Where women's private parts were matters of intense taboo, even to be ill brought shame. The problem was exacerbated by the attitude of some masculine readers to this "secret" knowledge--like a schoolboy's volume of Lady Chatterley's Lover , Monica demonstrates, through a volume of "women's medicine" now at Winchester College, unpleasantly annotated by several fourteenth and fifteenth century readers, that books on women's medicine would happily fall open through frequent use at the most "titillating" pages on conception and contraception , while the rest went unread and unconsulted.
Furthermore, the use to which texts about women's medicine were put might not even have had care of women as their primary motive: lay male interest in gynaecology was in part sponsored by the growing concerns of landed gentry and nobility to ensure successful provision of sons to inherit their estates. Monica Green offers a depressing story of how consistently knowledge of women's bodies was perverted, and texts which were written with the intention of helping women were recontextualized by misogyny. A constant theme in the history of women's medicine, and one which is still current, is women's reluctance, through shame or embarrassment, to reveal their own ill-health.
All this is amply demonstrated as Green painstakingly tracks the development of the text called the Trotula in its various disguises, copies and influences across Europe. Country by country, period by period, she explores ownership, transmission, translation, and contextualization of the Trotula, as "women's medicine" becomes "women's secrets"--male readers are using these books to ensure that they have knowledge which will prevent women from deceiving them or controlling their own bodies; the texts have become a way for men to know about contraception and conception, to avoid being tricked by women.
Tracking the minutia of the changes to the texts, Monica Green encapsulates the intimate relationship between the written word, masculine authority, and the exclusion of women in medieval society. By the time Chaucer was writing, his Wife of Bath was able to note with frustration that Trotula was just another text with which to oppress women. As part of her text, Monica Green does refer to the various treatments offered to women for their diseases--heroic excisions, exercises, and potions have been administered to women over the centuries in the hopes of improving their health--but medicine itself--whether treatments worked, whether improvements were made in women's experience of medicine, whether a particular group of doctors offered more effective interventions, and the development of techniques which led to the modern practice of gynaecology--are not the subject of this study.
For a reader without a medical qualification, it is occasionally distracting to be told of some intervention without being given any hint as to whether the intervention was effective. But, as Monica Green makes absolutely clear, this is not a study of medicine, but of how medicine and knowledge of women was gendered in theory and practice.
Making Women's Medicine Masculine
It might be thought that much of the story of women's medicine would be told through the activities and access to knowledge of midwives, but midwives are not the focus of this research, and appear only in parentheses. They, or women like them, are the ones who appear to carry out the instructions of the male doctor, touching and investigating the woman's body, until, in the fifteenth century, texts indicate consistent direct access for male doctor's to female bodies: the authority of male medical knowledge and professional status now transcended any social taboos.
Green justifies her relative lack of detailed discussion about the knowledge of midwives by pointing out that it was not until the sixteenth century that there is good evidence that midwifery was treated as a profession in which training was required. Rachel Stone. The Disease of Virgins. Helen King. Growing Old in the Middle Ages.
The Rise of Male Authority in Pre-Modern Gynaecology
Shulamith Shahar. Pliny's Encyclopedia. Aude Doody. The Art of Midwifery. Hilary Marland. The Prospect Before Her. Olwen Hufton.
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Gender and Witchcraft. Brian P. James Goodwin. It is essential reading, not just for those engaged in the social history of women's medicine, but for anyone working in the field of the history of medicine. This is an outstanding achievement of scholarship, both in terms of the history of medicine, and as a major contribution to feminist literature. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Academic Skip to main content. Search Start Search.
Choose your country or region Close. To purchase, visit your preferred ebook provider. Green The first general history of women's medicine in premodern Europe ever written Based on a comprehensive survey of over texts on women's medicine written prior to , including both Latin and vernacular texts Focuses particularly on the history of the so-called "Trotula" treatises, the most popular texts on women's medicine in medieval Europe Extends beyond the medival period to show the impact of print and humanism, including a comprehensive list of all known texts on women's medicine printed between and Includes a fascinating selection of images related to women's medicine, both clincal encounters and works used to understand the nature of the female body.