There’s a lot of competition for the most powerful symbol of oppressive patriarchy, including hijabs, foot-binding, and female genital mutilation, but there’s little doubt that chastity belts are deep in the mix.
However, what you may not know is that their use is probably vastly overstated. There were definitely instances of chastity belts in use in Italy around the 15th century, but ... well, most examples of medieval chastity belts derived from much later, between 1700 and 1900 and should perhaps be more properly considered as naughty novelty items.
In Fake? The Art of Deception, a book edited by Mark Jones and published by the Trustees of the British Museum—and really, who better for information about fucked-up practices in medieval times?—chastity belts are presented as one example of a thing that was not so much of a thing after all.
Here’s historian Timothy Wilson elaborating on the phenomenon:
There is evidence for the existence of chastity belts from the beginning of the fifteenth century onwards. E.J. Dingwall in The Girdle of Chastity ... concludes that they were invented in Italy around 1400 and were in actual use, albeit occasionally, right into the present century. The evidence for their use in the Renaissance period, however, is largely anecdotal or in burlesque fiction. It is probable that the great majority of examples now existing were made in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as curiosities for the prurient, or as jokes for the tasteless.
So there you have it. If your curiosity on this subject isn’t yet satiated, you’ll be glad to learn that that Dingwall book Wilson mentions is available on Amazon.
Meanwhile, real or fake, here are some spine-tingling pics of chastity belts (click any image for a larger view):
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Male chastity belt