Using "The lavves resolvtions of womens rights" to Understand Intersexuality in Pre-Enlightenment England

The Lavves Resolvtions of Womens Rights: or The Lavves Provision for Woemen. [sic] Title Page

In 17th century England, the pre-Enlightenment era philosophes sought to establish hard and fast boundaries to the world around them, looking at all possible aspects of natural life, law, math, and philosophy. In one particular examination, publisher John Grove of Chancery Lane, London put forth a legal manual that sought to examine the concept of women, their rights, and the law's opinion on legal matters that may concern women.

Within this legal guide, one of the first topics brought up is establishing the personhood of women in general. Using biblical references, the guide deduces women were, in fact, sentient human beings. Therefore, this fact necessitated legal instruction if legal cases concerning women ever arose. Immediately following this is a short passage that uses the term "hermaphrodites" when referencing intersex people. 

The intersex passage establishes that intersex people are humans, not monsters as previously considered. However, this recognition did not equate to acceptance; the book made clear that one shouldn't explicitly welcome an intersex individual into one's home.

Though this passage was the only one in the book that made mention of intersex individuals, its inclusion in this law book purportedly only about women's rights called for further investigation. Why were intersex bodies considered female over male? And who could make this decision?

The Lavves Resolvtions of Womens Rights: or The Lavves Provision for Woemen. [sic] Of hermaphrodites

The intersex passage in the law book. Click the image for a transcription of this intersex passage.

During this time period, the desire for empirical categories of identity outweighed the tangible proof that gender is a construct, as evidenced by the existence of intersex people. This desire for concrete distinction forced intersex people to essentially pick either a female or male mode of existence.

If this was found indeterminate, these people would be more closely viewed in the female context over the male in the majority of situations. This can be attributed to the overarching power dynamic of male superiority at the time, which ruled all aspects of life an intersex person would exist in. 

Using the phallus as a biological marker for masculinity and supremacy, English men of the time were quick to make the distinction between an intersex phallus and a male phallus through medical examination and legal opinions. The very existence of intersex people attempted to dissolve the patriarchy because of the possibility of phallic presence. This ambiguity, in the eyes of men, directly threatened not only the gender binary but the patriarchy as well. Women were also complicit in the stigmatization of intersex individuals and did not readily accept intersex congruency with femaleness. 

Click the next tab to see examples of court cases "The lavves resolvtions of womens rights" may have been used in, among other documents.

Intersex People Within Pre-Enlightenment England