Gender changes and history

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Gender changes and history

Post by Sonic# » Mon Apr 25, 22:01 2011

I was reading this article because it mentioned a faculty member I know (here), and reading the comments. Most of them are dismal, a few quite funny. The two bones I have: one, using nonconformative gender features to make fun of the author for looking like a man or a transsexual (as if there's something wrong with a transsexual), and commenting that it's silly to think that gender is a social construct, that it changes through history.

I would love to discuss the first point more, but my immediate and also thought-provoking reaction (as opposed to immediately distressed reaction) went toward the second point. A lot of people used the claim that gender's biological rooting was self-evident, which we know is bunk. My question: is there a way to present the way that gender changes through time, with the aim of demonstrating that gender is a flexible concept dependent on the culture of a particular time and place to find particular articulation? I welcome your own answers, from any field of expertise you have. It needn't be restricted to history, but can use any body of knowledge, from medicine, counseling, and therapy to biology, chemistry, and physics, and even through anthropology, economics, and the like. Bonuses if the material provides a concise explanation without having to betray much accuracy.

1. Anatomy: Andreas Vesalius, et. al. (edition here or here)
Let's look at Renaissance anatomy manuals of the sixteenth and seventeenth century. If you flip far enough in the book, after the gradual flaying of a complete body, you get shots that focus on organs. Shortly after the brain, you get two models of the reproductive organs, one male and one female. They look very much alike, with the female ovaries labeled as the testes. In other places, you can also get similar images.

What do you get when you look at these images?
A. ... 21-0-0.jpg (Digital ID: RBAI005-0021)
B. ... 28-0-0.jpg (Dig. ID: RBAI006-0002)
C. ... 28-0-0.jpg (Dig. ID: RBAI003-0028)
D. ... 06-0-0.jpg (Dig. ID: RBAI013-0006)

A and B are women. C and D are men? Do you notice something? Like, perhaps, that everyone has a penis and testes? A draws the analogy between the vagina and the penis in features. B just draws the entire female reproductive set in a way that anyone who's been to a bathroom stall can understand. C and D reflect this, with the model of the organs splayed out resembling how anatomists draw the female sexual organs today. Two ovaries to the side, a shaft to the middle.

Anatomists back then thought that women and men were one continuous sex. Women could, theoretically, become men, if their balls dropped. That thinking is reflected in these and many other depictions of male and female anatomy in the period. Gender, being sometimes difficult to discern or tell, was marked in other features, like clothing, and was seen as more changeable than in the nineteenth century, or even sometimes now. That's not to say that such changes were welcome, but that's the fight for our day.

For now, I'll stop, but I'll post other examples later.