Choice Feminism and the Bra Wars

To wear a bra, or not to wear a bra – that is the question most don’t bother asking. So, I was rather intrigued by a thread on Mumsnet asking if women really do take their bras off as soon as they get home. It should have been one of those threads which are silly, funny and celebrating the differences amongst us. Instead, literally the second post was a rather dismissive: “surely no one takes their bra off as soon as they get home. If they do, they must be wearing the wrong bra size.” This was followed by a series of equally patronising responses suggesting that women who only wear bras when absolutely necessary must simply be too dim to understand that their bra doesn’t fit properly.

Now, it’s quite possible that many of the women were wearing badly fitting bras; just as likely as those who wear them constantly are wearing ill fitting one. I stopped reading rather quickly but I didn’t see any comments pointing out that getting a bra sized properly costs money. It’s not a service that Primark offers and many women can’t afford to spend £20 on a bra from Marks & Spencers or Debenhams, never mind the more expensive brands. Some women don’t even live anywhere near a store that offers proper fittings. Some women can’t even afford the cost of bus fair to travel to a store which offers proper fittings, never mind find £20 to buy a bra. Obviously, they could measure themselves but that would mean knowing the best places to get advice on bra fittings. Oddly, this isn’t always on women’s to do list. It ignores those cute little issues of disablism which prevent women from accessing service or even systemic racism which results in non-White women being trailed around department stores by security guards racially profiling them as shoplifters (and, around here at least, anyone wearing a track suit).

Granted, in the scheme of feminist thought, bras aren’t always high on anyone’s list of priorities. Certainly, coverage of the prison book ban rarely mentioned women not getting access to clean bras or knickers either. I never actually thought about it until it was pointed out by a friend who works with girls exploited by gangs.

Bras are just one of those silly things that you can spend a few minutes chatting about. At the same time, the discussion of bras on Mumsnet was a pretty basic model of why “choice feminism” is actually an anti-feminist position because it starts from the position that all women are equal and have equal access to resources, eduction and services. It erases the multiple structural barriers that restrict the ‘choices’ women can make. The implication being that women who remove their bras as soon as they walk in the front door must be wearing an ill-fitting bra through a somewhat unfortunate tendency to dimness. It ignores the very basic issues like access to money to buy a bra.

It also ignores the idea that some women don’t want to wear a bra. And, that it’s totally okay to not like wearing bras. It’s not okay to prevented from making the choice to wear or not wear a bra that may or may not fit properly but that it’s totally ok to be a little bit different.

If your first instinct to a discussion on whether or not women wear bras is to suggest that those who don’t are doing it wrong, well, I’d suggest the problem isn’t really with the bra-refuser.

 

UPDATE: This comment is posted below but it’s a really important critique of my post that I’m including it here so no one misses it (and thank you Kate):

Actually it misses even more than just who can afford a well-fitting bra. It misses can you afford to share your home only with those who you can comfortably walk about bra-less in front of. Or do you have lodgers, etc? It misses are you comfortable without a bra? It misses do you have a schedule that it fixed enough to know you won’t have to up and leave at a moment’s notice. It misses how you’ve been made to feel about your bra-less breasts growing up. Whether you’re embarrassed or ashamed. Whether they get sweaty underneath. Whether your own family might ridicule you for the way they look bra-less. I’m quite large and (1) I hate them out of a bra and feel self conscious if anyone can see the shape of them and (2) find bra’s (even expensive professionally fitted ones) uncomfortable. I compromise with pyjamas with a soft support top in and changing bras regularly. Even just writing this makes me think about them and hate them and feel sad though.

3 thoughts on “Choice Feminism and the Bra Wars

  1. Actually it misses even more than just who can afford a well-fitting bra. It misses can you afford to share your home only with those who you can comfortably walk about bra-less in front of. Or do you have lodgers, etc? It misses are you comfortable without a bra? It misses do you have a schedule that it fixed enough to know you won’t have to up and leave at a moment’s notice. It misses how you’ve been made to feel about your bra-less breasts growing up. Whether you’re embarrassed or ashamed. Whether they get sweaty underneath. Whether your own family might ridicule you for the way they look bra-less. I’m quite large and (1) I hate them out of a bra and feel self conscious if anyone can see the shape of them and (2) find bra’s (even expensive professionally fitted ones) uncomfortable. I compromise with pyjamas with a soft support top in and changing bras regularly. Even just writing this makes me think about them and hate them and feel sad though.

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