I have to admit that I never burned my bra, not even back in 1968 when early radical feminists staged a protest demonstration at the Miss America contest in Atlantic City. It turns out that nobody else did, either, at that or any other major demonstration. They did toss bras, girdles, nylons and other articles of constricting clothing into trash cans, but there was no burning involved. One of the organizers is quoted as mentioning “symbolic bra-burning,” but there’s no documentation, photographic or otherwise, of any burning bras, and with the heavy media coverage of the event reporters would certainly have noticed any actual fire. I’d be surprised if no adventurous girls ever tried it in imitation of what some mythical reports said had happened, but if they did, it doesn’t seem to have been documented by anyone.
The “bra-burner” mythology was generally attributed to a sensationalist male-dominated press’s determination to trivialize the feminist movement, but the Snopes fact-finding web site found that in 1992 a young female reporter for the Washington Post (later a contributing editor to MS. magazine) admitted to having tried to compare burning bras to young men burning their draft cards, in the vain hope of having the women’s liberation protests taken as seriously as the Vietnam War protests. Instead, “bra burning” became fodder for comedy and disdain.
So, no actual bra burning. What many young women did do to feel revolutionary was decide not to wear bras at all, somewhat to the puzzlement of women of their grandmothers’ generation who thought they had been modern and radical in adopting those new-fangled bras in the first place.
I was of the age and inclination in the late sixties and early seventies to declare my adherence to the cause of women’s liberation by going braless. Not being particularly dramatically endowed in the frontal department, it didn’t make a whole lot of difference what I wore, but I was comfortable, and living in a college town where plenty of girls were doing likewise. By the mid-seventies, however, I needed to wear a nursing bra until my second child was weaned, and after that I never felt comfortable without a bra’s support. TMI, I know.
What, I wonder, made bras the focus of the “burning” myth? Mere alliteration? "Burning girdles" was too much of a tongue-twister? Actually, I don’t wonder. Our culture is more obsessed than most with women’s breasts, whether braless or crammed into structured garments intended to uplift, enhance, and shape them. Women going “topless” in public are considered outrageous and, in most areas, are breaking the law. To be fair, they’d be breaking the law by going bottomless, too, but so would men, so it’s the ban on exposing female breasts that challenges equality. These days, though, the ban seems to have focused mostly on the nipples. If the nipples are covered, you can get away with showing just about everything else. Is this because the nipples are the most sensitive areas? So are men’s, but those are acceptable anywhere, and it’s the rare romance novel that doesn’t feature a buff and burnished male torso complete with implausibly taut abs and unabashed nipples backed by implausibly robust pectorals. If the cover shows women at all, they’re garbed in either wispy drapery or elegant gowns, which may show most of the breast, but not the nipple. And not a trace of a bra.
In any case, breasts, and bras, are arguably our dominant markers of binary sex. Women wear bras, men don’t need to. For people with female bodies and masculine-of-center gender identities, this makes the question of bras tough, even painful. This is where binders to flatten the breasts come in. Binders are far from new, having been common for women in various cultures and eras, but they seem new these days as a means of avoiding presenting as female if you don’t feel entirely female. They send a message, a more complex and nuanced one than bras do when it comes to erotic relationships.
See? I finally got around to erotica. Just settle down, loosen your bra or binder (or somebody else’s) and, I hope, enjoy this excerpt from my story “Carved in Stone” from the little-known anthology “Desire Behind Bars: Lesbian Prison Erotica.” The characters are Yevgeniya, a Russian Olympic medalist in wrestling, and Alex, a stone carver, both in prison and on yardwork duty. (It helps if you’re familiar with Andrew Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress.”)
In the back, Yev bolted the connecting door and resumed pacing while I dutifully chipped away at rust and filed dull edges. A paint-streaked tarpaulin heaped in a corner caught my eye. I filed it in my mind for future reference.
“You look like a caged lioness,” I said after a while. “That marble mantelpiece I told you about had a lioness crouched above the poem, looking ready to spring.” If she didn’t spring pretty damned soon, I would. The thunder grew ever louder, heightening the sense of urgency.
