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FEMINIZING VENEREAL DISEASE; The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century Medical Discourse

Spongberg, Mary

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ISBN 10: 0814780601 / ISBN 13: 9780814780602
Published by New York University Press, New York, 1997
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x+231pp., notes, index. Despite the efforts of doctors to treat medicine as pure science, medical knowledge was greatly influenced by cultural assumptions and social and moral codes. Following the eighteenth-century discovery that women could suffer from venereal disease without showing any signs of it, prostitutes became the central focus of a major panic about morals and public health. The body of the prostitute became almost synonymous with venereal disease as doctors drew up traits of "abnormal" women; eugenic theories prevailed as well. FEMINIZING VENEREAL DISEASE traces the medicalization of the prostitute as a symbolic source of social disease - the ordinary sick body - of Victorian England. In doing so it presents a foreceful argument about gendering in nineteenth-century medicine, drawing out the inter-relationship between concepts of femininity, public health and the state. A fascinating example of how history can enlighten contemporary discourse, the book concludes with a compelling discussion of Victorian notions of the body on current discussions of HIV / AIDS. Boards in dust jacket. Very good. Bookseller Inventory # 48239

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Bibliographic Details

Title: FEMINIZING VENEREAL DISEASE; The Body of the...

Publisher: New York University Press, New York

Publication Date: 1997

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Synopsis:

In 1497 the local council of a small town in Scotland issued an order that all light women--women suspected of prostitution-- be branded with a hot iron on their face. In late eighteenth- century England, the body of the prostitute became almost synonymous with venereal disease as doctors drew up detailed descriptions of the abnormal and degenerate traits of fallen women. Throughout much of history, popular and medical knowledge has held women, especially promiscuous women, as the source of venereal disease. In Feminizing Venereal Disease, Mary Spongberg provides a critical examination of this practice by examining the construction of venereal disease in 19th century Britain.

Spongberg argues that despite the efforts of doctors to treat medicine as a pure science, medical knowledge was greatly influenced by cultural assumptions and social and moral codes. By revealing the symbolic importance of the prostitute as the source of social disease in Victorian England, Spongberg presents a forceful argument about the gendering of nineteenth- century medicine. In a fascinating use of history to enlighten contemporary discourse, the book concludes with a compelling discussion of the impact of Victorian notions of the body on current discussions of HIV/AIDS, arguing that AIDS, like syphilis in the nineteenth century, has become a feminized disease.

From the Back Cover:

Feminizing Venereal Disease traces the medicalization of the prostitute as a symbolic source of social disease - the ordinary sick body - of Victorian England. In doing so it presents a forceful argument about the gendering of nineteenth-century medicine, drawing out the inter-relationship between concepts of femininity, public health regulations and the state. A fascinating example of how history can enlighten contemporary discourse, the book concludes with a compelling discussion of the impact of Victorian notions of the body on current discussions of HIV/AIDS, arguing convincingly that AIDS, like syphilis in the nineteenth century, has become a feminized disease.

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