Bra-Burners and Apron Strings

Maybe modern women really don't want jobs.

Back in the late 1960's and 1970's, many young ladies were obsessed with how they were being oppressed by male chauvinist pigs.  NPR described their protest at the indignity of women being valued solely for their appearance:

As a small group of feminists prepared to launch their emerging women's liberation movement onto the national stage by protesting the 1968 Miss America pageant, they had no idea that the media was about to give them a new moniker: "bra burners."

In reality, no bras were actually burned on the boardwalk in front of the Atlantic City convention hall that hosted the Miss America pageant, says Carol Hanisch, one of the organizers of the protest.

"We had intended to burn it, but the police department, since we were on the boardwalk, wouldn't let us do the burning," says Hanisch. A New York Post story on the protest included a reference to bra burning as a way to link the movement to war protesters burning draft cards.

The New York Times quoted Robin Morgan as describing the event as a "symbolic bra-burning."  Even though no brassieres were in fact burned, the phrase "bra-burning broads" was so attractive to headline writers that protesting women were known as "bra burners" thereafter.  To this day, you'll sometimes hear the phrase, "I'm no bra burner, but..." from a woman who doesn't see herself as a radical feminist but would like a somewhat better deal.

Tossing feminine garments in the trash was meant as a protest against women being evaluated on their looks.  "Going braless" felt like a revolutionary act - it showed that you were comfortable about not meeting social expectations about your behavior.  One suspects that women who "go commando" by not wearing panties feel the same way.

It is not entirely clear to practical folks how women, particularly the well-endowed, could engage in strenuous activity or even walk comfortably while braless.  This became a vital issue when the US Army started putting women through basic training.  It was an old problem - Minoan athletes are shown wearing garments that look strangely like modern sports bras in murals dating to 700 BC - but the problem of mammary constraint during exercise was new to the US Army.

After considerable research, clothing was modified.  To the classic insult, "Yer mudder wears combat boots!" we can now add, "Yer mudder wears a bulletproof bra!"

Charlie's Braless, Revolutionary Angels

I've never gotten a feminist to admit it, but I've a longstanding suspicion that going braless was a marketing ploy: the extra jiggling helped a woman stand out from the crowd and catch a man's eye.

The popular TV series Charlie's Angels ran from 1976 to 1981.  The plot centered around a brilliant detective whom we never saw.  Instead, we heard him giving instructions and hints to his three "angels," who were played by attractive women who made a point of going braless.

It seemed to work for them.  I remember seeing ads for a necklace which supported a tiny gold spigot.  By wearing a gold "fawcett," you could show loyalty and admiration for Farrah Fawcett-Majors who played one of the Angels and was most notable for her outstandingly unrestrained performance.

Would she have become as popular if she'd worn a bra?  As far as I know, nobody ever asked; perhaps the male journalists of the day were distracted by other matters.

The river of time flows on and the granddaughters of the bra-burners, if they had any, are coming of age.  Like young ladies everywhere and of every age, they're looking around to ponder what they ought to become and how they ought to relate to men.

The mantra since the 1960's has been, "What do you mean, you're a housewife?  Why don't you get a job and do something worthwhile?"  Women who wanted to stay home and raise children were scorned.

Thus it's no surprise that many modern young ladies are looking forward to careers, but there's a twist.  The Daily Mail reports a conversation between a teacher and her students:

During a chat with a group of 17-year-old girls recently, our ­conversation turned to their dreams for the future. One girl, Patty, wants to be a lawyer. Another, Justine, has her heart set on becoming a doctor.

But it seems there’s one aspiration that’s proving surprisingly popular — and it doesn’t involve years of ­dedicated study, either.

Yes — feminists look away now — most of the girls I talked to are intent on marrying a rich man.

Why do these girls want to marry rich?  They want to raise children without having to work!  Gasp!

The young ladies seem to be pretty matter-of-fact about their plans, no bra-burners here:

Amy also has it all mapped out: ‘I’m going to be a graphic designer — but when I have children, I’ll give up work. I’m going to marry someone with a really good job.’ Her friends nod in agreement.

Marrying Rich

Amy's wish for a husband with a "really good job" requires that she wait for a man who's grown up enough not only to work hard to support her and her children, but also attracted to her strongly enough to be glad to do it over the long term.

It's not just in England.  I had a recent conversation with a 16 year old who wants to be a doctor.  "I plan to work a few years," she told me, "but when I get married and have children, I want my husband to support me so I can be a mother."

