One of the places I went on vacation was Venice. It was truly amazing. The history was immense and fascinating. Venice survived as a city state for more than a thousand years. Sometimes Venice managed this through its location (great for trade, extremely difficult to attack), sometimes through it’s extreme wealth and penchant for gaudy shows of power, and sometimes Venice managed to stay independent and powerful through ruthless political and wartime acts.
Among the many museums in Venice was my favorite, the Doge’s Palace (or the Duke’s Palace, the ruler of the city). There was much to see and learn about Venetian history inside the palace, including where and how laws were made, how dissidents were routed out, and what kind of conditions prisoners were kept in through the 1930s (they were not good).
The one room (or series of rooms) that was in each museum, but that I did not expect, was the armory rooms. I guess I was just naive – I think of culture, art, and Carnival when I think of Venice. But, of course, all of that thrived because of the rather ruthless army.
And I must say, the armory rooms in the Doge’s Palace were pretty ruthless. They even had a little corner of one room with torture implements in it. Which brings me (in a long-winded manner) to today’s topic: chastity belts.
Now, I’ve written about chastity belts before. But I didn’t see, in person, people’s visceral reaction to what I wrote. In the Doge’s Palace I saw people’s visceral reaction to what was clearly a chastity belt. Here’s what it looked like from a few steps away:
And so, from across the room, people didn’t have much of a reaction. It was when they got close, and really visually centered in on the relevant parts of the belt that the reactions came.
I watched people from all different countries, with many different languages center in on this piece of torture. But they all made essentially the same horrified grunt as they realized what they were seeing.
I wonder whether the grunts from the men and women were coming from different places? Were they imagining life on the two different sides of the belt?
I wonder how many of them were surprised to see that some chastity belts protected against anal as well as vaginal intercourse?
I am also particularly interested that the belt was included in the torture items. Was it really considered a torture item at the time it was used? Or is that a cultural bias that the museum curators have? Does anyone know?
Hello Dr Karen.
Surely you were not taken in by this contraption! There is one on display in my city as well, albeit not as finely worked as this one. Both are probably fakes made 150 years or so ago. The Victorians did of course advocate the use of similar devices and sought a historical precedent for their own more subtle repressions.
‘Not only is the virgin protected but the fidelity of the wife exacted’ ran the advertising spiel. Wives and daughters were compelled to wear ‘preservative belts’ in middle-class families here in England (have you read Wilkie Collins’ excellent novel Armadale? It’s all alluded to in there).
The desire to control the sexuality of women and girls is an enduring male obsession – I recall reading that a proposal was made in 1930s Hungary to require all girls above the age of 12 to be fitted with one, the keys to be kept by their fathers. The idea was taken seriously but thankfully never implemented.
Thanks for the history lesson, Malcolm! I must say, I don’t tend to doubt history museums on their display items – but perhaps I should have. 🙂
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