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Burn the Bra: A Feminist Legend or Myth? (Guest Post)

Burn the bra, literally. Black lace bra

Today I welcome Resa McConaghy with a guest post on the history of “burn the bra.” Is it a feminist legend? Or a feminist myth instead? In her well-written post, Resa includes discussions of Gloria Steinem’s A Bunny’s Tale, the 1968 Miss America Pageant, the Freedom Trash Can, and more. Oh and that burning bra in the photo above? Resa set it afire to mark the end to her research. Take it away, Resa.

Introduction to Burn the Bra

Women had achieved voting rights in 1918 in America. Still, they remained primarily in the at-home role, while dads worked outside of the residence. Most working women were teachers, but all women who were in the workforce were supposed to retire upon marriage. The Marriage Bar was removed in 1964 with the passing of the Civil Rights Act.

Still, women were expected to retire in the 5th month of pregnancy, when the baby bump began to show. Pregnancy discrimination continued until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

Many laws discriminating against women working were relaxed during World War II. However, when the war was over, and the men came home, women were expected to return to their servile lives.

But many women did not want to leave the workplace for domestics, and so they pursued careers. Furthermore, the post-war era saw the rise of a second wave of Women’s Liberation that gave us strong, educated, and creative women. Among them were Audre Lorde, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem.

Gloria Steinem’s A Bunny’s Tale

Between January 26th and February 22nd, 1963, feminist legend Gloria Steinem was a Playboy Bunny. She went underground, for journalistic purposes. Her diary-style journal took readers through the unglamorous, unhealthy, humiliating, and very short shelf life of a Playboy Bunny.

As Gloria wrote in the book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions:

“I’ve completed my unofficial list of Bunny bosom stuffers:

1. Kleenex
2. plastic dry cleaner’s bags
3. absorbent cotton
4. cut-up bunny tails
5. foam rubber
6. lamb’s wool
7. Kotex halves
8. silk scarves
9. gym socks”

When Christy invited me if to do a piece on Burn The Bra, the Bunny bosom stuffers from A Bunny’s Tale immediately popped into my mind.

In 1981, a down-on-her-luck and health ex-Bunny from the Florida Playboy Club gave me the article to read. I was a bit shocked by Gloria Steinem’s exposé, but I became insanely indignant and sickened when I read the part about the Bunnies all needing to pass a physical exam.

This exam was to be given by the official Playboy doctor, and only the Playboy doctor. The exam included an internal examination, for no legitimate reason.

Hugh Hefner’s Letter to Gloria Steinem

When Gloria Steinem’s article published in 1963, Hugh Hefner wrote her a letter that included mention of that exam. In this letter he said, “your beef about the physical given the girls before they start work at the club prompted my eliminating it.”

In the Postscripts after the article in her book, there’s more about the letter and about the years Gloria spent in court. She was not only a witness in court but also was sued. She endured reproach and death threats too.

Bunny's Tale by Gloria Steinem, featured here in black and white
Gloria Steinem in 1977. ©Lynn Gilbert

Gloria Steinem’s A Bunny’s Tale is unfortunately enlightening. She was stirring the bubbling cauldron of feminism. As she once said, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

In 1968 many women were righteously pissed off, and Women’s Lib hit the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey where Burn The Bra was born.

The Miss America Pageant of 1968

It was 51 years ago.

In 1968, about 200 women staged a protest outside of the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. It was organized by the New York Radical Women, founded by Shulamith Firestone. This protest is still going down in history toay; yes, 51 years later, people still question the idea of a Beauty Pageant.

On a related note, I strongly suggest watching the video below. For six minutes, it will put you right there in the 1968 protest. It will fill in a lot of details that I won’t have time to do.

Up Against the Wall Miss America

One thing I did not see in the video is the Freedom Trash Can. Into the trash can women threw symbols of their oppression, including:

  • Lipstick
  • High heels
  • Mops

One woman eased her bra out from under her shirt, and, amid many cheers, she tossed it into the Freedom Trash Can.

The Freedom Trash Can, 1968 Miss America, and A Bunny's Tale
Yes, this is the referenced Freedom Trash Can.

The bra was not lit on fire.

