Feminizing Venereal Disease: The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century Medical Discourse

Feminizing Venereal Disease: The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century Medical Discourse

by Mary Spongberg


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In 1497 the local council of a small town in Scotland issued an order that all light women—women suspected of prostitution— be branded with a hot iron on their face. In late eighteenth- century England, the body of the prostitute became almost synonymous with venereal disease as doctors drew up detailed descriptions of the abnormal and degenerate traits of fallen women. Throughout much of history, popular and medical knowledge has held women, especially promiscuous women, as the source of venereal disease. In Feminizing Venereal Disease, Mary Spongberg provides a critical examination of this practice by examining the construction of venereal disease in 19th century Britain.

Spongberg argues that despite the efforts of doctors to treat medicine as a pure science, medical knowledge was greatly influenced by cultural assumptions and social and moral codes. By revealing the symbolic importance of the prostitute as the source of social disease in Victorian England, Spongberg presents a forceful argument about the gendering of nineteenth- century medicine. In a fascinating use of history to enlighten contemporary discourse, the book concludes with a compelling discussion of the impact of Victorian notions of the body on current discussions of HIV/AIDS, arguing that AIDS, like syphilis in the nineteenth century, has become a feminized disease.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814780602
Publisher: New York University Press
Publication date: 01/01/1997
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.94(d)

About the Author

Mary Spongberg is a lecturer in women's history at Macquarie University in Australia.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"An interesting book for anyone who is interested in the history of venereal disease. It provides some interesting facts to consider about women and venereal disease and makes the reader aware that women have taken a bad rap for many centuries and that bad rap is slowly being transferred to the gays in this age of AIDS. Recommended for all academic and medical libraries."

-AIDS Book Review Journal

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