Shut it Down: Nineteenth-Century Southern Fictions of Reproduction
Type of DegreeDissertation
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The dissertation analyzes how the establishment of professionalized—and masculinized—medicine during the nineteenth century controlled female sexuality by policing reproductive rights and rates. Focusing specifically on literature written about the south, I propose that nineteenth-century physicians regulated gender normativity by racializing procreation as a white privilege. Reinvented tools, such as the speculum, and progressive operations, such as the three-stitch suture and ovariotomy, defined a scientific field devoted to eliminating uterine diseases that hindered pregnancy. Gynecologists who restored white anatomy to normalcy mastered the entire racial dichotomy of reproductive stereotypes that informed public perceptions of sexuality across the color line. As the nineteenth century progressed, antebellum operative procedures intended to maximize women’s childbearing periods were adapted to curtail postbellum birthing rates after emancipation. Physicians circumvented female reproductive control by conflating gynecology with the propagandist philosophies of race suicide scientists and eugenicists. Women’s health care became a smokescreen for gynecologists who engineered white genetic superiority under the guise of curing patients suffering from reproductive illnesses. The female body, therefore, became an evolving site of public debate as to the private medical procedures necessary to “breed” racialized perceptions of reproduction.