W. Joseph Campbell

Archive for the ‘Bra-burning’ Category

No bra-burning at Atlantic City?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths on June 10, 2011 at 8:19 am

Bra-burning” was a late 20th century phenomenon that’s given rise to considerable and enduring misunderstanding.

Atlantic City, 1968

The notion that feminists in the late 1960s and 1970s frequently and demonstratively set fire to bras is erroneous — as is the view that bra-burning never happened, that it was all a nasty media myth.

In a brief item posted online today, the Irish Independent veers toward the latter interpretation. It cites the women’s liberation protest in September 1968 at Atlantic City, a demonstration against the Miss America Pageant that gave dimension to the epithet “bra-burning.”

The Independent says that “hundreds of women protested the Miss America Pageant by tossing tweezers, high heels and bras — symbols of objectification — into a bin.” It adds, parenthetically:

“Bra burning at this event, however, is a myth.”

Not exactly.

In Getting It Wrong, my media mythbusting book that came out last year, I offer evidence that bras were set afire, if briefly, during the demonstration at the Atlantic City — where about 100 women (certainly not “hundreds of women”) protested the pageant as a demeaning spectacle.

The evidence is in separate witness accounts by journalists, including an article report published in the Press of Atlantic City on September 8, 1968, the day after the protest.

The article appeared on page 4 of the Press, beneath the byline of John L. Boucher, a gruff, locally prominent journalist known to take pains not to embroider or exaggerate his reporting.

Boucher’s article carried the headline:

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

The article mentioned a burn barrel that demonstrators had dubbed the “Freedom Trash Can,” stating:

“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.’”

Boucher’s report was buttressed by the separate recollections of Jon Katz, a writer who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. Katz was assigned to women’s liberation protest to gather material for a sidebar article about the reactions of passersby.

In correspondence with me as I researched Getting It Wrong, Katz wrote:

“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.”

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, these accounts at very least “offer fresh dimension to the bra-burning legend.

“They represent two witness accounts that bras and other items were burned, or at least smoldered, in the Freedom Trash Can.”

This evidence, I write, cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.

At the same time, I add, the accounts of Boucher and Katz “lend no support to the far more vivid and popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest that September day.”

Even so, I note that “bra-burning” is an epithet not at all misapplied to the protest at Atlantic City. The evidence is that bras and other items were set afire, briefly, at that long ago demonstration.

WJC

Recent and related:

Bra-burning, a media myth ‘that will never die’?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post on June 8, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Bra-burning a myth? (Corbis)

A commentary in the Washington Post the other day referred to the famous protest at Atlantic City in 1968 at which women’s liberation demonstrators “tossed their bras and high heels into a trash can … kicking off the bra-burning myth that will never die.”

Well, it was more nuanced than that. Bra-burning, at least in a modest, smoldering kind of way, wasn’t such a myth at all.

I offer evidence in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths, that bras were  set afire, briefly, during the protest on the Atlantic City boardwalk on September 7, 1968. The 100 or so demonstrators there that day were protesting the Miss America pageant as a sexist and degrading spectacle.

I also note in Getting It Wrong that “the notion of flamboyant bra-burnings is fanciful and highly exaggerated.” The demonstrators at Atlantic City, I write, did not set fire to bras and twirl them above their heads in a way that coincides with the far more vivid and popular imagery of bra-burning.

But evidence that bra-burning — or bra-smoldering — did take place at Atlantic City comes from separate witness accounts, including a report published in the Press of Atlantic City on September 8, 1968.

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

“Bra-burners blitz boardwalk.”

The article referred to a burn barrel that the 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.’”

Boucher’s account was buttressed by recollections of the writer Jon Katz, who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. Katz was at protest that September day, gathering material for a sidebar article about reactions to the demonstration.

Katz’s sidebar focused on the befuddled reactions of passersby who saw the women’s liberation protest but did not mention fire in the “Freedom Trash Can.”

However, 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.”

Katz added:

“I recall and remember noting at the time that the fire was small, and quickly was extinguished, and didn’t pose a credible threat to the Boardwalk. I noted this as a reporter in case a fire did erupt …. It is my recollection that this burning was planned, and that a number of demonstrators brought bras and other articles of clothing to burn, including, I believe some underwear.”

