The Marvelous Hairy Girls and the Limits of Femininity

gonzales-familybAn Illustrated Lecture by Merry Wiesner-Hanks, author of The Marvelous Hairy Girls: The Gonzales Sisters and their Worlds
Date: Friday, October 1
Time: 8pm
Admission: $5
Presented by Curious Expeditions and Morbid Anatomy

The genetic abnormality now known as hypertrichosis universalis, in which much of the body is covered with hair, is extremely rare. Fewer than 50 cases have been documented world wide over the last five hundred years, but they continue to be a source of fascination, covered in news reports and imagined as characters in films. Six of the world’s fifty cases were members of one family, the sixteenth-century Petrus Gonzales and his two hairy sons and three hairy daughters. They were not displayed as freaks, but lived at the courts of Europe, where they were examined by scientists and their portraits painted by male and female artists.

This lecture will examine the ways in which the Gonzales sisters—both their persons and portraits-challenged early modern people (and us) to think about the limits of femininity, that is, the borders of what is considered a “woman.” Their story provides insights into the complex relationships between beastliness, monstrosity, and sex.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks is a Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She is the author or editor of over twenty books that have appeared in English, German, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Chinese, and Korean, including Gender in History: Global Perspectives and Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World. This lecture draws on her recent book, The Marvelous Hairy Girls: The Gonzales Sisters and their Worlds, published by Yale.

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