Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bra bra oh la la: in which we discuss the oppression of brassieres

I was surprised to find that getting used to having hairy pits was probably one of the easiest "feminist" transitions I've yet to make (thus far. It's a jungle out there, and I'm still more like a prairie than a forest underneath my arms). It could be because the decision to stop shaving my pits has come so late in my development as a radfem that I'm more resilient to these shocks to the cultural system, but if there is one lifestyle modification I thought would be tough, it's being hairy. And it's really not that bad. Still, I haven't been ridiculed for it yet, so maybe I'm jumping the gun.

What I was not expecting was having such a hard time kicking the bra habit. At least, I wasn't expecting eliminating bras from my sartorial diet to be this difficult. For one thing, you can't really tell if people of my breast size are wearing a bra or not, unless the weather's chilly and/or you're wearing thin material. Secondarily, I expected that finally allowing myself to leave my home without a thing holding and shaping my breasts into the perfect, patriarchy-approved shape would be more liberating, or at least comfortable.

An incorrect assumption on my part. I learned instead that a lot of the ingrained attitudes about womyn's breasts had burrowed into my psyche more deeply than I'd previously figured.

what patriarchy?
But let me back up. There's nothing wrong with wearing bras, in my opinion, and for many womyn, they are necessary for providing physical support. My own personal boobie size, however, makes bras unnecessary for everything other than running, for which I have a tiny assortment of sports bras. The reason why it's taken me so long to forgo them in general is because of how uncomfortable I initially felt not wearing one while in public.

These were not "intrinsic" levels of comfort that weren't being met, but rather sociocultural ones. Without a bra on, I felt under-dressed, unprepared, exposed, unprofessional, sloppy, dirty, and, to be honest, sexualized (well, more sexualized than I was used to being). I was also very paranoid at first that if I didn't wear a bra every day my breasts would become "saggy," as many men have carefully mansplained to me over the years, speaking slowly and enunciating carefully to be sure I understood that if my breasts weren't perky for the entirety of my life I would not be fuckable and therefore devoid of any value.

So at first it was bad enough going about my day like without my standard titty crutch. Going to work, where I was paid to present an image of professionalism (and yes, for womyn, being "professional" means strapping down certain and always inherently sexual parts of your body and them molding and shaping them into looking as homogeneous as possible), was out of the question.

I began my current job shortly after the new year, and up until now, the weather has been cold enough that I can go braless and it won't matter one bit because during the winter months I layer myself with about two-thousand shirts, cardigans, jackets, and coats. I could have been wearing these every day and no one would have noticed. The weather is warming, however, and with summer comes a dilemma: continue doing as I have been and not wear a bra, thinness of my blouse or whatever be damned, or wear one out of "respect" for my very important job?

Part of my hesitation here is that I am not at all convinced that the HR director or whoever wouldn't pull me aside and ask me to cease and desist with this braless scheme because how could I expose myself like that?, in so many words. I just don't think I could handle the humiliation; it's bad enough to already be blamed, along with all of the other womyn in my office, for "distracting" dude employees with our unbridled sexuality and wild tresses and heaving bosoms and whatnot [NB: I don't really have any of these things, which makes it even more confusing].

Whenever a man explains to me (slowly and carefully, of course, with careful attention to enunciation rather than any input the vaginas in the room may have) that feminine hotness is distracting and must contained by those of us radiating it, I wonder why no one ever asked me about what I thought was sexily distracting. Is no one concerned that the dudes who look like chicks aren't covered up? Is no one bothered by me being titillated by broad-shouldered men or short-haired ladies? Why aren't dudes asked to change their clothing in any way, for the good of the office, of course? Does my boner not matter? I've come to the conclusion that, of course, that's it not about boners and never was. It's about control.

Which is why I'm still at my personal impasse. To bra or not? It would be funny if I just went without one and no one noticed or cared, but it would be significantly less humorous if I did and got noticed/chastised/reprimanded/asking to cover it up, for the sake of the children. I don't know what to do. What do you think?


  1. I think that, like it or not, offices require a certain type of dress. In an office setting, they ask you to wear certain clothing (suits, business casual, no sandals, etc) and a bra is one of those items. Is it controlling? Yes, probably. But, if you want to keep your job, you may have to comply. You don't have to wear one, of course, but the office sets the rules and not following them has consequences.

  2. I have two thoughts about this.

    First, people say that certain jobs require a person (you, in this case) to dress a certain way.

    Grammatically, I don't think that makes sense. A job, a position, an office, a career - none of these things have a will of their own. None of these things set rules that you must follow.

    It is more accurate to say that people with the ability to make you unemployed require you to dress a certain way. They have 100% of the power in this case.

    The question then is whether you're okay with that or not. It's a tough question because on the one hand you want to keep your job, on the other hand you don't agree that any person should have the power to tell another person how they must dress, or have the power to pull them aside at work and make them feel ashamed for how they choose to dress.

    My second thought is that there must be some professional-feminist style, and if there's not, you could always make it up as you go along.