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Perry - Women, Gender and Disability' Historical and Contemporary Intersections of "Otherness"

Women, Gender and Disability'

Historical and Contemporary Intersections of "Otherness" ©


by Della Perry and Ruth Keszia Whiteside

Working in an area which is considered to be about something called "disability", poses considerable challenges for any person who wishes to reflect upon the kinds of cultural and historical determinants which underwrite such a concept. Who or what has decided, and still decides, upon the allocation of one person to the 'able' category, and another to the 'dis' -abled category? Although we will claim that these simple terms have most often appeared as obscuring, and in denial of the complex nature and experience of any person, we will also consider them as powerful ideologies, influencing and informing who people think and feel they are or ever can be. Some people would suggest that we have neutral measurements and criteria which can objectively indicate 'intelligence', as quantifiable and as something 'real'. Whether one believes or not, that intelligence testing measures anything at all, we must also ask if any kind of 'evidence' expresses something fundamental enough about a person, to confer upon them a totalising and representative label - like that of 'normal', or 'genius', or 'disabled'. To unravel some of these ideas and questions, we will in this paper, focus upon the historical construction of the idea or concept of 'intellectual disability'. We would like to stress however, that most versions and varieties of disability are not mutually exclusive and that the general idea of 'disability' as an homogenising label, (informing as powerfully as it reflects individual and social experience), is always implicated in our discussion. Likewise, the category of 'woman', as determined by particular and essential qualities, (regardless of whether these are understood as biological or cultural in nature), will be considered as often intertwined and enmeshed with concepts about 'disability'. That these determinations and their combinations, are not accidental, arbitrary, natural or self-evident, but reflect particular social and political interests, is the central theme of this paper today.

We often hear the phrase in common speech: "oh, that is human nature!" If we ask the speaker to explain a little further what they mean by 'human nature', we could expect a range of responses which might include references to things like 'instinct(s)' - such as: aggressiveness, hatred, violence, passivity, greed, destructiveness and so on. It is noteworthy, that most of the qualities raised in the 'human nature' category have a biological implication, are frequently negative, and appear to have a recurring expression, which in turn implicitly validates their 'natural' or 'human nature' label. It is however, less obvious that these kinds of qualities express a conception of human beings as victims of their own biology, as static and unchanging entities, outside of a social, cultural and historical context, and without the power or choice to significantly influence their lives. Such perspectives are disempowering, and encourage only complacency and a view of the world as somehow objective, impervious, and beyond human intervention. Any recognition of the infusion of psychological, cultural, political and ideological influences with biological and human nature 'determinations', is then precluded by such views, which take no account of the fact that our notions of 'biology', must have a subjective, ideological, and historical basis. The realisation that 'science' in all its permutations, like all forms of knowledge, has a history which is as subjective as any other set of ideas, is no longer new, yet many negative and oppressive stereotypes linger, and remind us that past and present inform each other in both explicit and implicit ways.


It is disconcerting to discover how many of the ideas about difference and otherness of more than a hundred years ago, still pervade our contemporary thinking, and in their very intractability have the appearance of natural truths. While biological determinism(s) is/are common features in notions about what is true or real about ourselves and others [1], at the base of all stereotypes about humanity lurks another associated and recycled perception; this is the belief that any person, or any group, can unambiguously and objectively define 'truth' and 'reality', and thus determine who or what all others really are or should be! Sander L. Gilman in Difference and Pathology: Stereotypes of Sexuality, Race and Madness, has discussed this remarkable ability for humans to creatively produce stereotypes which ensure some of their centrality, and determine others in their difference. His work is revealing for several reasons, but primarily because it offers some valuable insights into the complexities of and interrelationships between what might at first appear as disconnected versions of otherness. Although we may think that sexism, racism, and disabilism (as prejudices and phobias), are all 'isms' with separate or distinct backgrounds, even a brief consideration of their recent historical conceptualisations and applications indicates that his is simply not so.[2]


Towards the end of last century, the much acclaimed if debated philosopher and psychologist [3], Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), whose writings have had and continue to have, a profound influence on the nature of western thought, wrote with reference to 'oriental girls': 

You would not believe how prettily they sat there when they were not dancing, deep but without thoughts, like little secrets, like ribboned riddles, like after dinner nuts.' [4].

