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Hermaphrodites
and the Medical Invention of Sex

by Alice Domurat Dreger


We had heard so much about this book that we were somewhat sceptical about it. It turned out to be that very rare breed, the result of intensive research, yet immensely readable. It is an account of the interaction between the medical profession and the hermaphrodites who sought their help in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The practitioners concerned, clearly found them fascinating yet extremely embarrassing, for they offended the basic precept that there were men and there were women. This was before the workings of the endocrine system, let alone DNA, were discovered. Decades of soul-searching and argument as to what defined a person's sex, "driven not by a strictly 'scientific' rationale but instead for the most part by pragmatism: it accomplished the desired preservation of clear distinctions between males and females in theory and practice in the face of creeping sexual doubt." Clearly these Nineteenth Century attitudes persist to this day, not only in the perceived need to 'normalise' the genitalia of new born infants, but scientific studies and pseudo-scientific 'popular accounts' and television documentaries.

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Published by Harvard University Press, Jun 1998
£23.50
Hardback, 320 pages,
ISBN 0 674 08927 8
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