Between+XX+and+XY:+Intersexuality+and+the+myth+of+two+sexes

6 the act of seeing involves mental processingour

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Unformatted text preview: med often to delight in displeasing others. That leaves me with only one option: I have to believe that these drawings reflect what these men truly saw—men and women as very nearly alike. We cannot peer into the minds of men and women dead for nearly seven hundred years. But we can learn from them. The amount we can learn, though, depends on our ability to set aside our own prejudices and the things we now believe to be true. Seeing does not happen simply. We don’t just open our eyes and “see” whatever is out there. Our minds contribute greatly to the process.6 The act of seeing involves mental processing—our brains filter, tweak, color, and manipulate our visions, a little like what Photoshop can do to the “reality” of a photograph. Things get added and deleted, colors change, backgrounds sharpen or dim, perspectives change. ONCE IN A A LIFETIME PARIS IN ThE ThE SPRING BIRD IN ThE ThE hAND Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, 1999.7 The image here seems simple enough—a few triangles with a few familiar phrases stacked inside those triangles. But it isn’t simple. At 18 Between XX and XY first glance, almost no one notices that the articles are repeated in every one of the triangles. Only after someone points it out do we see them. The combination of the familiarity of the sayings with the repeating triangular shape of the presentation leads us quickly through the words. We don’t intentionally leave out the extra words. We don’t feel any religious or political pressure to ignore the extra words. We actually don’t see them, and we don’t see them because we don’t expect to see them. Similarly, as long as people believed and expected that men and women were more alike than different, as long as it seemed sperm should come from the brain, then that was what people uncovered when they poked around inside the dead. The ideas were the important thing, the corpses and dissections were needed only to confirm those ideas. From Hippocrates to Vesalius, for over two thousand years, that’s how things stood with human sex, until the Western world found itself on the verge of the Enlightenment. Columbus Discovers the Clitoris: The New World of Sex So how did things change? How did the two-sex model of human beings displace the old one-sex way of looking at things? Many factors probably played a role, but it seems likely that the switch in viewpoint didn’t result from any major change in human nature or groundbreaking scientific discovery. It also seems likely that one small event in particular played a surprisingly large role. In 1546, a young anatomist working at the University of Padua, Matteo Renaldus Columbus (or Realdo Colombo), who had worked for years with Vesalius, was suddenly elevated to director of the Institute for Anatomy. His career was one of considerable brilliance. Among other things, Columbus showed that the blood flowed from the right side of the heart into the lungs, that the lens of the eye lay at the front of the eyeball, not in the middle (as many believed), and that the arteries expand with each contraction of the ventricles. Successful, handsome, heavily bearded, and hardworking, Columbus had come far. But in his mind none of his accomplishments equaled the one he was about to announce. Near the end of his life, Columbus A Brief History of Sex 19 published his own work of anatomy, De Re Anatomica. And after fourteen years of study at the University of Padua, with a drum roll and trumpets, Matteo Renaldus Columbus announced that he had discovered the clitoris. Breaking two traditions at once, Columbus had used a living person (we can only assume to his wife’s delight) for his studies, and he had relied on his own observations rather than theory and historical precedent. “It is ‘preeminently the seat of a woman’s delight.’ Like a penis, ‘if you touch it you will find it rendered a little harder and oblong to such a degree that it shows itself as a sort of male member. . . . Since no one has discerned these projections’ workings, if it is permissible to give names to things discovered by me, it should be called the love or sweetness of Venus.’”8 Columbus was immensely proud of his “discovery,” but it immediately created controversy. First, and most important, it seemed to contradict the one-sex hypothesis then popular. Now, according to Columbus, a woman had an exterior counterpart to a man’s penis. How could a woman have “two penises” and still be the perfect homologue of and basically the same as a man? That rattled the foundations of then-current thought. But once everyone took a careful look, they had to agree— the clitoris was in fact there, and it did seem a lot like a little penis. That began to work at people’s minds. Where certainty had ruled for nearly two thousand years, a seed of doubt began to sprout. Surely there were other seeds sown along the way, but in spite of its small size the clitoris was one of the largest stones hurled against the seemingly impenetrable wall of the one-sex worldview. Slowly, we beg...
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