Part Three: From the onset of the Industrial Revolution to the Victorian Era, or the Constriction of the Goddess during some Dark Times
PHOTO: Greek Goddess Hecate
In the last blog, we celebrated artists like Peter Paul Rubens and other Baroque era painters who either deliberately, accidentaly, or inadvertently chose models who were ample, regardlesss of the reasons, the impact is the same for the amplitude of the lush fullness they portray as a more realistic ideal of beauty to admire.
While I do deal with the chapter on “Culture” from Naomi Wolf’s book The Beauty Myth, these blogs are not about Feminism, per se nor eating disorders, or the protest movement of the 1970s, but about simply self acceptance and celebration of the ample, natural, realistic female form, in that sense it is merely female-positive.
The first corsets were found to be used in ancient Greece, specifically Crete, in around 2000 BC. It was the Minoan Culture (3000 to 1400 BC) who depict corseted figures, both male and female, on their frescoes.
Times and ideals change so fast that it seems pointless to follow trends and smarter to remain true to yourself and embrace your shape and celebrate yourself exactly the way you are. Additionally, we all know the cultural pressures and societal pressures are strong, as well as peer pressure to fit in do make it challenging, however, you cannot put a square peg into a round hole, so to speak. So be kind and nurturing to your body because it is the only one you have, and the only thing that matters is to finally feel comfortable in your own skin instead of judging, reviling, and hating the skin you are in.
PHOTO: Hinged iron corset made between 1580 and 1599, courtesy of the York Museum
Although history itself cannot be constrained into one perfect box, I am merely scratching the surface of the discussion on the constrainment of the goddess, and thus, women, the earthly embodiments of the divine. This extension of the blog will cover the time that represents the tightening of the reigns that had begun earlier with the introduction of war gods over fertility goddesses, but took root firmly after the Witch Hunts arrived, from 1760 onward.
The cruel tools of humilation which included branks and the control over female sexuality via the chastity belts also emerge during the 15th century. The nasty-looking device is said to be to prevent rape, and keep the honour of the wives whose hudbands were away for years at a time on the Crusades loyal and chaste, but in reality I think it is a form of torture.
Be it a punishment for "unfaithful" wives, or to prevent masturbation and insight utter purity. There is a wonderful and detailed article on the Semmelweis Museum's web page THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE CHASTITY BELT Myth and Reality, about the history and mythology surrounding the chastity belt, yet I believe that it was not merely hoaxed or forged as a symbol of purity, but actually made to be worn by women.
At the very least brutal chafing, possible lead poisoning, and likely sepsis. Lead, the father of all metals was found since ancient Roman times to be used in everything from face powder, rouge, paint, pewter kitchenware, to a preservative for wine, and also for chastity belts:
"[Lead being] the ideal "cold" metal for use in the manufacture of chastity belts"
(SOURCE: Lead Poisoning A Historical Perspective by Jack Lewis the EPA Journal)
Looking at these various chastity belts from France, Venice, and Russia, and think of how unnatural that would be, and painful on the lady parts. There is historical documentation that it is indeed torture for the woman, and usually caused death.
The following 4 photos As well as, the following quote, regarding the disputed clasification of chastity belts as a torture device:
"It is debatable whether chastity belts should be counted as torture devices, though continuous long-term wear could certainly have caused genitourinary infection, abrasive wounds, sepsis and eventual death."
(SOURCE: courtesy of the Medieval Warfare website, the Medieval Torture section.)
PHOTO: Chastity belt from the Doge Palace in Venice, circa 16th-17th Century
PHOTO: Chastity belt from the Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, Russia.
How irononic that the whimsical heart cut-out for the woman to likely relieve herself out of.
PHOTO: Chastity belt from France, circa 17th Century
The phenomena of the iron corset is said to trace back to Catherine de' Medici, but historians think this to be pure legend. The iron corsets in museums are perhaps emblems of male control over women, and may not actually have been worn, but used as a threat by dominieering husbands.
