Where Does the Term “Bra Burners” Come From?


The term “bra burners” comes from a protest at the 1968 Miss America Pageant by the Radical Women of New York. The media event promised participants lively street theater, including a Freedom Trash Can where women could throw away, and burn, their bras, false eyelashes, and copies of Cosmopolitan, and Ladies’ Home Journal. Ironically, the women didn’t have the proper permits, and none of the items in the can were burned. But the name still stuck, and feminists are forever known as bra burners to some.

In addition to the trash can, the Radical Women of New York crowned a sheep, refused to speak with male journalists, and refused arrest by male police officers. In their leaflets they espoused ten points:

We Protest:

1. The Degrading Mindless-Boob-Girlie Symbol. The Pageant contestants epitomize the roles we are all forced to play as women. The parade down the runway blares the metaphor of the 4-H Club county fair, where the nervous animals are judged for teeth, fleece, etc., and where the best “specimen” gets the blue ribbon. So are women in our society forced daily to compete for male approval, enslaved by ludicrous “beauty” standards we ourselves are conditioned to take seriously.

2. Racism with Roses. Since its inception in 1921, the Pageant has not had one Black finalist, and this has not been for a lack of test-case contestants. There has never been a Puerto Rican, Alaskan, Hawaiian, or Mexican-American winner. Nor has there ever been a true Miss America–an American Indian.

3. Miss America as Military Death Mascot. The highlight of her reign each year is a cheerleader-tour of American troops aborad–last year she went to Vietnam to pep-talk our husbands, fathers, sons and boyfriends into dying and killing with a better spirit. She personifies the ‘unstained patriotic American womanhood our boys are fighting for.’ The Living Bra and the Dead Soldier. We refuse to be used as Mascots for Murder.

4. The Consumer Con-Game. Miss America is a walking commercial for the Pageant’s sponsors. Wind her up and she plugs your product on promotion tours and TV–all in an ‘honest, objective’ endorsement. What a shill.

5. Competition Rigged and Unrigged. We deplore the encouragement of an American myth that oppresses men as well as women: the win-or-you’re worthless competitive disease. The ‘beauty contest’ creates only one winner to be ‘used’ and forty-nine losers who are ‘useless.’

6. The Woman as Pop Culture Obsolescent Theme. Spindle, mutilate, and then discard tomorrow. What is so ignored as last year’s Miss America? This only reflects the gospel of our society, according to Saint Male: women must be young, juicy, malleable–hence age discrimination and the cult of youth. And we women are brainwashed into believing ourselves!

7. The Unbeatable Madonna-Whore Combination. Miss America and Playboy’s centerfold are sisters over the skin. To win approval, we must be both sexy and wholesome, delicate but able to cope, demure yet titillatingly bitchy. Deviation of any sort brings, we are told, disaster: ‘You won’t get a man!!’

8. The Irrelevant Crown on the Throne of Mediocrity. Miss America represents what women are supposed to be: unoffensive, bland, apolitical. If you are tall, short, over or under what weight The Man prescribes you should be, forget it. Personality, articulateness, intelligence, commitment–unwise. Conformity is the key to the crown–and, by extension, to success in our society.

9. Miss America as Dream Equivalent To–? In this reputedly democratic society, where every little boy supposedly can grow up to be President, what can every little girl hope to grow up to be? Miss America. That’s where it’s at. Real power to control our own lives is restricted to men, while women get patronizing pseudo-power, an ermine cloak and a bunch of flowers; men are judged by their actions, women by their appearance.

10. Miss America as Big Sister Watching You. The Pageant exercises Thought Control, attempts to sear the Image onto our minds, to further make women oppressed and men oppressors; to enslave us all the more in high-heeled, low-status roles; to inculcate false values in young girls; to use women as beasts of buying; to seduce us to prostitute ourselves before our own oppression.

-Morgan, Robin. “Feminist Guerrilla Theaer, 1968.” Modern American Women: A Documentary History. 2nd ed. Susan Ware. New York: McGraw Hill, 2002. 240-243. Print.

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  1. It’s interesting how we are still fighting the exact same battles in 2013 as we were in 1968. So many things have changed, and yet so many things have stayed the same. More motivation to keep living in a way that will bring about change.

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