My #MeToo Moment with my Bra

Is being forced to wear a bra sexual assault?

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Special Report by Soma Grismaijer, Medical Anthropologist, Co-Author of Dressed to Kill: The Link Between Breast Cancer and Bras

Most women hate their bras. They pinch, bind, constrict, and irritate. They can also cause breast pain, cysts, and cancer. And yet, we women are supposed to wear them in public, suppressing our discomfort to conform with standards of beauty and propriety.

Who makes those standards? Men do. Who suffers from those standards? Women do.

If it’s wrong for a man to squeeze your breasts without your permission, then why is it right when bras do it?

Bras are an extension of male dominance over women. Instead of a man squeezing and foundling a woman’s breasts, the bra does it for him.

If the world were run by women, there would be no bras, and there would be low rates of breast cancer.

I have been working on the link between breast cancer and bras for over 25 years, after discovering a lump in my breast. I have always been healthy, and the lump was a shock, especially since I was pregnant at the time. I was also in Fiji doing fieldwork with my husband, and we had recently had an epiphany about bras that changed our lives, and saved my breasts.

We were on a remote island in Fiji where there were no bras. A teenage girl saw me hanging bras on the line to dry and she asked me why I wore one. I explained that most women in my culture wear bras, but couldn’t really tell her why. She took a bra and examined it. “Isn’t it tight” she asked? I said I suppose it is, but you get used to it.

After discovering the lump, we returned to the US deeply horrified that I might have breast cancer. I took off my bra and looked at my breasts. What could I have done to cause this, I wondered. I then noticed the typical red marks and indentations in my skin left by my bra. Constriction! Could tight bras be the cause of breast disease, including cancer?

I immediately stopped wearing bras, and my lump slowly disappeared. Meanwhile, we began the world’s first study into the bra-cancer link. We discovered that bras are a leading cause of breast cancer. They are also the main reason why millions of bra-using women experience breast pain and cysts.

But try telling that to a culture where bras are a foundation of fashion. One million bras are sold per day in the US alone. Making women’s breasts more fashionable is a major market. And so is detecting and treating breast cancer.

You might think that women have a choice not to wear a bra. Technically, they do. Practically, they don’t.

I have met many women who wish they could be bra-free, but who felt that they couldn’t in today’s society. They feel they will be judged as being sluts, or will be leered at for having, God forbid, their nipples showing through their blouse. They fear sexual assault without a bra. So they keep wearing them, despite the pain.

But wearing bras does not stop the assault from men. If anything, bras are advertisements for sex. What do you think Victoria’s Secret models are modeling?

Let’s face it. Bras are an integral part of a culture where women are considered sex objects. Women will dress as the male-dominated fashion industry tells them, and display their bodies in the shape-shifting garments that please the designers, and titillates men’s fantasies. Sometimes, men will act on those fantasies, especially if they have powerful positions over women. Sexualizing women leads to sexual assault.

When women wear bras, they are sexually assaulting themselves. Whether a woman wears a bra for modesty or sex appeal, the culture wants breasts in bras. Never mind the health hazards and discomfort.

It’s time women stop harming themselves with bras. Bras are assault by proxy. We must say no, not only to the groping and assault by men, but to the assault we make on ourselves with the clothing men give us to wear.

To help women make this transition, we have started the International Bra-Free Study. Women around the world are taking off their bras to prevent breast cancer. This empowers women to take control over their breast health, and redefine themselves as women and not objects.

Take back control over your body. To find out more, go to BraFreeStudy.org.

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Sydney Ross Singer is a medical and environmental anthropologist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation, located on the Big Island. Sydney is a pioneer of applied medical anthropology, and he is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.