Wednesday 24 March 2021
16.30 - 18.30
The Textual and the Sexual: Constructions of Consent and Identity (1450-1950)
Van Wijkplaats 4, 005
Marlisa den Hartog :
Perceptions of Same Sex Desire and Homosexual Identities in Italy, 1450-1550
Andrew DJ Shield
Historians often view ‘Renaissance Italy’ as an emancipatory society which freed itself from many moral/religious constraints . The Council of Trent is used as a demarcation line to separate this ‘libertine Renaissance spirit’ from a new era of censure and persecution. In my ongoing PhD project, ‘Unveiling sexual identities in ... (Show more)
Historians often view ‘Renaissance Italy’ as an emancipatory society which freed itself from many moral/religious constraints . The Council of Trent is used as a demarcation line to separate this ‘libertine Renaissance spirit’ from a new era of censure and persecution. In my ongoing PhD project, ‘Unveiling sexual identities in Italy, 1450-1550’ I re-analyze perceptions of sexuality between 1450 and 1550 in their own right, resisting a teleological interpretation, and focusing especially on the multitude of perceptions on sexual desire and sexual identity that existed within different discourses.
This particular paper explores perceptions of same sex desire in Italy between 1450 and 1550. The main questions guiding this paper are whether a belief in a homosexual or lesbian preference already existed, and what language and arguments authors used to explain the origins of sexual desire for a member of the same sex. With this paper, I want to connect to the Acts versus Identities debate on sexual identities, but also move beyond it. It is argued that, rather than stating that sexual desire for the same sex was either seen as part of an exclusively homosexual identity, or as just another sexual act that had no consequences for a person’s (sexual) identity, there is much more evidence to suggest that these perspectives were merely far ends to a much wider spectrum. Likewise, both ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ arguments were used in all discourses to explain the existence of same sex desire, and the boundary between the two was not as strict. Unlike most studies, which separate studies of homosexuality and lesbianism, this paper analyses the perceptions of both male and female same sex desire and explores their differences and similarities.
The source material consists of a number of different discourses: medical (anatomical treatises), theological (sermons and manuals for confession), and literary (novella stories, romance epics, and early literary pornography). In using a multiple discourse analysis, I want to add to a historiography in which most scholars approach sexuality from the perspective of one particular genre. I believe that it is unwarranted to separate these genres completely, when in fact, they have often influenced each other: medical ideas were not limited to the discourse of physicians, nor were concepts of sin limited to the texts of theologians, and the authors of different texts often respond to each other’s arguments. While the perceptions of sexuality within each discourse can appear diverse, comparing different discourses will uncover the similarities transcending these discourses, disclosing the constructionist elements of societal perceptions. (Show less)
Judit Takács :
Media Representations of Gender Role Transgressions between 1910 and 1939 in Hungary
This paper focuses on media representations of gender role transgressions published in Az Est (The Evening), the most widely circulated Hungarian daily in the first half of the 20th century in order to draw an at least partial picture of social perceptions of gender role transgressions in the examined period ... (Show more)
This paper focuses on media representations of gender role transgressions published in Az Est (The Evening), the most widely circulated Hungarian daily in the first half of the 20th century in order to draw an at least partial picture of social perceptions of gender role transgressions in the examined period in Hungary.
The empirical base of this study includes all the 21 volumes of Az Est (which was published between April 16, 1910 and November 17, 1939), most of which we examined in their original form in the National Széchényi Library in Budapest. After reviewing altogether 8861 copies of Az Est (each copy being 16-20 pages long), we found 508 articles with descriptions of non-normative gender performance perceptions being salient in the given social context: typically presenting stories of people behaving strangely genderwise, i.e. women behaving “unwomanly” and/or man behaving “unmanly”.
In this paper I will present a thematic overview of 92 articles reporting on unintentional and intentional, temporary, short-term, and/or long-term changes in gender performances according to the following four main themes that emerged from the articles’ content review: i) work-related atypical gender performances; ii) scientific representations of gender variance; iii) temporary changes in gender performance (cross-dressing stories); iv) narratives of unintentional and intentional gender changes.
