Sometimes A Bra Is Just A Bra

We all know that pundits say incredibly stupid things and none of the Villagers is more guilty of that than the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn. I never read her stuff, but her Dec. 29 column crossed my path somehow. And ugh, Quinn tried to embark on a modern feminist path but instead arrived at a destination so ridiculously provincial and trivial, I just had to share it.

She writes:

The blue bra. That’s what did it for me.

Yes, I know. There have been jillions of atrocities against women all over the world, many much worse than what happened to the young Egyptian woman who was beaten, stomped on and nearly stripped by the military during a demonstration. Aside from the sheer brutality, I think what got to me was that she was wearing this gorgeous, sexy bright blue bra. Under her abaya.

There was something so shocking about it, so unexpected. This person covered from head to toe demonstrated her beliefs through her choice of underwear. The blue bra said what I imagine her to be feeling: “I may be oppressed. I may not have rights. I may have to cover up my body and face. But you cannot destroy my womanhood. You can’t rob me of my femininity. You can’t take away my power.

Oh, puke.

First of all: no, the “blue bra” woman did not demonstrate her beliefs through her choice in underwear. She demonstrated her beliefs by protesting in the streets of Cairo. She paid for it by being savagely beaten by military police. She has become a symbol, but not because of the color of her bra.

Second of all: Really? You saw that picture and what got you was the fact that an Eqyptian woman was wearing a blue bra? What, did you think she had it smuggled in from France or something? I’m sorry, but when I saw that picture what got me was the vulnerability, not the bra. I saw a woman being attacked by police so viciously, her clothing had been torn off. I saw her being hauled off and thought, “that woman is about to be raped.” In fact, we don’t know what happened to her. But that was my takeaway from that image.

Maybe this is a generational thing but I don’t get my sense of empowerment from my underwear. And I’m pretty sure that photo would have been just as shocking if the woman in question were wearing a white bra. Or a sports bra.

You know what I think? I think what got Sally Quinn was the realization that beneath the head scarf was a Muslim woman who looked like any Western female. She was wearing blue jeans. Tennis shoes. And yes, a blue bra. She could have been any female being hauled away from any of the protests which have rocked the world lately: Occupy Wall Street or a demonstration in Washington, D.C. Or London, or Sydney, Australia. I think Sally Quinn expected women in Cairo to be different from the rest of us somehow, maybe wearing special Muslim underwear or something. Hey, these aren’t Mormons (sorry, cheap shot).

I mean seriously, don’t you people travel? Or at least watch travel shows on TV? Or, hey: try reading your own damn newspaper, Sally. Haven’t you seen photographs from around the Muslim world of women with plucked eyebrows and carefully applied eye makeup, lipstick and Chanel sunglasses? Some even dye their hair. It’s all very Western save the head scarf.

The truth of the matter is, people are pretty much the same everywhere. Sure, people like Rick Santorum and John McCain can say they’d bomb Iran but just remember in Tehran there are women who, beneath their hijab, are wearing blue bras and lace panties like the rest of us. Why wouldn’t they? And they love their children just as much as we love ours, and they worry about their kids getting an education and how mom is starting to get forgetful and how Dad maybe shouldn’t be allowed to drive anymore. They worry about gaining weight and have crushes on film stars and adore their pet cats and dogs like everyone else in the world. We’re all part of the same human family.

Yes, there are cultural differences. And yes, as the global economy undergoes a major transformation, the balance of power around the world is undergoing a transformation as well. The world doesn’t belong to America anymore, we’re sharing it with growing economies like China, India and Brazil. Changes have taken place and this means cultural change as well as economic change.

Quinn writes:

The great thing about it is that when women go into the workplace, or the public square, or anywhere else, the men are always going to wonder, does she have on the blue bra? Let the answer always be yes.

Um, no they are not. At least, men aren’t undressing women in their minds any differently than they ever have through the centuries. They’re going to wonder, “if the women are in the workplace or the public square they are asserting themselves in an arena that used to belong solely to men. Is this change good or bad?”

It’s not about the damn bra, Sally. Please, look beyond the superficialities.


