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Topic: The treatment of women's bodies
The treatment of women's bodies
This topic explores how western doctors (usually male) have thought about, represented and treated women’s bodies. Medical accounts of women became the authoritative view on women's bodies and during the eighteenth century, western medicine became based on anatomy. Dissection, together with anatomical models and illustrations, played a central role. Anatomical knowledge was the basis for surgery on women and new ways of managing childbirth. The ‘medicalisation’ of women continued unchecked until the second half of the twentieth century, when challenged by feminists. Medical theory and practice is always shaped by, and shapes, the wider culture. What male doctors saw in female bodies often depended on existing social relations, and served to reinforce them.
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Topic section: Out of the home into the maternity ward
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After doctors took over the management of childbirth, they introduced instruments and drugs to manage the birthing process better. These practices are still debated today. The number of caesarean sections is rising, but more women are choosing natural childbirth.  > more

Topic section: The battle over birth control
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Before the twentieth century, the medical profession had little interest in sexual matters. This gave women the opportunity to create their own methods of birth control. Even butter or powder puffs could become methods of preventing pregnancy.  > more

Topic section: A woman’s body; a surgeon’s eye
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Anatomical figures represent women’s figures to future medical practitioners, but they also reveal the doctor’s view of women. The female models recline as passive objects, sometimes in sexually inviting poses.  > more
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