Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Victorian Women Wore Corsets Because Men Forced Them To

One of the myths that gets my back up the most is the idea that women only wore corsets to look attractive for men.

Yesterday I talked about Ethel Granger, and while I am sure you will agree with me that it seems a lot like it wasn't Ethel's choice to wear her corsets, I find it ridiculous and incredibly insulting when people try to insinuate that all women wore corsets just to please men.

One of the major reasons this annoys me is that nothing seems to have changed and women still have to put up with these kinds of attitudes today, no matter what we wear someone will always assume that we're wearing because that's what men want us to wear.

I'm not sure what the original source for this image is, if you do, please let me know.

This of course removes women's autonomy over themselves, and completely ignores queer and asexual women.
I recently had a taste of this in relation to corsets when a woman from a magazine company called me before Christmas to discuss corsetry and most of her questions involved the effects of corsets on men or shoe-horned 50 Shades of Grey in somehow,
"Does your partner worry what other men might think of you when you wear corsets?"
Well yes, but that that is because he cares about sexism and not because he sees me as some kind of object.

But wait I hear you call!
Back then women had no autonomy and had to do as they were told!
At which point I will facepalm and tell you to pick up a history book.

A letter from The Lancet in the Marysville Daily Appeal Septermber 24th 1869

One of the things I first noticed when I began to research the controversy surrounding corsets was that the vast majority of people arguing against the wearing of corsets were men, who like the one above made thinly veiled claims that women were quite stupid and vapid creatures unable to make their own minds up.
Benjamin Orange Flower wrote a whole book on the subject that seems to have expanded from his 1891 letter to The Chicago Tribune in which he likened corset wearing to slavery and said:

"It is difficult to imagine a slavery more senseless, cruel or far-reaching in its injurious consequences than that imposed by fashion on civilized womanhood during the last generation. ... the tight lacing required by the wasp waist has produced generations of invalids and bequeathed to posterity suffering that will not vanish for many decades. ... And in order to look stylish, thousands of women wear dress waist so tight that no free movement of the upper body is possible; indeed in numbers of instances, ladies are compelled to put their bonnets on before attempting the painful ordeal of getting into glove-fitting dress waists."

The responses to pieces like that are surprisingly similar to the responses corset wearers give people today.

"I myself have never felt any ill effects from nearly 30 years of the most severe tight lacing, nor have I yet found any authentic case of real harm being done by stays, even when laced to the utmost degree of tightness, both day and night.The pain caused by tight lacing really becomes a pleasure after a short time and however tightly laced, there is always a desire to be just a little tighter.People who write against the practice of tight lacing are either those who have never been laced and have never take the trouble to inquire into the pros and cons of the subject, or those who have, perhaps been once lace up very tightly in badly made, ill-fitting stays with the settled determination of finding them most awful instruments of torture.Those who have been systematically laced up in proper stays from their childhood are the only ones who are capable of forming a right judgment on this subject and I hope you will allow tight lacers the opportunity of defending themselves against the enemies of trim little waist. " - Boston Globe, January 1893

If you find the whole "nothing has changed" thing as fascinating as I do there are some other articles you can read here:

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