At the beginning of time, God created shame, complexes, and envy to fulfill the condemned cycle of master and slave, the inquisitive relationship between the one who suffers and the one who induces suffering. Throughout history, women have endured the consequences of these negative values, until one day someone rebelled and overthrew the masculine empire with an impetuous spirit. And not only that; she appropriated a garment that for centuries was considered a symbol of feminine oppression.
In the twentieth century, some of the typical female accessories became targets of feminist activism. This group rebelled against makeup, fashion magazines, and, curiously, a daily garment: the brasier. It was then that the famous Australian feminist, Germaine Greer, declared that “the brasier is an absurd invention.” Her words spoke to millions of women around the world, who, in some way or another, had always questioned the function and true utility of the bra.
On September 7, 1968, hundreds of women gathered on the streets of Atlantic City to manifest their discontent. In addition to the posters, speeches, and other elements of protest, the NY Radical Women burned a trash can full of what they called "torture instruments." At the bottom of the makeshift fire pit were high-heels, fake eyelashes, copies of Playboy magazines, and the much detested bra. That spectacular historical moment was described by media as "the burning of bra.”
Although this symbolic victory happened in the sixties, the struggle began centuries ago with a young aristocrat. French queen Marie Antoinette was one of the first women of social relevance to remove the corset because she did not understand the need to subject herself to such a restraining piece of clothing. The history of this garment, which injured and deformed thousands of women’s bodies, is considered a direct vestige of the brasier.
In the eighteenth century the wire corset was an indispensable garment for women. Even pregnant women were expected to use one –with special modifications, of course– so they would not stoop. The corset mania extended to the point where even 8-year-old girls wore them to dress in gallant and tidy clothes. Marie Antoinette suffered this physical disgrace like all women of her time, with the unique difference that hers was constructed with whalebone. Because of the effect it created —high bust and narrow waist— visitors to her mother’s court, that of Maria Theresa I of Austria, commented on the magnificent posture of the princess, expected from a royal lady.
At an early age, Marie Antoinette didn't complain much about wearing a corset, but over the years she expressed her nonconformity more openly. Marrying Louis XIV freed her from her mother's pressure, so the new queen of France took off the despised garment, leaving her underwear exposed –which at the time was a long, light-weight nightdress. When Maria Theresa learned of the sacrilege committed by omitting the corset, she wrote a series of letters that reflect the retrograde mentality of society towards women:
"I am worried; I fear that, as they say in German, auseinandergehen, schon die Taille wie eine Frau, ohne es zu sein. Do not be influenced: that would not be proper of your age or class. The absence of corset shows impurity, negligence, and even general disregard.” In another letter, Maria Theresa proposes to make some Austrian corsets, which are not as "rigid as those in Paris.”
Leaving aside the scoldings and complaints of the royal family, the Enlightenment ideas began to spread throughout Europe, especially those of Jean Jacques Rousseau regarding human nature. It was then that women started to question the use of corsets and all those garments symbolizing oppression and a direct aggression toward femininity. Little by little, French women were more confident about discarding the garment when they learned that their queen was walking around the palace in underwear.
The burning of the bra had its antecedents in Marie Antoinette's contempt for the corset. She was also the queen of haute couture and fashion, although she left her people starving to death. As a result, French people started one of the most important revolutionary movements in history. So, in October 16, 1793, the queen was decapitated as a consequence of the way she wasted money to satisfy her outrageous whims.
Translated by Joseph Reiter