An ironic point of history, the progress of literacy and the written word, the book GODDESS VERSUS THE ALPHABET by Leonard Shlain, addresses just that tipping point for the burying of the goddess in culture, and the emergence of the patriarchal rule:
"Of all the sacred cows allowed to roam unimpeded in our culture, few are as revered as literacy. Its benefits have been so incontestable that in the five millennia since the advent of the written word numerous poets and writers have extolled its virtues. Few paused to consider its costs. . . . One pernicious effect of literacy has gone largely unnoticed: writing subliminally fosters a patriarchal outlook. Writing of any kind, but especially its alphabetic form, diminishes feminine values and with them, women’s power in the culture." by Leonard Shlain
A few of the metal corsets are thought to be orthopedic braces for those suffering from spinal ailments or weakness, such as in records of Ambroise Paré, a French army surgeon who told of iron corsets as a remedy, intended "to amend the crookednesse of the Bodie," (Wikipedia).
PHOTO: By Suk found on RetrogalerieDeGutsy.
Although throughout history there have been documented witch persecutions since prehistory, and which despite our seeming enlightenment as a civilization, there are countries today that still kill women condemned as witches. It was the demonization of Lilith, Fortuna, Diana, Hecate, and the trove of other cultural female divinities that the Church would capitalize on.
Yet, it is the publication of the Hammer of Witches, or the Mallerus Malificarum, that the persecutions seem to explode with the fantastical guide book to conemning a witch. Soon the goddess would be turned into a witch, and the Burning Times would wee the death of hundreds of thousands of women. The Malleus Maleficarum was able to spread like a wildfire through the minds of sexually repressed monks and Inquisitors, in Europe quite rapidly in the late 15th and the beginning of the 16th century due to the innovation of the humble printing press which utilized moving type by a goldsmith named Johannes Gutenberg, around 1440.
PHOTO: Frontspiece from the 1520 publication of the Witches Hammer
The invention of printing some thirty years before the first publication of the Malleus Maleficarum instigated the fervor of witch hunting, and, in the words of Russell, "the swift propagation of the witch hysteria by the press was the first evidence that Gutenberg had not liberated man from original sin." [SOURCE: Witchcraft in the Middle Ages by Jeffrey Burton Russell]
PHOTO: Courtesy of Amazing Radio website, Theme: Medieval Torture.
There is a very informative book called THE DARK SIDE OF HISTORY by Helen Ellerbie that details the war on women by the Church.
PHOTO: Examination and torture of a supected witch during the Inquisition
Moving from the social control via burning at the stake, to the actual physical restrain of the binding called "tightlacing" through the wearing of the corset or stays for fashionable reasons, the corset symbolises much more that fashion, it symbolizes oppression disguised as fashion.
The word itself, “corset” and the contruction using words such as “stays” ironically reflect the controlling aspect of this seemingly innocuous fashion statement. Contrastly, the word that we are celebrating today is “enceinte” or ungirdled, either during pregnancy, or those who chose not to wear one.
The most extreme example of this kind of constraint is the iron corset, or Iron Busk, circa 1550s. Carina Case posted this striking photo and the quote reads:
"In 1556 The earliest known busk was made in iron. Fabrics like damask required a stronger, supported construction to show a body's shape. The first artifical support was made in Italy was called a choche later became known as a busk in England. Corsets were even talked about by Geoffrey Chaucer, the father of English Literature, in his books during this time." SOURCE Carina Case, Pintrest.
Mary Queen of Scots was rebellious down to the last detail, even chosing not to wear a corset.
