W. Joseph Campbell

On bra-burning, Erica Jong is wrong

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Photographs on March 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Bra-burning in Toronto, 1979 (Bettmann/Corbis)

The writer Erica Jong asserts in a rambling commentary posted yesterday at the Daily Beast that bra-burning “never actually occurred.”

The mischaracterization of bra-burning was an element of Jong’s defense of feminism and the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s.

Jong wrote in the commentary:

“The fact that the so-called mainstream press reduced our valid struggles to sex, drugs, rock and roll, and bra burning (which, btw, never actually occurred) was their attempt to further disempower us. And they surely prevailed.”

It’s not an infrequent claim, that feminist bra-burning was a media trope, a media myth. That it “never actually occurred.”

But there were at least a couple of documented occasions when feminist protesters set fire to bras.

One occasion came 33 years ago this month, when members of Women Against Violence Against Women demonstrated outside Toronto City Hall. As the demonstration neared its end, a protester named Pat Murphy dropped a white bra into the hungry flames of a burn barrel (see photo, above).

The demonstration in Toronto on March 8, 1979, coincided with International Women’s Day and was aimed at denouncing a report on rape prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police.

The police report said “promiscuity” was a factor in many rapes.

The Women Against Violence Against Women group assailed the report as outrageous and “dazzling in its illogic.” Protesters carried signs saying: “Take a Rapist to Lunch — Charcoal Broiled” and “Hookers Who Wink Go to the Clink! Men Who Rape Escape.”

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that the protesters lighted “a fire in a garbage can, to the obvious annoyance of about a dozen watchful constables, [and] shouted: ‘Burn the rapists, burn the city, burn the OPP,’” acronym for Ontario Provincial Police.

The newspaper’s account did not specifically mention bra-burning which, one participant has told me, “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest.

But bra-burning did happen there.

Another participant has recalled that “weighing in on the stereotype of ‘feminist bra-burners’ was actually an effective way [for protesters] to say: Women will control our own bodies, thank you!

“The bra burning,” she said, “was a way to entice the media as well as [offer] a critique of the police report.”

A little more than 10 years before the demonstration in Toronto, some 100 women gathered on the boardwalk at Atlantic City, New Jersey, to protest the 1968 Miss America pageant. The demonstration was organized by a small group called New York Radical Women and was an early manifestation of the women’s liberation movement.

In Getting It Wrong, my mythbusting book that came out in 2010, I offer evidence that bras were set afire, briefly, during the demonstration at Atlantic City.

The evidence is from two witness accounts, one of which was published in the local newspaper, the Press of Atlantic City, on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

Boucher (1949 photo)

That account appeared beneath the byline of a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher and carried the headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

Boucher’s article referred to the burn barrel that demonstrators dubbed the “Freedom Trash Can” and stated:

“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.’”

That published account was buttressed by recollections of the writer Jon Katz, who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City newspaper. Katz was on the Atlantic City boardwalk the day of the protest, gathering material for a sidebar article about reactions to the demonstration.

Katz’s sidebar didn’t mention the fire in the “Freedom Trash Can.”

But in correspondence with me, Katz stated:

“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.”


Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

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