An advertisement on the eve of the Women’s day – offering special discount on branded bras – made me rethink the role of a garment, usually considered a compulsion for every adult woman. (The word adult has no meaning in our region when it comes to women. That implies on every girl they feel have ‘grown up’.) Women’s day and bras? I found that very contradictory. But what can you expect from the advertisements after all?
If you ever visit the old bazaars of Lahore, you would find hundreds of multi colored brassieres, hanging bizarrely, in the narrow streets and on the main roads. Yes, they are to be sold but this open nasty exhibition unfolds many aspects related to gender oppression in our society.
It is similar to manufacture shackles in different colors and exhibit them publicly, apart from using them to torture the public!
Bra is certainly the most socially accepted patriarchal thing ever. It is not only a commodity that objectifies women but has also been glorified to an extent where it becomes a sexual object itself. In today’s world, the role of bra has extended – from a garment to cover your body part– to something that excites men and makes your body part more desirable. This has resulted in the sexualization of a non-sexual body part.
In the phallic culture we live in, there’s an ancient desire of an ‘ideal woman’, a woman who is so ‘perfect’ in fulfilling man’s sexual needs. Thus the whole existence of women has been confined to their sexual role. Bras serve as a tool to represent that desire of a ‘perfect body’. They give an illusion of that hard, ‘well-shaped’ and pointy look, that is considered essential in a phallic society. A braless woman certainly eliminates that illusion and deobjectifies herself. Therefore, she is being opposed and seen as ‘immoral’.
Feminist author Iris Young writes, ‘Without a bra, women's breasts are not consistently shaped objects but change as the woman moves, reflecting the natural body. Unbound breasts mock the ideal of the perfect breast.”
According to a research study, bra-wearing is also associated with breast cancer. Bras exert enough pressure to the body part, to inhibit the flow of lymph, which then causes toxins and other waste material to remain in the chest. If bra-wearing is that oppressive and unhealthy, than why do women wear them?
There are various reasons for that, depending upon the different cultural and social norms. Women are usually made to believe that breasts are some indecent or dirty body part, something to be ashamed of, so they cover them as a continuation of those ‘moral values’. Is morality really dependent upon your under garments?
Girls are taught to wear training-bras during their teenage. This is the worst way to sexualize child girls. They develop a fear about self-image and get really conscious about the development of their body because the society wants them to fulfill the stereotypes of beauty. For women, who have been wearing bras since that age, it is difficult to get rid of them. They feel there’s something disgusting about breasts that aren’t bound. This irrational idea that a certain body part must be bounded to stay ‘normal’ is similar to some old tribal traditions of binding women’s feet in order to beautify them. To fight that psychological bondage, they would have to realize that there’s nothing abnormal in having breasts. They are just fatty protrusions to nourish infants!
I asked my ex-teacher Nabiha Meher Sheikh, an academic and feminist activist, her opinion on this. “Bras are VERY uncomfortable. One gets used to them, but still- they're not comfortable,” she said, “So why do I, Nabiha, the hard core feminist bother? Simply because I was raised in the age of the beauty myth, an age where I was taught by society to hate my big body. I'm unable to reject the bra simply because of this indoctrination.”
Even some tendencies in the feminist framework seem so anti-feminist in this regard. The opposition of bra-wearing is not public nudity of women. That makes the situation more “sexual” rather than countering the cliches about sex. Sadly, we live in a world where women’s sexual liberation is usually messed with being sexually more ‘available’ to men. Oxymorons like ‘Sex Positive Feminism’ reflect the liberal myth of women’s ‘sexual freedom’ as the foremost form of their liberation. That ‘freedom’ includes pornography, sex work, BDSM and other forms of gender oppression, considered to be women’s sexual expression.
This concept is the modernized version of an ancient patriarchal desire to confine women’s role to sexuality and to negate their actual freedom that begins only when sexuality loses its exclusive importance in an individual’s life bringing an end to the sexual objectification This freedom can never be achieved in the presence of the patriarchal social norms and class division.
There’s a radical myth about the second wavers who burned their bras in the 1960s. They probably never did that. But it is the time for women to rise and break every chain of exploitation and burn every symbol of oppression, including bras!