This fascination and disdain was not reserved only for 'dancing' or 'oriental' women, as he also suggested in the same work:

'everything about [all] woman is a riddle' [5], [and her true, clearly universal nature was to be understood as] 'a dressed up little lie' [6].

For Nietzsche the 'solution' to all this mystery about the universal 'woman' was called 'pregnancy'. [7]. Her meaning and purpose would thus be to give birth to his version of the new millennial 'Superman', - a kind of person who would have individualistic, and 'superior' characteristics, much like those he saw as his own.


This solution was apparently quite straightforward for Nietzsche, who saw woman as a kind of self-evident, essential and superficially 'natural' category, and certainly without the kind of complexity which he believed informed his own elevated perceptions. Any 'depth' which women had, was of the deceptive and mysterious sort, like a riddle or a puzzle to be played with, deciphered, solved and resolved. Perhaps we should not be surprised at his comments, after all it could be argued that he was just a man of his time, imbued with perspectives profoundly influenced by nineteenth-century social and scientific concepts about evolution, and by entrenched age-old notions about the nature of women. We are reminded however, that although Friedrich Nietzsche is still revered by some, for his innovative iconoclastic comments about the moral and intellectual strictures of his day, he was apparently also trapped within a worldview where hierarchy and category defined and delimited social positions and possibilities. He envisioned a world which he believed would be different, without repression and full potentiality; but only for particular individuals, and certainly not for 'lesser' beings like women [8], or for other unevolved creatures of a decided intellectual inferiority [9].


There are many reasons why the work of Nietzsche (discussed here only as an example), is full of prejudices with regard to gender and ethnicity, reasons which could, lamentably, just as easily apply to the work of many of the major nineteenth and twentieth-century arbiters of western knowledge [10]. Probably, the most significant of these reasons relates to the long history and pervasiveness of dualities in western thinking [11]. The idea of things as split and oppositional, such as: nature/culture, male/female, mind/body, reason/unreason, thinking/feeling, is now so intrinsic in our language and thought, that one could not be blamed for considering such distinctions as 'natural' and therefore as quite unremarkable. Perhaps this would be the case if it were not for the fact that generally one 'pole' of these dualities, (and a proliferation of similar polarised oppositional categories), has been accorded and socially sanctioned, as having a superior value. In these unequal valorisations, such dualities become inextricable from the concept of subject and object, where subjects do, and objects are done to.


Although the history of categorisation, and related subject/object distinctions can be traced for centuries to the writings of Aristotle for example, since the Eighteenth Century in particular, the development of scientific rationalism has continued apace. 'Reason' and 'objectivity' as precepts for western intellectual and academic discourses of biology, medicine, the physical sciences, (and initially the so-called soft, or human sciences, like anthropology, psychology and sociology), supported the so-called 'progress' of humanity, by sharing the belief that 'truth', (in the form of scientific objectivity), was on their side. Recently however, it has become clearer that such perspectives reflected only the perceptions and interests of privileged sections of western society, which took no account of views of the world which were not like their own. In the construction of science as 'truth', the intermingling of a gendered subjectivity with ideological and political expressions and practices, has been aptly described thus:

'...since historically western science has been practiced almost exclusively by white, middle or upper class males, primarily heterosexuals, and until relatively recently, mostly by individuals who were products of a Christian tradition, the valued characteristics of intellect and rationality are generalized by the scientists to an extension of the self... The "other", by definition, is the opposite of the "self", and therefore comes to be regarded as intrinsically of lesser value'. [12]

Implicated in this apparently unambiguous development and self-validation of science, medicine, and also in the nascently professionalising areas of psychology and psychiatry in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries, were the ancient beliefs of an equation of women with nature/matter/emotion/and irrationality. Women like nature and matter were perceived as things to be controlled, and clearly, those giving directions and setting the parameters for the extension of knowledge and truth, were the ones with the socially sanctioned professional credentials to do so. The very idea that these prominent architects of western knowledge, were themselves, always 'rational' or 'objective' (even on the basis of their own criteria), appears in retrospect as a doubtful proposition; but the fact that their ideas were and continue to be powerful in their social implications, is beyond question.