Men even wore with their waiscoat, a “stomacher” and by the Victorian era men wore corsets, stomach belts and even neck corsets which were ridiculously high collars. They too suffered from the beast of vanity, but not as commonly as women. Usually, only the upper classes and dandies wore these. However, men were the minority, mostly women, from domestic servants who wore a laced bodie, stomacher, or proper corset to the royal palace to streetwalkers and fine country ladies, most of them, even when pregnant wore a special corset to hide their baby bump and into full term. Harriet Waterhouse examined in depth the use of corsets by pregnant women in her essay A Fashionable Confinement Whaleboned Stays and the Pregnant Woman:
"Although by the nineteenth century some might excuse the tight-lacing mother-to-be as the product of a misguided modesty over her ‘condition’, in earlier centuries the criticism was always centred on accusations of vanity, and the predicted outcome of such behaviour varied from death and disease to ugliness or even future moral fallibility in the child. Such hyperbolic warnings were probably treated with some scepticism at the time, possibly accorded the same place in common parlance as modern ‘urban myth’" (Harriet Waterhouse)
In the essay appropriately entitled The Exquisite Slave, The Role of Clothes in the Making of The Victorian Woman by Helen E. Roberts, she states:
"More than compliance, the willingness to bear suffering, either physical or mental, was intrinsic to the notion of the ideal woman. For Mrs. Ellis, a woman's "highest duty is so often to suffer and be still." (Sarah Ellis from The Daughters of England, 1845)
Thackeray, in Vanity Fair, emphasized the appeal of a woman willing to bear mental suffering: "I know few things more affecting than that timorous debasement and self-humiliation of a woman. How she owns that it is she and not the man who is guilty: how she takes all the faults on her side: how she courts in a manner punishment for the wrongs she has not committed, and persists in shielding the real culprit."ll Although Thackeray's amiable advisor in "Mr. Brown's Letters to His Nephew" avows that he himself had a much higher opinion of female capabilities, he describes the model woman to be found in the novels of Scott and other writers as "an exquisite slave." (W.M. Thackeray from his Sketches and Travels in London, 1869)
This phrase, "exquisite slave," like "suffer and be still," "sweet sub- mission," and "debasement and self-humiliation," suggests an underly- ing masochism, that is, the experience of sexual pleasure in being abused. As psychoanalyst Anthony Storr poirits out, the purpose of abuse is not to inflict pain or to experience it, but to establish relations of dominance and submission. The pain involved is the most convenient and believable sign that one is willing to be truly submissive, that the other will be accorded total dominance. "(Anthony Storr from Sexual Deviation, 1964)
Havelock Ellis, an observer of Victorian sexual habits, even argues that pain by itself afforded the erotic satisfactions normally associated with the sexual act: "While in men it is possible to trace a tendency to inflict pain on the women they love, it is still easier to trace in women a delight in experiencing physical pain when inflicted by a lover, and an eagerness to accept subjection to his will. Such a tendency is certainly normal."14 Normal or not, Victorian women had been taught that submissiveness and pain were related, and that they were women's lot." (Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 1906)
Early 1908 X-Ray by Ludowic O'Followell, showing the contriction of the lower ribcage cause by wearing a corset.
PHOTO: 19th Century corset, also known as "tight-lacing"
Corset damage to a ribcage. 19th century London.
SOURCE: Hunterian Collection, Royal College of Surgeons, London via The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice It is possible there are earlier cultures that used corsets, or such bodily binding, but we have yet to find the evidence of it.
Unfortunately, with the coming of the Industrial Age (circa 1760 to 1820) so, too the taming and all-out destruction of nature, and the Goddesses that represented her, with the coal ash and soot coating the trees, and toxic sludge spilling into the lakes and rivers - the corset would stifle the female form. Manufacturing and factory produced goods and garments made the corset more common for women to wear it on a daily basis.
Today, women are taught from a young age to be a consumer and look pretty, which places them into a tiny box, a corset of the mind. Thanks to the environmental movement, and the residual Hippy, Flower Child Movement, even the Nudists in favor of getting back to nature and a more natural form there are signs of hope that the current generation may have no filters on their Selfies, and no PhotoShop in their magazines and advertising.
PHOTO: Mother Nature tree, Portugal
PHOTO: Environmentalist painting depicting Mother Nature at Gunpoint to Capitalist progress