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Global History of Sexual Science, 1880-1960$
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Veronika Fuechtner, Douglas E. Haynes, and Ryan M. Jones

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780520293373

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520293373.001.0001

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The “Hottentot Apron”

The “Hottentot Apron”

Genital Aberration in the History of Sexual Science

(p.118) Five The “Hottentot Apron”
Global History of Sexual Science, 1880-1960

Rebecca Hodes

University of California Press

This chapter examines the role played by racial scientists in the sexual scientific readings of the “Hottentot apron,” a perceived elongation of the labia associated with the Khoisan women of South Africa. It begins with the story of Georges Cuvier, a zoologist from the French academy who in 1816 performed a postmortem on Sarah Baartmann. Known in Europe as the “Hottentot Venus,” Baartmann became a popular fixture in “freak shows” and salons across Britain and France. The chapter rejects the liberationist claims made by sexual science and shows how the systemic study of perceived genital anomalies became a means for South African whites and European scholars to categorize who was civilized or barbaric. It argues that scientific claims about the “Hottentot apron” spread and evolved worldwide in relation to the doctrine of scientific racism and other important developments in the history of science and empire, including the onset of the “new imperialism.”

Keywords:   racial scientists, Hottentot apron, Khoisan women, Georges Cuvier, Sarah Baartmann, sexual science, genital anomalies, South African whites, scientific racism, new imperialism

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