Étudiante-chercheure étoile September 2012

Elizabeth Maynard

PhD student in Art history
McGill University

Award-winning publication: Profound Absences: Genital Lack and Masculine Anxiety in Paul Richer's ‘Des différents modes de station chez l'homme sain'

Published in: The International Journal of the Book, vol. 8, no. 4; December 2011


"During the crisis of masculinity in late nineteenth-century France, both artistic and medical images of anatomy were marshaled in service of social health. This article examines the images in the seventh volume of the ‘Nouvelle Iconographie' of the Salpêtrière hospital with a particular focus on a chapter by Paul Richer that deals solely with the healthy male body: ‘Des différents modes de station chez l'homme sain'. Though the chapter is about ideal male bodies, none of the illustrations include penises. I discuss the medical, classical, and popular precedents for these images in order to argue that this absence is indicative of contemporary anxieties about class, sexuality, and the impossibility of depicting the ideal male body."

Analysing medical images explicitly related to health and masculinity is crucial in working towards a gender-equal society, as societies often rely on doctors as their experts on normalcy. This article points out that this purposeful omission from scientific images of the supposedly healthy male body underlines the inherent problems in picturing an ideal male body. Maynard's contribution makes the further point that the nineteenth-century French medical community was unable to fully image ‘normal' body, revealing the fallacy of such a concept. When it is possible to critically examine such authoritative historical texts and images and discover the discourses of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and classism that underpin them, we are better equipped to root out such biases, which may be masked as scientific truth, in our own society.