Yet, this is the moment when Burn the Bra was born. It’s like that old game, Telephone. Someone says something into someone’s ear, who then says it into the ear of the next person. The message travels secretly from one person to another, and always comes out the end of the line, differently.

So it was, that as news of the protest made headlines around the world, the fact of the bra being tossed into the Freedom Trash Can warped. It became a burning bra tossed into the Freedom Trash Can.

Nonetheless, the symbolism of a burning bra and the protesters are a record of history. Check out I Was There: The 1968 Miss America Pageant Protest. by Robin Morgan, as told to Allison McNearny.

Burn the Bra: Musing upon my Bra’s Ashes

My conclusion is that Burn the Bra is both a myth and a legend. It is a legend born out of a myth that was born out of an action. It has become a Women’s Liberation symbol.

How many women have burned their bras since that day in 1968? I’m not sure, but I finally burned my bra. It’s my way of saying I’m solid with the ongoing Women’s Liberation Movement. You can see it aflame in the opening photo here.

I also wonder, what do young people know or think about Women’s Liberation, from its history to the need for an ongoing struggle? Also, what do female immigrants think who are from countries where women are not nearly as equal to men as we are here?

Personally, I embrace the idea that we should all know our female history, and that the women’s movement is not over until total equality of the sexes is achieved, globally. As Gloria Steinem said, “Imagine we are linked, not ranked.”

It’s a shame, but in researching this article I came upon a few websites and blogs leeching on the term Burn the Bra. They have nothing to do with the reality. One site, seemingly run by two men, is dedicated to showing women without bras. Not one bra is on fire either.

Another site deals with health issues regarding wearing a bra. Best I leave that for another time.

More Facts about Gloria Steinem’s A Bunny’s Tale

Firstly, Gloria Steinem officially changed the title from A Bunny’s Tale to I Was A Playboy Bunny.

Secondly, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem is in its third edition. I Was a Playboy Bunny is one of the many articles in the book. There are two postscripts to the article, which cover the still occurring fallout after its release.

And here’s a very interesting article from The Guardian about whether or not Gloria Steinem’s A Bunny’s Tale is still relevant today.

Lastly, A Bunny’s Tale is a TV movie made by ABC starring Kirstie Alley. In one of the postscripts in the 3rd edition of Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Gloria wrote that she was happy with the movie.

Further Readings

A plethora of thoughts and ideas about Miss America 1968 and other Beauty Pageants swarm around in my mind. Again, best I leave that for a whole other article. Instead, I’ll leave you with some additional resources:

On The Civil Rights Act of 1964

More Information on Women’s Liberation

History of Feminism in the United States
Waves of Feminism Explained

Thank you for reading this! – Resa

About the Writer

Resa McConaghy is a costume designer for film, television and digital media. She is based out of Toronto, Canada. Six years ago, Resa designed her first of 23 Art Gowns. Inspired by street artists, she has taken up pencil, paints and canvas. Her eyes are set on a gallery showing.

You can view Resa’s work and resume on Resa’s Professional Website. Also visit her at Art Gowns or her arts blog at Graffiti Lux Art & More.


Top Photo: ©Resa McConaghy, 2019. Resa literally burns her bra after reading A Bunny’s Tale.

59 thoughts on “Burn the Bra: A Feminist Legend or Myth? (Guest Post)”

  1. Great and informative article. Thanks for sharing Resa’s insight here, Christy. I will be checking out her art blog. I believe Gloria Steinem made a huge difference for us girls coming up behind her. Kudos to her and the other women protesting and making a statement against female oppression. It also goes to show, the power of the pen is almighty.

    1. Gloria did great. All of the women who took up the mantle of the second wave of feminism are heroes. Of course the second wave would not have come about without the first wave. The suffragettes helped women get the vote. We’ve come a long way on a twisted road, that still has many bends. I’m so glad you took time to read the article.

    1. Understandable!
      There is a lot to learn & say about that, with many points and points of view erupting then and now. Although she says she wouldn’t write the same article now, she stands behind it.
      In this article I wrote, I am dealing with the second wave of feminism, 30 years before the Clinton scandals.
      She was very effective then. Personally I still admire her.

  2. Very interesting post, Christy and Resa! I was unaware of most of this information and the history of the myth. Thanks for sharing! I’m forwarding this post to my young adult daughter.

