redheadncorset asked: You realize that many of those cites for corset research rely on the Victorian magazines that faked stories? It is widely accepted that most of the stories about corsets published were fetish pieces (Erotic Fiction). It was BDSM in a time when porn was outlawed. Please cite a reliable source where a woman broke her bone (not the corset bone).
Sorry for offending you, if I did. I generally post superfluous research which relates (loosely) to topics I find more interesting (most of my research, as of late, centers around pre-revolutionary times in various Western cultures, which is why there’s a lot of 17th century talk here). So, I’m also sorry if this isn’t as well researched as, say, an academic paper or a book would be. But actually, thanks for checking my sources, it’s nice to know someone cares.
But, to address your question, if you don’t consider a 19th century woman (many of these stories were published before the Victorian era), writing into a magazine protesting and voicing her opinion a reliable source, what would you consider a reliable source? I consider this person’s published opinion just as valid as, say, yours. Yes I think some of these stories were faked (because who could resist trolling those tight-laced 19th century nobles?) but given that there are multiple stories, not to mention instances where some women (and one jackass male actor) died, as well as doctor’s reports showing how tightlacing effected spinal deterioration and growth throughout adolescence, and exhibitions where people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton voiced concerns (though I’m sure much of that last one is scare tactics to make girls fearful of corsets), I would have to say that I’m inclined to believe that tight-lacing did have some (overblown) negative health effects back in the day. I’m not sure if you can view this next link (since it’s on academic search premier), but this article (though it’s short) details one doctors’ findings on the effects of tight-lacing. He theorizes, among other things, that it leads to scoliosis and decreased circulation. The syndrome (called Sommerring’s syndrome) is still used today to describe the effects of overtight clothing, girdles, corsets, and other garments.
So, no. I cannot find a source, other than these magazines, where a woman broke a rib. However, I was shocked to find instances where people died, not to mention modern (and old) articles and research showing the ill effects of tight-lacing (scoliosis, decreased circulation, and fainting, being among them). Though, I’m sure you have numerous objections to all the sources I’ve just posted.
As a response to someone’s claim (I think it was yours, but I could be wrong) that women didn’t make their waists smaller than 22 inches, I would have to beg to differ based on the clothing we still have from the time period. Follow this link and scroll down to Queen Maud’s gown. Here is a picture of her in the flesh, if you’d like to learn more about her and her alleged 19” waist. Yes, her’s was an extreme case, but, there were bound to have been more people like her.
The question I asked in the original post was “Are corsets inheirently sexist?” I still stand by my answer of no, but, it seems as though they were more harmful than you or others would have me believe. I could personally care less about the health effects— my interest is in the symbolic implication of the corset. Which involved taking a look throughout history. So, you’re probably right about the health effects, but, that wasn’t really my point. But again, thanks for checking my sources.
(Women of older days apparently defied the scientific “law” that all people need oxygen to live.)
Today I went bra shopping.
(Actual picture of my face when weeding through those lacey contraptions)
As I was shopping for my bust-support, I passed by some “control wear” (which I find, at this young point in my life, silly) and I caught myself wondering: “Why would I buy this thing? Why is this thing marketed to me? Where did the idea for this (rather superfluous) item come from?” This led to me staring at the bra/lingerie section for a little too long and getting weird looks from the ladies at the bra-shop (Sorry gals, I was getting up my own ass about history and women and stuff)
So, I decided to come back from my hiatus on tumblr (which will probably resume immediately after I finish this post) and write about one of the most controversial women’s fashion accessory: Corsets.
The “corset” was invented around 1500 and, as expected, its intent was to shape the woman’s body into an ideal woman’s shape- this, at the time, meant lengthening the torso and unifying the breasts into a bosom. Throughout its long history (detailed here, for those of you who are interested), the corset functioned to shape a woman’s body to whatever the idealized body was at the time. Tightlaced corsets (which were mostly what was worn) caused health issue, after health issue.
