Gendered Body


  The relationship between gender identity and the human body became in the nineties of
20th century one of the key research topics, as in gender studies, and in gender history itself. Where else also search base for the different character of women´s and men´s gender stereotypes than in the constitution in the core relationship that defines its own capacities and capabilities of human beings to relate themselves to the outside world, accept and acquire its values and social strategies needed for full participation in society, or vice versa on the basis of  their knowledge levels of  physical existence to resign or accept the position within networks of power relations, gender and socially stratified society.

  Exploring aspects arising from the relationship between body, individuality and society were basically inspired by the interest, which was aroused through publication of Michel Foucault´s studies devoted to the development of social relationships and discourse in the process of modern society development modern.
[1] This process is accompanied by a number of changes, including the increase of State control over individual bodies, exercised and sophisticated surveillance apparatus transferred to the medical care provider.

  Process of modernization theorists show that, together with the weakening of the influence of religious dogma on the functioning of society from the 18th century, growth the importance of science in terms of establishing new social norms and stereotypes based on knowledge of the newly constituting modern scientific disciplines. Science of Enlightenment proclaimed by rhetoric contributes to increase the freedom and independence of individual lives and society and independents from evils, which has long surrounded the man. But along with the penetration of scientific knowledge in public discourse also the increased level of controlling of the population through practices and rules resulting from the application those scientific disciplines, that have a man used to rule the world. With the retreat power of religious framework to define the values, appear the body increasingly as an objective of understanding, describing, as well as control and regimentation, and also as bearer of symbolic values of man. The body thus became one of the constitutive foundations of human society. Thanks to more detailed anatomical knowledge to pass since the Enlightenment has become body be a ground and base element for developing gender stereotypes and shows basal essential physical differences between male and female.[2]Thanks to the knowledge of this natural dichotomy became gender differences more natural than ever before, apparently consisting entirely of course on the physical, anatomical basis.

  Body in terms of social sciences figures not as immutable physical object, on the contrary, the emphasis in research is on transformation and development of functions that the body can take in respect of the individual and society.
For this reason, is research on the development of the body almost completely based on interdisciplinary approaches and a wide range of research topics and methods.

  Nevertheless, we can determine the constitutive basis, for which is in the research aspects of human physicality usually paid the most attention.
Philosophy favours exploring the role of the phenomenology of the body in the process of perception - how our body involved the shaping of relations of identity, consciousness of the selfhood and reception area.[3] Anthropology of the body, however, focuses on exploring the symbolic values derived from the body, functions that the body may represent a culture or a process of embodiment - being in culture through the body.[4]In sociology, the main topics of research has become the particular social constructions of body, power relationships, based on monitoring, control and physical aspects of manifestation of the body.[5]

  In historiography the body is conceived as a variable historical object - changeable and constantly reconstructed phenomenon, inseparable from the cultural context in which his owner was born,
where he lived and died. Each society is characterized by this approach to its own vision of the body, which is always culturally dependent. The historical body is therefore not regarded as a given, but rather something that we is mediating system of cultural meanings. From the perspective of gender studies is the greatest emphasis given on the research of gender stereotypes and social roles of men and women and the biological and cultural nature of body as a source of such differences.[6]

  Pioneering work on the role of the body in cultural context was Marcell Mauss´s influential essay - Les Techniques du corps,
[7] dedicated to the function of the body in the social context. Mauss stated in its conclusions that the human body is somehow involved in all activities that accompany a man - be it gestures during a talk, giving the importance of words, or even the ability to perceive the space around him. Body significantly affects our being in the cultural context, so it is, as Mauss said, the most important tool of mankind. With adaptation of the body to the new cultural habits dealt also Norbert Elias,[8] from the sixties of 20th century, a whole series of works prepared on the basis of historical sources of serial demography, formed the thematic focus on birth rate, infanticide and other statistically interpretable data.

  In 1963, Michel Foucault published the first of his major works - The Birth of the clinic,
[9] and influenced by that future development in research on the body more than any other author. Under his influence began to be pronounced a critique of the current approach to the body as a unchangeable fixed category.

  Body in terms of gender studies has become an important component of interest in the second half of the eighties of the 20th century. The first works were devoted to studies of the body as metaphoric symbols or allegory wider social and political categories such as nation or social class.
[10] An important part of the course were mainly works on theory of society medicalisation, inspired by Foucault´s works on the transformation of epistemological discourse in the process of development of modern biomedicine.[11] The aim of these works was to study on the way how influenced the health regulation, development of medical knowledge, professionalism and the formation of modern obstetrics, the position of individuals in the society.
  From nineties, the number of studies devoted to the issue of the body rapidly increased, and this problem has become one of the key research topics in all areas of humanities. The reason for such an expansion of interest in research related to aspects of physicality is probably the fact, that the body itself is today for the first time in centuries seen not as immutable biological entity, but rather as a continuous variable category.

