51 research outputs found

    Do menopausal women need estrogen replacement to avoid osteoporosis?

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    This paper considers the hypothesis that modern gynecological practices relating to sex-steroid hormones reflect modern sedentary lifeways, along with pharmaceutical commercial pressures, to produce a widespread medical perception that all postmenopausal women need estrogen replacement therapy to avoid osteoporosis (bone fracture risk resulting from low bone density). Like the concept of menopause itself, the concept of universal menopausal osteopenia (low bone density) is a modern medical construction. Numerous clinical trials have demonstrated that estrogen replacement therapies (ERT) help women to retain bone mass in ageing, but several trials have also shown that ERT is primarily effective in sedentary women who do not exercise, Recent studies of ancient human bones suggest that bone-mass in women was higher in the pre-agricultural ancestral past due to greater physical activity demands and greater nutrient density than are common in modern corporeal lifeways. From an evolutionary perspective, the metabolic nature of bone as a tissue that can be increased or reabsorbed in response not only to sex-steroid hormone levels but also to dietary mineral and protein status, vitamin D, and mechanical loading appears adapted to an environment that was abundant in nutritional micronutrients, sunlight exposure and regular, demanding physical activity

    Spiritual sadomasochism : Western and Tantric perspectives

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    An Aghori renunciate sits naked in a funeral ground in Kashmir. After worshipping the goddess of the grave with an offering of his own excrement which he then proceeds to eat, he prepares to make a second offering: that of the most intense rituals in the entire Tantric tradition- Khanda Manda Yoga. Chanting his devotion to the fanged deity who wears a necklace of decapitated heads and a skirt of severed and bleeding arms, he will gradually dismember his own body, throwing limb upon limb into the sacrificial flames, reputedly at times culminating in a spectacular self-decapitation (Svoboda 1993, 114). What could possibly motivate an act of such calculated self-destruction? This is no mere self-mutilation or suicide, for the Aghori firmly believes that his goddess will return the offered body parts and, in the case of the full decapitation, restore the life of his body. The key word in the question I am posing here is precisely 'self-destruction', destruction of the self, of the ego, of that part of consciousness that is attached to the body. Aghori Tantra and Western sadomasochism share a fundamental philosophical premise: a subtle and historically unnamable appreciation of the impermanency of the body and of the ego that attaches us to it. Hindu Tantrics who stick skewers through their cheeks are not alike to piercing devotees of Western SM scenes simply because of the similarity in the act. They are alike in the primal drive behind their actions. It is upon this drive that I wish to shed some light. What I am not attempting to do is find matching acts or images taken out of vastly different cultural contexts, nor am I suggesting that sadomasochism and Tantra fulfil anything like the same social function within their respective contexts. What I will be doing is drawing a series of correlations between the two traditions that highlights their deeper spiritual relationship. The basis for this comparison lies in the way that both traditions relate to the question of the ego and its connection to the body, and to the use of the body, its energy and its fluids and products to construct what has become a complex and widely misunderstood spiritual journey

    (Rethinking cultural historicism : a continuous genealogy from Burckhardt to the present?)

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    Cultural histories are abundant in contemporary historiographic practice. Indeed this style of approach to the past appears to be the most proliferating kind throughout historical scholarship worldwide. But surveying the range of approaches taken by the countless scholars who, like this author, at one time or another call their work cultural history, it is apparent that there are widely disparate views about what distinguishes this field of knowledge from other kinds of historical or cultural research. This essay offers a corrective to the most common accounts of cultural history in historiographic thought, which have often characterized it as a new form of history, emerging only after the Second World War, and as a poststructuralist approach to truth and text in the past. While rigorous long studies of historiography certainly do tend to acknowledge earlier precedent forms of cultural history, a far more common vision of its origins as a late twentieth-century innovation continues to dominate historiographic accounts of it. Recent advocates of cultural historical practice have often themselves been complicit in a misapprehension of its origin and epistemology, with common claims made about its newness and postmodemism. Those accounts that do consider the earlier antecedents to the more recent practices, but nonetheless insist upon a rupture between the 'old' and the 'new' cultural history and upon the incompatibility of the elitist style of Jacob Burckhardt's 1860 Culture of Renaissance Italy, and the 'new' emphases on popular culture and textual hermeneutics in post-World-War-Two approaches. While there are indeed important changes in the way cultural historical approaches have been conceived across their history, this essay argues against the practice of bifurcation between the old and new forms, and proposes an alternative and continuous genealogy of cultural historical epistemology across the history of nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideas

    Colonial visions of "Third World" toilets : a nineteenth-century discourse that haunts contemporary tourism

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    In 1998, I spent three months in Tunisia studying Arabic and taking a much-needed holiday from my Ph.D. studies. An Australian woman of mixed heritage (including Cherokee Indian), my multilingualism, physical smallness, black hair and eyes, and yellow-toned skin allow me to blend in or at least to defy categorisation, in a range of cultures. As a woman travelling alone in that region, I attracted an inordinate amount of attention but was also, perhaps due to my liminal status as an anomaly, privy to some insightful confessions and revelations from Tunisians and Algerians I met there

    Female flesh and the boundaries of the French nation : a theoretical intervention into recent historiography of the "tondues"

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    Rare indeed is the historian of twentieth-century Europe who has not beheld Robert Capa's August 1944 photograph of the woman, with child in arms, her head shaved, pursued by a jeering mob of voyeurs of all genders and ages through the streets of Chartres. Indeed photographs of the "tondues" (women spontaneously accused of collaboration with the Germans in the aftermath of the Vichy regime) have become perhaps the most common, certainly the most striking visual representation of the painful trauma of collaboration and retribution in French post-war historical memory. Scholarly study of the tondues, and of the overlapping phenomenon of sexual collaborators, emerged from the beginning of the 1990s, in the wave of historiographical confrontation with the Vichy-past that followed Henry Rousso's 1987 publication Le Syndrome de Vichy. Since this time the tendency for the tondues to occupy only momentary consideration in histories of collaboration and retribution has been substantially remedied by numerous researchers who have been captivated by this mysterious and morally confusing phenomenon. Alain Brossat's 1992 poetically reflective study, followed by Fabrice Virgili's 2000 publication, La France "virile": des femmes tondues a la liberation, have undoubtedly contributed most substantially to detailed and subtle understanding of the "shearing" of women accused of collaboration in the chaotic months during and after the defeat of Nazi Germany and the subsequent collapse of the French collaborationist regime of Petain. The purpose then of my own intervention into the historiography of the tondues is in part to engender greater discussion of this question among English speaking European historians, but also to suggest that scholarly understanding of the tondues, both in French and in English, could be further developed through intersection with the parallel field of gender and sexuality studies relative to Nazi race ideology. Essentially I propose that a sexualised reading of both these phenomena suggest that the persistently rival visions of nationhood in France and Germany from the time of the Franco-Prussian war can be identified through the mutually inter-referential anxieties about masculinity expressed in events such as the shearing of women during the Liberation of France, and such as the fear of racial contamination through sexual contact with foreigners in National Socialist ideology. With this hypothesis in mind, a study of the language used to describe both the fondues and sexual collaborators reveals the theoretical possibility that the body of the fondue functioned as the metaphoric site upon which the national humiliation of France in the Second World War was rectified and avenged in relation to the perception of the German nation as a symbol of penetration and sexual domination

    The medieval body and the modern eye : a corporeal reading of the old French Fabliaux

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    Representations of the human body are never, in any socio-cultural context, incidental. The purpose of this paper is therefore, firstly and foremost, to rescue the study of human sexuality from the simplistic biological and functionalist explanations that have become part of popular consciousness through that broad shift in Western attitudes known as the sexual revolution. Our aim will be to present an interpretation of sexuality in medieval France that emphasises its uniqueness as a complete system of meaning, as a corporeal culture vastly different from our own and indeed entirely contrary to the stereotypes commonly held about the Middle Ages as a ‘flesh-hating’ civilisation, dominated by a clear body/soul dichotomy. This paper’s claim to originality lies in its attempt to suggest such a vision on the basis of a largely neglected source for the study of the medieval concept of the body: the genre of comic, ribald poetry, popular throughout the North of France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, known as the Fabliaux