    1. Amazing!! I’m so glad you took time to read the article. Many young women take their freedoms for granted. History is a great teacher, in all areas, not just feminism. Thank you for sharing this with your daughter!!!!!

  3. Wonderful job Resa. A lot has changed but not the important stuff, that’s for sure. And women are still second-class citizens and violence its one way they are controlled. They are KEPT poor and the laws are written to protect men. It sucks.

    1. I agree!!! Your voice is for all women, not just the privileged ones. There is a long, long way to go. As Nasrin Sotoudeh is being lashed 148 times in prison, and serving 40 years for peacefully advocating for women’s rights, the written laws suck.
      I adore your steady constant voice. I adore you!

  4. Isn’t it amazing that women were not allow to vote until 1920, in Mexico 1953. How outrageous and demeaning. Things have changed but we are still second class citizens, America is still a patriarchy and there is still a glass ceiling, though it is better disguised. You’ve done a wonderful job with this Resa, Brava!
    That’s a nice bra you’re burning there…you couldv’e sent that to me. :) Thank you, this was enjoyable and enlightening! <3 xoxo

    1. Inequality of the sexes (and other things) is just crazy! Who invented all this anyway?
      Holly, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Burn the bra is history, now, but the flame still burns bright!
      Lol! Yes, it’s a lovely bra. Just trying to keep up appearances. Next bra is yours! xoxo 3

    2. It is interesting how we got here. First off the men made the money, they had the power, women were next to Chattle, for breeding and taking care of the men. Imagine how frightening for them to find that women were rebelling, so the putbtheir boot down harder. During the war women worked and gained independence, when the guy’s cane home they wanted everything to return to their “normal”. Well guess what…will we ever be seen as equals in a patriarchal society I don’t know. Great post Resa ! xoxoxo

    3. It’s not over, but women have come a long way. More importantly, some men have come along with us. Holly, I’m so happy you like this piece I wrote. (Waiting for Gi to weigh in!) xoxoxo

    4. Sigh! I agree. At least we have some parity in the U.S.A. & Canada. I signed a petition from AVAAZ today.
      I could cry.
      “She’ll get 148 lashes on her body, and spend nearly 4 decades in prison. This is the awful punishment Nasrin Sotoudeh will face for peacefully advocating for women’s rights in Iran.”
      We are lucky here. I adore you, and I am happy to know that if you speak out peacefully about the women’s retirement issue that you won’t get 148 lashes & 40 years in prison.

    5. I pity them, too! Crazy, but religion is involved in many injustices against women, as well as patriarchy. Lol, don’t get me going! Could you imagine women asserting #MeToo in Iran or Saudia Arabia?
      This is a guest post, and I want to be respectful to Christy.
      OMG! I adore you!

    6. I still remember Hillary Clinton on 5 September 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.”
      That was almost 20 years ago.

  5. Great writeup, Resa! I was 10 years old when the bras started going up in flames. I remember it was all quite sensational.

    1. Thanks Timothy! I did a lot of research. Women had a lot to fight for back then. It may seem redundant to young people, but without that 2nd wave of feminism we would be a lot further behind.

