W. Joseph Campbell

Bra-burning ‘never happened’?

In Anniversaries, Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Photographs on March 8, 2011 at 8:40 am

Toronto, 32 years ago today (Bettmann/Corbis)

“Bra-burning has long been associated with the feminist movement, but it never happened.”

So asserted an article published the other day in the Sacramento Bee.

It’s a not-infrequent claim, that feminist bra-burning was a media invention, a media myth.

But there were at least a couple of occasions when feminist protesters set fire to bras.

One of the occasions came 32 years ago today, when members of Women Against Violence Against Women demonstrated outside city hall in Toronto. Near the close of the demonstration, a protester named Pat Murphy dropped a white bra into the hungry flames of a burn barrel (see photo).

The demonstration in Toronto on March 8, 1979, coincided with International Women’s Day and was aimed at denouncing a report on rape prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police.

The police report said that of 337 rapes investigated, 140 were “unprovoked.” The report also said “promiscuity” was a factor in many rapes.

The Women Against Violence Against Women group scorned the report as outrageous and “dazzling in its illogic.” Protesters carried signs saying: “Take a Rapist to Lunch — Charcoal Broiled” and “Hookers Who Wink Go to the Clink! Men Who Rape Escape.”

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the protesters lighted “a fire in a garbage can, to the obvious annoyance of about a dozen watchful constables, [and] shouted: ‘Burn the rapists, burn the city, burn the OPP,’” acronym for Ontario Provincial Police.

The newspaper’s account did not mention the bra-burning which, one participant recently told me, “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest.

But it did happen.

Another participant recently recalled that “weighing in on the stereotype of ‘feminist bra-burners’ was actually an effective way [for protesters] to say: Women will control our own bodies, thank you!

“The bra burning,” she said, “was a way to entice the media as well as [offer] a critique of the police report.”

A little more than 10 years before the demonstration in Toronto, about 100 women gathered on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, New Jersey, to protest the 1968 Miss America pageant. The demonstration was organized by a small group called New York Radical Women and has been recognized as an early manifestation of the women’s liberation movement.

In Getting It Wrong, my mythbusting book that came out last year, I offer evidence that denials to the contrary, bras were briefly set afire at Atlantic City.

The evidence is from two witness accounts — one of which was published in the Press of Atlantic City on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

Boucher (1949 photo)

That account appeared beneath the byline of a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher and carried the headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

Boucher’s article referred to the burn barrel that demonstrators had dubbed the “Freedom Trash Can” and stated:

“As the bras, girdles, falsies, curlers, and copies of popular women’s magazines burned in the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ the demonstration reached the pinnacle of ridicule when the participants paraded a small lamb wearing a gold banner worded ‘Miss America.’”

That account was buttressed by recollections of the writer Jon Katz, who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. Katz was on the Atlantic City boardwalk the day of the protest, gathering material for a sidebar article about reactions to the demonstration.

Katz’s sidebar didn’t mention the fire in the “Freedom Trash Can.”

But in correspondence with me, Katz stated:

“I quite clearly remember the ‘Freedom Trash Can,’ and also remember some protestors putting their bras into it along with other articles of clothing, and some Pageant brochures, and setting the can on fire.

“I am quite certain of this.”

WJC

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  1. [...] 24 marzo, 2011 por Jesterlady "Bra-burning has long been associated with the feminist movement, but it never happened." So asserted an article published the other day in the Sacramento Bee. It's a not-infrequent claim, that feminist bra-burning was a media invention, a media myth. But there were at least a couple of occasions when feminist protesters … Read More [...]

  2. [...] bra-burning is no myth. It’s the mischaracterization that feminists never burned bras that more likely “will never [...]

  3. [...] and 1970s frequently and demonstratively set fire to bras is erroneous — as is the view that bra-burning never happened, that it was all a nasty media [...]

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