By Adam Blumenberg
Published Online (2008)
Introduction: During the late Middle Ages, the high intellectual formulation of female physicality as morally neutral was incongruous with the observed anxiety that arose from imagining men having even professional contact with women’s genitalia. Using the internal logic of their fields, male theologians and scientists seemingly exculpated the female body from sinful connotations. Nevertheless the actual practice of midwifery did not reflect a gender-neutral stance. An excellent example of how the actual practice of gynecology diverged from theories about the female body is the manuscript Sloane MS 2463, which was written in England in the early 1400s as an advice book for midwives. The introduction reads,
Although women have various maladies and more terrible sicknesses than any man knows, as I said, they are ashamed for fear of reproof in times to come and of exposure by discourteous men who love women only for physical pleasure and for evil gratification. And if women are sick, such men despise them and fail to realize how much sickness women have before they bring them into this world. And so, to assist women, I intend to write of how to help their secret maladies so that one woman may aid another in her illness and not divulge her secrets to such discourteous men.