The women beneath the Skin


The women beneath the Skin

How women experienced their own bodies in 18th century Germany

In the book ‘The women beneath the Skin’, Barbara Duden has presented quite an early and rare account of the 18th century. She focused on women’s diseases that were obtained from documented case records by the notable Dr. Johannes Pelargius. He was from a town known as physics, which is now the current eastern part of Germany. The book gives quite a detailed account of the perceptions of the patients as well as that of the doctor. It has revealed the metamorphosis that existed within the body during a time when anatomy and psychology were new concepts (Duden 105). At the time, the two had not undergone the process of assimilation in order to become known concepts in the medical world, as well as in the minds of other people.


During the early 18th century in Germany, etiology and anatomy were not issues that were known by everyone. The imagination and body perceptions of the woman’s inner body were only limited to a cultural concept of the contemporary world (Duden 107). The female body could not be viewed as being an object that could be controlled socially. It seems that everything that existed beneath the skin was viewed to be in constant movement and metamorphosis, as well as fluid. An example of this is when men usually bled regularly from their varicose veins, from their left thumb during a full moon and even from their piles. On the other hand, women bled during their menstrual cycle and from other parts of their bodies. Duden goes ahead to claim that “The flow of piles was as sensitive as the monthlies” with reference to the women (Duden 114-117).

There are some problems that are encountered when trying to answer the question regarding women and their bodies in 18th century Germany.  It seems that Duden only gave an account of the German women, but failed to give that of other women across the world. Furthermore, the idea she presented cannot be used to interpret how women from various cultures perceive their bodies.  The 18th century has long passed and now technology has assisted medical practitioners to know how to examine the female anatomy. Therefore, it is not very easy to follow the rationale used by Duden. However, she should be acknowledged for the fact that she had the ability to make the body perceptions of women be known. In turn, this had the ability to provoke the idea of getting to know more about one’s body.

The body is understood in different ways and this leads people to have different experiences. There are some non-western cultures that do not embrace the use of modern medicine. They are not aware of the cultural and relativity constructs of their perceptions regarding the body (Duden 109). This has been seen in the various societies that have existed in history. It is no wonder when a woman in the modern world experiences her menstrual period she believes that her body is functioning well. On the other hand, in non-western cultures like the ones in Africa, anything concerning menstruating is seen as being ‘dirty’ and should not be talked about. Therefore, the body is seen to have different meanings depending on where an individual is from.


In conclusion, it is evident that ‘The Woman Beneath the Skin’ has offered vital information regarding the female body. It has shown that women in the 18th century were not fully aware of their bodily functions and this gave way for medical practitioners to engage in research. A lot can be learned from Duden concerning understanding different body concepts and illness. Indeed, medical realities have to be protected regardless of people’s perspectives.

Work Cited

Duden, Barbara. The Woman Beneath the Skin: A Doctor’s Patients in Eighteenth-Century Germany. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1998.Print. 105-178.




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