Nearly 11 years after the protest at Atlantic City, a feminist group in Canada called Women Against Violence Against Women burned a bra during a protest near Toronto’s City Hall.

One of the demonstrators in Toronto recalled that the group was media-savvy and “knew that if they burned a bra, someone would take their picture.” (See photo, above.)

So bra-burning is no myth. It’s the mischaracterization that feminists never burned bras that more likely “will never die.”

WJC

Many thanks to Little Miss Attila for linking to this post.

Recent and related:

Recalling how a ‘debunker’s work is never done’

In Bay of Pigs, Bra-burning, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Furnish the war, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Murrow-McCarthy myth, New York Times, Reviews, War of the Worlds, Washington Post, Watergate myth, Yellow Journalism on May 20, 2011 at 5:45 am

It’s been a year since Jack Shafer, media critic for slate.com, posted his review of my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong. The review offered the telling observation that a “debunker’s work is never done.”

So true.

In the 52 weeks since the review went online, I’ve posted more than 275 essays at Media Myth Alert, nearly all of them calling attention to media-driven myths that have found their way into traditional or online media.

So, no, a debunker’s work is never done.

The top posts over the past 52 weeks, as measured by page views, were these:

Shafer’s review sent traffic to Media Myth Alert, too, as it linked to my post that critically discussed Evan Thomas’ book, The War Lovers.

The review, which appeared beneath the headline “The Master of Debunk,” noted that “the only way to debunk an enshrined falsehood is with maximum reportorial firepower.”

And repetitive firepower. Debunking media myths will happen no other way.

Even then, some myths are so deeply ingrained — so delicious, beloved, and readily at hand — that they’ll probably never be thoroughly uprooted and forgotten.

The tale about William Randolph Hearst’s vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the 19th century is an excellent example. It’s been around more than 100 years.

And it surely is apocryphal, for a long list of reasons I discuss in Getting It Wrong.

Even so, “furnish the war” lives on — hardy, robust, and apparently only slightly dented for all the debunking broadsides hurled its way. Evan Thomas turned to it in War Lovers. So, more recently, did the Nieman Watchdog blog.

Another especially hardy media myth is the presumptive “Cronkite Moment” of 1968, when Walter Cronkite’s on-air assessment that the U.S. military was “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam supposedly prompted President Lyndon Johnson to declare:

“If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Or something along those lines. Versions vary markedly.

That they do vary is among the many indicators the “Cronkite Moment” is media myth. Another, more direct indicator is that Johnson did not see the program when it aired.

The “Cronkite Moment” surely will live on, too, as it represents so well the news media conceit of the effects of telling truth to power, of serving as the indispensable watchdog of government.

Shafer noted the durability of media myths in one of his periodic dismantlings of the “pharm party” phenomenon, which in some form has circulated for 40-some years. (The mythical “pharm party” has it that teens swipe pharmaceuticals from medicine cabinets at home, dump the purloined pills into a bowl at a party, and take turns swallowing handfuls to see what sort of high they’ll reach.)

Shafer wrote early last year:

“I regret to inform you that this column has failed to eradicate the ‘pharm party’ meme. Since June 2006, I’ve written five columns … debunking pharm parties, and yet the press keeps on churning out stories that pretend the events are both real and ubiquitous.”

He added:

“Any myth hearty enough to survive and thrive for 40-plus years in the media is probably unkillable.”

The Hearstian vow is easily within the 40-plus-years category. So, too, are the “Cronkite Moment,” the Bay of Pigs suppression myth, and the War of the Worlds panic meme.

Irrepressible myths, all.

WJC

Recent and related:

‘Getting It Wrong’ wins SPJ award for Research about Journalism

In Bay of Pigs, Bra-burning, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Furnish the war, Hurricane Katrina, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Media myths and radio, Murrow-McCarthy myth, New York Times, Spanish-American War, War of the Worlds, Washington Post, Watergate myth, Yellow Journalism on May 10, 2011 at 9:02 am

The Society of Professional Journalists announced today that my media-mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, is the winner of the 2010 Sigma Delta Chi award for Research about Journalism.

