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History Humanities Nonfiction

The Third Sex: The Idea of the Hermaphrodite in Twelfth-Century Europe

By Cary J. Nederman and Jacqui True, 1996

One of the most productive points of contact between feminist scholarship and poststructural thought has been their mutual interest in sexuality and the body.’ From both feminist and poststructuralist perspectives, sexuality has increasingly come to be seen not as biological but as a cultural construction, subject to fashioning and redefinition under pressure from social forces and juridico-political power.2 This trend in many respects crystallized in Thomas Laqueur’s 1990 study, Making Sex, which denies entirely the naturalistic and biological basis of sexual difference. Laqueur argues that the bifurcation of sexuality (between male and female sexes) occurred unexpectedly late in Western history, at the point in the eighteenth century when medical science emerged as the dominant discourse about the body. Prior to that development, Laqueur claims, the only available model of sexuality had been the so called one sex framework, which posited sexual differences as simply variations on a single, essentially male nature.

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