A short story by Haruki Murakami, from the book Murakami Radio.
You can think of a novelist as a person who specializes in the strange (and the useless). Every now and then I’ll obsess over some little quirk about the world.
Back around 1970 the Women’s Liberation movement was in full swing and some women burned their bras to send a message about setting women free from traditional restrictions. Did you know about that? A big group of fervent supporters would gather outside where they’d light a big bonfire and then one by one throw their bras into the fire. “These kinds of restrictions placed on women by society are unacceptable!” the women were saying. Reporters took photos of these events and they got a lot of press coverage.
I’m totally behind the message. I’m a guy so I can’t really say how physically restrictive bras are or understand how it feels to wear one, but if you want to burn your bra you should burn your bra. It would be unreasonable for me to argue against it.
The part I couldn’t stop wondering about was whether these were new bras straight out of the package or used bras that had seen some use. It didn’t keep me up at night, but if felt like a question mark stuck somewhere on my back just out of my reach. Not a single newspaper article covered this little detail. I couldn’t discover the truth. Surely, I thought, these must be used bras. It would be such a waste to buy a new one just to burn it, and that’s not something the women I know would do.
But then I feel sorry for the bras. The bras were just trying to do their job, and then all of a sudden they’re ripped from their drawers, vilified as if they hadn’t been trying to help, denied their whole reason for existence, and then cast into the fire in front of a crowd of onlookers. I feel pity for the fate of the bras even though we have so little in common.
One other thing I don’t get: why’d they burn their bras but not their girdles? If bras are that restrictive then girdles must be equally bad, if not more so. But they didn’t burn girdles, or high heels, or mascara. It was only bras in the fire. Perhaps it was fate that led bras to be viewed as the symbol of historical inequality just as Dr. Zhivago was fated to go down that dark hallway. I never want to become just the symbol for anything.
So here I am, 30 years later, thinking about the bras that were burned in the Women’s Liberation movement. I think I have too much free time.