When young female students are asked to take off their bras before entering a medical examination for security reasons, you are reminded of the fact that when it comes to patriarchy, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
A woman’s body is her own. And yet this act of forcibly being made to undress is somehow considered okay for reasons of “security”. And if it is a person in authority who is asking for the undressing.
What does it then mean to be strip-searched? What rights does the female prisoner have? Can the State force its citizens to reveal themselves to strangers? And invade their privacy in “public” interest?
Is the core issue in the un-hooking of the bra then “consent” or/and “intent”? Or is it about private acts versus public? Is it about privacy versus the public good? At the end of a long day, un-hooking the bra can be the most freeing thing. One of the great joys of working from home has been freedom from bra-wearing.
But this is a private act, an act of agency. A woman takes off her bra when and where she wants, BECAUSE SHE wants to. Or she may let someone else do it, as an expression of intimacy. But she decides.
Though the bra is a vast improvement over the corset, it still continues to be a garment of “tight control”, one that patriarchy wants to exert on our bodies.
Women should “contain” their bodies, their desires, their sexual energy. Women should always be on a bit of a leash, just slightly tight around the chest. Women’s bodies must conform. Too big is not good. Too flat is not good. And of course, sagging is a complete no-no! And the shape too, it must be regulated. The contours must work for what makes society feel at ease. And must somehow please the male gaze.
But wearing the bra can also be a rebellion. The red strap peeking through, going black lace and purple satin when the world expects you to be in cotton whites and lycra nudes. Or going plain Jane and sports like, when the world expects underwired and decorative. It boils down to choice.
The bra is also a chronicler of a woman’s journey. As puberty dawns, there is awkwardness. The loss of innocence, pain of growing up, lure of the teenage world. A bra is a jumble of many such feelings.
Once you hit adulthood, you reach a size and you think you have arrived. The bra may represent people desired, intimacies expressed, a feeling of owning the feminine, a connection with one’s body. But more often, feeling like you’re not enough. Like your body doesn’t conform.
But life carries on, and we carry our broken hearts and dreams, successes and triumphs. There is a new knowingness to life.
Some women give birth to children and their bodies change. Some women don’t do any such thing and their bodies change. Some work themselves too hard.
Some bodies don’t change. But our relationship with our bodies keeps evolving. Sometimes we feel the mirror lies, sometimes we lie to the mirror, sometimes we break the mirror, sometimes it makes us dance with abandon.
And then the years go by. Menopause brings with it, its own journey. And the bra may take on a different role. Sometimes holding us up, sometimes disappearing when breathing space is what we need, and sometimes just being there — solid and sturdy. The bra is definitely a keeper of secrets, of memories and stories, and of pain and joy.
But if society did not ordain it, would we still wear it? If the world order was designed by women, maybe not. I, for one, can’t wait for a post-bra world. I’m happy to “burn the bra” at the stake.
The crux of the bra matter, just like all things female body, is CHOICE. Choice, consent, agency. That is freedom.
The writer is a screenwriter, director and producer