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Schandmaskes / Masks of Shame

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Shame, Humiliation, and Cultural Norms
Do you know someone who is a gossip? Has one of your friends broken a social rule/expectation? Today's world doesn't really punish the gossip -- surely recent events with Perez Hilton have shown that. However, during the medieval period and the Renaissance, and even into the age of Early Modern Europe, there were methods, rituals, and punishments to control and condemn behavior.

    One such creative way to control and condemn behaviors was through the use of a Mask of Shame, what the Germans called the Schandmaske. People throughout the region used such masks well into the eighteenth century -- the same time as the Enlightenment and the American and French revolutions. The purpose of the masks was simple: individuals who committed a social faux pas (or crime) would have to wear it, revealing to their community what they had done. This Schandmaske from Austria from the 17/18th century (at right) has glasses to show the wearer "seeing everything" and a "wagging tongue" to show that the wearer was an unapologetic gossip. Imagine being paraded through town wearing this -- do you think anyone would trust you with a secret in the future?
This second schandmaske (at left) is similar in design and purpose. It's obnoxiously long tongue indicates again that the wearer was telling tales and gossip about others. This mask, unlike the previous one above, features, however, elongated ears to indicate that the wearer also "hears all." This mask was designed specifically for women. Women's behavior was unequally targeted by men and the justice system. Women who "mistreated," "hen pecked" or "bossed" around men, for example, could be expected to be publicly humilitated or punished. "Riding the stang," a public humiliation social ritual in which women would ride a horse or ass (mule) backward to the ridicule of all, is an example of such social punishment.
Look closely on the third and final example of a schandmaske and you will find an unusual nose (see image, below right). Crafted to look like a pig's snout, the point of this "mask of shame" was to demonstrate to others that the wearer acted like a pig. Do you know anyone who could use such a mask?!?

     The goal of schandmaskes was quite simple: punish and ridicule the offender so as to control the behavior. Townspeople looking at people wearing such masks, or participating in humiliating activities such as "riding the stang," would certainly get the message. Don't gossip. Don't be a pig. Know your place. Reinforcing cultural norms and expectations was certainly important enough to Europeans to develop such. . .interesting methods. The question is: did they really work?!? :)