Weird History

Horrible Torture Methods That Have Been Used Primarily on Women

Throughout history, the ways women have been tortured at the hands of the men who tried to control them will send a shiver down your spine. Women have been tortured to repress their sexuality, silence their tongues, and conform to standards of beauty. Most of all, women have been tortured to break their spirit and to keep them submissive to the men who feared what a liberated woman might mean for their fragile worldviews.   

The majority of the methods and devices men created for the purpose of this cruelty were intended to humiliate the female victim. Many of these instruments of torture used on women display an overt sexual-sadism that torture methods used on men simply did not. There are devices below created with the sole purpose of mangling the genitals, and other sexualized body parts, i.e. the breasts, of the woman. Most of these torture methods were abolished centuries ago, however, a few of these barbaric punishments are still practiced today.

  • The Spanish Donkey Cut Women In Half During The Inquisition

    Also known as the wooden horse or the chevalet, the Spanish donkey slowly cut a woman in half through her genitals. It was used throughout medieval times and during the Spanish Inquisition, and a similar device was used on Confederate prisoners during the Civil War.

    The device consisted of a sharp triangular wedge supported by either two or four legs. The woman would be forced to straddle the pointed end of the device, which was sometimes covered in spikes (as shown in the above photo), so that it could slowly cut into the woman’s crotch. Weights were sometimes added to the victim’s feet to make the triangular edge dig even deeper, eventually cutting into her organs.

    Although the Spanish donkey is pretty gruesome, some people thought it was sexy. The BDSM subculture adopted a mild variation of the device, using it like a restraint and spanking bench. The woman partaking in the play lays down on the "horse" face-forward with her arms and legs dangling below, exposing her rear.

  • Foot Binding Existed In China for A Millennium

    Foot Binding Existed In China for A Millennium
    Photo: Frank and Frances Carpenter Collection / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

    Foot binding existed in China for over a thousand years. A “beautification” procedure that left young girls disabled for life, it was considered beautiful for Chinese women of means to have small dainty feet. So, wealthy Chinese families would bind their daughters' feet in order to attract worthy male suitors. The ideal foot length was just three-inches long and referred to as the “golden lotus”; a “silver lotus” was four-inches long. Everything longer than that was considered an “iron lotus,” and was not an acceptable foot length. 

    The effect of the tiny foot was achieved by breaking the young girl’s toes and binding them backwards onto the sole of her foot with silk cloth. The girls were then forced to walk on their feet to encourage the continued breaking of the arch. Over time, the cloths were wrapped tighter and tighter until the desired foot length was achieved.

  • The Breast Ripper Maimed Unmarried Mothers

    The breast ripper was an appalling device that caused immense pain in its female victims. The instrument consisted of two large pointed prongs that would, as the title suggests, tear into women’s breasts and rip the tissue clean off of the body. Occasionally, the prongs were heated as well. It was meant to mark the bodies of unmarried mothers and women accused of adultery.

    The use of the instrument was put to an end during the Middle Ages.

  • The Scold's Bridle Forced Women Into Silence

    For the medieval man, the easiest way to get his wife to stop constantly nagging him was to put her in a scold’s bridle. "Scold" refers to a woman accused of gossiping, or simply complaining too much. In those times, gossiping was feared to be the work of the Devil.

    The first recorded use of the device - an iron mask locked over a woman's head - was in the 16th century. The bridle was an iron mask locked over the head of the woman. Sometimes, spikes would be extended into the mouth and placed over the tongue, making it impossible for the woman to speak without immense pain. However, the torture of the scold’s bridle was primarily psychological; the woman was publicly humiliated as she was paraded through town wearing the bridle, while onlookers cursed and spit at her.