The award will be presented in September at the Excellence in Journalism convention in New Orleans.

Getting It Wrong, which was published last year by the University of California Press, debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths, which are dubious tales about the news media that masquerade as factual.

Here’s a summary of the 10 myths dismantled in Getting It Wrong:

  1. Remington-Hearst: William Randolph Hearst’s famous vow “to furnish the war” with Spain is almost certainly apocryphal.
  2. War of Worlds: The notion that the War of Worlds radio dramatization in 1938 caused nationwide panic and mass hysteria is exaggerated.
  3. Murrow-McCarthy: Edward R. Murrow’s famous See It Now program in March 1954 did not end Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communists-in-government witch-hunt; Murrow in fact was very late to take on McCarthy.
  4. Bay of Pigs: The New York Times did not suppress its reporting in the run-up to the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961.
  5. Cronkite-Johnson: Walter Cronkite’s special report on Vietnam in February 1968 did not prompt an immediate reassessment or revision of U.S. war policy.
  6. Bra-burning: Humor columnist Art Buchwald helped spread the notion that feminist demonstrators dramatically burned their bras at a Miss America protest in September 1968.
  7. Watergate: The Washington Post’s intrepid reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, did not bring down Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency. That they did is a trope that knows few bounds.
  8. Crack babies: The much-feared “bio-underclass” of children born to women who smoked crack cocaine during their pregnancies never materialized.
  9. Jessica Lynch: The Washington Post’s erroneous reporting about Jessica Lynch early in the Iraq War gave rise to several myths about her capture and rescue.
  10. Hurricane Katrina: News coverage of Katrina’s aftermath in New Orleans in early September 2005 was marred by wild exaggerations about extreme, Mad Max-like violence.

The “Research about Journalism” award recognizes “an investigative study about some aspect of journalism,” SPJ says, and “must be based on original research; either published or unpublished, and must have been completed during the 2010 calendar year. … Judges will consider value to the profession, significance of the subject matter, thoroughness of the research, and soundness of the conclusion.”

WJC

Recent and related:

Bra-burning ‘never happened’?

In Anniversaries, Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Photographs on March 8, 2011 at 8:40 am

Toronto, 32 years ago today (Bettmann/Corbis)

“Bra-burning has long been associated with the feminist movement, but it never happened.”

So asserted an article published the other day in the Sacramento Bee.

It’s a not-infrequent claim, that feminist bra-burning was a media invention, a media myth.

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

One of the occasions came 32 years ago today, when members of Women Against Violence Against Women demonstrated outside city hall in Toronto. Near the close of the demonstration, a protester named Pat Murphy dropped a white bra into the hungry flames of a burn barrel (see photo).

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 that of 337 rapes investigated, 140 were “unprovoked.” The report also said “promiscuity” was a factor in many rapes.

The Women Against Violence Against Women group scorned 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 mention the bra-burning which, one participant recently told me, “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest.

But it did happen.

Another participant recently 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, about 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 has been recognized as an early manifestation of the women’s liberation movement.

In Getting It Wrong, my mythbusting book that came out last year, I offer evidence that denials to the contrary, bras were briefly set afire at Atlantic City.

The evidence is from two witness accounts — one of which was published in 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 had 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 account was buttressed by recollections of the writer Jon Katz, who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. 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.”

WJC

Recent and related:

Enticing the media: More on bra-burning in Toronto, 1979

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Photographs on March 4, 2011 at 7:00 am

Toronto, 1979 (Bettman/Corbis)

Another participant at the 1979 bra-burning protest in Toronto has offered recollections of the event, at which the group Women Against Violence Against Women protested a controversial police report about the causes of rape.

The participant, Amy Gottlieb, said in an email forwarded to me that the photograph (left) “definitely is not doctored.”

(I had had my suspicions given that it looked almost too good to be true — which can be a marker of an unethically edited photograph and a media-driven myth.)

Gottlieb referred to Pat Murphy, who is shown in the photograph dangling the bra above the hungry flames, and wrote:

“Pat was threatening to burn a bra because the movement was media savvy and felt that weighing in on the stereotype of ‘feminist bra-burners’ was actually an effective way to say: Women will control our own bodies, thank you!

