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Bra-Burners and Apron Strings

Maybe modern women really don't want jobs.

By Lee Tydings  |  December 21, 2010

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.