  A significant part of gender-oriented studies is paid to the issue of transformation of conception of the female body in the discourse of modern biomedicine, constituted from 17th to 19th
century. Metaphysics and ontology were the resulting theological tenets of the determining factors in defining the relationship of man and woman till the 18th century. In that time began a gradual change – process of modernisation. Intellectuals, referred now to as the bearers of ideas of the Enlightenment began not just a human society, but the world itself, considered not as a place leaded by the transcendent will, but as a distinct space, governed by the laws of a fixed given laws - a nature. Learning about natural laws, communication with the world of natural givens, replaced metaphysical contemplation. Infiltration of the principles of operation of natural laws designed to ensure the natural functioning of society based on social relations.
  For this reason, it was necessary to redefine the relationship between men and women on the non-metaphysical base. As one of the appropriate discipline was also proved the medical science.
[12]Society in that time have been influenced by theorists of medicine residues of ancient medicine. From antiquity to the 17th, or even till 18th century persisted biological justification for women as deficient organism on the basis of theories of Aristotle, Hippocrates and especially Galen. Aristotle, understood women as creatures of nature colder and weaker than men, women, according to him, haven´t enough heat to warm their soul to clean it and became by that less inferior. Galen was following theory of 4 substances established by Hippocrates, reasoned that women are made of different substances - inherently cold and wet, and so that also passive, the men on the contrary warm and dry and active men. Women were homologous inverted image of men and the female sexual organs were seen also only as a reversibly formed, a copy of the organs of men - the perverted male. Reasons for underdevelopment of the genital organs were perceived in the natural coldness of the female body, male body on the other hand, reportedly naturally warmer, it was much better adapted to the vibrant activity, female body thus becomes a natural cause of female passivity in society and relationship to man. Coldness of the female sex was justified by the advantages of cooling the bodies of semen that there will produce a new life, where higher temperatures would be a withered semen as the desert.

  This concept was taken over by medieval scholasticism and dominated until the 17th century, when for the first time appeared unique views and pictures suggesting that women are inherently the same as men, therefore they do not consist of different substances. Influential work, De humani corporis Fabrica libri septem (1543) of Andrea Vesalius found in both sexes at least some common features, such as a single skeleton. It is significant that while the skeleton of women and men Vesalius understood as identical, reproductive organs are still interpreted by Galen - namely homologous. Female genitalia in their seminal work, De humani corporis Fabrica illustrate an exact copy of the genital organs of male converts inside the woman (so underdeveloped in the right direction) – the reversible image of man.

  For grounding of women in power structures of society was crucial that her body was always considered as an imperfect male. Very long persisted residues of Galenic tradition, especially in the case of genital paid until the early 19th as a leading opinion. Cultural determination of women was also visible in progressive scientific views, which dealth with specific design of the human body and mutual differences between men and women, their organs, muscles and bones. While women and men are regarded by them as being substantially equivalent, women are, after all, determined by their biological role - a role of mother. In this way, for example, were made the first portraits of female skeletons. Genevieve Charlotte Thiroux d'Arconville in her anatomical atlas of female skeletons has shown non-natural hypertrophied pelvis and small skulls.[13] By that was emphasized the disposition of the female organism to reproduce and vice versa denied the possibility of equal intellectual development of women to men. In this way can be demonstrated that gender differences have not just been derived from basic biological and anatomical differences, disparities between the sexes, but there was clearly contrary to the penetration of gender stereotypes in medical science.

  A fundamental aspect of the process of medicalisation was the increase in supervisory functions of state institutions to codify and control female body. Women's body was from 18th century still subordinated to a greater control of medical science. Essential for the subsequent development was the emphasis placed by theorists of state-cameral sciences at the growing wealth, strength, and hence the number and quality of the population. Johann Peter Frank, as a representative of this approach is an excellent example.[14] His theoretical concept of medical police was clearly aimed at female reproductive body as a single source of future population. It should be emphasized that the female body was especially interesting because women was the bearer of the fetus and thus the basic source of future prosperity and security.

  Woman becomes a prisoner of its biological nature, subject of scientifical research in related to reproductive functions of the female body - the function of female sex organs, menstruation, conception, childbirth, women's sexuality. Woman has been closed in the private space and carefully guarded, yet, however, was exerted continuous pressure on the discipline, describing, detailed examination to improve results of new knowledge mastery, such as obstetrics.