Yev didn’t spring, exactly, just took one long stride. “So, you like your pleasures with rough strife?” Her growl vibrated into my ear, no distance at all between us now, bodies moving against each other slowly to savor the rising heat of friction. Her arms wrapped around me, mine around her, grasping each other’s butts, pressing into each other—but I raised my hands and bent my torso back just enough to yank my shirt off first. I hadn’t bothered with an undershirt.
“Nothing up my sleeves!” I gasped. “But you’d better make sure I’m not hiding anything down below.”
Instead of pulling my pants down, she tightened her grip, lifted me off my feet, and shoved me up against the locked door. Her knee came up between my legs, supporting my weight, while she gripped and squeezed and probed every inch of my hips and thighs. Visions of magnificent bruises flitted briefly though my head, vanishing in the urgent need to feel more of her. I rode her knee, bent my head to bite along her shoulder through her shirt, then lower, respecting her binder, yet coming back again and again to leave damp spots with my tongue where I knew her nipples were swelling into soreness.
When, for balance, I had to grab Yev’s shoulders, her own mouth got busy with my breasts, telegraphing more and more wild need into my cunt, until I pushed off, landed on my feet, and got my fingers inside her waistband. “Fuck rough strife!” I panted. “Just...just fuck!”
Yev was panting too, and maybe swearing—some of it was in Russian, some didn’t sound like words at all. With a twist of my body that she could easily have countered, but didn’t, I got her to the tarp and we dropped down onto it, rolling over and over each other for the sheer joy of it. Knees, hands, mouths pressed into whatever warm hollows they found until the need for more focused intensity overwhelmed us.
Yev pulled my pants down and off with expert speed while I was still fumbling with hers. I gave up the attempt, lay back, and let myself be swept along by her mouth working hard at my clit and her big fingers demanding more and more space inside me. My hips arched upward for even deeper penetration. I clutched at her short hair, trying to tug her head down harder against me, but she refused to be forced past the point where her tongue could move freely. She kept my desperate need mounting and swelling until my screams of frustration surged into incoherent cries of pleasure. Only in the afterglow did I realize that the full force of the storm had just passed over us, and Yev had perfectly orchestrated my climax to match the fiercest blasts of thunder.
When I had enough breath, and some control of my body, I rolled on top of her, streaking her bare thighs with my wetness as I slid between her legs. I couldn’t remember how her pants had come off, and didn’t care as long as I could get into her musky heat to torment her for at least as long as she had done it to me.
But Yev wouldn’t let me get away with that. Her powerful scent and taste demanded more than teasing licks and the hands pressing my head hard against her were too strong to resist. I managed to make room for my own hand to work deeply into her heat, and set up a pounding rhythm of thrusts.
Sounds more growls than moans rumbled from Yev’s throat. Her walls clenched harder and harder around my fingers, her strong thighs gripped me until it hurt and her hips bucked so fiercely that I had to brace myself to stay with her. I managed to hang on, not easing up, riding her peak as growls became one long, rising howl, then descended gradually through harsh gasps to mere panting. By that time my head was pillowed on her belly, rising and falling with every deep breath. When I couldn’t resist any longer and moved my lips across her sweaty skin, over her binder, and up into the hollow of her throat, I felt as well as heard the words she muttered low in Russian, then English.
“So long...such a long damned time...”
I knew exactly what she meant. It had been a long time since I too had opened up to sex this intense. And it wasn’t over yet. With very little rest we worked each other into another burst of glorious spasms, and then, taking my time, I stroked and nibbled and licked her to yet another, only slightly more gentle. The sounds she made were enough to give me aftershocks.
We lay there, nearly comatose, until I said, “We’ve missed count. How screwed are we?”
“Maybe a lot, maybe a little. So what?” She was quiet then for so long that I thought she was asleep, until she opened her eyes and grinned at me, more wolf than lion now. A supremely satisfied wolf. “You have not quite managed to kill me yet, although you came close! I have decided what you must carve on my tombstone, just in case. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, now there’s a poet!” The lines she recited in Russian meant nothing to me, though the resonance of her voice stirred both my mind and body. Then she translated, stumbling over a word or two:
“Sorrow happens. Hardship happens. The hell with it, who never knew the price of happiness, will not be happy.”
“Carve it in Russian,” she said cheerfully. “There are better words for everything in Russian.”