18.06.2019 Catherine Duxbury

18.06.2019 Dr. Catherine Duxbury

Of Monkeys, Men and Menstruation: Gendered Dualisms and the Absent Referent in Mid-Twentieth Century British Menstrual Science


At the Fourth Annual Addison Lecture, at Guy’s Hospital on July 13, 1950, Dr George Corner, embryologist and keen investigator of the menstrual cycle, advocated the importance of experiments on monkeys in order to explore the biological processes of menstruation in women. He declared that the ‘study of other menstruating animals has aided and stimulated investigation of the human cycle’. Further research on understanding menstruation ‘calls for continual experimental work on monkeys’ (Corner, 1951:921).

For Corner, and many other reproductive scientists at the time, monkeys mattered. They were the sine qua non of menstrual science. This lecture gives us a chance to discuss (lip-smack, pout and grunt at) the construction of gendered dualisms by endocrinological science in mid-twentieth century Britain. Consequently, allowing us to address how the study of hormones informed the understanding of menstruation in women and nonhuman animals. We will explore and analyse these historically contingent bodily transmutations using Carol J Adams’ (2015) notion of the Absent Referent. This is a lecture of nonhumanity as much as it is a feminist analysis of the past.


Catherine Duxbury (clduxb@essex.ac.uk) is a lecturer at University Centre Colchester and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Essex, UK. She recently got her PhD in Sociology, which focused on the material-semiotic intersections between speciesism and sexism in twentieth century British animal experimentation. She loves her work but abhors being called an ‘academic’! She is not an intellectual, just, well, average really. But, she does like to squirrel herself away in various historical archives around the UK in the hope of achieving something significant. She is neither a sociologist or historian, and does not seek to be bound by the myopic ties of mono-disciplinary frameworks. Rather, Catherine likes to traverse boundaries and embrace interdisciplinarity, which she argues allows for more imaginative and creative insights to emerge about nonhuman animals. Catherine is working on her first book and hopes to meet the deadline in time for publication next year! She also is a strict vegan and has three cats and a dog named Freya. Who have saved her life on many occasions.