W. Joseph Campbell

Palin’s new book invokes ‘bra-burning’ stereotype

In Bra-burning, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Media myths, Watergate myth on November 24, 2010 at 8:57 am

Bra-burning,” I point out in my mythbusting book Getting It Wrong, was scarcely a common feature of feminist protests of the 1960s and 1970s, stereotypes and popular narratives notwithstanding.

The enduring and popular notion of numerous, demonstrative bra-burnings–that female protestors in those days set their bras afire and twirled them over their heads–”is fanciful and highly exaggerated,” I write.

At most, women’s liberation demonstrators at Atlantic City in September 1968, briefly set bras and other items afire, an episode that may best be described as “bra-smoldering.”

At most, 'bra-smoldering'

But there was no flamboyant bra-burning that day at Atlantic City, no fiery spectacle, no bonfire of bras. (See photo.) “Fire at most was a modest and fleeting aspect of the protest that day,” I write in Getting It Wrong.

Despite the thin evidentiary record, “bra-burning” lives on as a convenient if misleading shorthand phrase in “describing the upheaval of the 1960s and early 1970s,” as I note in Getting It Wrong. I  point out that “bra-burning” long has been “invoked as a defining phrase, or cliché, of those troubled times—as in ‘the era of bra-burning,’ ‘the hysteria of bra-burning,’ the time of ‘raucous bra burning,’” and the like.

To those misleading turns of phrase, Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate and former governor of Alaska, adds “1960s-era bra-burning militancy.”

The phrase appears in America By Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag, Palin’s second book, which that was came out yesterday.

Palin offers up “bra-burning militancy” in writing:

“Remember Hillary Clinton’s famous rant, when her husband was running for president, that she wasn’t, in her words, ‘some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette’? Hillary … came across then as someone frozen in an attitude of 1960s-era bra-burning militancy. She told us in no uncertain terms that she ‘could have stayed and baked cookies and had teas’ but preferred to pursue a serious career.”

The passage has attracted some comment–for its jab at Clinton, not for its historically incorrect reference to “bra-burning militancy.”

It’s regrettable, and more than a little unfair, that a misnomer like flamboyant “bra-burning” is so casually invoked in characterizing the 1960s and 1970s.

It’s unfortunate, too: Those turbulent times are prone to mythical treatment as it is–the mythical “Cronkite Moment” of 1968 and the heroic-journalist meme of the Watergate scandal both figure in Getting It Wrong.

But there’s no denying the perverse appeal of the term. It trips off the tongue in a blithe, faintly sneering sort of way: “Bra-burning.”

Stereotyping can be a hazard of media-driven myths, and there’s also no denying that stereotype is embedded in the phrase.

“Bra burning,” I write in Getting It Wrong, “has long been an off-hand way of ridiculing feminists and mocking their sometimes-militant efforts to confront gender-based discrimination in the home and the work place. Characterizations such as ‘bra-burning feminists,’ ‘the bra-burning women’s movement,’ ‘loud-mouthed, bra-burning, men-hating feminists,’ and ‘a 1960s bra-burning feminist’ have had currency for years.”

In its passage mentioning “bra-burning,” Palin’s book casually, almost off-handedly, serves to reinforce the stereotype.

WJC

Recent and related:

 

“Bra burning” also has long been an off-hand way of ridiculing feminists and mocking their sometimes-militant efforts to confront gender-based discrimination in the home and the work place. Characterizations such as “bra-burning feminists,”[i] “the bra-burning women’s movement,” “loud-mouthed, bra-burning, men-hating feminists,” and “a 1960s bra-burning feminist” have had currency for years.


[i] Tony Chamberlain, “Berman’s A Women’s Movement Unto Herself with Three Official Wins,” Boston Globe (16 April 2006): C1.

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