W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Atlantic City’

The ‘seismic cultural shifts’ of the 1960s: Protests, assassination — and bra-burning?

In Bra-burning, Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post on March 25, 2012 at 9:59 am

Feminist “bra-burning” of the late 1960s was more media myth than sustained reality.

But a commentary in today’s Washington Post places “bra-burning” among the “[s]eismic cultural shifts” of the late 1960s.

A column that promoted a media trope

Yes, “bra burning.”

This bizarre and baseless claim appears in a commentary that ruminates about the Mad Men television series.

The opening paragraph says:

“On ‘Mad Men,’ the AMC television show that returns for its fifth season Sunday night, booze, cigarettes, unprotected sex, cholesterol-rich foods and negligent parenting play starring roles in a surprisingly accurate and yet idealized picture of a New York ad agency in the mid-1960s. Seismic cultural shifts — Vietnam War protests, bra-burning and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. — are just over the horizon.”

The show, the Post’s commentary avers, “gives us a window into the mind-sets of our parents and grandparents.”

Oh, sure it does.

But even frivolous ruminations can bring opportunities for myth-busting, and bra-burning was hardly a “seismic” event of the late 1960s.

It hardly signaled “cultural shift.”

In fact, feminist “bra-burning” was mostly a non-event.

I call it a “nuanced myth” in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths.

The derivation of the nuanced myth can be traced to September 7, 1968, and the women’s liberation protest against the Miss America pageant at Atlantic City, N.J. The protest was organized by a small group called New York Radical Women.

The demonstrators included about 100 women who traveled to the Atlantic City boardwalk to denounce the pageant as a “degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie symbol” that placed “women on a pedestal/auction block to compete for male approval” and promoted a “Madonna Whore image of womanhood.”

The harsh rhetoric notwithstanding, the daylong protest on the boardwalk wasn’t very raucous. A centerpiece was what the demonstrators called the “Freedom Trash Can,” into which they tossed “instruments of torture” such as brassieres, girdles, high-heeled shoes, and copies of Playboy and Cosmopolitan.”

One demonstrator held a girdle over the Freedom Trash Can, according to the New York Times, and chanted:

“No more girdles, no more pain. No more trying to hold the fat in vain.”

The protest’s organizers had let it be known in advance of the demonstration that they planned to set fire to bras and other items at Atlantic City. But once there, plans supposedly were abandoned in favor of what of was called a “symbolic bra-burning.”

And through the years, the demonstration’s organizers have been adamant that no bras were burned during the protest.

Nonetheless, newspaper columnists writing in the demonstration’s aftermath offered highly imaginative accounts of “bra-burning” at Atlantic City.

Notably, Harriet Van Horne wrote in the New York Post that a highlight of the demonstration “was a bonfire in a Freedom Trash Can.”

Van Horne, who was not at the Atlantic City protest, also wrote:

“With screams of delight they consigned to the flames such shackling, demeaning items as girdles, bras, high-heeled slippers, hair curlers and false eyelashes.”

Nationally syndicated humor columnist Art Buchwald also picked up on the bra-burning meme, writing with tongue in cheek that he was “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.’”

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

And a media myth took hold.

What nuances the myth are witness accounts, discussed in Getting It Wrong, that bras were set afire, if briefly, during the protest.

Boucher, 1949 photo

One witness account appeared in the Press of Atlantic City the day after the protest. The newspaper’s first-hand report, written by a veteran reporter named John L. Boucher, included this passage:

“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.’”

Also covering the demonstration was Jon Katz, then a young reporter for the Atlantic City Press. In my research into bra-burning, Katz told me:

“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 that bras were burned in the “Freedom Trash Can” cannot be “taken lightly, dismissed or ignored.”

At the same time,  I write, the witness accounts “offer no evidence to corroborate a widely held image of angry feminists demonstratively setting fire to their bras and tossing the flaming undergarments into a spectacular bonfire.”

There was no mass bra-burning at Atlantic City, no feminists twirling flaming bras over the heads. Fire at most was a modest and fleeting aspect of the protest on that long ago September day.

It was, to be sure, no seismic event.

WJC

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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

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