I pointed out, "You realize, if you expect some man to support you, he'll expect you to belong to him."  She hadn't considered that aspect of the arrangement closely, but she knew enough about men from observing how her friends' families interacted to know that I had a point.  If she expects a man to support her, she'll have to be his.

This raises a tricky point - if a woman belongs to her husband strictly to earn his support, or if a man supports a woman solely to earn her, what are they doing?  We have a very harsh word to describe what happens when a man buys a woman - we call it "whoredom."  Many modern marriages look more like business deals rather than relationships built on love and a sense of giving.

Men are able to have sex without being involved with the woman or caring about her; this is much more difficult for women because of their emotional makeup.  Ever since the pill, women have been asking, "Why can't women have sex like men?" - that is, without commitment.

Almost any woman can find a man who'll have sex with her on a moment's notice, but she'll often feel depressed when she realizes that he didn't care about her as a person.  Young ladies who expect to "marry rich" so they can be stay at home moms should look at relationships in a very different way:

So let’s rephrase that question one more time, shall we? It’s not a question of can, or even should, a woman have sex like a man. The real question is, Should a man have sex like a woman?

Once you re-phrase the question, the answer is pretty obvious.  If a woman expects a man to take care of her over the long term, she must insist that he have sex with her based on a strong commitment to her.  That means she'll have to require that they postpone sex until after they're married, just as traditional customs required.

I wonder how this issue of getting a man to make a long-term commitment looks to my young friend?  No matter how her future works out, she's another voice supporting the concept of being a stay-at-home mother.

The Feminist Conflict

The teacher found herself somewhat conflicted by her students' views:

As a teacher, perhaps I should have argued with these teenagers and told them their happiness depended on financial independence and high-­flying careers. A few years ago I would have done, but not any more.

So what’s changed? Well, four years ago my daughter Nancy was born and I became a harassed working mother. It was my implacable belief that a career was the path to female ­fulfilment that kept me working after her birth.  [emphasis added]

Back then, I honestly believed that women who didn’t work were boring ­little drones who had given up all vestige of personality.

How wrong I was!

Our society has spread the lie that the only way a woman can find fulfillment is by having a meaningful, high-powered career of her own, but the message is changing.  Disney recently put out a movie pointing out that it's difficult to establish a solid relationship, much less to be a good parent, and have a high-flying career at the same time.  The "only by career" mantra is as wrong as the earlier mantra that the only way a woman could find fulfillment was by being a wife and mother.

Women in the past were often forced to put up with abuse because they had nowhere else to go and no means of supporting themselves.

But the new alpha housewife is the educated, intelligent woman who chooses not to work — but thanks to her husband’s money certainly isn’t pushing a mop around the kitchen floor either.  [emphasis added]

Hopefully, my daughter and her generation will benefit from our belated realization that a happy life isn’t guaranteed by working a 50-hour week and seeing your ­children on Saturday afternoons.

A happy life isn’t guaranteed by marriage to a wealthy man either. But isn’t it time we admitted that it certainly helps?

Women are realizing that it's not possible to raise children with the intensity and involvement that most kids need and play in the office big leagues at the same time.

Unfortunately for women who'd like to stay at home, there aren't enough unmarried rich men to pay for nannies and housekeepers for all the women who want lives of leisured motherhood.

This is an area where the feminists did a real disservice to motherhood.  By urging so many women to pour into the work force, feminism nearly doubled the labor supply, which as the laws of supply and demand dictate had the long-term effect of cutting men's wages in half.

Today, very few men earn enough money to support women in lives of servant-enabled leisure; whereas in the 1950s even factory workers could afford to support a wife at home, today only the top few percent readily can, just those people whom Obama says are "rich" and should be more heavily taxed.

Most women who want to stay at home will struggle to run their houses on one income.  They may have to buy lower-cost homes in neighborhoods with such lousy schools that they'll have to teach their kids at home.  They'll end up wearing aprons and pushing their own brooms, but they'll have time to forge better relationships with their children and hopefully with their children's grandparents.

I wonder how life will work out for these newly marriage-aware young ladies?  I certainly wish them, their husbands, and their children well.

Lee Tydings is a guest writer for  Read other articles by Lee Tydings or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

How many decades have passed, and you're just now figuring out that you can't have it all? Fortunately the average non feminist woman never fell for this idiotic nonsense to start with. They knew like most of us that life is full of choices and often some choices preclude others.

