Corsets laced up in misconceptions from the patriarchy

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By: Kate Luce


Corsets cinch waists and define curves, but the misconceptions bound society to believe their danger. 

Dr. Rebecca Gibson took on a critical look at the misconceptions on the corset during the first Women and Gender Studies forum of the semester on Friday at 12 p.m.

Gibson started her talk out with the many different types of corsets. Some corsets have different purposes and can be used for occasions. 

Despite this, corsets have been tied to controversy throughout centuries. This all comes down to a few reasons. 

First, corsets were made by women for women. Women were the ones who had the majority of the patents for these creations. Thus, women were the primary buyers of these garments.

Women believed that corsets are a civilizing influence. During the time of their prevalence, corsets were seen as a way to mold away from nature into culture.

Corsets are seen as sexy. This is a relatively new idea, according to Gibson. Many women believed that their corset was just an undergarment. 

Women controlled more of their bodies with a corset. Women were able to adjust how tight their corset fit on them. A miscarriage can happen if a corset was tightened, according to Gibson.

Lastly, corsets were and are still seen as deadly. Popular culture perpetuates the trope of corsets being uncomfortable, making women faint and sometimes killing women. Modern bodies are not used to wearing these garments, according to Gibson. However, this idea comes from the medical literature of the time.  

Ludovic O’Followell, a French physician, created a 300-page book citing over 40 symptoms corset-wearing women had reported. Some of the symptoms, like coughing up blood, could be attributed to other diseases prevalent at the time, according to Gibson. His work notably featured misogyny. This book survived the times. Culture moved with it.

Gibson worked directly with the St. Bride’s lower graveyard in London and the Musée de l’Homme in Paris. Rounded ribs occurred in many of the female skeletons. However, this did not kill the women. Instead, the majority died of decline, Tuberculosis, old age, fever, and asthma.

Society continues to believe corsets are “killer,” primarily due to the patriarchy. Pop culture, lack of scholarship, corset-based language, and it being a women’s issue leave the garment with a stigma of lasting effects.

Gibson graduated from IU South Bend with a BA in philosophy and history in 2011. She received her MA at Brandeis University and her Ph.D. at American University. She currently teaches anthropology classes at IU South Bend.

The WGS program held public lectures in 2008 and has welcomed many people to speak on topics and issues regarding gender and sexuality.

“Generally speaking, however, they are a great way to learn what IUSB faculty and students are working on,” Christina Gerken, director of the WGS department, said.

Anyone interested in WGS and learning more about topics is encouraged to attend these Zoom forums. Interested attendees are asked to look out for announcements in Daily Titan emails.

“We have two more public forums scheduled for this semester. On March 5, Prof. Stacie Merken will discuss ‘Female sex offenders: (Mis)representations and realities’ and on April 2, Prof. Chloe Robinson will give a talk titled: ‘Unheard Cries: An Examination of Black Women’s Experience with Police Misconduct in the City of Chicago’,” Gerken said.

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