The measurement, classification and quantification of objects to be studied, became increasingly sophisticated during the Nineteenth Century, and in the 'human sciences' in particular, drew upon the ideas of Charles Darwin, and his contemporaries, such as Herbert Spencer, (who coined the phrase: 'survival of the fittest'). While 'Darwin had provided a theory emphasising ... evolutionary effects at the level of population of individual variations, [it was] [e]ugenic theory, as a specific form of social Darwinism, [which] assumed that the existing social hierarchy resulted from the differences in the innate qualities and capacities of individuals'*[13].


'Eugenics' was a term originated by Francis Galton, a cousin of Darwin's, in the late 1880's. It encouraged a cultivation of the 'natural selection' principles of evolutionary theory to produce more 'ideal' or improved populations, and was premised upon beliefs about heredity, or what we today would call genetics. With regard to women, (who had long been equated with nature and considered of lesser moral and intellectual capacity), eugenics offered a 'scientific' recognition of and validation for her natural closeness to the animal kingdom. Any attempts for women to step out of traditional gender roles, and to take on what were considered natural masculine tasks and attributes, were thus perceived as dangerous, and foreboded only a careless reversion or degeneration of the human species [14].


Social and scientific evolutionists of the mid to late Nineteenth Century believed then, that the main task for women was to assist in the undeniable process of 'natural' selection, by behaving as good wives and mothers, and by producing and cultivating healthy offspring. This was not an uncomplicated task however, as women of all social classes were concomitantly perceived as naturally culpable, both for a general lack of intellectual ability, and for a latent tendency for sexual voraciousness and amorality. While at least superficially, the passive nature of 'good' women (middle class women), was reconciled with fears about control by over-determining for them a role which diminished and denied sexuality, working class or poor women were considered to be more 'animal-like' (that is, equivalent to less evolved), and therefore naturally prone to promiscuity. [15]


Many of these attributes, as accorded to women by the arbiters of social and scientific truth(s), expressed contradictory notions of both aggressive licentiousness, and passive inertness, expressed by the belief that:

'[t]o free [any] women from the passivity was ... socially dangerous ... threatening and [a] morally damaging unleashing of animal instincts of the most base sort' [16].

Thus the direction and control of women, their description, definition and organisation, were considered to be pressing factors. The apparently natural 'objectivity' of biology as evolutionary 'science', was therefore applied with a vengeance, to female 'problems' of menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. This resulted in the articulation and explication of a spectacular range of mental and physical illnesses, which were considered to reflect, and to affect the naturally vulnerable and more nervous constitution of women.[17] These diagnoses in turn, purported to (both) explain and to justify the merging of scientific, medical, psychological and social truths. Women, by their very nature, were in these nineteenth and early twentieth-century mental and medical configurations, perceived then as defective, their bodies and minds viewed as perverse constructions which needed scientific and moral intervention.

They were however, not alone in their deficiencies, there were many other 'categories'

 of people also stained with imperfection, and none of these groups, including women, were mutually exclusive in their 'otherness'. Those who did not conform to sometimes impossible social ideals of middle-class respectability, those on the margins of 'good' society, the so-called criminals, prostitutes, inebriates, poor, and many physically and mentally ill people, were also categorised as deficient and defective, and were objectified as things to be studied and controlled, as parts of the vast 'other'. Associated with this list of 'problematic' persons, were the extensive category generically referred to as the 'feeble-minded'. This was an encompassing term which was used in the Nineteenth, and well into the Twentieth Century, to describe any perceived social, mental, and/or physical 'incapabilities'. It is significant that psychiatry and psychology within this period, directly correlated social status with intellectual capacity, so that success was itself regarded as an indicator of one's natural and innate superiority, and failure to 'measure up', was likewise considered as clear evidence of inherent, usually hereditary, (mental and/or physical) inferiority.


