W. Joseph Campbell

No bra-burning at Atlantic City?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths on June 10, 2011 at 8:19 am

Bra-burning” was a late 20th century phenomenon that’s given rise to considerable and enduring misunderstanding.

Atlantic City, 1968

The notion that feminists in the late 1960s 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 myth.

In a brief item posted online today, the Irish Independent veers toward the latter interpretation. It cites the women’s liberation protest in September 1968 at Atlantic City, a demonstration against the Miss America Pageant that gave dimension to the epithet “bra-burning.”

The Independent says that “hundreds of women protested the Miss America Pageant by tossing tweezers, high heels and bras — symbols of objectification — into a bin.” It adds, parenthetically:

“Bra burning at this event, however, is a myth.”

Not exactly.

In Getting It Wrong, my media mythbusting book that came out last year, I offer evidence that bras were set afire, if briefly, during the demonstration at the Atlantic City — where about 100 women (certainly not “hundreds of women”) protested the pageant as a demeaning spectacle.

The evidence is in separate witness accounts by journalists, including an article report published in the Press of Atlantic City on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

The article appeared on page 4 of the Press, beneath the byline of John L. Boucher, a gruff, locally prominent journalist known to take pains not to embroider or exaggerate his reporting.

Boucher’s article carried the headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

The article mentioned a burn barrel that demonstrators had dubbed the “Freedom Trash Can,” stating:

“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.’”

Boucher’s report was buttressed by the separate recollections of Jon Katz, a writer who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. Katz was assigned to women’s liberation protest to gather material for a sidebar article about the reactions of passersby.

In correspondence with me as I researched Getting It Wrong, Katz wrote:

“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.”

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, these accounts at very least “offer fresh dimension to the bra-burning legend.

“They represent two witness accounts that bras and other items were burned, or at least smoldered, in the Freedom Trash Can.”

This evidence, I write, cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.

At the same time, I add, the accounts of Boucher and Katz “lend no support to the far more vivid and popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest that September day.”

Even so, I note that “bra-burning” is an epithet not at all misapplied to the protest at Atlantic City. The evidence is that bras and other items were set afire, briefly, at that long ago demonstration.

WJC

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  1. [...] misleading if euphonic epithet of ‘bra-burning‘ emerged from a demonstration on the Atlantic City boardwalk in 1968 to become shorthand for denigrating the emergent feminist movement and dismissing [...]

  2. [...] meme did not even emerge until the late 1960s, when it came to be associated with the Miss America protest at Atlantic City on September 7, [...]

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