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

I spoke recently with Vicki Trerise, who is shown at the far right in the photograph; she, too, said the demonstrators were media-savvy and “knew that if they burned a bra, someone would take their picture.”

Interestingly, the leading Toronto newspapers at the time didn’t mention the bra-burning in reports about the demonstration, which took place near Toronto city hall on March 8, 1979.

The Globe and Mail, in a fairly detailed account published the following day, characterized the demonstration as “boisterous” and reported:

“The women carried signs saying: ‘Take a Rapist to Lunch — Charcoal Broiled’ and ‘Hookers Who Wink Go to the Clink! Men Who Rape Escape.’

“The women, after lighting a fire in a garbage can, to the obvious annoyance of about a dozen watchful constables, shouted: ‘Burn the rapists, burn the city, burn the OPP,” acronym for the Ontario Provincial Police, which had issued the disputed report about rape.

The Globe and Mail also reported: “The women charged that the OPP report was nothing less than state approval of rape and that no serious study of rape had even been done by the Government.

“The women then sang a surprisingly obscene song describing male domination of women and marched off, chanting anti-male slogans ….”

Before the demonstrators moved on, the Globe and Mail reported, a “few chuckles from male onlookers provoked a slight shoving match, including one reporter by a large lady in lavender brandishing a cat-o-nine tails.”

The issue of the Toronto Star of March 9, 1979, carried a brief report about the Women Against Violence Against Women demonstration, noting the protesters’ anger at the police report, which had identified hitchhiking, alcohol consumption, and drug use as causes of many rapes.

“The women lit sparklers and set a garbage can on fire as they booed the report’s findings,” reported the Star, which did not mention the bra-burning.

Lighted sparklers held aloft are clearly visible in the bra-burning photograph. Rights to the photograph are held by the Bettmann/Corbis archive, which says it does not know the identity of the photographer.

It is sometimes claimed said that no bras were ever burned at a feminist protest in the 1960s or 1970s. The photograph of the demonstration in Toronto proves otherwise.

Moreover, I offer evidence in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, that bras were burned, briefly, at the famous women’s liberation protest against the 1968 Miss America pageant in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“This evidence,” I write in Getting It Wrong, “cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored,” and suggests “that the myth of mass or demonstrative bra-burning needs to be modified.”

The bra-burning in Toronto in 1979 further calls for revision of the notion that feminist bra-burning was a media myth.

WJC

Recent and related:

‘Those bra-burning times’: And just when were they?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths on March 1, 2011 at 8:44 am

Atlantic City, 1968

Bra-burning” is a euphonic term that emerged in the late 1960s to dismiss the women’s liberation movement as trivial, shallow, and even a bit primitive.

The epithet is still used to insult feminist advocacy.

Bra-burning” also lives on as a cliché — “convenient shorthand,” as I write in my mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, “for describing the upheaval” of the 1960s and 1970s.

The term sometimes is invoked quite casually, as in “the era of bra-burning,” the “hysteria of bra-burning,” and “the bra-burning days of the turbulent 1960s.”

A commentary the other day in the Detroit Free Press offered up “those bra-burning times” in characterizing the 1970s.

The commentary’s author, the Free Press business and autos editor, recalled that in the 1970s, her mother had given her a book titled Women Who Dared to be Different.

“It certainly was a book for those bra-burning times,” she wrote, “and it told the stories of women who pioneered in professions once reserved for men.”

Of particular interest to Media Myth Alert is the casual reference to “those bra-burning times.”

“Bra-burning” may be an enduring turn of phrase. But the act of “bra-burning” neither defined nor figured prominently in feminist protests of the 1970s. Or of the 1960s.

There was hardly any bra-burning back in the day. Or at any time since.

I offer in Getting It Wrong evidence that bras were set afire, briefly, at the famous women’s liberation protest in 1968 against the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City, New Jersey.

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

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 had 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.’”

Boucher’s account, as I note in Getting It Wrong, “did not elaborate about the fire and the articles burning in the Freedom Trash Can, nor did it suggest the fire was all that important. Rather, the article conveyed a sense of astonishment that an event such as the women’s liberation protest could take place near the venue of the pageant.”

