chapter  11
20 Pages

Touching and Telling: Gendered Variations on a Gynecological Theme

ByKirk D. Read

B. M. Willmott Dobbie's characterization of Mother Nature "failing in her task" in the context of bumbling early modern midwives is, in itself, fodder for a rich discussion of gender and contemporary gynecological rhetoric about the past. Dobbie's suppositions participate fully in the highly gendered discourse of this era that Franois Rouget and Colette Winn describe as clearly polemic. Agnodice is therefore the actor, the discoverer, the first woman gynecologist, who invents women's safety. The fact that most gynecologists are males is in itself a colossal comment on "our" society. Des Roches thus embellishes the Hyginus tale at the onset by positing the source of women's torment, not as the pangs of labor, nor the onset of some gynecological disorder. Turning to Catherine des Roches's retelling of the myth of Agnodice, one finds illuminating counterpoint. Inserted in a poetic collection whose themes betray an enthusiastic appraisal of women's community and their literary and domestic lives.