December 21, 2010 4:15 PM

My mother earned a local college scholarship, but never used it. Instead, she married my father at age 19, and by the time they were both 21 they had me. She worked part-time at the local pharmacy.

I have long felt that her home presence in our early years was of some benefit to both myself and my sister.

My generation is different. Because the nuclear family I was raised in only included two siblings, and not seven or eight as was the case with my father, for my children there is no horde of cousins to tumble with and no multiple households of close relatives nearby for almost weekly sleepovers. I feel more sad about this absence in the lives of my own children, and worry more about it, than the absence of a stay-at-home parent.

I think it is one of those things that those who have not been raised with, cannot understand. The loss of the extended "fam" was a gradual but inevitable thing, as was the loss of French (my generation is the first that did not speak French at a first language, and our family has been in the new world since before the Mayflower landed and in the United States since the late 1800s).

Time passes, and the culture changes. This is inevitable. Children benefit from time and bonding with their families, and this will never change. Our Americanized family is smaller, by necessity, which means less time with family in the same way that having two working parents does. There is loss here, too.

December 21, 2010 5:52 PM

All that being said, my advice to my sons will be to be extremely wary of marrying a woman who cannot support herself. The legal system of our grotesquely biased "family" courts is bad enough without linking oneself to a woman who can claim an inability to support herself should she decide that the poolboy is more to her liking (and she knows she'll be keeping the pool).

Those who complain about feminists protesting the institution of marriage are late to the party. Feminists stopped ranting about the evils of marriage once they realized that it was in their better interests to spend their energies making divorce more profitable for women. They have been quite successful in this matter, as indicated by the fact that 70% of today's divorces are initiated by women.

December 21, 2010 6:01 PM

what's the point of this essay?
that women, being intellectual inferiors, are only fit for breeding? I suppose next you'll claim because of this, abortions should be illegal and rape within marriage is ok.. to say nothing of homosexual partnerships being taboo.
I'm glad I was not born when control was a motivating factor in relationships— I would never burn my bra, but i'd certainly use its elasticity to put a welt on some male's nose who would dare stop my education, my career, or interfere with my family: that's what freedom is all about.

December 21, 2010 7:38 PM

Where does this essay say anything about control? It talks about the free CHOICES that individual women are opting to make in their lives.

Sounds like you, like most feminists, only believe in "women's choices" when they make the anti-society choice you want them to - every bit as repressive and controlling as men ever have been.

December 21, 2010 7:48 PM

Patience, I think that calling a woman's choice to pursue a career an "anti-society" choice is a little extreme, no?

My partner is a pediatric oncologist. We have two children together. Is she really "anti-society"? I should probably tell her...

December 21, 2010 8:42 PM

No, no, you misunderstood, I was referring to feminism and especially abortion as an anti-society choice.

However, without speaking specifically to any individual specific circumstance, it is unquestionably true that, all else being equal, children do like to have their mothers at home with them and, all else being equal, tend to do better that way. Of course that is not always possible and some women are not suited for that life, any more than all men are suited for the office - that's why we live in a free country and are supposed to be able to make our own choices. But pushing women to the workplace when they'd rather stay at home and take care of their children is both wrong and harmful.

December 21, 2010 9:24 PM


Then our current divorce laws are both wrong and harmful, because any man with a brain in his head should know not to even consider marriage to a woman who cannot support herself given the realities of the "family" court.

December 21, 2010 9:32 PM

I will clarify -- current divorce law discourages men from marrying any woman who will not be capable of supporting herself financially with the money she will be earning while they are married.

My sons will be well aware of this.

December 21, 2010 9:36 PM

I am not sure that the feminist notion of pursuing a career as the only option for a woman not wanting to damage the emancipation of all women was ever supported by any but a small percentage of US women. Not only was the national media (at least in the US) strongly biased in favor of progressives and their particular desires for societal change, but there was a systematic bias due to the fact that any woman in the media, by definition, was a woman who chose to make her career a priority. Hopefully, the days of radical feminists devaluing the role of motherhood are coming to an end. No society can survive when the birth of the next generation is not encouraged and cherished, as are the mothers of that generation.

December 22, 2010 12:04 PM

Werebat, I think Scragged has argued before exactly what your saying: that our current divorce laws are indeed wrong and harmful.

Ah, yes, here it is:

December 22, 2010 12:58 PM
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