That account was buttressed by the recollections of Jon Katz, a prolific writer who in 1968 was a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press.

He was on the boardwalk the day of the protest, gathering material for a sidebar article about reactions to the demonstration.

Katz’s article did not mention the burning bras. But in correspondence with me, Katz has 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.”

He added: “I recall and remember noting at the time that the fire was small, and quickly was extinguished, and didn’t pose a credible threat to the Boardwalk. I noted this as a reporter in case a fire did erupt ….”

Boucher’s long-overlooked article and Katz’s more recent recollections represent strong evidence that “bras and other items were set afire, if briefly, at the 1968 Miss America protest in Atlantic City,” I write in Getting It Wrong. “This evidence cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.

“But it must be said as well,” I add, “that the witness accounts of Boucher and Katz lend no support to the far more vivid and popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest that September day.”

Bra-burning did figure, flamboyantly, at a women’s protest in Toronto in March 1979.

But as I discussed in a recent post at Media Myth Alert, bra-burning wasn’t that demonstration’s focal point. Setting fire to a bra was a way for the media-savvy protesters to call attention to their grievances — specifically, a controversial police report about rape.

Otherwise, the evidence is scant at best of feminist protesters in the 1960s and 1970s setting fire to bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into spectacular bonfires.

WJC

Recent and related:

Meaning what, ‘all the bra-burning’?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Photographs on February 21, 2011 at 8:11 am

Toronto, 1979 (Bettmann/Corbis)

Bra-burning used to commonplace in America, suggested a columnist in yesterday’s Boston Globe.

The column, which deplored the sexualization of American young women, contained this passage:

“American women stood up for their rights 50 years ago. The sexual revolution, too often blamed for what’s wrong with America today, wasn’t only about sexual liberation. It was about equality. We are more than our bodies is what all the bra-burning meant.”

What a minute: “…all the bra-burning”?

Meaning what? There was hardly any bra-burning in America. Ever.

Bra-burning wasn’t, and hasn’t been, a tactic of feminist protests, save for an episode — discussed in my latest book, Getting It Wrong — of what might best be called “bra-smoldering” at Atlantic City, New Jersey, in September 1968.

Getting It Wrong offers evidence that bras were burned, briefly, at a women’s liberation protest of the 1968 Miss America pageant at Atlantic City — but it was no demonstrative display, nothing, I write, akin to the “vivid and popular imagery that many bras went up in flames in flamboyant protest that September day.”

Bra-burning did figure, flamboyantly, at a women’s protest in Toronto in March 1979 (see photo, above).

But as I discussed in a recent post at Media Myth Alert, bra-burning wasn’t a focal point of that demonstration; rather, setting fire to a bra served as a way for media-savvy protesters to call attention to their grievances — specifically, a police report about rape.

Getting It Wrong discusses two other bra-burning episodes.

One was a failed attempted to set fire to a bra at Ohio State in 1999, to protest a cartoon in the student newspaper that poked fun at the university’s women’s studies program.

The other was a bizarre and gratuitous gesture on the Tyra Banks television show in 2008.

“Banks took members of her studio audience into the chill of a winter’s afternoon in New York for a made-for-television stunt about what women could do with ill-fitting brassieres,” I write in Getting It Wrong, adding:

“Banks wore an unzipped gray sweatshirt that revealed a powder-blue sports bra. Most of the other women were clad above the waist only in brassieres. They clutched other bras as they stood before a burn barrel from which flames leapt hungrily. On Banks’ word, the women tossed the bras in their hands into the fire.”

The Boston Globe columnist’s blithe and imprecise reference to bra-burning in a way evokes the role of columnists in the diffusion of the term.

As I write in Getting It Wrong, two columnists had a lot to do with the entry of “bra-burning” into the vernacular.

One was Harriet Van Horne, who wrote, sneeringly, in the New York Post two days after the demonstration at Atlantic City in 1968 that the protesters had screamed in “delight [as] they consigned to the flames such shackling, demeaning items as girdles, bras, high-heeled slippers, hair curlers and false eyelashes.”

