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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Bra Revolution

In the 1960s,feminist icon Germaine Greer decreed: “Bras are a ludicrous invention”,making them a target of feminist activism.

Written by Namrata Zakaria | Published: January 1, 2012 12:55:18 am

In the 1960s,feminist icon Germaine Greer decreed: “Bras are a ludicrous invention”,making them a target of feminist activism.

In 1968,the first and notorious protest against a beauty pageant took place,the Miss America in the US,where around 400 women gathered outside the venue and placed bras,false eyelashes,hairspray and even high-heeled shoes in a ‘Freedom Trash Can’ and set it on fire. This became the first of the legendary Burn the Bra movement.

Eventually,burning bras became to be understood as a radical form of feminism where amorality and sexual liberation were the same. And bras,thank God for La Perla,would soon come to be a multi-billion industry dominated by large multinationals as they are today.

Strangely,the history of the bra is entwined with the social status of women of the time. This month,Saudi Arabia finds itself at the epicentre of a new kind of Arab Spring. It has just allowed its women to sell lingerie.

Saudi Arabia,which houses the holiest Islamic city,Mecca,is a kingdom that underlines modesty,propriety and gender segregation to the point of caricature. But until this month,women — covered head-to-toe in black,faces veiled and always accompanied by an unwilling and embarrassed male relative — were forced to buy lingerie from salesmen,absolute strangers.

Religious hardliners opposed the idea of men and women coming together socially or professionally,especially in malls. So even though there are qualified and trained women doctors and professors,retail is a field that has been so far kept away from them.

Then,in 2006,a law was passed banning men from working in women’s clothing and makeup stores but it had never been put into effect. Not until good old Facebook,the magical playground for all soapbox activism,came into effective use. Reem Asaad,a fashion loving banking professor from Jeddah,started an online campaign banning women from shopping at

lingerie stores that didn’t employ women. It would eventually force King Abdullah to take note and enforce the law. The king is now a hero to his country’s women besides being an unwitting face to this lingerie revolution.

While it may seem contradictory at first— why must only a woman sell lingerie to another woman?— the issue is actually a first step in generating employment for women in retail. Women here are also not permitted to drive cars and have to be accompanied by a male relative. Several women have acquired driving licenses from other countries and Saudi liberals hope this decree is dropped soon.

In a way,the humble undergarment is now bringing a proud liberation to women in Saudi Arabia.

India has never been known as the land of the bra: look at any of our ancient monuments,the womenfolk were barely bloused,let alone allowed decent underwear. But there are historical records of bras during King Harshavardhan’s rule in the 1st century. Sewn bras and blouses were quite the fashion of the day during the days of Vijayanagar empire. Rajasthani cholis made room for the bosom with a string tie-up as a support mechanism.

Today,our relationship with the bra is still confused. On one hand,our retail stores really push the nausea-inducing pink,polka-dotted and push-ups. On the other,many rustic young girls have the privilege of just one or two ill-fitting bras hand-sewn by their mothers. And boy,didn’t Vidya Balan use her décolletage to such an incredulous measure?

The innerwear staple is now enjoying its moment under the sun.

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