'Measuring up' could be considered the key term here. Victorian craniologists measured and weighed brains, and phrenologists [18] pointed to skull shapes, to prove what they already believed to be the case - that the white, European affluent class males were at the peak of the evolutionary hierarchy. Women, children, members of so-called 'lesser races' (that is any race which was not considered 'civilised' by 'evolved' western standards) and anyone perceived as mentally different (which equalled defective), were all 'scientifically' shown to be naturally inferior. Carl Vogt, in his Lectures on Man of 1864, had thus argued that:

'The Negro-child is not, as regards the intellectual capacities behind the white child, ... [but] 'no sooner do they reach the fatal period of puberty, than, with the closure of sutures and the projection of the jaws, the same process takes place as in the ape. The intellectual faculties remain stationary, and the individual - as well as the race - incapable of any further progress. [Thus] ... the grown-up Negro partakes, as regard his intellectual faculties, of the nature of the child, the female, and the senile white' [19].

Perceived differences between races were thus paralleled with differences between the sexes, and between children and adults, and between some adults and the animal world, into a vast and inclusive hierarchy of being. Taxonomies like these which were considered by their creators as real and biologically true and natural, remained influential well into the Twentieth Century and justified activities which took no account of the destructiveness of western ideas of economic 'development', and colonial expansion as 'progress'. The division and exploitation of labour by gender, age, class and culture, was intrinsic in such definitions and was indicative of the shared reality of the commercial and scientific worlds as they buttressed and supported each other. This intersection alone can be seen as exposing the myth of science as neutral or objective !


Although many of the ideas of craniologists and eugenicists originated in Europe and America in the mid-late Nineteenth Century, they remained profoundly influential in many western countries, including Australia, well into the Twentieth Century. In a series of lectures entitled: 'The Modern Psychology' given at the University of Melbourne in 1921, Professor R.J.A. Berry continued to make 'meaningful' correlations between brain size, chronological age and mental capacity. To do this he claimed to have examined several thousand people, attempting to indicate how the cubic capacity of the brain could be equated with particular age groups in 'normal' people (males, of course having a larger brain at all phases of development), and showing how brain growth remained static, at various points, in those who were considered deficient or defective. That this was a successful exercise was proved, he believed, by the very 'evidence' of his findings.


With reference to his Figure 6, [20] [see Appendix 1] he suggested:

'Compare for example, the relative cerebral development of the known mentally deficient and deaf and dumb boys of the 13th year of life with normal boys of the same age, or the relative development of the 20-year-old criminal with the University student of like age. Observe the lowly pace taken by the evolutionary backward Australian aboriginal [sic], who is seen only to have the cerebral development of the 13-year-old schoolboy. Notice too, that those adults who, as the result of a thriftless and shiftless life, have had to end their days in a benevolent asylum, are altogether below the standard of any educated youth of 20 years. The whole graph is a most striking demonstration of the truth of the principles on which this work is based.*[21]

With Lewis Terman, who had the dubious credit of being among the first to develop modern forms of 'intelligence testing'[22], Professor Berry concurred, that some children regardless of their education, could never develop past a certain age chronology. As a consequence, he believed that these children should be identified and tested, so that society could be protected. Citing Terman he proposed that:

'Not all criminals are feeble-minded, but all feeble-minded are at least potential criminals'; [and suggested himself that]: 'Every feeble-minded woman, is a potential prostitute. Moral judgement, social judgement, or any other kind of thought process, is a function of intelligence ... Morality cannot flower and fruit if intelligence remains infantile' [23].

In his Figure 8 [24] [see Appendix 2], Berry clearly shows this scientific view of the universe of 'proper' intelligence, which in some detail differentiates people labelled 'criminals', 'morons' and 'imbeciles' into sub-categories. It is strikingly clear that at the apex of this hierarchy sits its designer - a 'university teacher' - like Berry himself! Truth and intelligence be believed then, like Nietzsche, to have a face (or in this case a brain), rather like his own.


