“To all grave and modest matrons”: Practical Midwifery and Chirurgery in (1580)
Anatomy of Gender (2005)
Jacob Rueff’s De conceptu et generatione hominis, first published in 1554, occupied an intermediate space between medieval manuscripts on gynecology and 16th-century practical obstetric texts printed in vernacular languages and intended for mass markets. As such, it reflected the remnants of Renaissance society’s fascination with the medieval tradition of “women’s secrets.” Early medieval sources shared a common social view that women’s bodies and ailments were women’s affairs. Regardless of the sex of the authors, these texts invariably were narrated by feminine voices and were directed primarily to female audiences. Women’s bodily matters were considered secretive in a private sense. That is, when the feminine body was ailing in its general physical, cosmetic, menstrual, and reproductive functions, remedies were suggested within the confines of domestic knowledge. But in the late 14th and early 15th century, the notion of the “secret” started to change. New manuscripts began to concentrate specifically on women’s reproductive function, and the phrase “secrets of women” became associated primarily with gynecology. This marked a shift in focus from the female body’s general health to a focus on generation and birth. It was also accompanied by a gender shift. Women’s secrets, which had previously been sacrosanct feminine subjects, increasingly became a masculine preoccupation.