayla's Blog

    Thanks for sharing this article! I never thought that these things happened in history. I knew of some feminist movements where women demanded to get to equal footing with men and yes, we complain a lot these days about the demands but this post made me aware that we were the ones who initiated it. Maybe we wanted to get some rights, and getting those somehow evolved to complicate a lot of stuff for us. It is nice reading other women’s opinion on this matter, too (and a good change from sewing projects!).

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