September 7th, 1968, Miss America’s pageant and according to Carol Hanisch “the way to bring the fledgling Women’s Liberation Movement into the public arena.” See, pageants were a bold display of blatant misogynistic outlooks on women and beauty so what better way to tell America that women would no longer succumb to this misogyny than gathering at Atlantic city boardwalk on the day of the pageant to protest.
This protest was about rebuking the objects in a women’s life that defined their oppression. So hoards of feminists took to the streets and made the focal point of this protest the ‘Freedom Trash Can’. This Trash Can’s objective was to metaphorically liberate women as they threw into it everything they believed to control, oppress and sexualise women, from playboy magazines to heels to eyelash curlers and the one that’s most recognised today… Bras.
And then the media started to report on it, according to them hundreds of radical women had gathered outside this pageant and lit a trash can full of bras on fire. These ‘Bra Burners’, as they were labeled by the media, not only had no regard for people’s safety but were quite frankly embarrassing themselves with their actions. They had lit a trash can full of bra’s on fire… well that’s what the media wanted the public to believe. Because this didn’t actually happen, contrary to popular belief, no bra’s or playboy magazines or heels, were actually set on fire. But it didn’t matter, because already people began to look at these women differently, as more dangerous, and loud, and quite simply radical.
This event in history is built on a foundation of a myth, used to belittle the event and draw attention away from the impact it had at the time. But it didn’t just affect women during the 1960s, it went on to negatively alter the perception of third-wave feminists and even impacted the way many of us look at feminists today. Inadvertently, creating what society today would call a Feminazi, a term coined by Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s
Feminazi, which is literally defined as “a radical feminist” but is much more widely recognised and used to insult feminists. It is used to silence and undervalue feminist movements and more. You call someone out on twitter for a sexist tweet, you’re a Feminazi. You correctly identify catcalling as harassment, you’re a Feminazi. You call out men on inappropriate behavior towards women- Feminazi.
And this has got to stop, the damaging nature of this word normalizes insulting women for acknowledging and speaking out on situations they are not comfortable with. Not only that, but with this word that’s built on a foundation of misinformation and lies it makes it seem as though staying silent is the better option, as opposed to alternatively speaking out and being met with a barrage of insults.
The second wave drew to a close as this new image of feminists being lonely women who were angry at the world and hated all men began to fester. It left a bitter taste in the public’s mind and third wavers had no choice but to begin their journey based on an impression the second wavers didn’t actually leave. However, it’s impossible not to commend the Bra Burners of Atlanta City if you will, they saw an issue and boldly confronted it in a way that I deem to be truly iconic.