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Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud Revised ed. Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674543553
ISBN-10: 0674543556
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Frequently Bought Together

  • Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud
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Editorial Reviews

Review

[Making Sex is] a brilliant documentation of difference between the one-sex and two-sex models...presenting a simple theme with broad and cascading implications...I didn't need Laqueur to teach me that sex was interesting, but now I have a broader base for this greatest of certainties. (Stephen Jay Gould New York Review of Books)

[Laqueur] gives us an excellent sense of how our predecessors, including physicians and scientists, thought about the anatomy that fascinates every schoolchild...No one can doubt, after reading this book, that our notions of masculinity or femininity have been imposed on what are supposed to be objective biological observations. (Melvin Konner New York Times Book Review)

[In this] challenging analysis of our ideas on gender...Laqueur shows how radically our consciousness of ourselves, our bodies, our sex has changed over the centuries. The categories we think of as most basic turn out to be mutable...And in this transformation, Laqueur emphasises, social changes were as crucial as medical teachings. (Roy Porter The Independent)

About the Author

Thomas Laqueur is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Revised ed. edition (February 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674543556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674543553
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Joan Cadden's much more important and accurate book, _The Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages_, opens by taking Laqueur's premise to task. And she's right to do so -- someone had to.

The problem is that Laqueur simplifies. He attempts to argue, based on little understanding of the complexity of medical models used either in antiquity or in the Middle Ages, that a one-sex model predominated in medicine. And while, to a degree, he's right, he's equally wrong. He would be correct if Aristotle's model of the human body were the ONLY one used either in antiquity or the Latin west. But Aristotle pointedly presented his model of gender in opposition to that proposed by the Hippocratics. Galen, who obviously knew both Aristotle and Hippocrates, then modified the idea of what constitutes sexual differentiation even further. After Galen, we have centuries of commentary and modification by Arabic scholars -- Avicenna predominates -- before we get to the Latin translations which spurred scholastic debate in the universities of the west. Their model of the body was not simple or limited, it didn't rely solely on authoritative sources from the past, and it never solidified into a unified theory. To argue that it did would rob these individuals of their collective rationality and treat them like amusing children -- something a historian should avoid whenever possible.

In order to create a readable and comprehensible text, Laqueur elided the complexities of the arguments common in the medieval universities regarding sex difference and reproduction in order to present his readers with a neat and tidy package. Whenever presented with a neat package in history, doubt the source.

Cadden's work is a direct refutation of Laqueur's.
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This book was mandatory reading for a Masters' class on Renaissance Studies - yes, in France. While much remains to be said regarding the notions of "sex" as mere ideological construction, the review of ancient Greek and Roman medical treatises, from pre-Galenic theories, via Renaissance notions (most famously those of Vesalius and Valverde) up to 19 th C. French lunacy and S. Freud, followed alas by his disciple Marie Bonaparte, makes for a fascinating read, that does call for a sequel at the very least.
My favourite quote, when Laqueur reminds us of the ongoing male fear of "effeminacy", is of course from Shakespeare; need I explain the historical "prohibition" on feelings of love experienced by men towards women? Love "liquifies", turns men into women...Ah.
O Sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty has made me effeminate
And in my temper soft'ned valour's steel! (3.1..111-13) quoted p. 123.
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Format: Paperback
Baffling as it is, my book doesn't feature any imprint whatsoever. The bibliography clocks out with books of 1990 and amazon says it was published on February 1, 1992. Of the some 330 pages, 56 are reserved for the bibliography and far too many footnotes. Also integrated are 63 smaller black and white images, some of them too dark.

The book has many interesting historic concepts to offer. For example that the Greeks used tricks to make their penises appear SMALLER. That for two millennia the same name for homologous organs for "both sexes" was used, e.g. for what today is called ovaries/testes. That in Latin "vagina" wasn't used for what it means today, but additionally in good humor for "anus". That anatomic drawings were made in a way to make them appear the same for women and men (just inside and outside the body). And that at one point the mind was considered the self, which is bodiless, hence no sex difference of mind. However, as other reviewers have pointed out in more detail already, Thomas Laqueur presents the one-sex-concept historically too monolithic. Indeed, The Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge Studies in the History of Medicine) is much more complex and should be considered obligatory reading, if "Making Sex" is read. Also of interest may be Nature's Body: Gender In The Making Of Modern Science and Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex.
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Laqueur argues that like sex much like gender, which is now recognised to change with the times, has reinvented by people throughout time. Societies and communities tend to construct categories by which they organise things, people and their societies; whilst, these categorical tools appear legitimate and obvious to the historical actors who employ them, historical hindsight effectively demolishes their innateness. Laqueur argues that sex is not something that exists outside of us but within us, something that is transformed and made by communities and not by nature. Lauquer suggests that ideas of sex can be separated into two groups: the single sex model which precedes the 18th century and the two sex model which follows the invention of sex (which he claims occurs in the 18th century). Further, Lauqueur claims that these changes in the conception and implications of sex changed as a function of society and were independent of scientific advances. Despite presenting a number of interesting case studies and examples Lauquer's evidence does not adequately support his thesis because historical knowledge challenges the one sex model; the lack of categories does not imply the lack of separate entities; the analysis of the implications of the language utilised by historical actors is problematic.
Reading Aristotle also suggests that at least him considered sexes to be separate. He compares slaves to women and implies that there are separate. The historical record challenges Laqueur's assertions because societies have frequently divided roles, and sexual mores according to sex.
Much of Laqueur assertions lay on the apparent absence of separate categories for men and women.
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