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.
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 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.
Recent and related:
- The editor and the protest: Bra-burning’s intriguing sidebar
- Invoking media myths to score points
- On columnists and burning bras
- Seeking antidotes to journalism’s ‘junk food’
- Newsman ‘tells a simple truth,’ changes history: Sure, he did
- Media history with Olbermann: Wrong and wrong
- The Post ‘took down a president’? That’s a myth
- ‘Persuasive and entertaining’: WSJ reviews ‘Getting It Wrong’