The blog Street Anatomy looks at representations of human anatomy in textbooks, design, and pop culture.  One aspect they look at is gendered presentations of human bodies in medical texts. Some of the examples they’ve collected are on display in the Objectify This: Female Anatomy Dissected and Displayed exhibit, which runs through September 29th at Design Cloud Gallery in Chicago.

Curator Vanessa Ruiz posted a textbook included in the exhibit. The Anatomical Basis of Medical Practice, published in 1971, used naked female bodies posed in ways reminiscent of pin-ups. As the authors explained,

In our own student days we discovered that studying surface anatomy with a wife or girl friend proved to be not only instructive, but highly entertaining. Since the majority of medical students still tend to be males, we have liberalized this text by making use of the female form. But, more to the point, we have done so because a large portion of your future patients will be women and few texts have pointed out surface landmarks on the female.

Below are some sample illustrations; I’m putting them after the jump since they include nude women.

The authors used a “robust, healthy male” to appeal to the “growing ranks of female medics,” though from what I’ve read, the male models are usually wearing underwear and were used mostly to illustrate less sexualized body parts such as arms, while the images of female models often have their nipples and butts pointed out even in illustrations where those features are irrelevant.

So it wasn’t exactly equal-opportunity objectification. It was part of a general cultural pattern in which straight men find their sexual subjectivity legitimated as they are frequently presented with images of female bodies that are intended to be looked at with sexual desire. Straight women have not generally received as many messages assuring them that feeling sexual lust is acceptable or even encouraged, as men are much more rarely presented in highly sexualized manners for the pleasure of viewers.

Perhaps had the authors printed it a bit earlier, they would have found a space for their take on teaching anatomy, or at least it might have died quietly. By 1971, however, reaction to the text was mostly negative, many were returned to bookstores by instructors who didn’t want to use them, and there were threats of boycotts and letters of protest. It didn’t sell particularly well, and wasn’t reprinted after the first run ran out. If you’re in Chicago, you can see this odd little piece of textbook history at the exhibit.

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