Filed under feminism, Islam, Media

19 responses to “Sometimes A Bra Is Just A Bra

  1. Pookapooka

    Ermmm, isn’t the blueness photoshopped onto a black & white photo?

    • Good point, it looks like it was in this picture (except the jeans are blue too, and if you enlarge the soldiers are in green …). But I think it really was blue in other images, YouTube video, etc., hence this.

  2. Anya

    Oh, my God. Sally Quinn is an asshole. I resent that I share the same sex with that conniving shallow twit. What a waist of space.

    Thanks for highlighting this, Southern Beale. Great analysis.

  3. Well, girls, I must be years older than y’all. I remember Sally Quinn when, in the era of the Watergate saga, she was married to Ben Bradley, Editor and publisher of the WaPo…she met him as some kind of cub reporter…they married and she later wrote a book. The book was so insignificant I am sure she talked old Ben into letting her author it…but this falacy, this oxymoronic mess is not even good enough to be read out loud. The patriot who most likely was raped and killed was NOT trying to show off her undies. She had the courage, by her actions, not her attire, that she cared enough about her country and its people to march…and die…for it…thanks, SB…

    • Oh, I remember Sally Quinn from the Watergate era too. She was the social doyenne who somehow became a religion columnist? How’d that happen? She shouldn’t try being a feminist, it just doesn’t work.


  4. PurpleGirl

    I worked with a young Muslim woman who wore Moroccan style over-dresses. They were smart, made of beautiful fabrics and completely suited for a woman in business. I would gently tease her about the jeans I saw poking out under the dress. When she left the organization for a new job I made a pair of danglely earrings for her. I told her to wear them in good health and fun. Sally Quinn must live a closeted life if she doesn’t know any Muslim women who dress and use make-up like so much of the rest of womenkind

  5. Your post title says it all. Someone failing in an effort to be clever or profound or, in the alternative, just lazy and looking for an angle to generate the requisite column space to receive her stipend. Tragic topic so I don’t guess I should poke fun but… if she’s so enamored with undergarments maybe she can give us a few lines on Mitts.

  6. Ugh. This is so like Tom Friedman, trying to take one (often irrelevant) detail and force it to be symbolic of whatever fantasy is in their head.

  7. “… the men are always going to wonder, does she have on the blue bra? Let the answer always be yes.” No wonder the paper depends on income from Kaplan testing to survive. Maybe this will be on their tests as a multiple-choice question.
    Wait, Sally, you missed the secret code:
    turn “BRA” around, add another “A” and it spells “Arab.” She was signalling the world. Not sure what, though. I’ll have to read your column to find out.

  8. I’m sure that Maidenform, Fredericks of Hollywood and Victoria’s Secret are all working feverishly to be the first to market with the “Arab Spring Line” of perkily feminist but daringly, smolderingly sexual blueunides.

    I don’t know color the sky is in Quinn’s world or the color of her bra. I’m guessing that her tiara is a bit too snug.

  9. Hey, it’s not that Sally is stupid or moronic or naive, it’s that she thinks WE are. There is the pervasive undertone that we are so stupid that all we see in photographs is the sexual innuendo and not the action.

    I have a Muppet newsflash for Sally: we’re not nearly as dumb as you usually sound. Get over yourself. We have.

  10. chrome agnomen

    sally quinn look beyond superficialities?!! HAW. she IS superficiality personified.

  11. eei

    Thank-you, Southern Beale! I just moved back to North America after several years in Cairo, and since bright blue bras are sold right on the streets and in public markets there, I’m fairly sure it was no surprise to anyone except Sally Quinn that this woman was wearing one. This was another good response to her article that I came across:

    • First off – Thanks so much to the person who commented above and linked by article – second – I’m so glad to have read this for a few reasons – one is that we came to the same conclusion despite our different backgrounds – that Sally Quinn was looking at this through a myopic lens. The idiocy of imagining that the woman was thinking (while being attacked) that “You can put me down but I’ve still got my blue bra” is ludicrous. She was probably terrified. So much more to say but I said it in my post and you said it in yours….so glad to have found you!

  12. Deb Morris

    Excellent response to a half witted article/observation piece. I read the WashPo everyday and am embarrased that they continue to let Sally Quinn write and then print this nonsense.