But, since the main question I’m asking is whether or not this thing is a tool of female oppression, what needs to be examined is both, what people were saying about corseted and un-corseted women throughout the ages, and why the corset fell out of fashion when it did.
What People Have Said
As soon as Catherine DeMedici brought the corset to the French court in the 16th century, every woman wanted one. It was said to glorify the beauty of the female figure (by constricting it with whale bones….).
(Ofcourse, this is what they meant when they said beauty… so…)
Thus, every woman of the French Court corseted themselves. Soon, children started to be laced up, in order to prepare their bodies for the practice in later years: For if you began tightening the rib cage at an early period in life, you wouldn’t have to break so many ribs later when tight lacing.
(That way their ribs could look like this!)
In the 1800’s, as more and more women started writing, there came a controversy over corsets. Doctors, wives, daughters, mothers, men, women, clergy- they all had something to say about other women’s bodies.
Of course, there were the expected arguments. Doctors wrote in to point out the ailments caused by these “instruments of torture”. Some women would even write in to cite the many complaints they had against corsets: the restriction of movement, the pain, the fainting, and the expense, being among the more numerous complaints.
However, not all arguments against corsets were, what we would call, “Pro-women” arguments. Along with women claiming that corsets restricted the natural female form, Clergy and gentlemen often claimed that celebrating the female figure was vile, gross, and disgusting. Some women would claim that no respectable man would want to marry a woman with a small waist (read: don’t wear corsets because boys think it’s icky)
But, for every man and woman speaking against corsets, there was another person claiming the exact opposite. Some women would claim that only poorly made corsets caused them pain or ailments. Others claimed to love the feeling (both physiological and psychological) that a corset gave her. Wives would write in saying that their husbands preferred smaller waists.
On both sides it is important to note: neither side is really fighting more for what women want or need in their lives. Most arguments both for and against the corset are arguments to control or hide women’s bodies. So, it really doesn’t seem that women are being fought for in either side of this argument. What is mostly being fought for, here in the 1800s, is which form of woman is more appealing to/ important to men: the one with a small waist, or the one with a more “natural” form. Those fighting against corsets in this era seem to be just as sexist as those fighting for the corset.
(Summary off all discourse on Corsets up to now)
Which brings us to:
When Corsets Fell Out Of Fashion and Why They Did
For purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on two eras: Revolutionary Franc and WWII America. I will examine why the corset fell out of fashion during these times.
Firstly, France. By the time that the French started cutting off the nobles’ heads, the corset had become a symbol: not of female oppression, but of nobility. So, it makes sense, then, that the public would see women in corsets getting their heads hacked off and not want to wear corsets.
(The ultimate fashion police punishment)
So, in this instance, when the corset fell out of fashion, it wasn’t about gender revolution, it was about class. Throwing out your corset was a symbol not of female empowerment, but of supporting a democratic France. Thus, uncorsetting your bosom, wasn’t exactly a feminist statement. In fact, less than a hundred years later, women started tight lacing again.
The second instance is during WWI. Women stopped wearing corsets not because they needed to work, but because they needed to conserve supplies. The government implored women to stop buying the things because they used steel: steel the government needed to make bullets. As soon as the government stopped needing the steel, women went back to wearing corsets and other restrictive garments. It’s only during the 60’s that taking off your restrictive garment became a sign that you were a liberated woman.
Trying to impose your views on other women, no matter if it’s in the name of “liberating their bodies” or making them look “better” is pretty sexist. In fact, after researching it a bit, I’ve come to the same conclusion Liz Lemon came to on that episode of 30 Rock (Episode is “TGS Hates Women”): Let women be women. You’re not always going to like it, but just because you disagree with what they’re doing, doesn’t make you right, righteous, or better than them.
Corsets (like most tools) are not a tool of oppression unless you intend them to be. Yeah, they conceal your “natural” body, but so does make up, deodorant, and razors. Is tight-lacing stupid? Yes. But is it right to tell women that they’re wrong for doing it? Is it right to make them feel guilty for breaking their own ribs? Probably not.
Thus concludes my research.
