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Chivalry, Sexuality and Menstrual Taboo, c. 1840-1880

A Centre for Medical History seminar
Speaker(s)Dr Julie-Marie Strange, University of Manchester
Date30 November 2006
Time13:15 to 15:00
PlaceAmory A115

Chivalry, Sexuality and Menstrual Taboo, c.1840-1880

As a burgeoning area of specialist expertise, gynaecology in this period operated as a site for the negotiation of professional opportunities and the pursuit of medical knowledge. Yet the subjects addressed by gynaecological practitioners, the diseases of women, also became the sites for the negotiation of cultural identities. This paper examines Gynaecological discourse in the mid to late nineteenth century to explore the ways in which paradigms of menstrual (ill)health were framed by notions of Englishness and chivalry. Analysis of such frames, however, suggests that notions of gentlemanly endeavour were slippery and often charged with sexual undertones and fears of the 'mystery' of woman. Moreover, paradigms of menstrual health were riven with contradictions. Women were 'subjected' to menstruation but must be encouraged to 'perform' it well. Menstruation was at once both a primal and disgusting danger to women from which they must be protected but, also, an essential component of female health and beauty. The paper will unpick these paradoxes in an attempt to read menstrual discourse as a site of potential
cultural and gender conflict.


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