Nikki Serrani (998042871)
VIC343Y: Sex and Gender in the Renaissance
Professor Konrad Eisenbichler
March 19th, 2015
“For if the imagination does have any power in such matters, in girls it dwells so constantly and so forcefully on sex that it can […] more easily make that male organ into a part of their bodies.” (Michel de Montaigne)
Word Count: 1471
Michel de Montaigne is one of the most important philosophers of the Renaissance era. Montaigne was born on February 28th, 1533 in Guyenne, France, and died at the age of fifty-nine on September 13th, 1592 in the city of his birthplace, Guyenne. Throughout his career working as a philosopher, Montaigne’s writing developed into something more personal. His works began to examine the world through his own perspective, particularly, in his three books, the Essais, written between the periods of 1570- 1592. The word, ‘essai’ in French means “trial” or “attempt.” Thus, Montaigne’s writing “attempted” to explore his personal thoughts in order to explain the nature of the human mind and body. It is through his intellectual thought process of looking within the self that he is considered the father of Modern Skepticism. In Book 1, Chapter 21 of his Essais, Montaigne recalls the tale of Marie/Germain, a female who grew a penis. The story of Marie/Germain challenges the readers mind in identifying the absolute division between what categorizes someone as male and female. The Oxford English Dictionary defines sex as different to gender. In the sense, sex “tends to refer to biological differences, while… gender refers to cultural and socially constructed roles, behaviors and activities”.1 However, Montaigne challenges societies presupposed definitions between sex and gender. In the case of Marie/ Germain, Montaigne defines hermaphrodism by suggesting that the imagination results in the transformation into the opposite gender. In other words, a woman can become a man by fixating on forms of masculinity. Therefore to Montaigne, sex and gender is generated through the mind; the power of imagination and desire affirms how gender was understood as a state of mind throughout the Renaissance. In the Essais Montaigne recalls the story of Marie/Germain while traveling through Vitry-le-Francois, France. He explains, I was able to see a man to whom the Bishop of Soissons had given the name of Germain at his confirmation: until the age of twenty-two he had been known by sight to all the townsfolk as a girl named Marie. He was then an old man with a full beard; he remained unmarried. He said that he had been straining to jump when his male organs appeared. It is not surprising tat this sort of occurrence happens frequently. For if the imagination does have any power in such matters, in so girls it dwells so constantly and so forcefully on sex that it can… more easily make that male organ a part of their bodies. 2
The story of Marie/Germain describes a girl who had reached puberty, and while jumping over a ditch she suddenly found that she had possessed a penis.3 When Marie told her mother what had happened to her they consult surgeons and doctors to analyze her transformation.4 The doctors and surgeons agreed that Marie had become a boy. So, she was brought to the town’s local bishop where she was given a new male name, Germain. Galen’s work, On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body, reflects the transformation of Marie/Germain from a girl to a boy. The physician single sex theory explains that women have as much hidden inside the body as men have exposed on the outside of their bodies.5 For this reason, Galen’s theory further suggests that due to the lack of bodily heat, the female is less perfect than the male. Moreover, he explains that the animal (male) that contains more bodily heat more active and as a result more perfect.6 Therefore, the reason why the female retains an inverted version of the male...
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