Structures and performances of virginity in medieval and early modern medical texts




Meitz, Rebecca

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Virginity is a socially constructed idea that can be understood using Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. How was the performance of gender influenced by medicine in medieval and early modern Europe? Three medical texts, The Trotula, Women's Secrets and Aristotle's Masterpiece were studied to look at how they contribute to discourses of virginity. Within these texts there were three performances discussed, the test, the wedding night and the fake. During the test a woman is checked for intact virginity. A woman proves her virginity and loses it in the process during the wedding night. Finally, the fake allows for a woman to display the expected physical and social signs during the other performances. Virginity is determined by a woman's ability to conform to the expectations of the performances. Mostly her role is to submit to the actions of others, demonstrating her obedience and the ownership her father or husband holds over her and her body. Within the medical texts physical standards like the hymen, which hold no value in modern medicine, were constructed. This naturalizes the performances, allowing for the justification of gender roles, ownership and persistent belief in virginity.



Virginity, Medicine, Medieval, Early Modern, Gender Studies