The Medical Gaze of Rape: Pedagogy, Power, and Blindness

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Luce Irigaray asks in Speculum de l’autre femme “What if the ‘object’ started to speak? Which also means beginning to ‘see,’ etc. What disaggregation of the subject would that entail?” (135). Irigaray’s question elucidates the theoretical framework of this paper when analyzing eight medical reports (1836-1893) that represent an essential, unstudied source for documenting the crime of rape as they furnish important definitions and statistics about viol, attentats à la pudeur or attentats aux moeurs. In his Human Remains, Jonathan Strauss demonstrates that from the late eighteenth through the nineteenth centuries, medicine gained unprecedented credibility as a discipline. It redefined and asserted its legitimacy in respect to other institutions, notably the courts and the church, while its theories and approaches gained a broader truth-value, extending their reach beyond the domain of health to issues of fundamental social interest (6). Those reports’ facts and narrativization contributed to an already booming field accumulating data on other crimes and criminal acts. Moreover, those reports pedagogically (in)formed contemporary and future practicing doctors with a protocol for reading and presenting evidence of violated bodies to magistrates and presiding judges who determined whether a rape had occurred or not. While analyzing the efforts to narrate rape what remains absent are the patients’ voices and points of view. What if the object began to speak? Certainly, she would articulate a resistance to the method, the medicalization of her body and the practice’s blindness to women’s truths about the violence they have lived.