Burn That Bra!
During the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement was in full force in the United States. Unless you were living under a rock somewhere, it was hard not to be exposed to the issues surrounding the need for equality. While the movement began with the basic human rights theory that all men were created equal, meaning both black and white men. Well, somewhere along the line, a group of women grew a collective backbone and decided that if all men were created equal, that should also include women!
Prior to the 1960’s, the stereotypical woman was a wife, homemaker and stay at home mother. It was unusual for a woman to further her education (unless she was career bound to be a nurse or teacher). Otherwise, there really wasn’t a need for women to go to college because they generally relied on their husbands to earn the money and manage the finances. To put it bluntly, a woman’s place was in the home. She would also be her husband’s trophy and was to be seen and not heard.
White women, especially, were becoming interested in the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement as they identified as being oppressed. Although African American women were seemingly included in the movement as far as racial equality, they still suffered the double whammy of discrimination because of their race and gender. Women just wanted to be able to make their own decisions, including, and maybe most importantly, about their bodies’, and be independent of a man’s authority. They wanted to better themselves and make meaningful contributions to not only their families, but to society as a whole.
Women, both white and black, perceived themselves to be in a class of their own. During the movement, black women had many struggles not known to white women, however, in general they shared many discriminations. Women of both races were tasked with gender specific roles including serving their husbands and families; rarely having lives of their own. Women made sure that the home was maintained, ergo the term, homemaker, was assigned. They kept the house clean, shopped, prepared food for the family and looked after the children. It was a 24/7 job. Have you ever heard the saying, “a woman’s work is never done?” There was little time for a woman to have a social life or any quality time to themselves. Women were not to be trusted with the family finances. Even if she made her own money, often it had to be turned over to her husband. That is just how it was.
The Feminist Movement simmered for years until it finally came to a head in 1968 when a group of women protested the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Women were desperate to be taken seriously and felt that beauty pageants were exploitation of women and were detrimental to the cause. Beauty contestants may have actually been intelligent; but no one would have known because they were only being showcased for their looks and sex appeal. You would be hard pressed, even today, to find an unattractive woman in a beauty contest.
Supporters of the feminist movement were determined to be heard. As a declaration of solidarity, women began bra burning protests at well attended public events. Bra burning became a symbolization of women declaring their independence from men. Protests popped up all over the country and it was not unusual to see a huge barrel, referred to as a “freedom trash can” where women could deposit their unmentionables, cosmetics, hair curlers, high heeled shoes and other items they referred to as “instruments of torture” to make a public statement. Some women actually did burn their bras, but more than anything, it was a means for public attention; and attention they got! Women were going braless as a way of identifying with the cause! Ironically, it actually worked out for men as well! Not every man would admit it at the time but they were quite OK with it!
Over the years, there has been much controversy over whether or not bras were actually burned at the protest of the Miss America Pageant in 1968. Fact checkers reveal that there was a small fire that was quickly extinguished on the Atlantic City Boardwalk during the protest of the pageant. That, however didn’t keep other bra burnings from springing up around the country. Women were just finished complying with the “rules” and preconceived stereotypes. Once the revolution began, it gained momentum and in many ways continues today.