This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
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
A LIFETIME PARIS
ThE SPRING BIRD
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
“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
View Full Document
- Spring '14