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Medical bloomers and irrational rationalists: pathologising the woman in trousers

Munford, Becky ORCID: 2019. Medical bloomers and irrational rationalists: pathologising the woman in trousers. Women's History Review 28 , pp. 988-1008. 10.1080/09612025.2018.1544602

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This essay examines the troubling figure of the trouser-wearing woman within the visual field of mid-nineteenth-century medical culture. It explores what happens when trousers—emblematically associated with male rational thought—are adopted by women, a population deemed to be inherently irrational and predisposed to nervous malady. Located at the intersection of dress history, gender studies and the history of medicine, it draws on a body of archival materials, including newspapers, periodicals and medical journals, to anatomise hitherto unexplored connections between trousers and tropes of hysterical contagion, pathological imitation and nervous disorder. The essay focuses in particular on popular and medical accounts of ‘rational dress’ and the Bloomer costume in the early 1850s and the return of bifurcation with the divided skirt in the 1870s and 1880s. It argues that, by moving across and between mid-nineteenth-century identity categories, the trouser-wearing woman posed an intolerable threat to the public nerves.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Publisher: Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
ISSN: 0961-2025
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 November 2018
Date of Acceptance: 17 October 2018
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2022 17:53

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