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CFP: "What is a Woman" or Intersextional Feminisms


Exploring Ancient Definitions of Womanhood Beyond the Binary

a panel sponsored by the Women’s Classical Caucus for the 2022 annual meeting of the Society for Classical Studies in San Francisco

Caitlin Hines (University of Cincinnati), Serena S. Witzke (Wesleyan University), and T. H. M. Gellar-Goad (Wake Forest University)

The Greek and Latin languages have three genders, not two, divided into discrete — but not impermeable — categories of masculine, feminine, and neuter. Grammarians often reflected on gender expression versus gender identity. Greek and Roman art and material culture both employ binaries (e.g., white skin for women, red for men) and confound them, as with depictions of a pale Achilles in feminine disguise on Scyra. Medical and philosophical approaches to gender seem sometimes to operate on a monopole rather than a binary, as with some readings of the Hippocratic corpus’ woman as inverse of man, or Aristotle’s woman as mutilated man.

This proposed panel will gather papers that — building on a growing body of scholarship pushing past binary taxonomies of sex and gender (e.g., Gillies, “The Body in Question”; Draycott on the Polyxena Sarcophagus; Hendrickson, “Gender Diversity in Greek and Latin Grammar”; Corbeill, Sexing the World) — challenge the limits of traditional constructions of gender and explore the heuristic potential of womanhood beyond the binary. Panelists might approach the issue through literature both historical and fictive, through art or architecture, through epigraphic evidence or papyri, and through archaeology or material culture.

Papers may address such questions as:

  • How have modern gender binaries influenced and shaped interpretations of Classical narratives? What limitations have these binaries placed on our understanding of and communications about the ancient world?

  • What do our sources reveal to us about the lived experience of being non-binary in the ancient world?

  • What approaches do historians, medical writers, religious authorities, alchemists, and thaumatographers take to intersex bodies and gender-nonconforming persons?

  • When do mythological texts relate intersex tales and to what effect?

  • In what ways does ancient language shape the poetics of gender?

  • How do ideological commitments to a supposed biological binary (e.g., the belief that women provide no genetic material to offspring) clash with actual medical knowledge and practice?

  • How do expressions and implications of homoerotic desire give the lie to patriarchal constructions and binaries of sexuality?

  • What do ancient art and literature tell us about the intersections of gender identity and gender expression?

  • Do representations of “Hermaphroditus” in myth, literature, and iconography reflect or resist cultural understandings of intersex bodies and gender identity? (Or does the binary “reflect or resist” not obtain?)

  • Where and why do we see associations between violence and the non-binary?

  • How can we reshape modern textbooks to reflect or explore non-binary experiences in the ancient world?

Please send abstracts that follow the guidelines for individual abstracts (see the SCS website) by email to Ms. Julie Pechanek at by March 1, 2021. Ensure that the abstracts are anonymous. The organizers will review all submissions anonymously and inform submitters of their decision by the end of March 2021, with enough time that those not chosen can participate in the SCS’ individual abstract submission process.

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