Comments on: An Alphabet of Feminism #15: O is for Ovary /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/ A feminist pop culture adventure Tue, 25 Jan 2011 12:55:12 +0000 hourly 1 By: Pet Jeffery /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-718 Tue, 25 Jan 2011 12:55:12 +0000 In reply to Pet Jeffery.

But, returning to the idea of the womb as ‘the environment for the maturation of the male seed’, I wonder how such an idea could ever have been sustained. It might seem reasonable in Much Mithering in the Marsh, where the local people had been inbreeding for centuries. But there were more cosmopolitan places, where some children had parents of diverse ethnicity. Surely, it should have been observable that such children owed characteristics to their mothers, as well as their fathers. And what of oriental potentates who drew their harems from a wide area? How could they have failed to observe that their children inherited physical characteristics from their mothers?

By: Pet Jeffery /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-717 Tue, 25 Jan 2011 12:42:37 +0000 In reply to Hodge.

Egyptian doctors seem to have been regarded to be the best in the world (at the time), and perhaps their reputation was justified.

I also note that, although a patriarchal society, Egypt accorded women more rights and freedoms than other parts of the ancient world. At least theoretically, women and men had the same rights in law. I have a suspicion that the rights and freedoms accorded to women played a large part in the negative view of Egypt presented in the Old Testament, and other Jewish writings. A few years ago, I watched a television documentary in which an Israeli lesbian was sent to some religious bloke. The text he drew to her attention made negative references to specifically Egyptian women.

By: Hodge /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-716 Tue, 25 Jan 2011 11:02:15 +0000 In reply to Pet Jeffery.

This is interesting: I was, of course, generalising (and perhaps ‘hundreds of thousands’ wasn’t *quite* the right phrase: in fact, looking at it again that looks like it might have been dodgy editing on my part, as it’s more like ‘a couple of centuries’). What various societies and cultures have thought about anatomy is often, I should imagine, a kind of zeitgeist for how they feel about gender, which is one reason I wanted to do an anatomy post. That idea about the womb as ‘the environment for the maturation of the male seed’ is something I came across in my research of c16th and c17th Europe too, actually (I think there’s some stuff about it on that Cambridge website I linked to at the end, which is highly recommended) – in this sense the ovary is interesting because of the symbolic association eggs have (as in that frontispiece), which is not a million miles away from how the womb was perceived, I suppose… Hmm..

By: Miranda /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-715 Tue, 25 Jan 2011 10:55:31 +0000 In reply to Pet Jeffery.

Yes, I think it’s worth stating that we’ve focussed here on Western science/history predominantly (mainly because Hodge is using the OED as her starting point for all the Alphabet articles, so there is a skew in the direction of usage history in the UK). What we do next, post-Alphabet, with our Monday article slot, is an interesting question – I’m hoping we’ll go round the world a bit more.

That quote about Egypt is fascinating. I’m sure I read somewhere that their knowledge of medicine is often said to have been quite far ahead of Greece/Rome (maybe partly because of all the detailed, ritualised embalming procedures they had for their dead), but I should go fact-check that…

By: Pet Jeffery /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-714 Tue, 25 Jan 2011 10:36:00 +0000 “For hundreds of thousands of years previous, the established thinking had been that they were simply men ‘turned outside-in’…”

It seems to me that hundreds of thousands of years is a long time, and I wonder whether this weird concept is really so old. There are medical works surviving from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, and I wonder whether they have anything to say on the matter. The most relevant thing I have so far found is this (of ancient Egypt):

“The essentials of reproduction were clearly understood and the relationship of sexual intercourse to procreation was well known. However, the ovaries were probably not recognised and no Egyptian word is known for them. The uterus was sometimes known as mut remetj (the mother of mankind) and its role may have been perceived purely as the environment for the maturation of the male seed, without any recognition of the genetic contribution of the mother. Nevertheless, inheritance through the female line was important to the ancient Egyptians.”

John F. Nunn “Ancient Egyptian Medicine”. British Museum Press, 1996, page 56.

It maybe doesn’t take us very far. I suppose the relevance of the final sentence is that, in the absence of biological inheritance, inheritance of property and titles through the female line makes little sense. That might be some evidence that the Egyptians did not, at least, believe in ‘homunculi’, or ‘little humans’ inside sperm. But, if U is to be for Uterus, perhaps a discussion of this would fit better in that place.

By: Pet Jeffery /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-713 Mon, 24 Jan 2011 17:18:45 +0000 In reply to Miranda.

I’ve now clicked on — and just about all one can see of the MySpace profile is a photograph. But, by clicking on the photograph, I learnt that Whitney Stern lives in Las Vegas. While I shouldn’t stereotype the people of Las Vegas, there is something about Hodge’s posts that suggests to me their emanating from elsewhere in the world. The fact that I can’t see more of Ms Stern’s profile allows me to imagine that there’s an actual toastarium as a Las Vegas visitor attraction.

By: Miranda /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-712 Mon, 24 Jan 2011 13:46:48 +0000 In reply to Pet Jeffery.

I’m pleased that we’re that high for the people seeking toastariums :D

To my knowledge Hodge isn’t a Whitney. But she may well go by many names ;)

By: Pet Jeffery /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-711 Mon, 24 Jan 2011 13:14:15 +0000 In reply to Hodge.

Yeah, toast, indeed! But the weird thing is that “toastarium” brings up 86 results on Google. The first is:

Whitney Stern (whit) on Myspace
Whitney Stern (whit) on MyspaceShare this profile Add Comment·Send Message. Sorry, the profile of toastarium is only viewable by friends. … – Cached

Are you Whitney Stern, Hodge?

“An Alphabet of Femininism #15: O is for Ovary | Bad Reputation” is the 7th link in the Google list.

By: Hodge /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-710 Mon, 24 Jan 2011 12:39:08 +0000 In reply to Pet Jeffery.

Ho ho, toastarium is a Hodge invention. I had indeed imagined it as some kind of toast-based attraction. Yeah, toast!

By: Hodge /2011/01/24/an-alphabet-of-femininism-15-o-is-for-ovary/#comment-709 Mon, 24 Jan 2011 12:35:25 +0000 In reply to Miranda.

Would recommend the Laqueur to anyone. One interesting point he makes is that the discovery that women are *not* induced ovulators opened the door to ‘the angel in the house’, and suddenly they became beings who could, in theory, live their whole lives in blissful ignorance of that thing called sexual desire that so afflicted their husbands. But, he points out, this was a *social* change, not a scientific one, because the late nineteenth century also saw new discoveries about how babies formed in the womb, including that the clitoris and the penis begin as the same organ – even though this was mighty convenient for a one-sex model, it wasn’t interpreted that way.

All that said, women as asexual beings to be adored obviously does occur before the victorians (whose influence on it can probably be overstated), and I should guess this has something to do with the social pressure on women to be sexless beings for fear of illegitimate children and disrupted inheritance (in Milton’s case, of course, pre-fall Eve is also pre-sex Eve).