  6. Yes! I worked in a male-dominated field. I got my degree in Computer Technology (the hardware side) in 1983, not to prove anything really, I just knew that knowing about computers… would be essential in the workplace. I landed a job at a Microelectronics Manufacturer as a test technician, testing microchips using “mspecs” (Military specifications), which, of course, were very specific.
    We had to set-up our workstations with the specified equipment for each test of each chip, i.e.; voltmeters, frequency generators and so on, there was usually quite a number of different test equipment machines that one had to set up and the earlier you got there, read your specs and knew what to get, the earlier one could set-up their workstations. Since there were but a few “good” test equipment machines, it was kind of a race to get done first to get the best equipment.
    So… many times after I got all the stuff I needed, all set-up to do my job, I inevitably had to excuse myself momentarily (you know), and when I’d get back, my workstation would be torn up and all my equipment would be taken. So after this happened a couple of times, I decided to “pretend” to go to “excuse myself” and I watched to see exactly who was taking my stuff.
    Well, I found out and I waited until he got all of “my stuff” set-up at “his work station’, and I went to him and tore-up his set-up, took back my stuff and proceeded to again set-up my workstation.
    Needless to say, I was called all kinds of lovely names, like a bitch, dike, man-hater and so on. I was no longer very popular if I ever was before that happened, and for quite some time, it was a very hostile work environment.
    That is until we had our company Christmas party. When I walked in, many people stood up and were calling out my name. You see, many of my co-workers knew what it felt like to be oppressed, mistreated… as many of them were minorities as well. Many Vietnamese, Latino and Black people. I was so overwhelmed with the outpouring of warmth and comradery that my eyes welled -up with tears as I sat down with them to enjoy the evening’s festivities, and much to my surprise, even the fellow that was taking my equipment (stuff), shook my hand and told me he had new respect for me. That was a great night. I just wished it didn’t have to come to all that in order to be accepted.
    When I graduated and accepted that job, I had hoped that my qualifications and the fact that I had to take the same entrance tests and go thru the same interview that they had to, would have said to them, “Yes, we are co-workers”, in every sense of the word.
    Oh well. I’m used to having to prove myself over & over and over again.
    I guess that all’s well that ends well and even though we’ve come a long way baby, we still have to fight the good fight. Not to say we’re better than men, just to say, we are as capable as men because we had the same training, education or experience that they had.
    So… to borrow another phrase from the 60’s-’70’s, “keep on truckin'” ladies. There is still some more work to do. Peace.


    1. Good tale and good for you, Leslie! And I think that there is still a whole lotta truckin’ going on. Thanks for reading, and thank you for taking the time to posts this very fab comment!

  7. Excellent post Resa. Those were exciting times when women started to make ‘noise’. I particularly agreed with your statement – It is a legend born out of a myth that was born out of an action. Good to see women rising to power once again fighting for our freedoms. <3

    1. Thank you so very much, DG! I did put a lot of work into this post, and yes, we women were making noise. Lol! We still are! <3

  8. Thanks for sharing this post. As women we’ve come along ways, but we still have far to go. It can be difficult sometimes to prove our self worth in such a mans world.

    1. We take one step at a time. We, in the U.S.A., Canada, Australia and Europe are getting very close!
      The Middle East and Asia are another story.

  9. Dear Christy,
    Thank you so much for having me do a guest post. As always, it’s fun working with you.
    I intend to answer all comments, mostly later on today. Again, thank you, sister! XO

    1. I love working with you too, dear Resa! Thank YOU for the research you’ve done here and for expressing your opinions so well too. No rush on replying to comments immediately as I know you’re busy. Sending love!

  10. Thank you, Christy, for sharing the article on the second wave of feminist movement. It made me remember am anecdote a woman shared with me in the 1970’s about when she was pregnant and had a career in the 1950’s. She needed her salary to help support her family and thus didn’t inform her employer she was pregnant to test whether she would be forced to quit. She made it to 9 months because her employer was hesitant to ask if she was indeed pregnant. What strange times we’ve lived through. Have a wonderful week!

    1. At least that much is changed, in our society! Thank you for reading this, Linnea! You have a fab weekend ahead! :D

    1. Gloria applied for the job on January 26, 1963. She used an alias (Marie Ochs), as she was already a known journalist. Her last night of work was February 22,1963. She had enough info, and enough of being a Bunny. It’s a fab read, only 50 pages. The article came out in 2 parts in SHOW magazine.

  11. Thank you for this amazing look at the beginnings of the second wave feminist movement. As a second wave feminist I’m not sure we’ve come all that far. I’m putting my hopes and action into the #MeToo movement.

    1. They’re calling #MeToo the 4th wave of feminism. I wonder how many waves it will take? My surfboard is wearing out. Still, a lot has been gained, yet, I fear there is loss as well. There’s a lot to take in about the 4th wave. In this age of internet, there are endless news reports, accusations and opinions. Still, I’m in until it’s over!

  12. Kristie Konsoer

    Very empowering read. Many things have changed, yet we are reminded many things have not. This post was a very timely choice.

    1. Thank you for reading! It’s crazy that many things have not changed, and that women are still trying to equal out the playing field in N. America & Europe. The Middle East is a whole other frustration.

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