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Lacquer's One Sex Model Essay

3039 words - 13 pages

“How convincing is Lacquer’s one-sex model as an explanation for early modern understandings of sexual difference?”

‘Sexual difference’ in early modern Europe is a blurred concept. Controversially in 1990, Lacquer’s theory contended the development of understanding of sexual difference could be simplified in a one-sex model. Lacquer argues preceding the 18th Century early modern society believed in a common sex according to their genital homology, the only perceived difference was position of the genitalia. Lacquer proclaims such understanding was hegemonic up until 1750, when biological dimorphism was discovered emerging his two-sex model. The crux of the question ...view middle of the document...

Early modern understandings of sexual differences were influenced by prevalent medical theory. Lacquer’s one sex model assumed early modern empirical understanding was rooted in ancient medical theories. Lacquer’s model emulates Hippocrates theory of Humoralism which proposed the body was made up of four humours on a hot to cold, wet to dry continuum, determining sexual difference according to the constitution of these elements. Galen’s theory of inversion argued women were less perfect versions of men, with exactly the same organs as men, but in the wrong places as they “lack the heat to turn their inverted male genetalia outside the body.”[1] Aristotle saw man and woman as comparable versions of the same sex, due to their genital homology. He argued the sexes did not differ essentially, purely the arrangements of their genitalia. But Schiebinger recognises through gynaecology, physicians evidently looked into the issue of sexual difference, but no attempts were made to delineate sexual differences in the body or portray them in anatomical texts and theory as it was too expensive and shocking in comparison to the common aesthetic anatomy.

Emerging anatomical medicine undermines Lacquer’s claim that understanding was dominated by ancient theory alone. Empirical science competed with natural physiology, dismantling the theory of genital homology. Paracelsus argued “two different monarchies rule within”[2] the sexes, acknowledging early evidence of female diseases which proved knowledge of female genital otherness was underway prior to 1750. Jacquart and Thomasset reiterate the malleability of medieval medical learning reinforcing “by 1590 physicians were reversing the image of women as imperfect men.”[3] Cadden argued there were many more theoretical dimensions of medicine and in portraying that understanding was “passively dependent on a set of succession of ancient ideas, is to misrepresent the dynamism of the period.”[4]Jacques Moreau assessed “to the physician, the relation of woman to man is a series of opposites and contrasts.”[5]Realistically, Renaissance physicians used the term ‘comparable’ more frequently than ‘homology’ in referring to sexual difference. Understanding “that male and female were two halves of the same sex, does not seem to have taken root in the popular imagination.”[6]Lacquer fails to recognise wider epistemological trends in exploring the understanding sexual difference, thus restricting his explanation. Stolberg deduced the one-sex model collapsed long before the 17th Century and the renaissance period must instead be interpreted as the medical enlightenment in sexual dimorphism.

Sexual difference was also defined by physical appearance. Lacquer focuses upon the appearance of the genitalia to explain early modern perceptions. Renaissance anatomists such as Vesalius depicted women’s organs as men’s in all of his works often drawing the vagina as phallic. ...

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