Understand fetishism

The Fetishism

When a part of the body, or an object which evokes it, takes care of a loving symbolism, and becomes indispensable to the erotic activity, we speak then about Fetishism. In The childhood of a leader, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote : “everything can be object of sexual desire, a sewing machine, a test tube, a horse, a shoe”. The fetishism sends us back to the cult and to the adulation.

The sexual fetishist transforms an object into liturgical object, if this one sends him back to an erotic experiment. Among the big “classics” of the fetishism : shoes and certain clothes, in particular nylon stockings, without forgetting certain parts of the body as feet and bosoms.

What is the Fetishism?

The word “Fetishism” appears for the first time in 1760 under the pen of Charles de Brosses (1709-1777) in his work of the cult of the Gods Idols where he compares those of the ancient religion of Egypt with the religious practices of Africa. Idol, comes from Portuguese “feitiça”, word which indicates (appoints) a beneficial or harmful magic object.

It is Diderot who is then going to officialize the existence of these words in the dictionary of the Encyclopedia.

The fetishism thus sends back to a cult, that it is spiritual or sexual or both. The object idol represents the divinity and also allows communicating with it, it is at the same time symbol and medium, and this fragmentation reduces the real or supposed danger by a direct interaction with the divinity.

The idea of a cult

In the sexual fetishism it takes place a little bit in the same way, the fetishist devotes to his fantasy, but the presence of a partner is not inevitably required. The ownership and the use of the object idol is enough to bring an excitement sometimes even sufficient to arrive at the orgasm …

Here is in particular why the sexual fetishism was classified for a long time as a perversion. The procreative purpose of the sexuality imposed by the religion could tolerate indeed, neither the masturbatory practices, nor the playful progresses, and even less the association of both!

Fetishism and perversion

In 1816, Charles Fourier ( 1772-1837 ), more known for his political commitments ( socialist utopia) than his sexological reflections, establishes the list of what he calls the sexual manias in an entitled book The loving New World. Charles Fourier throws rejects the expression of “sexual deviation”, he invents instead the place of “polymorphic pervert” which will make later the delights of Freud.

The fetishism was considered for a long time as a sexual perversion. The German doctor Kraft Ebing (1840-1902) was so classified. Nevertheless, at the same time, the other sex therapists put in perspective this evaluation, and tried to redefine the borders of the normal and the pathological. It was a question, among others, of stopping finally excluding from the society people whose sexuality expressed itself differently from current prudish standards. The psychiatrist Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) and the English doctor Havelock Ellis (1859-1939) contributed a lot to this redefining of the perversion. About the fetishism, Havelock Ellis wrote: “the phenomena of the erotic symbolism are the ones who are most specifically natural”.

J.M. Lo Duca defines the fetishism as “a sexual perversion in which a single part of the body (hair, bosoms, hands or feet) or a single part of the clothing, with the exception of all the others, activates the sexual desire”.

It is the exclusive character of the idol that justifies that we qualify it as “perversion”. It is when we become dependent on the presence of the idol that we enter the perversion.

All concerned?

By examining things closer, we notice that we are all more or less a fetishist.

Heterosexuals or homosexuals, men and women, everybody is equal in front of their idols! It even seems today, the tendency is to release the expression fetishist, in what it has of more tempting as despicable.

Towards a redefining of the perversion

Philosophers and artists support the sexological reflection and, following the example of Georges Bataille (writer), of Salvador Dali (plastics technician) or of Maurice Heine, rehabilitate the work of Sade by emphasizing his anti-authority dimension, his refusal of generally accepted ideas and other social and religious constraints, and his will to redefine the erotic borders.

The abstract frame becomes clearer with the works of Alfred Binet (1857-1911), who sees the sexual fetishism as a kind of religious cult. He establishes a link between the fetishism and the monotheist cults : indeed, the fetishist focuses his worship on an object separated from the whole. The admirer of feet, nylon stockings or shoes is not interested in hair, he dedicates an exclusive cult to the object elected as idol. Alfred Binet writes : “the loving fetishism tends to remove completely, to isolate from all which surrounds it, the object of its cult and, when this object is a part of an alive person the fetishist tries to make of this part a whole independent”.

The cutters of braids evoked by Magnus Hirschfeld were redoubtable fetishists. The author reports the case of a young man having in his ownership dozens of braids... Let us specify that this “barber” was not a hairdresser of his job!

