The blue bra revolution

  Amr Nabil AP An Egyptian woman raises a copy of Al Tahrir newspaper fronted by a picture showing half … Continued


Amr Nabil


An Egyptian woman raises a copy of Al Tahrir newspaper fronted by a picture showing half naked woman protester beaten by army soldiers as hundreds of Egyptian women march at Cairo streets angered by the recent violence used against them during clashes between police and protesters in Cairo, Egypt Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011.

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.”

That blue bra, to me, was the ultimate symbol of women’s power, the one thing that threatens men above all. It makes them so crazy that over the centuries they have encoded it into their religions that women are kept down and denied the same freedoms that men have. There are very few religions where women have not been oppressed.

Men know that women’s sexuality is something they cannot live without; it is something that renders them powerless. Women can have babies, women can breastfeed, women are the lifegivers. The blue bra is a bold statement of that.

The blue bra resonated with demonstrators in Egypt. Some have replaced the eagle in the center of the Egyptian flag with a blue bra. When the incident incited a protest by women two weeks ago, the hashtag #BlueBra was used on Twitter to help organize it. More and more there are blue bra moments, not just in Egypt but around the world.

A young woman in Egypt who was given a “virginity test” when she was arrested last March has courageously filed a criminal case against the military. This week the Egyptian court banned virginity tests in jail. That woman should wear a blue bra.

A woman is running for president of Egypt. She should wear a blue bra.

In Israel there have been protests after a young woman was asked to sit in the back of the bus in an ultra-orthodox neighborhood. She refused and has become a heroine among moderate Israelis. She should wear a blue bra.

In the United States, a report out this week says that the number of sexual assaults in the military academies rose from 41 last year to 65 this year. All women in the service academies should wear blue bras.

In Iran, women can be arrested if they are not totally covered. Even President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeing the writing on the wall, is trying to promote attractive government-approved fashions for women. “Again we face a situation in which a small group will decide for all women what is allowed and what is not,” one Egyptian designer told The Washington Post. Iranian women should all wear blue bras.

The Egyptian woman in the blue bra has not come forward. She has been criticized for protesting in public and for not wearing more clothes under her abaya. (She was also wearing jeans.)

“60 Minutes” aired a piece last Sunday about Mount Athos in Greece, the peninsula that houses so many Greek Orthodox monasteries. No woman has been allowed on Mount Athos for over a thousand years. Only male tourists can visit. Why? Because, as one Orthodox monk explains, women are a distraction. Isn’t it time a woman, impersonating a man, slipped in among the male tourists … wearing a blue bra?

In a brilliant new book, “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity,” author Cynthia Bourgeault argues that Mary Magdalene may well have been Jesus Christ’s lover, life companion, “soulmate” and first among apostles. This despite the fact that the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church for almost 1400 years was that she was a prostitute. That was finally rejected by the Vatican in 1969. “A powerful and faithful apostle is transformed into a repentant whore,” writes Bourgeault. “There is certainly more than a fair share of misogyny and slander.”

In the Gospel of Mary, in a dialogue where she is represented by “The Soul,” Mary responds to criticism from Peter: “You never truly saw nor knew me. You took the garments that I wore to be me, but you never recognized my true self.”

This plaintive cry for recognition could well be echoed by billions of women across the globe, many of them completely hidden under their garments. “You never recognized my true self.”

If only Mary Magdalene had had the blue bra.

It’s time for all women to own the blue bra, either a real one or one of the spirit. Let’s not allow that young woman in Egypt to have been beaten, stripped and exposed in vain. Let us make her humiliation our triumph.

A very successful friend of mine, who is often the only woman on the many medical boards she serves on, comments that everyone, herself included, wears dark suits to work, but she knows that underneath she’s also wearing pastel lace underwear. “It always gives me such a feeling of confidence and power.”

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.

Sally Quinn
Written by

  • Carstonio

    Quinn writes that “men understand that women’s sexuality is something that they cannot live without, it is something that renders them powerless.” Not quite. That’s too much like the rationalizations made by sexual harassers, who would like us to believe that they just can’t help themselves. Quinn mentions women’s ability to bear children, and I think that is the real issue. The sexist teachings in so many religions focus on female sexuality, where the effect if followed is to prevent wives from bearing other men’s children. It’s very likely that this was the purpose at the outset, a mentality that treats wives and their wombs as their husbands’ property. But Quinn is right about the symbolism of the blue bra – ultimately a woman’s body is her property, not a man’s and not society’s either.

  • Sajida

    Dear Ms Quinn,

    You write:

    “This person covered from head to toe demonstrated her beliefs in her choice of underwear. The blue bra said it all: “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.””

    Why are you falsely implying that this lady was being FORCED to wear an abaya and she was not doing so out of CHOICE? Have you no knowledge of Egypt whatsoever? This is Egypt we are talking about not Iran or Saudi Arabia. You seriously need to be better informed about religious freedom in Egypt.

    This woman was demonstrating for political freedom and social justice NOT freedom to dress how she wishes because she is forced to dress in a particular manner. How many women have you come across in Tahrir Square complaining that they are forced to wear hijab, or abyah or a niqaab?