    On the need for more research on ageing sexuality in the history of medicine

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    Specific cultural expectations about the normalcy of elderly sexual desire can have a great impact on how individuals experience themselves as sexual subjects in old age. It also clearly impacts how clinicians treat older adults, as the work of several sociologists demonstrates, with many doctors avoiding discussion of sexually-transmitted disease risk with older patients, erroneously believing it to be irrelevant to them. Some studies have suggested that sexually-transmitted diseases may be increasing among older adults. It therefore seems beneficial to generate greater cultural awareness of the capacity of older adults to be sexually active, and to de-stigmatise this so that it is not a source of shame or denial. On the other hand, several researchers have suggested that the increasing celebration of older adults’ sexual needs may itself be a product of commercial interest, benefiting companies marketing products for older people. While researchers have typically thought of this in relation to health-targeted products such as supplements and fitness programs, it is clear also that sexuality is one such ‘need’ that may be emphasised to older adults in the effort to generate feelings of lack that may drive them toward the purchase of sexual devices, services or purported pharmaceutical aids. Importantly, the very notion of age-related sexual decline appears to have emerged in twentieth-century science along with the emergence of hormonal and other pharmacological agents aimed at stimulating libido. In this context, a rigorous historical study revealing how our current concepts of sexual aging came about would be a helpful stimulus for older adults themselves, as well as clinicians, researchers, aged-care workers and the general reading public to toward a stronger sense of older adults’ potential needs but also of the pressures acting upon these

    The French elaboration of ideas about menopause, sexuality and ageing 1805-1920

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    This article considers a range of moral views about sexuality and menopause espoused both by doctoral candidates and mature clinicians in France throughout the long nineteenth century. While the English physician John Fothergill was the first to author an article on the cessation of menses, it was French doctors who invented the word la ménopause, and who elaborated it profusely throughout the nineteenth century, while other medical cultures remained largely silent on the matter until the early twentieth century. The phenomenon of women living beyond reproductive age was not historically novel in this time, and anthropologists note that even in subsistence hunter-gather societies, more than thirty per cent of women live old enough to undergo menopause. Rising life-expectancies in France from the end of the eighteenth century reflected improved infant survival, particularly following the introduction of the small-pox vaccine in 1810, rather than most adults living any longer. So the sudden appearance of a medical literature on menopause around this time certainly warrants explanation. In another paper, I consider some of these broader questions at greater length. Here, I focus on how the French medical elaboration of menopause treated matters of sexuality

    The French Invention of Menopause and the Medicalisation of Women's Ageing: a History

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    Doctors writing about menopause in France vastly outnumbered those in other cultures throughout the entire nineteenth century. The concept of menopause was invented by French male medical students in the aftermath of the French Revolution, becoming an important pedagogic topic and a common theme of doctors' professional identities in postrevolutionary biomedicine. Older women were identified as an important patient cohort for the expanding medicalisation of French society and were advised to entrust themselves to the hygienic care of doctors in managing the whole era of life from around and after the final cessation of menses. However, menopause owed much of its conceptual weft to earlier themes of women as the sicker sex, of vitalist crisis, of the vapours, and of astrological climacteric years. This is the first comprehensive study of the origins of the medical concept of menopause, richly contextualising its role in nineteenth-century French medicine and revealing the complex threads of meaning that informed its invention. It tells a complex story of how women's ageing featured in the demographic revolution in modern science, in the denigration of folk medicine, in the unique French field of hygiène, and in the fixation on women in the emergence of modern psychiatry. It reveals the nineteenth-century French origins of the still-current medical and alternative-health approaches to women's ageing as something to be managed through gynaecological surgery, hormonal replacement, and lifestyle intervention

    [In Press] Race, class, caste, disability, sterilisation and hysterectomy

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    This interdisciplinary historical paper focuses on the past and current state of diverse forms of surgical hysterectomy as a global phenomenon relating to population control and sterilisation. It is a paper grounded in historical inquiry but is unconventional relative to the norms of historical scholarship both in its wide geographical scope informed by the methodologies of global and intercultural history, in its critique of current clinical practices informed by recent feminist, race, biopolitical and disability studies, and by its engagement with scholarship in health sociology and medical anthropology which has focused on questions of gender and healthcare inequalities. The first part of the paper surveys existing medical, social-scientific and humanistic research on the racial, class, disability and caste inequalities which have emerged in the recent global proliferation of hysterectomy; the second part of the paper is about the diverse global rationales underlying radical gynaecological surgeries as a form of sterilisation throughout the long twentieth century. Radical gynaecological surgeries have been promoted for several different purposes throughout their history and, of course, are sometimes therapeutically necessary. However, they have often disproportionately impacted the most disadvantaged groups in several different global societies and have frequently been concentrated in populations that are already maligned on the basis of race, ethnicity, age, criminality, disability, gender deviation, lower class, caste or poverty. This heritage continues to inform current practices and contributes to ongoing global inequalities of healthcare
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