Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bras Are Burning

I read an article denying that women’s rights activists ever burned their bras in the sixties. This upstart historian insisted that “bra burning” was simply a figure of speech, coined by a journalist after the fact, meant to mirror the symbolism of the young men who burned their draft cards to protest the Viet Nam war. He said it never happened, that women never burned their brassieres to protest the inequalities of gender in our society.

I tell you, that historian was dead wrong. I was there. In the sixties, we burned our bras all the time. Not in the first part of the decade; in the early sixties, all we ever burned was the steak, and that was our silent rebellion against the drudgery of men, housework, and stereotypes. But, by nineteen sixty-five, we had moved on to our Maidenforms.

When we exhausted the contents of our underwear drawers, we stormed Woolworth and absconded with any undergarments we could find there. Later, we took to hijacking delivery vans and burned bras by the carton, first in fifty-five gallon oil drums, and later, for greater efficiency, in our own furnaces. In the late sixties, it was not unusual for a crusader to heat her home entirely with purloined underwires. We were burning those contraptions in bulk.

Eventually, the practice diminished after a few entrepreneurs decided to cut out the middleman and set fire to the factories where our undergarments were produced. There was an arson trial, but the women were exonerated, arguing that bra burning was protected expression under the first amendment. At that point, though, the project had lost its shock value. Those few that remained trapped by the confines of rigid gender roles went back to burning steaks, although most of us continued to burn the Sears Roebuck catalog, just as a matter of habit. To this day, I will toss Victoria’s Secret advertising fliers directly into the fireplace. My granddaughter asked me why, and I shuddered to imagine a generation of girls growing up without understanding this pregnant moment in the history of women’s rights. I blame those misguided, misogynistic historians.

Nah, I’m kidding you, really. I’m only thirty-five; I didn’t even need a bra until nineteen eighty-seven, and, at thirty bucks a pop, I can’t afford to be setting those things ablaze. Anyway, my rack tips the scales at a thirty-six double D. There’s probably some kind of local ordinance prohibiting me from going out without support. I could cause a car accident.

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