A NOTE IN RESPONSE TO corset2kneehighs (and because I realized this may be unclear)
You make some good points as well. But to be clear: When I called corsets “instruments of torture” I was quoting some literature I used during my research. Women and doctors who were opposed to corsets in the 1800s used to call corsets either “instruments of torture” or tools for “enslavement”. I don’t actually think the modern corset is an instrument of torture, nor do I think it restricts breathing or alters the ribcage, but, wearing any clothing that is too tight for you can always lead to negative health problems (like wearing a bra that’s too tight). But, if the corset fits, why not wear it?
When I spoke of women not being able to breathe, (and breaking their ribs) I was specifically talking about those women who tightlaced. Specifically those ones in 17th, 18th, and 19th century France. In fact, the majority of women/doctors who denounced corsets back in the day were denouncing tight-laced corsets. (Those women were typically among the former nobility or upper classes). I have found evidence in my research that some women did break their ribs, and that some children could not breathe when put into their trainer corset.
The changes made in corsets from the invention of corsets (that is, the reinforcing of the stays and the tougher boning) suggests that women were putting more and more pressure on these corsets as time went on (i.e. they were tightening them more and more) until, by the 19th century, women could buy a corset that made their waist and inhumanly narrow 19” (the “ideal” in our modern society is a slim 24”, if that gives you any reference point). Not to mention the women in the research I’ve done that claim that their husband could surround her waist with his two hands (!!!). This suggests that they have both altered the growth of their ribcage, and broken their ribs. Though, these weren’t the majority of women who wore corsets.
In the end, I support your decision. If it empowers you, do it! Its history is laced in with all types of powerful women. Yeah, people have fought viciously over whether or not people “should” wear them, but I think controlling what a woman chooses to wear is silly and sexist— no matter which side you’re on. And besides, a garment that’s been around for longer than underwear is pretty baller (especially in an historical sense)
Here are some of my online sources not cited in the above post:
And of course, what kind of hack would I be if I had not used wikipedia for part of my research? (I swear, I only used the sections they quoted from original text)
This goes out to all of the women who have struggled to make it to the top of the art world. This woman was not only so good at her art as to make it in the completely male dominated world of the late 1500’s to early 1600s, but did it all while kicking ass and taking names.
She was born in Rome in 1593 to a Tuscan painter named Orazio Gentileschi (who was not NEARLY as good as she was.) Still, she learned much of what she knew from him. Though the only reason she learned how to paint was because she snuck into the workshop and showed more talent than any of her brothers. But, after he saw what promise and talent she had, he encouraged her work and nurtured her style (though everyone else told her that she not only didn’t have the intelligence to do anything great, but would never, ever have her work be shown as equal to a mans.)
At the time, women’s art was more of a hobby. If a woman produced something like the Mona Lisa during that time, she would receive a nice pat on the head from her husband. But Artemisia’s ambition knew no bounds. but the time she was 17 she was already showing promise as being a serious painter of the Carravagio tradition. It was around this time that she was raped by her father’s apprentice.
Her father sued Tassi for rape and he, of course, denied, saying that it was consensual. This is when Artemisia took the stand. I have seldom read a court case testimony from medieval Europe as heartbreaking as this. He had followed her around town for an entire day, harrassing her, and then waited until she was alone. He went into her room and forced her to walk with him and then pushed her on her bed and raped her. After that point, he promised to marry her and did not (as was common in those days). In order to see if she was lying though, they tortured Artemisia with thumbscrews (because, I mean, she hasn’t been through that much, right?) Well, Tassi lost the trial. And got only one year in prison.
But did Artemisia let this stop her? No. It is after this point that her artwork takes off. This is when she paints her first rendition of Judith and Holofernes. It’s not as good as the later one, so I’m not going to post it.
Her father arranged for her to marry another artist. The couple moved to Florence where Artemisia’s career didn’t come to a screeching halt (as one would expect). Instead she became a very successful court painter. Here she painted many things including her better Judith and Holofernes.