  Women´s attributes became those associated with their parent roles - sensibility, emotionality, empathy, a basic organ of female body was the heart not the brain. Predisposition, which the female body carried earlier in the metaphysical plane, in the new paradigm became - anatomical. At the time when it was poorly explained childbirth and women's menstruation a woman's body was still hidden behind a veil of mist. Women were from the perspective of physicians in virtually constantly endangered danger of illnesses. Unclear origin of menstruation led to many theories - a German word Reinigung clearly refers to theories associated with faith in the purgative function of this phenomenon, many scientists believed that such a woman's body stripped of harmful substances present in the body.

   Menstruation has become a kind of periodical disease of female organism that it undermines - the periodical opening of wounds. It causes pain in a woman's head and women body is treated as an object in status of permanent ill - and as such must be and shall be subjected to expert medical supervision.

  Female genital organs by Enlightenment theories also greatly influenced the rest of the body – there were observed changes of female habitus during the period time. It was inferred that the genitals have a strong influence on the nervous system of women. As a woman in virtually every month in the state of the disease and health in the meantime a kind of biological risks - is subjected to strict supervision also female psyche. Now the context of vulnerability to disease will then develop a strategy for identifying the woman as being weak and nervous nerve. In this way, lead the discourse of medical science to a constitution of gender stereotypes in the very essence of human existence - the biological sex differences.

(Historical sources a contemporary theoretical articles are due to respect of copyright law intended only for study purposes. For this cause are protected by secure access. If you are interested in study, please contact:

K.Canning, The body as a Method? Reflections on the Place of The Body in Gender History.Gender and History, Vol. 11, No. 3, 1999, p. 499-513.

A. Bayerová, O Zabránění těhotenství, In: A. Bayerová Žena lékařkou. Vídeň 1907, s. 3-14.

F. S. Kodym, Zdravověda čili nejlepší způsob, aby člověk svého života ve zdraví a vesele užiti a k tomu dlouhého věku dosáhnout mohl. Praha 1854, s. 172-180.

P. Mantegazza, Physiologie ženy. Praha 1912, s. 3-13, 117-121, 330-345.

V. Hnojek, Tělo lidské s ohledem na duši lidskou. Praha 1853, s. 34-35.



[1] Michel FOUCAULT, The birth of the clinic: an archaelogy of medical perception. London 1973; Michel FOUCAULT, Dějiny šílenství v době osvícenství: hledání historických kořenů pojmu duševní choroby. Praha 1994.
[2] Karen HARVEY, The Substance of Sexual Difference: Change and Persitence in Representations of the Body in Eighteenth-Century in England. Gender and History, Vol. 14, No2, 2002, p. 202-223.
[3] Maurice MERLEAU-PONTY, Phénomenologie de la perception. Paris 1945.
[4] Mary DOUGLAS, Natural Symbols, New York 1973; Thomas J. CSORDAS, Embodiment as a paradigma for Anthropology. Ethos 1990, p. 5-47; Steven van WOLPUTTE, Hang on to your self: of bodies, embodiment, and selves. Annual Rewiev of Anthropology 33, 2004, p. 251-269.              
[5] Anthony GIDDENS, Modernity and Self Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge 1991.
[6] Judith BUTLER, Bodies That Matter. On The Discoursive Limit of „Sex“. New York 1993.
[7] Marcel MAUSS, Les Techniques du Corps. Sociologie et Anthropologie. Paris 1950.
[8] Norbert ELIAS, O procesu civilizace: sociogenetické a psychogenetické studie. Díl I.-II. Praha 2006-2007.
[9] Michel FOUCAULT, Naissance de la Clinique, Une Archeologie du Regard Medical. Paris 1963.
[10] Dorinda OUTRAM, The Body and the French Revolution: Sex, Class and Political Culture. New Haven 1989; Antioine de BAESQUE, The Body Politic. Corporeal Metaphor in Revolutionary France 1770-1800. Stanford 1997; Isabel HULL, Sexuality, State and Civil Society in Germany 1700-1815. Ithaca 1995; Edward SHORTER, A History of Women´s Bodies. New York 1982.
[11] Londa SCHIEBINGER (ed.), Feminism and the Body. Oxford 2000; Thomas LAQUEUR – Catherine GALAGHER (ed.), The Making of the Modern Body. Sexuality and Society in the 19th Century. 1986; Barbara DUDEN, Woman Beneath the Skin. A Doctor´s Patients in 18th Century Germany. Cambridge 1991.
[13] Londa SCHIEBINGER, Skeletons in the Closet: The Fisrt Illustrations of the Female Skeleton in Eighteenth-Century Anatomy.In: Londa SCHIEBINGER (ed.), Feminism and the Body. Oxford 2000, p. 25-57.
[14] Johann Peter FRANK, System einer vollständigen medizinischen Polizey. Vol. I-IX, 1779-1827.