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The Lady And The Gadget

I just learned a fascinating fact which is definitely worthy of a blog post, or of a whole film. And luckily, there is actually such a film.

In Victorian Britain, ladies were sent to doctors suffering from “hysteria” - chronic anxiety, irritability and abdominal heaviness. (I’m quoting as well as borrowing from this article in the Guardian). A very common treatment was for the doctor to administer a “pelvic massage”, performed manually with the fingers, until the patient reached a “hysterical paroxysm”. The doctors found this boring and so put their Victorian minds to the task of inventing a range of machines to do the job for them. And in the 1880s the first electromechanical vibrator was created, years before the electric vacuum cleaner or even the electric iron.

It became a huge hit and was advertised freely with ads like this one, from a 1906 issue of Woman’s Own magazine:

“It can be applied more rapidly, uniformly and deeply than by hand and for as long a period as may be desired.”

The vibrator remained in doctor’s offices (and the doctors were rather busy) until the 1920s when it became obvious what was going on. The vibrator went underground, then emerged again in the 60s. But, as the article points out, even in the 60s:

“… only 1% of women had ever used one. This was perhaps unsurprising, given that most vibrators by then were modelled on a very male notion of what a woman would want – a supersized phallus – replicating, in other words, the very anatomy whose shortcomings had precipitated the invention in the first place”

This is brilliant stuff. The most interesting things being that:

  1. The past is full of unexpected surprises.
  2. The past is very rude.
  3. The Victorians were nuts.

What a filthy and excellent world.

/ paddy

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2012 in Culture, Obscura

 

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