"Mental Health, sexuality and gynaecological treatments in Europe and America, 19th-20th century – Gender and historiography”

Véronique Molinari's picture

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Call for Papers
April 15, 2023
Subject Fields: 
History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, Women's & Gender History / Studies

One Day Conference - 12th June 2013

Université Grenoble Alpes


This one-day conference is organised in the context of a UGA project on "Gender, Mental Health and Gynaecology in the 19th Century" and in the wake of research that has been carried out in the past few years in two of our research centre on the issue of medical, political and militant discourses related to women's bodies.

Since the 1970s, much has been written about the treatment of women by an essentially male medicine, whether in the context of Women’s history or History of Health and Medicine. Many of the studies that have focused on the issue of hysteria and its psychiatric treatment have however tended to be conducted, in the words of Aude Fauvel, “in an accusatory tone”,[2] stressing the use of the latter to repressive ends.[3] Gynaecology and obstetrics, because of their intimate character, the use of instruments such as the speculum or forceps, as well as certain operations such as ovariotomy, have also been targeted by some attacks. That gynaecology and psychiatry, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, should have met and given rise to certain surgical practices (such as ovariotomy and clitoridectomy ) as a treatment for various 'mental disorders' such as masturbation, hypersexuality and hysteria, was bound to draw stigma onto these practices in terms of historiography.[4]

More recently, however, historians (Morantz-Sanchez, [5] Marland,[6] Fauvel, Moscucci, [7] and Nora Jaffary, [8] among others), have begun to question the notion of a linear female history of oppression and domination by a homogeneous professional group, in order to give a more accurate account of the different motivations that may have co-existed within the medical profession. Women's role, not only as victims, but sometimes as agents has also been re-evaluated to underline their active participation in certain changes.

We would like, on the occasion of this one-day conference, contribute to this approach by focusing (through case studies, but not exclusively) on the discourses emanating from the medical profession itself, from patients, and possibly from militants. Our aim is in no way to deny or obscure abusive practices and the ill-treatment that some women suffered at the hands of gynaecologists, doctors and alienists, but to continue to fill a gap in the historiography (still largely anti-psychiatric and/or feminist) by establishing the reasons that led to the end of certain practices, the non-uniformity of discourses as well as the strategies of resistance to these practices.  To quote Monica Green, "Beyond any calculated project to wield male power over and dominate women’s bodies and freedom – there were social and cultural differences, professional divisions, and diversified reactions, not only between male and female doctors in their professional practice, but also among women, who, out of necessity, or by imposition, had to submit to treatments.”[9] These differences are essential to the most accurate understanding of the phenomena we wish to study.


Organisers :

Irène Favier, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary history

Véronique Molinari, Professor in British studies

Abstracts (no more than 300 words) written in French or English, should be sent before April 15th 2023 to veronique.molinari@univ-grenoble-alpes.fr together with a short biographical note mentioning the author's institutional affiliation.

Papers may be read in English or French


[2] FAUVEL, Aude. « Cerveaux fous et sexes faibles (Grande-Bretagne, 1860-1900) », Clio. Femmes, Genre, Histoire, 2013, 60.

[3] CHESLER Phyllis, 1975, Women and Madness, New York, Avon Books, 1972; FEE, Elizabeth. "Psychology, Sexuality, and Social Control in Victorian England." Social Science Quarterly 58, no. 4 (1978): 632-46 ; SHOWALTER Elaine, 1987, The Female Malady. Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980, London, Virago ;)

[4] Voir par exemple Carol A.B. Warren, “Genital Surgeries and Stimulation in 19th century Psychiatry”, in Gender Perspectives on Reproduction and Sexuality, Advances in Gender Research, Volume 8,  2004, 165-197 ; DALLY, Anne, Women Under the Knife, London, Random Century 1991; SCULL Andrew T., 2006, « A chance to cut is a chance to cure. Sexual surgery for psychosis in three 19th-century societies », in The Insanity of Place / The Place of Insanity. Essays on the history of Psychiatry, London / New-York, Routledge, p. 150-171 ; SHEEHAN Elizabeth A., 1997, « Victorian Clitoridectomy », in Roger N. LANCASTER & Micaela DI LEONARDO (eds), The Gender/Sexuality Reader: Culture, History, Political Economy, London, Routledge, p. 325-334

[5] Morantz-Sanchez, Sympathy and Science, Women Physicians in American Medicine, New York : Oxford University Press, 1985

[6] Hilary Marland, Dangerous Motherhood: Insanity and Childbirth in Victorian Britain. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004

[7] Ornella Moscucci, The Science of Women: Gynaecology and Gender in England 1800-1929, Cambridge, 1990

[8] Nora Jaffary, Reproduction and Its Discontents in Mexico Childbirth and Contraception from 1750 to 1905, The University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

[9] GREEN, Monica H., “Gendering the History of Women’s Healthcare”, Gender & History, vol. 20 n°3, November 2008, pp. 487-518.

Contact Info: 

Véronique Molinari