Berry's work was academic in nature, and had the stamp of the appropriate credentials to validate its respectability and authenticity. The fact that it shared however, many central precepts with popular social commentaries of the nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries, is indicative of the way in which all science must be understood as reflective as well as determining of a broad social context. In a non-academic or 'popular' household medical manual of 1887 (for example), it had been suggested that when:

'[t]aking a general view of idiocy, the following are among the most prominent features presented: Helplessness, uncleanly habits, inactivity, gluttony, dwarfishness, grotesqueness, malformation, defective nutrition, abnormal sensibility, inability to regulate movement, and in certain cases, an entire want of intelligence, passion and perception.'[25]

Likewise, in an academic medical publication of a similar period, - A Practical Manual of Insanity For the Medical Student and General Practitioner of 1902, authors, doctors Daniel Brower and Henry Bannister, suggested the following with regard to 'imbecility':

'Considering first the milder types included under the head of imbecility, we may define symptomatically, the condition as a state of cerebral defect characterized by a more or less limited or intellectual moral deficiency ... In most cases both the intellectual powers and the moral sensibilities are affected together. [With] ... the semi-imbeciles ... [who] never really pass beyond the state of childhood mentally ... [t]heir sexual development is marked ... [and] they are apt to be masturbators or perverts. Morally they are also deficient; they are apt to be unreliable and untruthful, and subject to fits of passion, and these with their sexual impulses ... may make them dangerous to society ... They are [also] cowardly, irascible, egoistic in a way, and generally incapable and unreliable' [26].

Moral, mental, and physical deficiencies were conclusively linked in these perspectives, (which cannot be unambiguously understood as either 'popular' or 'scientific'), with one aspect seen as clear evidence of the other. The perceived lack of truthfulness and reliability served as clear validation for pointing to the very dangers which such groups posed for the social 'health' and 'progress' of (western) 'civilisation'. It is noteworthy, that many of these derogatory characteristics expressed either a too much or a not enough, tendency, so that a natural and healthy balance was evidently not easily attainable or even possible, for large sections of the population. It is significant that women, as a gendered category, shared many of the 'unbalanced' [27] features associated with others considered defective. The popular late nineteeth-century diagnosis of 'hysteria' as a typical woman's mental and moral illness, displays similar characteristics as those accorded to other 'defectives', including:

'over activity of the emotions and impairment of intellectual and volitional power...impulsiveness, unreasonableness, extreme selfishness, excessive sexuality, [and] suggestibility ...' [28]

The attributes usually associated with this 'illness' [29] read like a list of overdetermined traditional notions about the nature of woman as gendered in western society, so that hysteria appears in these calculations as both a cause and an effect of being female. For although it was also believed that males could suffer from hysteria, these were men considered to have 'somewhat abnormal and feminine mental organizations' [30].


Common descriptors for the diverse groups called 'feeble-minded' and for women reveal then a shared otherness, and included concerns about traits and behaviours like: passivity, weakness, lack of moral, mental, and physical control, incompetence, emotionalism, hyper-sensitivity or insensitivity, unassertiveness or too much assertiveness, laziness, greediness, craftiness, trickiness, calculating and deceitful behaviours, impressionability, ineducability, temperamentalism, immorality, amorality, being difficult, demanding, dependent, unpredictable, talkative, inconsistent, untrustworthy, indulgent, self-centered, unstable, over-sexed, passionate, undersexed, perverted, irrational, lacking in judgement etc. etc. etc. The repetitive intersections of these kinds of characteristics, (many of which are still implicitly or explicitly influential in contemporary perceptions about women, and about people with intellectual disabilities in our society), suggests an association which is more than coincidental or accidental.


In these relatively recent medical, psychiatric, psychological, sociological and philosophical descriptions and prescriptions (most of which claimed to be dispassionately 'scientific'), difference was not something to be positively determined, but was objectifying, diminishing, dehumanising, and signifying of less than worthy existences. 'Difference' also served to provide the raw materials for people and 'things' 'requiring' explanation (that is the substances for and the objects of science, medicine and psychology). As we have seen, any person or any 'thing' that required investigation and explanation was inversely determined by whatever was sanctioned as normal and natural, and by those who clearly considered themselves to represent both.


