From Hysteria to Hormones and Back Again: Centuries of Outrageous Remarks About Female Biology

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Amy Koerber


In this persuasion brief I suggest how rhetorical-historical insights into the scientific and medical discourses of female hormones are relevant to current organizational and institutional diversity initiatives, especially those that aim to increase the number of women in leadership positions. Many of the examples I cite in the essay make specific reference to hormones, and as I argue, hormones often serve an enthymematic function in these expert arguments, both past and present. More specifically, I argue, discourses about hormones allow people who do not possess any scientific expertise to make authoritative-sounding claims that resonate with popular beliefs about women’s bodies and brains. Uncovering these historical tendencies in scientific and medical discourse offers new perspectives on the obstacles that women face in today’s workplaces. In this persuasion brief I aim to discuss these perspectives in ways that make the findings of rhetorical-historical research relevant to the many different stakeholders, leaders, and policymakers who are currently working to help women rise to leadership positions in many different fields.

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