Early modern English culture consistently imagines the regulation of feminine bodies, whether through virtuous exempla, cautionary tales, education and conduct books, medical diagnosis and advice, literary plots or tropes, fashion, or physical disciplines such as needlework, dance, or music lessons. Prescriptions for early modern gender include the watchful regulation of fathers, husbands, doctors, and teachers over women’s intellectual and moral education as well as over their physical activity. Representations of the internalized practice of self-regulation reveal that early modern women writers and female characters frequently recognize and weigh these gendered cultural expectations and prescriptions for their bodies. Fictions of such external and internalized containment of the female body’s sexuality, speaking, and social movements appear repeatedly in early modern texts.
This special issue seeks essays that engage with the complexities of how prescriptive limitations and rebellious evasions can be mutually constitutive in early modern culture. We welcome essays that confront the historical social forces at work in confining, restraining, and marginalizing disruptively gendered bodies that are seen as transgressive to the powers of colonizing and capitalistic states and their proxies. For example, how do capitalism and colonial expropriation methodically subjugate women and appropriate their labor? What are the intellectual, creative, and cultural gains contributed by the resistant physical, racial, and sexual diversity of early modern regulatory states?
This special issue’s interrogation of the regulation of gender and the body hopes to position early modern transgressive acts in the legacy of the intersectional feminist questioning of coercive state power.
Dr. Jessica C. Murphy
Dr. Kris McAbee
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