Van Horne wasn’t at the protest. Even so, her highly imaginative characterization was taken up a few days later by Art Buchwald, then the leading humor columnist in American journalism.

Buchwald wrote with tongue in check how he had been “flabbergasted to read that about 100 women had picketed the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City against ‘ludicrous beauty standards that had enslaved the American woman.’”

He added: “The final and most tragic part of the protest took place when several of the women publicly burned their brassieres.”

As I point out in Getting It Wrong, Buchwald’s nationally syndicated column about the Atlantic City protest helped introduce the erroneous notion of flamboyant bra-burning to a national audience.

WJC

Recent and related:

Bra-burning in Toronto: Confirmed

In Bay of Pigs, Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Photographs on February 19, 2011 at 12:12 am

It happened, and the photo’s no hoax.

The bra-burning episode pictured at left took place near Toronto city hall on March 8, 1979.

One of the participants, speaking by phone from Vancouver, confirmed the incident, saying, “The photo is authentic. Absolutely. It happened.”

The participant was Vicki Trerise, who is shown at the far right in the photograph, a larger version of which is accessible here.

I had not seen the photograph until February 6; it was posted that day with an article at the London Guardian online site.

I had had doubts about its authenticity.

Given periodic claims that no bras ever were burned at a feminist protest, the image, I suspected, may have been unethically altered.

Not only that, but the photograph seemed almost too good to be true, what with the white bra dangling above lapping flames of the burn barrel.

Trerise, though, assured me the photograph was legitimate. And her confirmation effectively represents a challenge to claims that feminist bra-burning is a media myth.

It happened in Toronto. The photograph shows a moment of demonstrative bra-burning, even though it “wasn’t a focal point” of the protest, Trerise said.

The bra-burning took place near the end of the demonstration, during which the group Women Against Violence Against Women protested what it termed was an illogical report prepared by the Ontario Provincial Police about rape.

Trerise said the demonstrators were media-savvy and “knew that if they burned a bra, someone would take their picture.”

By 1979, “bra-burning” had become part of the vernacular in North America, a dismissive term often invoked “to denigrate women’s liberation and feminist advocacy as trivial and even a bit primitive,” as I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

“Invoking ‘bra-burning,'” I write, “was a convenient means of brushing aside the issues and challenges raised by women’s liberation and discrediting the fledgling movement as shallow and without serious grievance.”

The term emerged in the aftermath of a women’s liberation demonstration outside the Miss America pageant in September 1968 at Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Protest leaders have long insisted that nothing was burned at Atlantic City. However, I present evidence in Getting It Wrong that bras were set afire, briefly, during the demonstration on that long ago September day.

But I acknowledge that the evidence of bra-burning at Atlantic City doesn’t correspond to the “widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.”

The demonstrators in Toronto in 1979 hardly looked angry; but they were flamboyant.

Trerise said the bra-burning that day “was a bit of a reverse spoof,” a parody of media claims that burning bras was commonplace at feminist protests in the late 1960s and 1970s. “It was like a joke,” she said, and “it wasn’t planned.”

She also said the demonstrators “all had been involved in street activism for many years.”

Dangling the bra above the burn barrel was Pat Murphy, who died in 2003. In the center of the photograph with her right arm upraised was Adrienne Potts.

Murphy and Potts were two members of the so-called “Brunswick Four” — lesbians arrested in 1974, following an episode at a tavern in Toronto where they sang a parody of “I Enjoy Being a Girl.” For “girl,” they had substituted “dyke.”

WJC

Many thanks to FiveFeetofFury for linking to this post

Recent and related:

Is this bra-burning photo authentic?

In Bra-burning, Media myths, Newspapers, Photographs on February 15, 2011 at 8:21 am

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

It is claimed from time to time that burning bras figured in no feminist protest of the late 1960s and 1970s. Bra-burning, it is sometimes said, was little more than a media-concocted myth.

But this photograph, taken near Toronto city hall in March 1979, suggests otherwise. (A larger version of the image is available here.)

Update: The photo is genuine.

The occasion was International Women’s Day and the demonstrators were protesting the contents of a controversial Ontario Provincial Police report about rape.

