The brassiere: Case against
Let’s talk sexual equality. Having just returned from a month in the cool climes of Northern Europe, I find Korea sweltering in the relentless grip of August humidity. In this merciless heat, comfortable clothing is an absolute must, yet there is one article of attire that virtually every female feels compelled to wear but which we males are happily unrestrained by.
I speak of an oppressive and despicable invention: the brassiere.
At this point my female readers (Are there any?) may well splutter: ``You? A man! Advising us on the threads we wear? What insolence! How dare you!”
My dear ladies, rest assured. While quantitative research is beyond my financial means, I have conducted a qualitative study.
A poll of five female friends found that four deem brassieres uncomfortable. At home, they ditch their brassieres and allow their breasts to hang freely under their dresses. After a bit of prodding – the prodding was verbal, not physical, by the way ― the four, all Korean, admitted that they would also prefer not to wear them in public. (The lone dissenter was an English chum who has an extremely generous bosom which she finds uncomfortable when unfettered. Fair enough.)
I fully support my Korean friends in their preference for un-tethering their assets, but before I continue this discussion, I must level with you. I do not claim to be writing this column with anything other than selfish instincts, even though I suffer no personal physical discomfort whether Korean women wear bras or not.
No, my interest in this topic is artistic, or, at least, aesthetic. I freely confess that, by George, I delight in the sight of a merry mammary bouncing in its natural state. The breast is the façade of femininity; as such, it deserves respect, not binding.
This brings me to a key point. A relaxation of bra culture is one ― perhaps the only ― area of the sexual battlefield where feminists and red-blooded fellows find their interests converge. Feminists want this piece of apparel done away with because they react against oppressive, male-dominated social mores. Red-blooded fellows simply like to gawk at their objects of desire dangling freely.
Harmony between these two usually opposing camps is, alone, a decent reason to start things swinging, but it is not just feminists and red-blooded fellows: I would guess that most men and most women are in favor. So who, I ask, would be against a movement to ditch brassieres?
The deafening silence that is the only response to this question (bra manufacturers were not asked their opinion) suggests to me that all that stands between the women of Korea and un-tethered udders is that massive weight of unspoken culture: social expectation.
This particularly afflicts them here, and may not be the case in more liberal locations. One of my Korean sources left her bra in her hotel room and enjoyed full frontal freedom during her summer holiday overseas.
If this is, as I believe, a national issue, any remedy must involve officialdom. I therefore suggest the establishment of a sub-unit within the Ministry of Gender Equality, ``The Department of Mammaries” to publicize key messages. Their work should begin with an official, cross-media communications campaign ― billboard posters, newspaper and magazine print ads, TV commercial films and the all-important viral content that will storm across social media.
A catchy branded slogan is required to encapsulate key messages. (I humbly put forward: ``Sistas of Korea! Free your breasts! You have nothing to lose but your bras!”) A PR campaign should be launched in which opinion leaders lead the debate in national media. A top chaebol could set an example by urging aspirational female executives to kick-start the trend; perhaps a hallyu girl group could become ``Bra-free Ambassadors,” thereby bringing the issue to the attention of global youth.
Of course, not everything should be left to bureaucrats: Oversight ― of government, not cleavage ― is essential. Given that every other cause in Korea has a supportive NGO, a ``National Bosom Liberation Front” needs to be set up, preferably headed by a forceful, well connected ajumma with a formidable décolletage.
Once the campaign gets underway, research can pinpoint Korea’s position within ``breast freedom” rankings internationally. It is not unreasonable to assume that South Korea could become a leader in this area internationally, a model for developed and developing nations.
Could it happen in a nation as conservative as this one?
There is a traditional precedent. In late Joseon, married women wore garments that purposely exposed their breasts; the brassiere was a foreign import. And when it comes to freedom from tethered body parts, neighboring China overturned centuries of male-centric mores to ditch foot-binding.
If the above takes place (I’m not holding my breath), by next August, Korea’s streets will be all a-bustle with maidens and matrons enjoying the new-found comfort of release.
Oh, and for any bold ladies inspired by this column to take immediate action, let me say this. Should you find fellows such as myself ogling you in your fight for freedom, please consider it a compliment, or even a gesture of support … no pun intended.
Andrew Salmon is a Seoul-based reporter and author. His latest work, ``Scorched Earth, Black Snow,” was published in London in June. Reach him at email@example.com.