Idol and fantasy

Always according to Alfred Binet, the sexual fetishism becomes updated at two levels, one minor, little elaborated or simply latent, it is this fetishism to which it refers when he asserts : “everybody is more or less a fetishist in love and there is a constant dose of fetishism in the most regular love”. Other level, more complex, reflects the fantastical universe of the fetishist. Alfred Binet perfectly seized the abstract character of the fetishism because he knew how to read between the lines without stopping in the first appearances.

Contrary to what we still believe, the fetishist is not either in the incapacity to get the signs of the loving communication, or obliged to gather them in an object, easier to manipulate, even if his behavior can be so decoded. We see rather the expression of an internal, unique fantastical world, often of an extreme creative wealth.

Fetishism and fantasies spread because they seek the imagination. The fantasy builds a direction, a story, gathers images, sensations, it activates and accompanies the desire, leads to the enjoyment. Idols objects are landmarks in the progress of the fantasy, they mark out the paths of the imagination and allow concentrating the attention on the most erotic details.

How do we become a fetishist?

It is still to Alfred Binet that we owe the hypothesis of the “first lived event” associated with a sexual excitement and which becomes then a reference, an erotic release mechanism. This idea will make its road …

In an article of 1927, Freud exposes his point of view : for him, the fetishism is male, it comes to mitigate the fear of castration which does not miss to appear when the (male) child notices that his mother has no penis. Undoubtedly, this nice man had a great deal of difficulty in integrating the existence of the femininity. Freud wonders that the fetishists whom he observed find some pleasure to like their object because he thinks that this behavior characterizes the immature subjects in the emotional, anxious plan, missing self-confidence. Only the talking cure could put them back on the right path of a grown-up sexuality (!).

Exclusively male according to Freud : he specifies : “It is probably spared to no male being to feel the terror of the castration when he sees the feminine genital organ. For which reasons this impression drives some to become homosexuals, and the others to defend themselves by the creation of an idol, whereas the enormous majority surmount this dismay; it, certainly, we cannot say it”.

Freud explains how the idol builds itself and why certain “objects” are privileged : “in the institution of an idol, it seems much more than we have to deal with a process which reminds the stopping place of the memory in the traumatic amnesia. Here also the interest lives as left along the way; the last impression of the disturbing, the traumatizing in a way, will be retained as idol. So, if the foot, the stocking or the shoe, or a part of these, are the favorite idols, they owe it to the fact that, in his curiosity, the boy spied on the genital organ of the woman from legs; the fur and the satin fix - as we suppose it for a long time - the show of the genital hairs which should have been followed by the ardently wished feminine limb; the election so frequent of the parts of lingerie as idol is due to the fact that is held this last moment of the undressing, during which we were still able to think that the woman is phallic.

But it is difficult to assert that we can every time succeed in knowing with certainty the determination of the idol. It is necessary to recommend insistently the study of the fetishism in all those who still doubt the existence of the castration complex or who can think that the dismay in front of the genital organ of the woman has another base, which it derives, for example, from the hypothetical souvenir of the trauma of the birth”.

Certain psychoanalysts dispute rightly the male exclusivity of the fetishism. It is necessary to remember that the idol plays a role at the same time of representation and mediation.

In the worship of the object, there is a narcissistic bonus. As such, we can thus consider as fetishists the behavior to the fashion. When we apply to follow the fashion, we appropriate idol objects, clothes, shoes, accessories which allow to become identified with an idol and to strengthen its well-being, its narcissism.

Fetishism, cult and worship

Jean Streff, in his work Treaty of the fetishism, evokes curious one news item : in the depths of Massif Central, a young mason was arrested while he flew from the linen aired on ropes. The gendarmes, trying to get back the other stolen parts, entered the tiny room where the young thief lived, it was full up to the ceiling of a mass of feminine linen inside which he had dug a hole to nest there.

The German poet, Goethe, was known for his fetishism. He wrote to his mistress Christine Vulpius : “At the next opportunity, send me your shoes of ball, worn down at the heel by your exploits and of which you wrote to me that they were as a part of yourself whom I could squeeze against my heart”.

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) dedicates a poem to the hair in his famous collection ‘The flowers of the evil’. Did these lines inspire Auguste Renoir when he painted this young woman in rich hair in 1894?

