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Victorian medical men and their understanding of the female condition, 1859-1900

Trompeter, B; (2007) Victorian medical men and their understanding of the female condition, 1859-1900. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Gender relations, particularly in the second half of the nineteenth century, were negotiated against the backdrop of a separate spheres ideology. The doctrine assumed a sexual identity for women based on their natural and distinctive biology. These so-called laws of nature asserted a specific female destiny making them peculiarly suited to a reproductive and domestic existence. This thesis sets out to explore why there were good reasons for medical men to welcome the idea of sexual difference, and by what means a number of them sought to frustrate the ambitions of many middle-class women who were questioning their allotted role and actively challenging the legal obstacles blocking their path in achieving equal status with men. Although many women subscribed to the idea of exclusion from the public arena, being quite content to run the domestic sphere, there were significant numbers who were openly demanding changes to their subordinate position. The passage of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857, the Married Women's Property Acts of 1870, 1882 and 1884 and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1886 confirmed that many feminists and their supporters were making steady inroads onto male territory. As the lot of middle-class women improved, albeit very slowly, accounting for their distinctive physiology became increasingly difficult to sustain on a rational level. To forestall further any ideas women entertained about moving from their dedicated sphere, some normal female functions were medicalized and many women found themselves directly implicated in the production of pathology. The thesis focuses on the scientific theories and discursive practices that lent support to the notion that women were naturally governed by their reproductive faculty. Their reproductive aptitude became the manifestation of developmental failure, explaining why they had been unable to keep pace with men on their evolutionary journey and achieve equal standing.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Victorian medical men and their understanding of the female condition, 1859-1900
Identifier: PQ ETD:593208
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest. Third party copyright material has been removed from the ethesis. Images identifying individuals have been redacted or partially redacted to protect their identity.
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1445884
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