Kathy Shaidle

So did 1960s feminists burn their bras or not?

Posted on June 23 2010 10:00 pm
Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury, now entering its 11th year online. Her latest book is Acoustic Ladylandkathy shaidle, which Mark Steyn calls "a must-read."
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As Ronald Reagan once graciously observed:

The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.

Compound that with liberal media bias, and the result is that millions of citizens cling to versions of history based upon romantic, self-aggrandizing myth-making or outright lies. The examples are endless: Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs and Sacco & Vanzetti were framed; DDT is harmful; global warming is real; over-population will destroy the planet…

Which brings us to today’s burning question: did 1960s “women’s lib” protesters really set their bras on fire or what?

I’m old enough to remember when feminists were derisively called “bra burners” by “male chauvinist pigs” like Archie Bunker and Norman Mailer. However, recently it’s become fashionable to claim that, other than at one famous protest — outside the 1968 Miss American pageant in Atlantic City — second wave feminists of the Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan variety didn’t actually set their constrictive undergarments ablaze. The expression “bra burners,” revisionists insist, was simply an irresistible alliteration that inevitably caught on and couldn’t be extinguished.

Enter the invaluable W. Joseph Campbell. Not to be confused with George Lucas’ favorite New Age folklorist, this Joseph Campbell specializes in debunking mythologizes. Specifically, those tall tales invented and promoted by modern mass media.

Campbell’s new book, Getting It Wrong, (click HERE to purchase and support NRB) dissects those “facts” everybody thinks they know, about Iraq War hostage Jessica Lynch, William Randolph Hearst, LBJ’s “Cronkite moment” and more.

He also tackles what he calls the “nuanced myth” about bra burnings, trying to get to the bottom of that charred Boardwalk trash can full of girdles and curlers. He uncovers two contemporaneous accounts of the Atlantic City protest, speaks to the one local reporter still living, and concludes… it’s complicated:

…bras and other items were burned, or at least smoldered, in the Freedom Trash Can. There is now evidence that bras and other items were set afire, if briefly, at the 1968 Miss America protest in Atlantic City. This evidence cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.”

But at the same time, their accounts lend no support to the more vivid popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest on the boardwalk.

Boucher and Katz offered no endorsement for the central feature of the media-driven myth that angry women burned their bras in a fiery public spectacle.

At most, fire was a subtle, modest, and fleeting element of the protest that day.

And yet, “bra-burning” is an epithet not entirely misapplied to the demonstration at Atlantic City.

Campbell’s book sounds like a must-read. His blog certainly is. Check it out.

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