Concerts/exhibitions/plays

Vicente on Sex Roles at the Lisbon ASPHS

Marta Vicente’s paper, “Making Sex in Eighteenth-Century Spain,” was taken from a forthcoming book on sex and gender in 18th century Spain, and it looked at how the emerging mechanical view of nature affected Spanish commentators on sex roles. Under the previous, humoral paradigm of explaining bodily functions, the female genitalia were thought to be merely male ones inverted. This made changes between genders easy to explain: if a woman suddenly was found to be a man, the genitals must have emerged from the body thanks to humoral changes. This remained the popular view during the 18th century – that people could change their sexes even once they had become adults. Physicians, however, were reluctant to acknolwedge sex changes. A monk denounced to the inquisition for having sex with men, for example, was judged by physicians to have unusual physical characteristics, not a hermaphrodite, but as a man. But in another case where a priest, not a physician, examined a nun who had become a man (and thus was able to inherit from his father), the priest agreed and allowed the (now male) nun to leave the convent. Thus the emerging medical professional view of the body as constituting discrete, fixed organs working together mechanically rested uneasily in the 18th century with popular views of  rather than humoral flows and changeable bodies.

About emspanishhistorynotes

Scott Taylor is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Kentucky.

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