Critics said that the violence was not a masculine violence and was instead a feminine violence. Did Artemisia care? Nope. She just kept on painting. And having babies. She had 5, only one of whom survived.
Meanwhile the organization no woman could possibly get into accepted her into their ranks. The Accademia della Arti del Disegno accepted her into their ranks. This was huge. It’s like there being a female Bishop. It’s like being the first ever woman in Congress. It’s like being the first female to be allowed in the CIAs Cavalier service. To be part of this organization meant she was the best. It meant that her work had achieved the impossible: it had become as good as a mans. All the while, she’s raising a child and taking care of a husband.
It is at this point that she moved to Rome in search of a better career. Apparently, she also got accepted into another prestigious male-only Academy, but I mean, they were probably just copying the other guys.
Unfortunately, it seems that this is where her success train stalls. Not only were her daughters not very good artists (no matter how hard she tried to teach them), but she wasn’t getting as high of commissions in Rome. Her art was too feminine. And because she really only painted Biblical HEROINES, well, she couldn’t paint in the church.
So, after Rome turned out to be a bust, she moved to Naples in search of richer commissions. And there she got them. Charles I took a great interest in her and demanded she go to England (where her Dad happened to be working). Charles loved her artwork and constantly made her paint. Her work in England was highly valued, and she was a kind of novelty to Charles I (I mean, a chick who PAINTS? What is THAT?!)
Unfortunately, her father died, leaving Artemisia heartbroken. She had loved working with her father and was apparently very disheartened when he passed. She returned to Naples where she lived out the rest of her life in obscurity. Luckily, however, she left England RIGHT BEFORE the Civil War broke out. She came THIS CLOSE to being burned (maybe, probably not, actually).
So, this is one woman who started with a bang, and ended with a sizzle. But who is still a BAMF nonetheless.
The name Molly Pitcher may have originated as a nickname for any woman who carried water to men on the battlefield during the Revolutionary War. Today the name Molly Pitcher evokes the image of a folk hero who manned a cannon after her husband was struck down.
Some historians regard Molly Pitcher as a folktale or a composite of several women. However, the life of Mary Ludwig Hays is widely considered to be the origin of the story. Margaret Corbin is an alternate candidate for Molly Pitcher.
Born to German immigrant parents in Pennsylvania, Mary Ludwig married a barber named William Hays who eventually became an artilleryman in the Continental Army. Mary traveled with him as a “camp girl” providing water on the battlefield and wintering at Valley Forge.
Mary served as a water carrier during the Battle of Monmouth where temperatures broke 100 F (37 C). William eventually collapsed, either from heat stroke or a battle injury. After her husband was carried from the battlefield, Mary swabbed and loaded the cannon herself. At one point, a British cannon ball is said to have shot between her legs, ripping her skirt. Her skillful and heroic work led to commendation (or possible symbolic promotion to sergeant) from General George Washington. In her old age, Mary was awarded an annual pension of $40 for her heroism by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Today, Friends of Monmouth Battlefield offers programming relating to Molly Pitcher and the lives of camp women.
Margaret Corbin was also the wife of a Pennsylvania artilleryman. Unlike Mary Ludwig Hays, Margaret is said to have generally taken on the role of solider, dressing in a military uniform without disguising her gender. When her husband John was killed at the Battle of Fort Washington, Margaret took his place firing the canon and was eventually wounded. Captured by the British and released, she was assigned to the corps of invalids at West Point to perform guard duty. Listed on the discharge rolls for April 1783, Margaret Corbin was treated as a soldier by the military. She was later granted a pension by Congress, making her the first American woman to receive a military pension for her own service.
Modern Hormonal Birth Control (the Pill) was invented by the US Government to prevent overpopulation during the Cold War. They thought that a significant rise in the population would lead to mass poverty which would only lead to communism. They may have killed over 11 women in the trial testing, but hey, whatever works.
(In case anyone was wondering, this fact came from Bust Magazine)
Now, I know it’s been forever since I posted (and I don’t post all that much anyway) but I came across the story of Boudica (spelling of her name has been under debate for centuries…. literally).