In spite of some popular misconceptions, 'history' is not merely about 'the past'. When the idea of past and present as somehow detached, is revised in terms of a perception of all human experience as interrelated and dynamically interconnected, there is we believe, a greater possibility for some reflection upon the ideas, experiences, and contexts which affect all our lives. The ways in which contemporary popular ideas about women, gender, and people with an intellectual disability, still depend in many senses upon eugenic and biological determinations, suggests in our perspective, that it is important to reflect upon current social and ideological influences. The fact that much work in these areas has come from feminist commentators of various kinds is hardly surprising, given the ongoing congruence of women and 'otherness' in our society. What is particularly interesting is that the concerns raised about the circumscription of women's lives, through the experience of otherness, have also had important implications for notions about difference generally.


Renate Klein, has for example, in a publication entitled: Contemporary Australian Feminism, linked discussion about the impact of reproductive and genetic engineering with contemporary forms of 'eugenics', sexism and racism, suggesting:

'[Such ideas] ... embody the reductionist claim that we are who we are because 'it's in our genes'. This is a resurrection of the theory and practice of eugenics as it came to be known over a century ago ... Since then, it has seen a number of horrific revivals through the passing of sterilisation laws and restricted immigration ... to the Nazi genocide of Jews and Gypsies ... [and] the elimination, or at least involuntary sterilisation, of Non-Aryans ... people with schizophrenia, feeble-mindedness, maniac depression, generic epilepsy, Huntingdon's Chorea, blindness, deafness, physical deformity, or alcoholism and other 'disorders'. ... Disturbingly, some of the same 'diseases' targeted in Nazi Germany [and as we have discussed here, by the western scientific and medical community], are said today to be genetically determined' [31].

This raises again, or should we say, continues to revamp the biological determinism which is and has been, the rationalisation for and validation of almost every form of otherness to which we have referred. This focus upon human genetics as influencing or determining human potentialities, has intensified dramatically in recent years, promising an enhanced and lengthened life for some, through the mapping of minute biological variations. The best example of these kinds of interests and activities, is the Human Genome Project, an international effort, which aims to document the 'total genetic endowment contained on the chromosome in every human cell' [32]. To expect however, that all discovered diversity will be dispassionately evaluated, or that the methodologies employed, or the information accrued in such a project, will be 'objectively' considered, without many of the social, economic and political interests and influences prevalent in the older eugenics, would be naive. The availability of genetic testing for many future parents, and in pre-natal situations, raises a host of social and ethical questions which require urgent consideration. Just as the preference for a male child remains prevalent in many societies, (arguably also our own) [33], so it seems does the desire for a 'perfect' or 'normal' child.

Marsha Saxton has with regard to disability referred to implicit notions which lie behind, and motivate prenatal testing, thus:

'(1) that having a disabled child is a wholly undesirable thing, (2) that the quality of life for people with disabilities is less than for others, and (3) that we have the means ethically to decide whether some people are better off never being born' [34].

As any parent of any child learns, there really is no such thing as a 'normal' child, there only are some ideas about what normal should be. Perhaps there are some things about 'normal' which may be beneficial when we try to make our way in the world, but differences(s) need not necessarily be equated with otherness, or with being 'less than'.


These observations return us to the primary concerns we expressed at the beginnings of this paper, which were to reflect upon the dichotomisation of able and disabled. While it has only been possible here to consider these questions in a very superficial sense, we would like to conclude with an insight from the feminist philosopher, Caroline Whitbeck, who has contended, that it is with the profound awareness of our necessary human interrelationship(s) that unequal and objectifying forms of 'otherness' may be overcome. This perspective she suggests:

'... has at its core a conception of self-other relation that is significantly different than the self-other opposition that underlines [as we have discussed,] much of so-called western thought' ... Since an other is not taken to be the opposite to the self, the character of the self does not uniquely define the character of the other by opposition to it: others may be similar or dissimilar in an unlimited variety of ways. The relation [then] is nor fundamentally dyadic at all, and is better expressed as self others relation, because relationships, past and present, realized and sought, are constitutive of the self' [35]

We believe these are important considerations, which offer the possibility for a challenge to our contemporary thinking, and the potentiality for a shared human future where difference can be celebrated as multiplicity, rather than as an oppositional and dehumanising 'otherness'.









