01 December 2009

Misconstrued Once Again

Since my blog post of November 10, 2009, I’ve been pondering feminism. Even today some young women, when they hear the term “feminist” think: hairy, bra-burning, man-hating, fat, radical, and lesbian.

I know this because these words came up in a recent workshop held at Lesley University right here in liberal Cambridge, MA. The young women involved weren’t even born when such terms were first applied to the Second Wave of feminists, yet these misperceptions live on.
Personally, I’d like to be a bra-burner. I enjoyed the freedom of going to school and work without a bra in the 70s, a freedom that doesn’t seem to exist today.

Two Myths

But there actually were no bra-burners back in the day. You may have read the article by Ariel Levy in the November 16, New Yorker and learned to your surprise, as I did, that no bras were ever burned at the famous protest against the Miss America pageant in the summer of 1968. Not a single one.

Corsets and girdles, along with copies of Playboy and high-heeled shoes, says Levy, were tossed into a trash can. A reporter at the time likened the act to burning draft cards and voila, the two actions were conflated to become, in the media and then the public mind, “bra-burning”, a scary attack on . . . well, something.

Gail Collins, in her book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, writes that, despite popular belief, “by 1960 there were as many women working as there had been at the peak of WWII, and the vast majority of them were married.”

Huh? Wait a minute. What happened to the Doris Day mother who dressed herself up impeccably as she stayed home tending to the kiddies and the hubby whilst singing in the kitchen? If feminists didn’t burn bra’s and many married women, not just feminists, worked outside the home for the last 50 years, what else have we been led astray on?

The Definition of Feminism

You guessed it: the meaning of feminism. The media can’t seem to think past myth and menace, but the American Heritage Dictionary, that radical tome, has managed to get it right: Feminism: Belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes. A “feminist,” according to the Dictionary, is one who believes in feminism.

How could any fair-minded person not subscribe to feminism? How could any fair-minded person, therefore, not, be a feminist?

If you still don’t believe me, here’s another dictionary for you. Cheris Kramerae, author of A Feminist Dictionary, writes: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.”

Enough said. Now, will someone please alert the media?

—Cheryl Suchors


  1. Cheryl, Check out my blog post today on religious feminism. I never burned a bra or a draft card but I sure wear a bra as little as I can get away with. And I do have boobs.

    To the dictionary definition of feminism I would add the word "spiritual" to equality of the sexes—as it is proclaimed in the Creation myth in Genesis and for which women still struggle in the church.

  2. Once again the power of language is revealed. Cheryl also illustrates the power of myths and how hard it is to change the accepted view of anything. But IT CAN BE DONE! We must all strive to make a difference.

    I like the American Heritage Dictionary's definition of "feminism". If only the media would ask the Don Imus's of the world "Do you believe in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes?"