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Sexing the Body: Representations of Sex Differences in Gray's Anatomy, 1858 to the Present

Petersen, A. (1998) Sexing the Body: Representations of Sex Differences in Gray's Anatomy, 1858 to the Present. Body & Society, 4 (1). pp. 1-15.

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Anatomy texts are seen as authoritative sources for knowledge about natural sex differences. The concepts of a natural, biological sex and of a natural difference are, however, increasingly difficult to sustain. A growing number of scholars have pointed to the fact that 'sex' as much as 'gender' is a historical and social construction. This article examines how the multiple-edition anatomy textbook, Gray's Anatomy, has portrayed the sexed body and male/female differences during the course of its publication, 1858 to the present, focusing on specific parts of the anatomy, namely the sex organs or 'organs of generation', the pelvis, the skull and the brain. An analysis of textual descriptions and graphic illustrations reveals that the male body has been the stable norm or standard against which the female body has been compared and implicitly judged as underdeveloped, weak or faulty. Only rarely has the male body been compared with the female body. Reflecting long-standing views about sexual complementarity and natural differences between men and women, some comparisons emphasize the reproductive functioning of females or imply that females are intellectually inferior. It would appear that the discipline of anatomy has remained largely immune from broader public debates about sexual inequality and gender representations.

Item Type: Journal Article
Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd
Copyright: © 1998 SAGE Publications
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