According to our findings non-normative gender performances could appear in Az Est not only as poorly understood, unusual, and/or somewhat scary phenomena but also as socially harmless and individually tolerable parts of everyday life. The examined media representations reflected a wide spectrum of approaches to “gender change”, varying from scandalous commodification to supportive attitudes that might even be called “transpositive” with a bit of exaggeration. (Show less)
Sarah Toulalan :
Newspaper Reporting of Sexual Crimes against Children in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-century England
Every day seems to bring fresh revelations in the media about the existence of widespread sexual abuse of children, particularly in circumstances in which parents have entrusted the safety and wellbeing of their children to others whom they had thought above suspicion, whether this is a football academy, a hospital, ... (Show more)
Every day seems to bring fresh revelations in the media about the existence of widespread sexual abuse of children, particularly in circumstances in which parents have entrusted the safety and wellbeing of their children to others whom they had thought above suspicion, whether this is a football academy, a hospital, or Church-run institutions or activities. Such reporting may be sensationalised in order to attract readers, or campaigning to try and effect change, and to bring perpetrators to justice. It is therefore a timely moment to consider how sexual assaults on children were reported in the past, and what reports may have sought to achieve through such reporting.
This paper will focus more specifically on reporting of sexual crime where the victims were children. It will explore how sexual activity with girl children up to the age of fourteen – the age that was usually associated with sexual development - was represented to the public through newspaper reports of rapes and sexual assaults in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It asks to what extent we can identify a particular sense of public outrage about such crimes, and of public reaction to those convicted of such offenses. How far is it possible to establish that there was – or was not – any strong sense of public concern about sexual activity with children, and were there any specific contexts in which particular concerns were raised, for example in schools or domestic service? Public punishments such as the pillory for those convicted of sexual assault brought large crowds who pelted the convicted man with anything from rotten fruit to bricks and dead cats. Such treatment was little different to those subjected to the pillory for other crimes; but how far did newspapers play a part in encouraging such responses for sexual crimes that had involved children?
Using newspaper reports as a source is problematic, including how far we can interpret them as reflective of public opinion as a whole, when different publications represented different sets of interests, and may have had varying levels of circulation limited to particular sets of readers. This paper will further ask to what extent reports may have attempted to form opinion, or to change opinion, as much as to represent the concerns of their readers. (Show less)
Linde Tuybens :
Neither Adult nor Child: Medical Expertise on Sexual Maturity in Belgium (1850-1900)
From the nineteenth century onwards, Belgian courts increasingly called upon medical expertise in cases of sexual assault. Through medical examination of the victim, they were expected to provide physical evidence that could be used to support or undermine the complainant’s allegations. In doing so, these physicians positioned themselves as experts ... (Show more)
From the nineteenth century onwards, Belgian courts increasingly called upon medical expertise in cases of sexual assault. Through medical examination of the victim, they were expected to provide physical evidence that could be used to support or undermine the complainant’s allegations. In doing so, these physicians positioned themselves as experts of the body, in particular the female body. In this paper, I investigate how physicians not only gave their opinion on genital and extra-genital injuries based on their observations, but also how their testimony reflected ideas about sexuality and sexual maturity. I particularly focus on cases relating to child abuse. Written medical reports of forensic experts shed light on nineteenth century ideas about childhood sexuality, and show that sexual maturity was an ambiguous social concept. In 1846, the legal age of consent in Belgium was set on 14 years of age. This implicates that, regardless of the circumstances, all sexual activities with an underage person were considered crimes. For that reason, consent and sexual maturity should not have had any influence on the court’s decision making when the victim was younger than 14 years old. However, medical reports analysed during my research show that physicians did include notes on corporal maturity and physical and/or mental precocity, even when the victim did not yet reach the age of 14. In doing so, their reports reflect contemporary medical ideas about the normal childlike and female body. Using the work of Victoria Bates on sexual forensics in Victorian and Edwardian England, this paper tries to compare the Belgian case of medical expertise on sexual maturity and child sexuality with the practices and ideas of physicians in nineteenth-century England. (Show less)