A Reminder That Victorian Porn Is Nastier, Kinkier, and Much Better Than Victorian Art

Illustration for article titled A Reminder That Victorian Porn Is Nastier, Kinkier, and Much Better Than Victorian Art
Screenshot: Twitter

This morning, The Guardian published an interview with university lecturer Sarah Williamson, creator of ArtActivistBarbie, a movable protest of sorts that places Barbies in front of famous paintings to protest of gender imbalances in museums and the male gaze as the arbiter of what constitutes female beauty in art. “Refuse to be the muse,” one of Barbie’s signs reads, “All a bit of a pre-Raphaelite wet t. shirt competition here” reads another featured in the article, titled “That’s Not Art It’s Victorian Porn!”

Advertisement

These statements immediately caused alarm among myself and others on the Jezebel staff, for obvious reasons: we are deeply offended by incorrect comparisons of dull old nudes to very fun Victorian porn. Unlike the little flashes of naked ass and peek-a-boo nipples on display in most museums, Victorian porn is much, much better, more detailed, and nastier than anything in the paltry little paintings Barbie is protesting. In the 1800s, as photography became a means of encapsulating the times, so too did it become a method of documenting sexuality without all the smooth, hairless bodies, surgically enhanced breasts, shaved vulvas, and monster dicks of today—just normal people getting weird, and for the most part, appearing to enjoy themselves.

Illustration for article titled A Reminder That Victorian Porn Is Nastier, Kinkier, and Much Better Than Victorian Art
Image: Wellcome Collection
Advertisement

Victorian pornography is also a rich and varied tapestry of sexuality, kink, and gender fluidity (among countless other fluidities). While we tend to think of Victorians as a generation of sexually repressed grandmothers, they were, in fact, a rabidly horny group of people who covered table legs with skirts out fear that even inanimate objects could inspire barely corseted, brimming lust to boil over into full-on dry-humping mid-tea service.

Illustration for article titled A Reminder That Victorian Porn Is Nastier, Kinkier, and Much Better Than Victorian Art
Image: Wellcome Collection

There’s value to studying sexism in art, of course, but automatically labeling any random, boring old nude “pornography,” especially as a pejorative, is more an indicator of present-day hangups than an informed exploration of the past. Victorian porn is art, but the stuff Barbie’s protesting in the museums ain’t it.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

ladyteratophilia
LadyTeratophilia

Obligatory “Historian Coming to Ruin All Your Fun!” warning, but Victorians absolutely did not cover furniture legs because the wood was...giving them wood (sorry). Those that were covered were just to protect them, or the floor/rug it was sitting on, much like the furniture paws of today.

That being said, one of my favorite features of Victorian erotica is how much of it features women genuinely having a good time. There’s so many cheeky, goofy smiles, and a playfulness that borders on innocence that I just love. Just folks enjoying being naked and not giving a fig about how they look.