    Should you not be writing about the disgusting role that the US government is playing in supporting the Egyptian military and being responsible for the plight of demonstrators such as this woman? Should you not enlighten your readers about the continued $1.3billion of US military aid to the Egyptian military who is suppressing political freedom? Should you not be writing about the US ammunition and US made tear gas being used on protestors such as this woman?

  • WmarkW

    Sally’s piece on Tim Tebow got trashed so badly, she wrote a significant column this time.

  • wgscribe

    Cute and inspiring in its way, but you could have made your point without bringing in Mary Magdeline. I’m not Catholic, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the NT can see that she is not a “lover,” soul mate, life companion or top apostle of Jesus. She washed his feet and dried them with her hair, because she was overwhlemed by the forgiveness of God through grace. Her undergarnents (no matter what color) would have forever more been taken off soley by her.

  • connimd

    worth reading for ALL!

  • lilly41

    Another excellent article, Sally.

  • dylores

    When men finally evolve en mass to the realization that they, alone, are responsible for their thoughts and resulting emotional reactions, then maybe women can finally live unvilified. You’d expect a bit more enlightenment from Greek monastics.

  • catatonicjones

    Maternity is a matter of fact, paternity is a matter of opinion. At least it was until Jerry Springer got involved.
    What’s the most confusing day in the ghetto? Father’s day.

    Have you never heard any of these jokes? As long as women put up with this religious crap they’re going to be their own victims. By far, women support these religions far more than men do. Men are taking advantage of the situation, just as women would do if they were in the driver’s seat.

  • spain1969

    Ms. Quinn. Wearing “sexy” or “feminine” undergarments does not give women power. Equality does.

  • joe_allen_doty

    Mary Magdalene was NOT a prostitute. Jesus healed her of demon possession. People confuse here with the “sinful woman” who was not even named. The gospel writer never mentions what the sins of the unnamed women were.

  • Bluefish2012

    Not sure what your gender is, spain1969, but if you’re a heterosexual male like me, you would understand instantly what Ms. Quinn means by the power colorful women’s underwear (and what it covers up) has over men. Would Victoria’s Secret be a going concern if this were not true?

  • creme

    Moving story, I shed a few tears. However, as I read it, Sally Quinn missed the point and made the wrong calls for action.

    There is nothing so revolutionary about a cry to wear pretty lingerie hidden under the same enforced codes. If pretty undies give you confidence, that’s great. If you want to change the world, change your clothes – or at least have the guts to fight for the right to change them as these brave women did.

    The power behind that photo and story is not in the blue bra, it is in the woman who wore it. The blue bra is not a symbol of freedom, it is as much a symbol of repression as the abaya she was wearing precisely because she had to hide it.

    Women disguising themselves as men to enter monasteries? Barbara Streisand already did it. If you want progress, storm the monasteries.

    The stanza regarding the successful female business associate is downright insulting in this context. Women around the world are beaten and killed for less and more than what they wear. To insinuate that a privileged western woman is suffering and repressed because of a suit *that she chooses to wear* is a gross misplacement of feminist principles. The suit, the expectations of dress conformity within business culture, are not the problem. The culture is the problem. Wearing hidden underwear doesn’t address the culture problem.

    Again, I am moved by this woman’s story. I love a good symbol and I love a good protest. That blue bra is as much a symbol for women’s hidden strength as it is a rallying cry for complete freedom of expression. It holds far more power as the latter than the former.

  • creme

    catatonicjones wrote, “As long as women put up with this religious crap they’re going to be their own victims. ”

    That’s an awfully broad generalization there.

  • bobraxton

    in Deutchland under Adolf Hitler when the yellow star was required (perhaps it was in the Netherlands) others put on the same required yellow star, so why stop with women wearing the BlueBra? I have seen a T-shirt painted like a tuxedo so certainly it is possible to create a unisex blue bra T-shirt or sweat-shirt that both women and men can wear in support of the power of women worldwide.

  • dhammagirl28

    Well said Sajida, this article reflects the unfortunate malaise that afflicts many journalists who seeks to sensationalise rather than report facts.

  • rvinpgh

    It’s sad to see the power of women once again equated with sexuality. Instead of symbolizing progress, the idea that a blue bra, a hidden underclothing, somehow embodies power is lost on me. Isn’t this instead reinforcing the idea that underneath it all, a woman’s greatest asset is her sexuality? To achieve real progress, we need to look for symbols that represent the fullness of our contributions; beyond the sexual to encompass the intellectual and political. Let’s not allow the glimmer of a blue bra to become a trivial symbol for the incredible bravery of the women leading change in the Middle East. We are more than our lingerie, and our lingerie is not the point.

  • Niku1

    “This person covered from head to toe demonstrated her beliefs through her choice of underwear.”

    I wish that I could “report” this article for stupidity. How can you presume to know the belief’s of this woman based on her (under)clothes? This analysis is just as shallow as the reductionist language patriarchy uses to marginalize our gender as second class, and this careless imposition of your personal belief’s onto another, whom you do not know, does us all a disservice.

    Washington Post just went down in stock.