COMMENTARY

Amid violence against women, a blue bra sends a powerful message

A young Egyptian woman was beaten by the military during a recent demonstration.
AP
A young Egyptian woman was beaten by the military during a recent demonstration.
Posted Jan. 03, 2012, at 5:17 a.m.

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 recent demonstration. Aside from the sheer brutality, what stood out 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.
  • A woman is running for president of Egypt.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.)

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 1,400 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 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 is the moderator of Washingtonpost.com’s On Faith section, a conversation on religion and politics.

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