Any object which can become object of a fetishist cult, the rites vary according to the imagination and the fantasies. So, sometimes, the fetishist of hair contents with touching them, with feasting on it to instigate better his desire, but also, he can happen to him to wish to cut them to appropriate them and use them for his self-abuses. Krafft Ebing, with a quite Germanic precision, quotes numerous cases from “cutters of braids”, some by possessing dozens …

The worship of the idol stages any sorts of rites, the enactment in the sexual act achieved with or in the presence of the idol object.

The multiple manners of the idol

Certain fetishists of stockings or tights do not only admire these worn by their mistress; they also want to enjoy unspeakable delight to feel the caress of it on their skin, it is a part of the game.

It can be interesting to understand how the cult gets organized : it is a question of reliving a previous experience, which role plays the object in it, is he completely an actor of the fantasy, or only an element of location. Does the rite require a partner? Is it about an idol object which addresses to the sight, the hearing, the touch, the taste or the sense of smell?

If one wants to peel the process, the axes of reading do not miss!

The fetishist is often also a collector. Let us quote in reference the collection of a French which counts thousands of pairs of stockings. Yves Riquet, engineer in Information technology and big amateur of nylon stockings, won the bet to restore a new breath to one of the last manufacturers who got ready to close in 1998 the last production unit of nylon stockings “crystal”. The machine which makes them, a 25 meter-long monster, weighing about 40 tons, last rectilinear job to knit of continental Europe, is untransportable; never mind, Yves Riquet founded a company of distribution which succeeded in selling thousands of pairs of nylon stockings … The business was profitable and the collection grew rich of new models of the most modest with the most prestige.

Nylon stockings, strong elements of the intimate seduction

With men, it goes without saying, but also for women. There are, as says a man of the art, stockings “for Polish cleaning ladies” for which the first virtue is to be opaque and warm and little inclined to provoke the erotic disorder. The other stockings, those that raise with a sweetened distinction the heroines of Hitchcock or, closer to us, the tall elegant women who show their sewing behind the calf.

What a surprise, this return of the seamed stocking which very almost passed on, in the general indifference, if Yves Riquet had not decided, by pure enjoyment of refinement, to save from the breakage one of the last three French machines which made them. The machine was condemned for lack of viable market. Because the tights reign then in master over the consumption of the Frenchwomen who buy 250 million a year!

A seamed stocking is a luxury item which does not bear about. The men, we guess, like them. They are many to remember themselves the gesture of Romy Schneider in “Max and the scrap swashbucklers”, being outlined a sewing straight from the naked leg, or that of the Sabine Haudepin in “The Last train” executing the same drawing to persuade a hypothetical sewing. Let us not speak about Sofia Loren, in basque murder and nylon stockings in “The she-devil in pink tights”.

After more than thirty years of exile, the return of the seamed stocking (and consequently of the garter belt and the other mythical ribbons), without cultivating either the nostalgia, or the eroticism of which we know well that they are not any more than they were, also make the women dream. In seduction, blows below the belt are allowed. And when a woman wearing a tailor Prince of Wales lets guess, in the fortifying line of its stockings, that its bottoms are less strict than its appearance, she has won the part.

A simple line of sewing which is enough to make move all the building of the social appearances, it is all the spine of the business.

The fetishism of feet and shoes

The fetishism of the foot is doubtless one of the most frequent, finally, one of those who express themselves most openly. In the language, many expressions make reference to feet by calling upon deference, respect, or on the contrary upon the contempt, the brutality.

To prostrate itself to the feet of her idol and to kiss her feet is a sign of worship, of submission, respect. To walk, to trample an object expresses the fury, the anger, the contempt, and figuratively, it is to attach little importance to the other one. Expressions “as lick boots” indicate the obsequious behavior of a person who has a lot of pride and that we can thus use as vulgar cloth.

The desire to possess multiple pairs of shoes and boots goes, with certain women, up to the most complete addiction. In an interview with the magazine ELLE, Catherine Deneuve asserte : “if I am a fetishist, it is of shoes”.

The fetishism of the foot and the shoe has very ancient origins; in the Roman antiquity, we quote the case of Senator Lucius Vetilius which hid under its toga the shoes of his mistress to be able touch them, kiss them, and smell the odor. The Athenian courtesans put on shoes of sandals the engraved sole of which left an imprint in the sand; it remained written “follow me” after their passage.

