From One Sex to Two Sex Model

Almila Akdag Salah, eHumanities Group (KNAW)


April 23, 2015

From One Sex to Two Sex Model: Testing Laqeuer’s Theory on “Making Sex”
Thomas Laqueur, a well-known historian, published his meticulous study Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud in 1991, where he scrutinized medical texts of the West. The resulting hypothesis maintained the view that until Enlightenment, the female body was seen as a lesser version of the male body; a perspective, which he coined as ‘one-sex model’. It was the epistemological and political repercussions of the Enlightenment period, i.e. the making of modern state, which caused a dramatic reversal in the representation of the female body, this time not as a continuum of the male body, but rather “its incommensurable opposite (a two sex-model)”. This argument, which generally fits the common view in gender studies today, has been nevertheless challenged by some historians on the ground that to argue a ‘one-sex model’ throughout the Western history of 2000 years is oversimplification. Laqueur himself states many times that a break from one sex to two sex did not occurred over night, and even today we can find old wives tales, and unreasonable beliefs which can be traced back to the one sex model. It is clear that in terms of documenting when and how this break occurred, and what (more) has preceded it, the Laqueurian models of sex deserves an in-depth reflective inspection.

​In this work-in-progress we aim to  expand on Laqueur’s theory by applying a computational approach to the hypothesis at hand: Is it possible to show a break from one sex to two sex model in visual and textual language of the 19th century, i.e. in culture at large, by implementing text and image mining methods on large scale datasets from the 18th to 20th century?
Almila currently works with the eHumanities group on EU project EINS.