Boudica was a queen of the Iceni people around 50 AD in Northern Wales. Now, for those of you not up on your Roman history, this was about the same time that Nero (that crazy son of a bitch with an even crazier wife) was conquering the general area surrounding Wales.
Descriptions of Boudica are terrifying. She seemed to be the definition of “a woman scorned”. From descriptions, she had long reddish-brown hair down to her waist, was unusually tall, and had a glare that probably could have stopped the Roman army in their tracks (had they been paying attention to anything but how many towns they could burn in one day). She had a deep and harsh voice and was, according to the Romans, very smart.
Now, Boudica was of noble birth and married the king, Prasutagus. Prasutagus was an idiot. Not only did he live off of borrowed funds from the Romans, but he also made a deal with Rome saying that he would leave his country to the Romans and his wife and daughters (this was a common deal for the Romans that supposedly guaranteed that the King’s family and country were protected and preserved.) Unfortunately, he didn’t read the fine print of Roman law (he was probably too busy spending their money). Rome only recognized male heirs and thus, when Prasutagus died, the country was annexed to Rome as if it had been conquered.
As a result, Boudica’s daughters were raped, and she was flogged by the Roman’s who suddenly invaded her country. Needless to say, Boudica. Was. Pissed.She grabbed her daughters and started rallying forces for rebellion.
At the time, Rome was campaigning against a group of Druids on a nearby island anyway, so, no one in Britain was very pleased with them. Boudica used this to her advantage, and plotted an uprising. She allied with some nearby neighbors and, unsurprisingly, they made her leader. Before she invaded, she invoked the British Goddess of Victory and performed a few ceremonies for guidance. (Later in that very same area, women would be burned alive for such practices.)
(More on that later)
Their first target was Camalodunum, which had been taken over by the Romans not too long before then. The Romans had mistreated the locals and forced them to build a temple to Claudius. So, it was an appropriate place to attack. Not surprisingly, Boudica dominated. They trapped the nobles in their own temple, and, over the course of two long days, methodically destroyed the temple and crushed the people inside it. The Romans tried to take the city back, but, I mean…. Boudica was too much of a badass.
She moved on to invade Londinium, which was a hub for rich Romans and traders. She moved her forces in, and conquered them. But not only did she conquer them to the point that the nobles abandon the city, she cut off their wives’ breasts and sewed them to their mouths. She then burned the city. And to this day archeologists find a very deep layer of red ash in that area.
Boudica took no prisoners or slaves and didn’t try and pretend that she was a noblewoman looking for her money back. What she wanted, quite simply, was revenge. And she got it. She would command the army from her chariot with her daughters at her side and watch as her army slaughtered the Romans.
Ofcourse, nothing ends happily. Boudica was eventually defeated (the Roman armies were too well trained). But before they got to her, she poisoned herself refusing to let them win.
But even though she lost, the Romans never forgot Boudica, the woman who single handedly took back three cities from the most powerful army in history.
I’ve recently read “Top Girls” by Caryl Churchill, and I found myself baffled at the fact that I didn’t know there was a female pope. I thought that I can’t be a feminist without knowing that there was, in fact, a female pope at one point in time.
Unfortunately, it seems there wasn’t.
Nonetheless, I thought that the story of the legend was really interesting and decided to share it with you.
Officially, the story is that Joan was born in Germany and ran away with her lover to Athens dressed as a boy. She studied with him and soon rose to the top of her class and started to get noticed by the higher ups. She lead a virtuous and clean life teaching the liberal arts and when the pope before her died, she was made pope.
She sat on the papal throne for two years, before she hit a moment of weakness: wanting her old lover again, she had an affair with a cardinal. As things happen, she got pregnant. And, since she wasn’t ever educated on a woman’s body (since she was, after all a “man”) she gave birth in the middle of a ceremony. She was then dragged by her feet into the town square and stoned to death. To this day, the pope always turns away from that street when passing it in parades.
So there you have it: Pope Joan, the woman who I wish was not a legend.