Gloria Brame, Ph.D.

Fraternity, Sorority, Gender: 19th Century Lesbiana

Filed By Gloria Brame, Ph.D. | April 06, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: androgyny, gender politics, lesbian history, trans history, women's history

Something tells me there is more to this late 19th century postcard than meets the eye, though what meets the eye is certainly enchanting.

bilwomen.jpg

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I love the photo, and I suspect that it's a still from a turn of the century French musicale along the lines of The Student Prince, but with the "male" lead written as a trouser role. The one on the left *appears* to be in bridal attire, but that's just a guess. It's so difficult to know for sure without seeing the back of the card (which is not a request, BTW; sometimes not knowing just adds to the fun of it all).

Lynn Miller | April 7, 2010 2:22 AM

I have trouble getting past their waists, and thinking.... ow!

I was having the same thought - their waists look like they're smaller than my thighs (22" if you're wondering) and unlike many current supermodels - both male and female - they don't look like they've been starving themselves for their last three incarnations. I do have to wonder what's happening to their internal organs.

Wow, guys. Seriously, go read up on a bit of fashion history and look at what were called the Gibson Girls. This was the image that inspired the hourglass figure that men found so hot right up until the 1920s: the flapper dress was actually a declaration of war against this fashion statement.

You're right: it caused all kinds of internal problems because everything was being squeezed so tight. As shocking as it may sound, even pregnant women were expected to look like this.

jami_bantry jami_bantry | April 11, 2010 10:10 PM

Yaaa... but Google any website regarding corsets, and you will learn that this practice, and the "foundation garments" that produce these results are still around TODAY. Example:

http://www.corsetinformation.com/galleries/view/5.html

jami

There are any one of a number of possible subtexts we could read in, but the military garb of the woman on the right does provide a ready reminder that the French armies of the 19th century employed vivandieres, who wore quasi-military garb and followed their regiments on campaign:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vivandiere

The woman on the left's garb could be interpreted as a Spanish sort of costume, but the cut of the clothing of the woman on the right is from a period later than 1870, so there isn't a subtext involving Spanish succession crisis (the problem that helped trigger the Franco-Prussian War in 1870).

All that sort of nonsense aside, I'd favor simpler explanations, like the postcard's just doing a great job of tweaking the concept of fraternite.

The subtext is obvious: Be cool, drink wine.