For any movement hoping to spark social change, the inclusion of symbols that are recognizable at a worldwide level is of vital importance when it comes to spreading a message. For decades, the feminist movement has been one of great significance as courageous women lead the way for much-needed gender equality, and they have no lack of symbols at their disposal.
Still, this is not to say their history hasn’t experienced misinterpretation along the way. Let’s take a look at the famous—yet somewhat untrue—bra-burning protest that occurred 52 years ago to understand the reality behind the myth.
An Iconic Beginning
The 1960s saw the rise of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and their outrage is no surprise: fifty years ago, America still had a long way to go when it came to gender equality. Women could be denied a job, house, credit card, and more for no other reason than their gender, making the feminist movement a revolution that would spark a wildfire of necessary reform.
On September 7, 1968, the movement carried on to New Jersey. A group of around 100 women—named the New York Radical Women—marched outside of a Miss America pageant in Atlantic City. Their primary grievance was with how the pageant perpetrated women, considering how it degraded them into products made to compete for the male gaze.
However, the event didn’t spark national interest until an instance where some women set their bras on fire. According to historians, only a few bras were burned, and it was a relatively brief occurrence—but that wasn’t going to stop the public from blowing it out of proportion.
Even in today’s society, feminists face a slew of attacks for their views. Degrading names like “Feminazi” are meant to do nothing other than paint the movement in a bad light, and to discredit their fight for progressive reform. As such, it’s no surprise to learn that the 1960s treated the Women’s Liberation Movement with the same amount of disrespect—if not more.
Suddenly, the bra-burning incident became a central focus of the event, rather than the critical messages these women were attempting to voice. It was made to seem as if the group had only gathered to take part in an odd ritual—even though it was so much more—while their original protest was largely ignored. As a result, the term “Bra-burner” was slung around by anti-feminists to distract society from actually facing the issues and challenges the feminist movement raised, and portrayed the organization as a radical, non-serious group of extremists.
While it’s no question that such blatant over-exaggeration from both the public and press did damage to the Women’s Liberation Movement, not all was lost. For one, it placed the feminist movement on a pedestal higher than it had ever been before, allowing it to reach across the nation. As it was, such a position would be vital in their continued fight for equality.
History proves that the bra-burning incident of the 1960s was falsely represented for years, but it remains an important event to remember; what happened afterward serves as evidence that oppressors will use anything in their power to delegitimize the grievances of the oppressed.
As a last note, the fact that the real story eventually came to light is a stark reminder that every moment we experience is history in the making. It’s always a good idea to stay on the right side of it.