[1] Muriel Dimen 1992, p.109, has described 'biological determinism' as 'patriarchy's main ideological strut'


[2] The explanation offered by Sander Gilman 1985, for the determined production and reproduction of categories (which in this work include in particular, sexuality, race, and pathology) is that 'stereotyping is a universal means of coping with anxieties engendered by our inability to control the world', p.12. It is however, problematic that Gilman uses a psychoanalytic/object relations model for this assertion. The concepts implicit in these perspectives can themselves be challenged for their assumptions of universality, individualism, gender bias and ethnocentrism (i.e. their historicity). However we concur with Gilman, with regard to his proposition that stereotyping serves to validate primacy and to categorise difference and otherness.


[3] Henri Ellenberger 1970, p.272, has suggested with regard to the work of Nietzsche: 'In his positive aspects [he] is as important for his psychological as for his philosophical concepts', and cites Thomas Mann's Nietzsche's Philosophy in the Light of Contemporary Events (Washington, Library of Congress, 1947), which proposed Nietzsche '[w]as the greatest critic and psychologist of morals known to the history of the human mind'.


[4] Friedrich Nietzsche 1969, p.315.


[5] ibid., p.91.


[6] ibid., p.96.


[7] ibid., p.91.


[8] It is in his writings, as if 'misogyny is peripheral', and not intrinsic to the kind of outlook which accords some individuals, and not others, an elevated place in the hierarchy of truth and being. Somer Brodribb 1992, p.x., has suggested with regard to the more contemporary philosophers 'Foucault, Derrida, Lacan' [that their work, like that of] ... Nietzsche and Freud', [has not] 'been understood as masculine sex/sects'. She argues thus, that 'their misogyny is not peripheral - misogyny is not peripheral* - and a great deal of thought about that is required'. [* our emphasis]


[9] Friedrich Nietzsche, op cit., in 'Zarathustra's prologue', Nietzsche describes '[m]an [as] a rope, fastened between animal and superman'. Irving M. Zeitlin (1994) p.3, has suggested that: '[f]or Nietzche, the primary aim of a healthy and robust culture ought to be the fostering of and nurturing of higher specimens of all sorts, an aim to which all else ought to be subordinated'.


[10] Freud is also a pertinent example, although any individual example is less revealing than an understanding of the kind of social context which promotes certain ways of knowing and being, as superior to, or pre-emptive of others. See also Caroline Whitbeck 1989, and Christine Overall 1988.


[11] For further discussion of these, and the issues raised in this section see for example: Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka (eds) 1983; Susan Bordo 1987; Evelyn Fox Keller 1985; and Carolyn Merchant 1980.


[12] Zuleyma Tang Halpin 1989, p.286.


[13] Jessica Evans 1992, p.136. [* our emphasis]


[14] Bram Dijkstra 1986, pp.211-212.


[15] Susan Mendus and Jane Rendall 1989, p.9. It is important to note however, that all women were considered to have a 'natural' affinity with the animal kingdom and for animals. It was only that a thinner veneer of 'civilization' was perceived to surround working class women, and this more easily facilitated the escape of bestial tendencies. Dijkstra 1986 p.303, has thus suggested: 'The [European] intellectuals of the years around 1900 thought that woman's special predilection for animals was a logical concomitant of her inability to adapt to the conditions of the civilized world. Hence men who did not keep their women on a tight leash and let them roam free ran dangerous risks'.


[16] Susan Mendus and Jane Rendall 1989, pp.9-10, discuss the often contradictory discourses of Victorian society with regard to ideas about women and sexuality thus: 'The mind/matter distinction generated a picture of woman as sexually inert, and ignorant: The man/animal distinction generated a picture of both women and men as potentially bestial. But, in so far as it urged the supremacy of rationality in the pursuit of perfection, it made women of necessity more akin to the animal than to the essentially human. If the model was a model of choice between human elements and animal elements, and if it was conceded, as it readily was, that woman's capacity for rationality was less than man's, then the image of woman as sexually innocent and passionless became not a truth of nature but a social and moral necessity'.