But why would protesters incensed about a police report burn bras? The connection seems elusive.

And that’s one reason why I wonder about the photo’s authenticity, whether it was improperly edited. I’m not saying it’s a hoax or a ruse; I’m saying I have reservations.

I’ve conducted a good deal of research about feminist bra-burning; my latest book, Getting It Wrong, offers evidence that — assertions to the contrary notwithstanding — bras were burned, briefly, at the famous women’s liberation protest in September 1968 against the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City.

That evidence “cannot be taken lightly, dismissed or ignored,” I write in Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths — those dubious stories about the news media that masquerade as factual.

I also acknowledge that the evidence of bra-burning at Atlantic City doesn’t corroborate the “widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.”

I saw the image of bra-burning in Toronto for the first time last week, accompanying an article posted February 6 at the online site of the London Guardian. The image was credited to the Bettmann/Corbis photo archive.

The archive’s online record says the bra-burning photograph was taken in Toronto on March 8, 1979. Information about the photographer and place of publication are not available, however.

Corbis notes that it licenses photographs for sale; it doesn’t vouch for their authenticity.

The image of the Toronto protest certainly seems to pose a further challenge to claims that feminist bra-burning is a media myth. While the demonstrators in the photograph hardly look angry, their protest certainly seems flamboyant, what with flames leaping hungrily from the burn barrel.

The photograph suggests a vivid moment of demonstrative bra-burning.

But, then, maybe those flames are lapping a bit too hungrily at the dangling white bra.

Why hasn’t that bra yet caught fire?

And wouldn’t it have been more logical and emphatic to drop a copy of the controversial police report into the flaming burn barrel?

Interestingly, the leading Toronto newspapers of the time did not mention the bra-burning episode in their reports about the protest.

The Toronto Star of March 9, 1979, said that the demonstrators were outraged by the provincial police report, which had identified hitchhiking, alcohol consumption, and drug use as factors in many rapes.

“The [protesting] women lit sparklers and set a garbage can on fire as they booed the report’s findings,” the report in the Star said, identifying the demonstrators as members of Women Against Violence Against Women.

Lighted sparklers held aloft can be seen in the photograph; the placard shown in the image bears the acronym of Women Against Violence Against Women.

The report in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper was more detailed — but likewise made no mention of the burning bra.

The Globe and Mail said the protest was “boisterous” and aimed at the police report, which the demonstrators dismissed as “‘dazzling in its illogic.'”

The newspaper also reported:

“The women carried signs saying: ‘Take a Rapist to Lunch — Charcoal Broiled’ and ‘Hookers Who Wink Go to the Clink! Men Who Rape Escape.’

“The women, after lighting a fire in a garbage can, to the obvious annoyance of about a dozen watchful constables, shouted: ‘Burn the rapists, burn the city, burn the OPP,” the acronym for Ontario Provincial Police.

The newspaper added: “The women charged that the OPP report was nothing less than state approval of rape and that no serious study of rape had even been done by the Government.

“The women then sang a surprisingly obscene song describing male domination of women and marched off, chanting anti-male slogans ….”

I spoke by phone the other day with Susan G. Cole, who was a member of Women Against Violence Against Women and who said she was at the protest in March 1979.

But Cole said she does not recall the bra-burning.

I shared with her a link to image posted at the Guardian site; Cole said she is not in the photograph but added that she recognized as prominent activists the women shown in the image. “We were so bright and energetic in those days,” Cole said, a bit wistfully.

Women Against Violence Against Women, Cole also said, was theatrical and very creative in its protests, adding that she is “not surprised that these guys were burning bras.”

She suggested that the Toronto demonstrators may have thought that if bras had not been flamboyantly set afire at Atlantic City in 1968, then “let’s do it now.”

I’ve tried without success to reach two of the women in the photograph. One is a lawyer in British Columbia, the other an activist in Toronto.

In the final analysis, if the image is authentic, then it represents impressive evidence of demonstrative bra-burning at a feminist protest in the 1970s. If it’s not, then it’s a well-done photo hoax, a composite that deserves unmasking.

WJC

Many thanks to FiveFeetofFury for linking to this post

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