In the Washington Post, a few days ago, Petula Dvorak wrote that next week’s Women’s March on Washington won’t be taken seriously unless we step away from “well-intentioned, she-power frippery” like the pink pussycat hats.
While she has a point that we need to focus on the serious issues, she misses the fact that we can be as serious as she wants and still not be taken seriously, simply because we’re women. Hillary Clinton was nothing if not serious during her campaign. She put out reams of policy documents, and she discussed the issues in nuanced detail. The whole time, she was criticized for not being warm enough or likable enough. There is no appropriate level of seriousness where a woman will be both likable and respected. It just doesn’t exist.
Women aren’t demeaned and brushed aside because of pink hats or signs with glitter. Things that are pink and sparkly are viewed as trivial and infantile *because* they’re associated with women. Look at the snarky comments about Teen Vogue and the absolute shock that people who write about fashion and celebrities for teenage girls might also know a thing or two about politics.
Also, matching hats have been kind of a thing in the last election. Funny, I don’t recall anyone criticizing Trump supporters’ “Make America Great Again” baseball caps as insufficiently serious, even though no one could point to what they meant by great or what period of greatness they wanted to go back to. There’s nothing inherently more serious about a red baseball cap than a pink knit hat with ears, except that one is coded as masculine and one is coded as feminine.
For that matter, Dvorak alludes to the fact that feminists will be criticized no matter what we do or don’t do when she mentions bra burning.
Bra burning. That’s the trope that folks have been using to dismiss feminists for nearly half a century.
In fact, no bra was burned at Miss America protests in 1968 and 1969. Feminists threw false eyelashes, mops, pans, Playboy magazines, girdles, bras and other symbolic “instruments of female torture” into a trash can. But the Atlantic City municipal code didn’t allow them to set it on fire.
Yet because the idea of a burning bra was so lurid, it eclipsed the fact that in the 1960s, women couldn’t get a credit card without a husband’s signature, couldn’t serve on juries in all 50 states, weren’t allowed to study at some of the nation’s Ivy League schools, couldn’t get a prescription for birth control pills if they were unmarried, were paid 59 cents for every dollar that men earned and could easily be fired from a job if they got pregnant. Among other outrages.
Because of this stunt, she argues, feminists were painted as foolish and extreme, and attention was drawn away from the serious issues they were fighting to address. But, as she points out, no bras were ever burned. That didn’t stop bra-burning from being a go-to insult against feminists. If anti-feminists need excuses to dismiss us, and the impossible double standards of sexism don’t provide them with one, they’ll just make one up.