Talk:Sally Shuttleworth

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Essay moved from article[edit]

Female Circulation and the Uterine Economy[edit]

In “Female Circulation: Medical Discourse and Popular Advertising in the Mid-Victorian Era”, Shuttleworth illustrates the 19th century medical and social world in regard to female menstruation. The picture she paints is riddled with seemingly incorrect assumptions about the female uterine system and ways in which to prevent obstructions so that a woman may ultimately prevent insanity. Despite the absurdity of the claims and prescriptions made by medical professionals and quacks alike, Shuttleworth explains that the misguided attempts to understand and cure women of these nonexistent ailments stems from the era’s relationship with industrial capitalism, economics, and doctors insatiable need to regulate them along with women. Shuttleworth claims, “The 19th century obsession with the pathology of the uterine economy can only be fully understood … if viewed in the light of the increasing social division of labor under industrial capitalism, and the inherent contradictions within the ideological projections of laissez-faire economics.”That is to say that we cannot understand the so called “uterine economy” without acknowledging these topics first.

To understand Shuttleworth’s claim in reference to a historical context the concept of the uterine economy must be addressed. Shuttleworth highlights the fact that doctors connect the word uterus with female hysteria. In the historical period of the 19th century the uterus is seen as the hysterical organ in biological textbooks. The phrase “uterine economy” comes from a metaphor between women and their role within the socioeconomic world, but the wording used by medical professionals still highlights the inferiority of women during the 19th century. [1] Shuttleworth writes, “blockage in the female economy would lead to hysteria and insanity, so in the wider social system it led to its equivalent economic form: uncontrolled speculation” meaning a woman’s place in the economy stemmed not necessarily from the work sphere but instead from her value in the domestic sphere, the value which her uterus could provide.[2] There is also the more literal meaning between “the circulation of blood and that of money” in which women and the economy alike should flow without obstruction.[3] Nevertheless, we see the obsession with the uterine economy begins to become clearer when viewed within this context, where a woman’s value and input was merely seen through her production capabilities.

In a national context when viewing the uterine economy many different factors come into play such as the social division of labor and contradictory laissez-faire economics which Shuttleworth acknowledges. This division of labor was not only between men and women but also between the private and public spheres, or the dichotomy between work and home. Shuttleworth writes, “man was figured both as a rational self-interested actor in full control of his own destiny, and also as a mere cog within the larger machinery of industrial labor …” stressing the laissez faire contradictions where men were seemingly in control yet still controlled and regulated by the public sphere. As women were not allowed into this sphere because “women […] were […] prey to the forces of the body” they were to be utilized in the remaining sphere.[4] This is where industrial capitalism comes into play which emphasizes the idea that machinery was needed in order to maintain an economic balance. Women during this Victorian period were seen as the machines necessary for the rise of the private sphere. Consequently, industrial capitalism led to disciplines and doctors who (like engineers which managed the machines in the factory) managed and fixed women. Using this concept it is clear Shuttleworth explains that the doctor’s professional duty was to bring order to the social world by managing the uterine economy.

By attempting to explain Shuttleworth’s claim through a scientific concept we must first recognize that there is an important link between economics and biology, where the body of the individual is connected to the body of society. Yet the key link was made through women in the 19th century. Again we see that contradiction in laissez-faire economics where male doctors transcended the line between the public and private sphere by becoming involved with the regulation of women’s menstruation. As Shuttleworth writes, “female thought and passion, like government intervention […] created blockages and interference throwing the whole organism into a state of disease” thus making a connection between the government and doctors alike, who had to interfere in order to maintain stability.[5] In fact doctors needed to interfere within the uterine economy to prevent the women from becoming insane and subsequently throwing the entire social system into disarray, because on some level women were an important asset to the economy.

The “obsession with the pathology of the uterine economy” as is referred to by Shuttleworth, while not justifiable by any accounts, is understood when one takes into account the role which women played in the 19th century economy. Ultimately doctors believed it necessary to manage women’s menstruation in order to prevent the social system and subsequent economy from being, as Shuttleworth describes, “overthrown”.[6]

  1. ^ Shuttleworth, Sally; Mary Jacobus; Evelyn Fox Keller (1990). "Female Circulation: Medical Discourse and Popular Advertising in the Mid-Victorian Era". Body/Politics Women and the Discourses of Science: 47–70. 
  2. ^ Shuttleworth, Sally; Mary Jacobus; Evelyn Fox Keller (1990). "Female Circulation: Medical Discourse and Popular Advertising in the Mid-Victorian Era". Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science: 47–70. 
  3. ^ Shuttleworth, Sally; Mary Jacobus; Evelyn Fox Keller (1990). "Female Circulation: Medical Discourse and Popular Advertising in the Mid-Victorian Era". Body/Politics:Women and the Discourses of Science: 47–70. 
  4. ^ Shuttleworth, Sally; Mary Jacobus; Evelyn Fox Keller (1990). "Female Circulation: Medical Discourse and Popular Advertising in the Mid-Victorian Era". Body/Politics: Women and the Discourses of Science: 47–70. 
  5. ^ Shuttleworth, Sally; Mary Jacobus; Evelyn Fox Keller (1990). "Female Circulation: Medical Discourse and Popular Advertising in the Mid-Victorian Era". Body/Politics:Women and the Discourses of Science: 40–47. 
  6. ^ Shuttleworth, Sally; Mary Jacobus; Evelyn Fox Keller (1990). "Female Circulation: Medical Discourse and Popular Advertising in the Mid-Victorian Era". Body/Politics:Women and the Discourses of Science: 40–47.