[17] 'Hysteria' is a useful example of these, and reveals in many respects how gender can itself be considered pathological, or become incorporated into or defining of an illness. A considerable literature exists with regard to the relationship of 'hysteria' to western conceptualisations of gender and sexuality. While the early writings of Sigmund Freud, who derived the initial theory of psychoanalysis from his studies of 'hysterical women', is the prime example of such work, (see Breuer and Freud 1895/1974). More contemporary references of interest which discuss the concept of hysteria, more or less critically, include: Martha Noel Evans 1991, Elaine Showalter 1985, and Daphne de Marneffe 1991.


[18] 'Phrenology' was a popular Nineteenth Century science/philosophy related to craniology and criminology, which purported to read human characteristics on the basis of depressions and elevations or (bumps) of the skull. For a more detailed discussion see Trevor H. Levere 1980 pp.181-2. These features were, (in terms of their lack, or their accentuation), considered to reveal human traits, characteristics, and tendencies, such as: acquisitiveness, benevolence, cautiousness, destructiveness, hope, parental love (attachment for children), spirituality etc. etc. Phrenological ideas have had a long and continuing history, and an argument might be made to associate them with contemporary notions about 'cerebral localisation' and 'left and right brained' discussions.


[19] Carl Vogt, Lectures of Man: His Place in Creation, and in the History of the Earth. Ed. James Hunt (London, Longman Green, 1864), pp. 191-192, quoted in Bram Dijkstra 1986, p.167.


[20] R.J.A. Berry 1921, p.31.


[21] ibid., p.32. [*Our emphasis]


[22] See Lewis M. Terman 1916.


[23] Berry op.cit., p.38. That there was an urgency in such categorisations is not surprising, given that it was believed there was 'a differential fertility rate in favour of feeble-minded women. Feeble-minded women were believed to be amoral and to pose a threat to acceptable patterns of sexual behaviour and family morality'. See Moira Fitzpatrick, 1988, p.145.


[24] ibid., p.45.


[25] Chas A. Hoff 1887, p.311.


[26] Daniel R. Brower and Henry M. Bannister 1902, p.379 and p.381.


[27] To call someone 'unbalanced' today, still employs a physical metaphor of material unbalance, so that a person is understood as mentally 'unstable or deranged'. The Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 7th edition., (Melbourne, Oxford University Press 1987), p.1237.


[28] Brower and Bannister op. cit., p.276. See Martha Noel Evans 1991 passim.


[29] 'Hysteria' 'deriv[ed] from the Greek word 'hystera', meaning uterus, [and had a history in] early Greek and Egyptian medicine [which] attributed the hysterical woman's emotional instability to the'wanderings of her womb'. See Daphne de Marneffe 1991, p.72.


[30] ibid., p.281. Where hysteria affected men it was generally considered 'environmental', as opposed to the female experience which appears to have emerged from an essentialist perception of her 'true' nature. (c.f. Elaine Showalter 1985).


[31] Renate Klein 1994, pp. 136 & 137.


[32] J. David Smith 1994, p.237.


[33] Gender preferences depend of course upon many factors such as cultural and religious background or beliefs. They also (and relatedly) depend upon an unequal valorisation of the male/female dichotomy, or upon many and varied expressions and practices of patriarchy as mediated by intersecting aspects of class, culture, geography, religious belief etc. etc.


[34] Marsha Saxton, 'Prenatal Screening and Discriminatory Attitudes about Disability', Genewatch, January-February 1987, pp.8-10, cited in Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald 1993, p.29.


[35] Caroline Whitbeck 1989, p.51. See also Christine Overall 1988 pp.89-106. Caroline Whitbeck's work has been strongly influenced by that of Carol Gilligan. See her 1982 publication: In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development (Cambridge, Harvard University Press).




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Paper presented at the Abilympics International Conference, September 1995. Was previously published in Abstract, Vol. 4(1), 2000, and Interaction, Vol. 15(2), 2001.  

Della Perry, a research person for the People 1st Programme, has an interest in the philosophy of history and psychology and their relationship to feminist theory, and the 'gendering' of 'knowledge. Della has co-written other papers which can be found at :        

She can be reached at