By Adam Turner
Today I’ll be focusing specifically on the idea that a person, or a part of a person’s body, can be “ambiguous.” I’d like to start by noting that the word itself is fraught. As I mentioned, it can be both empowering and hurtful depending on how it’s used. The first question is: ambiguous to whom? Is this person ambiguous to themselves? Or are they just ambiguous to the person doing the looking? A person who, like many of us, is trying to sort and categorize the people around them into boxes labeled “male” or “female,” “gay” or “straight,” “black” or “white.” But — and this gets at one of the reasons I love Hedwig, with all its issues — ambiguity does not have to be a problem. Taken up dusted off and worn proudly ambiguity can carve out spaces for human difference in a culture and a history too often resistant to divergence from the “norm.”
By Sean Cosgrove
It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on NursingClio and up until the other day I had been planning on writing something incredibly exciting (I swear) regarding the history of prostitution. As it often does, however, life happened. The image below rolled across my computer screen and derailed that little nugget in favour of a conversation about our current obsession with the innocence of childhood and the possible impact it has on decisions that we, as adults, make regarding how best to guide children into adulthood. How much does adult-onset awkwardness about the fact that children do have a sexuality and are sexed influence the way we talk about issues relating to sex?
This past December, the world saw another celebrity sex scandal. Suzy Favor Hamilton, the three-time U.S. Olympian, was outed as having a “secret life” as a high-priced escort. As a resident of Madison, there was no way I could have avoided hearing about the fall from grace of one of Wisconsin’s golden girls. Her name… Read more →
By Carrie Adkins
First of all, a disclaimer: in many ways, American Horror Story is not Nursing Clio material. For starters, the show features haunted houses, alien abduction, demonic possession, and an angel of death; it does not, in short, aim for realism or historical accuracy. The first season offered very little content related to Nursing Clio’s focus on gender and medicine in a historical context, and after just a few episodes, I found it uneven and disappointing. There were, at least, some interesting (and purposefully horrifying) highlights – part of the back story involved an unscrupulous 1920s abortionist, and Jessica Lange did an amazing job playing a very, very, very bad mother – but in general, that season quickly lost its scariness and became ridiculous and repetitive. But oh, the second season!
By Sean Cosgrove
Questions in public discourse surrounding the issues of human gender and sexuality seem to revolve around (unchallenged) binaries of female and male, and hetero or homosexual. Now, that they exist in this form currently and shape our lived experience is absolutely true. That they have always existed, however, in the guise(s) that they do now is not, and it can be dangerous to assume the unchanging nature of these constructs when talking, particularly, about social policy.
By Sean Cosgrove
Hands up if you’ve heard of The Second Sexism?
For those, like me, whose spidey-senses may be tingling at a mention of the title, but draw a blank regarding its substance, The Second Sexism is a book released earlier this year by philosopher David Benatar concerning what he sees as the disadvantage and discrimination faced by boys and men as a result of their sex. Benatar’s contention is that there exists a second form of sexism affecting males which is not only under theorised but remains largely undiscussed. The importance of this conversation, he contends, is that only through an awareness of the operation of all forms of sexism can we, as a society, begin to overcome it.
While a quick Google search (the first port of call for any accomplished scholar) confirms that I seem to have arrived at this party a little late, thankfully the notion of a second sexism is incredibly interesting and while the book lays down some serious gender talk, it also offers some food for thought as to the unique skills inherent in the historical discipline.
Sex education is tricky stuff. We’ve heard some about it already here on Nursing Clio. And many of us awkwardly shuffled through it one way or another in public school. The only real “talk” I remember from my parents was a noticeably scientific explanation from my microbiologist father, which pretty much cleared up my curiosity at the time, I recall. The public school side of it was mostly anatomy
Elizabeth Reis is a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon and is the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). This year (2012-2103) she is a visiting scholar in the History of Science Department at Harvard University. This interview originally appeared in Feminists for Choice and is reprinted with permission.
1. What was the motivation behind writing Bodies in Doubt?
So much of the “history” of intersex begins in the mid-1950s with a critique of John Money and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University. This was an important period, of course, because Money’s protocols became widely adopted, but it was hardly the beginning of the story of the medical management of intersex. As an early American historian, I wondered what happened to those born with unusual bodies in earlier eras. I wanted to find out how the gradual process of medicalization affected our understanding of how male and female bodies were supposed to look.
I am currently teaching an upper-division undergraduate course on the history of women in the modern United States. Because I’ve been teaching for several years now, and because my courses have almost always included some kind of study of women and gender, I was not surprised when, during the very first class, one of my students raised her hand and began her response to one of my questions with that ubiquitous disclaimer: “I’m not a feminist, but . . .”