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Unformatted text preview: an to think about ourselves differently.
The second controversy Columbus’s announcement created was a
furor among his colleagues, who attacked him viciously—not because
of the absurdity of his claim, but because they wished to take credit for
the clitoris. Several counterclaims were immediately issued. The most
notable among these came from Columbus’s colleague, Gabriel Falloppius—who discovered the Fallopian tube. As soon as Columbus retired
and Falloppius succeeded him at the University of Padua, Falloppius 20 Between XX and XY claimed that he, not Columbus, had discovered the clitoris and that
Columbus and everyone else were plagiarists.9
Many of Columbus’s discoveries described in De Re Anatomica
overlapped the discoveries of Falloppius. Falloppius had published
his own book of anatomy, Observationes Anatomicae, in 1561—shortly
after Columbus’s death—and claimed he had completed his book four
years before Columbus’s, which is probably untrue. Nevertheless, over
ten years after Columbus’s death, one of Falloppius’s students, G. B.
Carcano, formally charged Columbus with plagiarism. (Columbus, of
course, ignored the charges.)
The controversy over who deserved credit for discovering the clitoris raged on until one hundred years later, when a widely known and
respected anatomist, Kaspar Bartholin—a professor of medicine and
later of theology at the University of Copenhagen and author of his own
textbook of anatomy, Institutiones Anatomicae—said that both Columbus
and Falloppius were foolish for having claimed the “‘invention or first
Observation of this Part,’ since the clitoris had been known to everyone
since the second century.”10
Four hundred years after that, following a discussion of these issues
in one of my classes, several of my female students stated very convincingly that they think it probable that the clitoris was discovered long
before the second century, and most likely it was not a man who first
found it. Furthermore, they’ve told me that this tale makes some of
them feel as Native Americans must have felt when the other Columbus
declared he had discovered a “new” world.
All of this would be nothing more than a fascinating look at anatomical history and male hubris except for one thing. After a brief stint
of popularity through the second and third centuries, the clitoris had,
in fact, fallen off the map. After Galen, most anatomical drawings lacked
clitorises. And for the most part the clitoris stayed off the map until
Columbus, Falloppius, and others decided the clitoris was there and
wrote their “discovery” down. Amazingly, clitorises then began appearing in all sorts of anatomical drawings. Apparently those who were dissecting women’s bodies and making drawings of them couldn’t see a
clitoris until they were told that it was there. A Brief History of Sex 21 But while the clitoris had reappeared on the scene, and the direction of human sexuality had changed forever, in the short term, ideas
about much of the rest of women’s anatomies remained mired in the
bog of popular opinion. Da Vinci’s drawings—with the vagina and the
uterus still in the shape of a penis, and the vas deferens (the ducts that
transport sperm from the testicles to the penis) looking surprisingly
like uteruses—still held sway, and so did the drawings of Galen created
hundreds of years before. The seeds Columbus planted were sprouting,
but popular opinion held strong. Only time and the deaths of many old
anatomists would lead to true change in our views of the sexes.
Eventually, by the beginning of the eighteenth century, the one-sex
theory finally began to crumble. Along with that change came changes
in our language. Before the eighteenth century, men and women were
thought to be so much alike physically that no one thought we needed
different words for our similar parts. Now words were invented for the
vagina and the uterus, previously unnamed because of their obvious
homology to the male penis and the scrotum. The same was true for the
ovaries, known until then as female testes.11
It is impossible to name with certainty all of the forces behind the
shift from seeing ourselves as one to seeing ourselves as two. Some
people have argued that the roots are political, others that it was a misguided effort to somehow link physiological differences to social differences—to tie sex to gender. But what we can know is that once human
beings thought of themselves very differently than we do now, and that
once we were a little more taken with our similarities than with our
Sex and Sexual Intercourse: A history of Obsession
As our ideas about the biology of human sex have evolved, so have our
ideas about sexual intercourse. After all, our fascination with our genitalia stems, in part at least, from our obsession with sexual intercourse.
Four hundred and forty years after Leonardo da Vinci, R. L. Dickinson
made another attempt at depicting the intricacies of human copulation.12 To create his canvas, Dickinson inserted a large glass tube, as 22 Between XX and XY...
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This document was uploaded on 02/04/2014.
- Spring '14