Feminists are often (oh-so-condescendingly) called bra-burners as a result of a certain women's lib event in 1968, but did you know that this famed bra-burning never actually happened? In reality, protesters at the Miss America pagaent theatrically dumped symbolic items of women's oppression into a bin they called the "Freedom Trash Can." (Which actually shows quite a sense of humor, don't you think?) There was at least one bra among the items, as well as girdles, high heels, and pornographic magazines. But not a single thing was lit aflame - nor was it ever intended to be.
According to the women who were there, the fact that what lives on from this day is an insulting, nonfactual term for a very real movement is the most maddening thing of all. This article posits that the legend of bra-burning is a media-driven myth, and a mocking one at that. Bras were actually never meant to be a universal symbol of the women's movement (thank goodness).
Today's topic is a result of the comments on my last retro lingerie post, in which a few insightful readers asked how I consider myself a feminist and still wear constricting foundation garments. Excellent question!
I bring up the mythical bra-burning, because like the feminists who were there and saw what really happened, I get a little weary of certain items somehow becoming universal symbols of women's oppression. A girdle is a girdle, and yes, you can imbue it with characteristics of subjugation, or you can choose to just think of it as a piece of material with a certain sartorial purpose. However, the real answer is probably somewhere in the middle ground between those two extremes.
But the sticking point for me is trying to think of an undergarment as either feminist or not. What is feminism, after all? The movement for women's equality. And yes, an uncomfortable girdle can certainly keep one from feeling liberated (believe me, I've been there). But a girdle cannot work for women's freedom or detract from it on its own. Here in the U.S., a group in Utah was recently trying to pass legislation that would make miscarriage a punishable crime on par with homicide. Now THAT is anti-feminist.
I think the mythical bra-burning has sunk into our collective conscience more than we can really know. Hence the reason things like Spanx become major points of conversation in the feminist arena. But isn't this all a sort of sideshow that distracts from the major issues?
In terms of body image issues, I think the question is a trickier one and its connection to feminism is tenuous. But it boils down to this: Can women truly love and accept our bodies if we're trying to Spanx them into an oppressive ideal? I think it depends on the person and the motive. If you're a size 10 and you desperately want to believe that you're a size 8 so you squeeze into a too-tight foundation garment to look like you think you should look, then yeah. You're probably not feeling the body-acceptance love. But if you have a dress that could benefit from a smoothing or shaping garment and you don't have crazy expectations of what it's going to do for you and your self-image, I think that seems like a healthier approach. What doesn't seem healthy is feeling like a bad feminist if you want to experiment with different foundation garments.
As for how this all relates to sewing? Well, in the making of my last two pencil skirts, I've found that the fit is so good that there's no reason I would need a bodyshaper. Yet another point for sewing as a body-positive activity!
What do you all think? I know you'll have some opinions on this one!