The fairy tale “Cinderella” stages a completely fetishist Prince: he has from his beautiful one only one of her ball shoes, the famous glass slipper (the vair is one of names which indicates the garden snail, kind of a squirrel whose fur was very appreciated by the elegant women). The Prince charming, provided with the attractive small shoe, goes through his lands indefatigably in search of the one who can put the shoe on.

The analogy between the shoe and the vagina was often found in the psychoanalytical interpretation of the fetishists’ fantasies and, more widely, from myths. The expression “to find a suitable match” has taken this way is without ambiguity!

The stiletto heel does not make the unanimity, and activates even very opposite opinions; some people see in it a tool of seduction, the others, as the feminists of the 70s, a tool of oppression.

Stiletto heels symbolize domination, seduction; they make taller the ones who wear them.  They modify the posture, accentuating the muscles of legs, stressing the small of the back, and throwing the breasts forwards. No scientific study has proven that wearing stiletto heels could have repercussions on the feminine desire. On the other hand, it seems to constitute a powerful stimulant of the male imagination. Believe it or not, there are also fetishists of the sneaker!

The vertiginous heels also join to practices of submission. They allow hardly running, and completing without doubt the picture of a woman object, limited in her movements, subjected to the will of the person who imposes wearing such accessories.

These shoes remind a little of the treatment which the Chinese underwent to make their feet look smaller and make them quite at once incapable to move, but deserving of worship. To be beautiful sometimes imposes cruel suffering.

Boots : riders and tamers

In the camp of the predatory and the other rulers represents an inescapable accessory : the boot, even the wader.

The laced boots evoke the tamer, the trainer of fawns who slams her whip, the rider acrobat, fearless heroine, the huntress.

The botted woman integrates to her personality this zest of manliness which makes her at once dangerous and attractive; it is the warrior who can conquer, capture, and run away, such the rider, free of any constraint.

The Corset

The fashion designer Jean-Paul Gauthier tells how one day, by searching the cupboard of his grandmother, he found a corset. “I had no idea of what it was, but I was fascinated by its flesh color and also by its laces. I found that it made an extraordinary body, and I felt that the women wanted this body, this slim waist. The corset, for me, it was an object of fashion, and also of fetishism because I think only of that and I tend to transform everything into fashion”.

The concern of righteousness also corresponds to a will to control the moral “holding”. It is in the 19th century when this tendency asserts itself with the peak of the Victorian corset. An English magazine “Woman’s English Domestic Magazine” represents a kind of the Bible for the lovers of the corset. This magazine addresses the women of the middle class and shows itself very representative of their tastes; it also offers them the possibility of expressing their feeling on numerous subjects, of which the famous corset. A faithful reader writes : “to have the waist squeezed in my corset gets me delicious sensations, once closed, a corset reduces the waist about ten centimeters. At the end of a week of a permanent wear, there is necessity to tighten it a little more, so is created a very pleasant sensation of being “embraced”, without forgetting the advantage of a good posture with the straight back”.

The corset is thus at the same time a “hygienic” instrument in the sense that it can contribute to model the body in a way in compliance with a standard : the “good behavior”. And an instrument of seduction which modifies the silhouette, always according to a standard which sends back this time to erotic and aesthetic considerations.

The representation of the feminine body evolved a lot through centuries and the fashion industry. The Victorian corset gradually lost its popularity when the women went out of their traditional immobility.

Wearing a corset doubtless constitutes a constraint, but it does not have to ache, quite the reverse.

Chased away from fashion, the corset found a new breath in the fetishist universe; it becomes the major component of the outfit of a woman who knows how to lead, who fascinates and seduces. The soft leather, in the statements of the users, gives the sensation of a second skin, sensual, warm, the perfume of which excites that of the skin and sends back to strong images of bestiality, adventure, exoticism.

A corset of soft leather translates the membership in the camp of the conquerors. Boots, stiletto heels, nylon stockings and long gloves accompany and heighten the dress of this predatory of charm.

At present, numerous celebrities have adopted the corset and show it. It is not anymore an underwear, but a major component of the costume. The corset is not anymore a symbol of submission, but it plays on the contrary a revealing role of femininity which dares to show itself, to seduce. The woman becomes chief of her erotic fate. The most attractive women adopted it and staged as an inescapable of the seduction.

