Bra Burning (1968)

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Wed Mar 12 15:57:42 UTC 2003

In a message dated 3/12/2003 10:15:23 AM Eastern Standard Time,
laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:

> "Pared down" is certainly a value-neutral label for this particular
> truncation [from "Women's Liberation" to "Women's Lib"].  At the time it
> was widely recognized that the short form
> was a signal of dismissiveness, and that some male leftists (and some
> male non-leftists) who used it would not have been caught dead
> referring to the National Liberation Front in Vietnam or various
> black liberation movements then extant as "lib".

Well, I posed a more-or-less value-neutral question, in that I specifically
asked "how long" rather than "how".

I was not trying to make any political statements, half-assed or otherwise.
Rather I was trying to comment on a pair of ironies.  The first one is minor:
the juxtaposition in time of the Prague Spring and the "unveiling" (hmm,
infelicitous word) of the Women's Liberation movement.  Quite a number of
major political events occurred in 1968, but without consulting references I
find that the Prague Spring and Women's Lib were the only two I can name that
were not violent.

The second irony is major: that it was the term "bra-burning" that got
established in popular usage.  As Barry Popik shows (thank you again, Barry),
very few brassieres were ever burned, and the intent of the original
demonstrators was not to single out brassieres but rather to specify a number
of items that were linked with an unacceptable status for women.  "False
eyelash burning" isn't as catchy but it would have been a much better
metaphor for what the activists were trying to do.  Unfortunately "bra
burning" is now as well-established in English as is "to welsh on a bet" or
"to gyp someone" or "Dutch treat".

If Larry Horn wants to say that "bra burning" is also a dismissive phrase, I
will not disagree.

Before I go, one last linguistic irony:  in the Supreme Court Case known as
"Roe vs. Wade", "Roe" was a pseudonym.

      - Jim Landau (feeling rather pail-faced)

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