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07 May 2009 @ 06:05 pm
Why there is no equivalent of a corset for men: a theory  
(Some thoughts prompted by this blog post)

A question I have often asked, and never gotten a satisfactory answer to, is this: what can I wear to a science fiction convention that would be as sexy as a corset?

Lots of women wear corsets at conventions these days. They make nearly any woman look sexy, whether she's svelte or generously proportioned. But I'm not aware of anything equivalent for men. One answer I've gotten to this question is "a corset, duh." But I've tried male corsets and they don't do anything for me. Fundamentally I believe the problem is that they don't change my shape at all. Another answer is "a tux." I can get into that (and have), but it's not quite the same thing.

I realized the other day that the reason there's no good answer to this question arises from Western society's ideas about gender. A corset is not sexy principally because it emphasizes a woman's secondary sexual characteristics. A corset is sexy because it emphasizes the differences between a woman and a man -- where "man" should be read in the deprecated meaning of "human being." In other words, a corset emphasizes the difference between a "woman" and a "person," or between "mark" and "norm." Thus, there is no equivalent of a corset for men because there are no differences between a man and a person (societally speaking) to emphasize.

Clothing that emphasizes a man's secondary sexual characteristics can still be sexy, and appealing to individuals. But it's not "sexy" in the societally-endorsed way that a corset is.

Note that I am not endorsing this view, I'm just observing it.

Your thoughts?

Jae Leslie, aka MaryRead the Pirate Queenmaryread on May 8th, 2009 03:58 am (UTC)
Great books! Particularly the part about the invention of the modern men's suit, just about at Jane Austen's time, that emphasized the classical torso shape (what Ms Bones refers to as the ratio between the clavicle something something and the iliac dealio, must go look up these parts again in Gray's Anatomy). So yeah, tux. Who doesn't look their best in a tux?

I also liked Hollander's observation about the ideal women of Austen's time looking like bolsters, how you can see in the art that women were supposed to be long and tubular and puffy and not bendy in the middle. And their dresses hid pregnancy very usefully. Corsets are only one way to go to illustrate fecundity.