The uniform

It is undeniable that the uniform plays a role in the game of seduction. It symbolizes power, strength, greatness, the slavish condition; it enters the fantasies fetishists where it plays a leading role.

At the beginning of this century, Magnus Hirschfeld analyzed the erotic charm that exercises the uniform, and concluded that the women stemming from humble and little cultivated social circles are more sensitive to the glamour of uniform. Serviceman, fireman, but also guard, butcher, baker, surgeon, many women dream to fall in the arms of this prince charming, if he is dressed in the suit which translates its status.

The statutory dresses which represent the order and the law are maybe less frequent today in the feminine fantastical imagination, but they remain not less present there. The serviceman's uniform is sometimes completely diverted for erotic purposes when it is intended to decorate the male fantasies. The dress of camouflage, made for the fight, evokes the harshness, even brutality. At any rate the virile strength, it is what makes all its charm when it is adapted to mischievous purposes.

The games of dominion and erotic submission very often resort to uniforms, or at least work wear.

In the male fantasies, two uniforms arrive far ahead : the maid and the nurse. The attractive naughty handmaid seems hardly taken out of the wings of a little bit old-fashioned play, she treats affectedly a kind feather duster and bends to serve the tea, revealing to the passage her sexy plunging neckline and her attractive bottoms …

It goes without saying that the maid is supposed to do all that her masters’ demand, and this situation can entail big excitement : the wearing of the costume releases certain reserves, that the maid accepts with delight, the woman in a town suit would probably refuse it!

Incognito! When we invert the roles, or when we disguise, we can change our behaviors, express hidden aspects; unconfessed desires or considered undisclosable.

So, the maid's dress is often worn by a man. This situation authorizes him to receive orders, to execute them, and be muttered for his biggest excitement.

The nurse, is an ambiguous and highly attractive image! This one arouses a deep craze, with the reputation to be concerned by sex, which doesn’t correspond at all to the reality. But, by having access to the body, the nurse enters the intimacy and there is only a small step to be crossed so that settles down the fantasy. Besides, her job gives her a power to which the man cannot escape, the white overall inspires the respect, but incites to the malpractice. Wearing a nurse's dress can show itself very exciting for a woman, because this uniform incites her to play an active role in the erotic relation; under her overall, she can give free rein to her urges and charmingly torment her hypochondriac.

Fetishism and code : the Gothic movement

A long silhouette sinks, draped by a black cape, the pale complexion, the shaded eyes of strange make-up, the hair worked skilfully in a surrealist sculpture, the set has to call by its grotesque and provocative aspect …

No, it is not about a mutant shape of a vampire, but about a Gothic, even of one Gothic. The Gothic movement represents an expression full fetishist; the Gothic want to be seen and identified as such. They show their visual codes in the form of clothes, diverse fineries, tattoos, piercings …

But things are not still so simple, and we can be Gothic without presenting “stigmas”. The sociologists consider that the Gothic movement is a stemming subculture itself of the punk movement, born in the end of the 70s in England, and which seems especially long-lived in Europe and in Japan.

The Gothic fashion is inspired by a romantic interpretation of the medieval which reminds of the universes of role-playing games “medieval fantastic”, well known to the teenagers. We shall find thus in abundance lacings, jabots, laces, long dresses also worn by the men. Other sources resemble this fashion to sadomasochistic universes like fetishists : vinyl, leather, shoes and boots in vertiginous heels, necklaces with points, metallic bracelets, and other toys.

The Gothic also declines in a style which revisits the childhood, “Gothic Lolita” represents a particularly appreciated style, and numerous salesmen propose dresses of false model girl in whom the “real” Gothic adventuress can show herself!

The Gothic plays on the ambiguity of genre and on the sensuality; the Gothic girls know how to adorn themselves with impudence : silk corsets, jewels, leather and make-up. The body becomes a work of art, a ground of experiment every part of which tells a story, and symbolize an attitude. Marylin Manson is one of reference characters of the Gothic movement; he uses his body as ground of adventure, the skin, the voice, the glance, the movement, and the fineries. Every detail sends back to a symbol, opens the door of a parallel universe. That we do not make a mistake there, there is in the Gothic movement a romantic revival, and more still, an interrogation on oneself, on the death. Each will interpret the Gothic at the level of its references : of the first degree of the consumption and the identification to the idols, up to a level knowing how to cut itself from canvassers signs to go towards the existential interrogation.