It happened, and the photo’s no hoax.
The bra-burning episode pictured at left took place near Toronto city hall on March 8, 1979.
One of the participants, speaking by phone from Vancouver, confirmed the incident, saying, “The photo is authentic. Absolutely. It happened.”
I had not seen the photograph until February 6; it was posted that day with an article at the London Guardian online site.
I had had doubts about its authenticity.
Given periodic claims that no bras ever were burned at a feminist protest, the image, I suspected, may have been unethically altered.
Not only that, but the photograph seemed almost too good to be true, what with the white bra dangling above lapping flames of the burn barrel.
Trerise, though, assured me the photograph was legitimate. And her confirmation effectively represents a challenge to claims that feminist bra-burning is a media myth.
It happened in Toronto. The photograph shows a moment of demonstrative bra-burning, even though it “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest, Trerise said.
The bra-burning took place near the end of the demonstration, during which the group Women Against Violence Against Women protested what it termed was an illogical report prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police about rape.
Trerise said the demonstrators were media-savvy and “knew that if they burned a bra, someone would take their picture.”
By 1979, “bra-burning” had become part of the vernacular in North America, a dismissive term often invoked “to denigrate women’s liberation and feminist advocacy as trivial and even a bit primitive,” as I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.
“Invoking ‘bra-burning,’” I write, “was a convenient means of brushing aside the issues and challenges raised by women’s liberation and discrediting the fledgling movement as shallow and without serious grievance.”
The term emerged in the aftermath of a women’s liberation demonstration outside the Miss America pageant in September 1968 at Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Protest leaders have long insisted that nothing was burned at Atlantic City. However, I present evidence in Getting It Wrong that bras were set afire, briefly, during the demonstration on that long ago September day.
But I acknowledge that the evidence of bra-burning at Atlantic City doesn’t correspond to the “widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.”
The demonstrators in Toronto in 1979 hardly looked angry; but they were flamboyant.
Trerise said the bra-burning that day “was a bit of a reverse spoof,” a parody of media claims that burning bras was commonplace at feminist protests in the late 1960s and 1970s. “It was like a joke,” she said, and “it wasn’t planned.”
She also said the demonstrators “all had been involved in street activism for many years.”
Dangling the bra above the burn barrel was Pat Murphy, who died in 2003. In the center of the photograph with her right arm upraised was Adrienne Potts.
Murphy and Potts were two members of the so-called “Brunswick Four” — lesbians arrested in 1974, following an episode at a tavern in Toronto where they sang a parody of “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” For “girl,” they had substituted “dyke.”
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