Gender norms and scientific displays of preserved cadavers.

Recently i visited my local science museum (also my place of employment) to take a look at the newest exhibit: Body Worlds and the Brain. Super cool, slightly unsettling, fascinating displays of preserved cadavers called plastinates.

The most recently itteration of the Body Worlds Exhibits

If you haven’t been to a Body Worlds exhibit or are not familiar with them, they are pretty darn cool, especially if you happen to be a science nerd. Created by a man called Gunther Von Haggen who created a unique and revolutionary technique for preserving cadavers. Using a resin like substance to replace all the fluids in the body which then hardens. Once hardened the bodies are then dissected and displayed in very eye catching and sometimes disturbing ways.


I thoroughly enjoyed myself and had plenty of “oh wow!” moments and a handful of speechless unsettled moments

One thing did come to my mind as i was walking through the exhibit and was also noticed by a friend of mine. In looking at all the plastinates i noticed a difference between the males and females. Every male figure was placed in either an aggressive action pose associated with a typically male dominated sport.

subtext: males should be aggressive like this bro

Every female figure was placed in either a action pose associated with more passive or less aggressive sports (i.e. yoga, swimming) or in sexually suggestive poses.

subtext: women should be submissive

Adding onto those differences there was a larger number, by far, of male plastinates at the exhibit. One last difference was pointed out to me by my friend. Every male plastinate had its nipples removed and every single female had its nipples prominently displayed.

Even in scientific displays and exhibits that are mostly devoid of political or social commentary we see the socially accepted gender roles being reinforced and any alternative gender role subtly downplayed

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4 Responses to Gender norms and scientific displays of preserved cadavers.

  1. Wow, interesting insight. I wonder how many people WOULD notice that, or if our brains often just pass over that sort of imbalance, since we’re pretty accustomed to (and acculturated by) such gender disparity at this point. Thanks for bringing it up! PS I am impressed at your fortitude in going to see the exhibit again; I still suffer from post-BW-stress-disorder, though that has very little to do with the actual exhibit and a lot more to do with ticket lines… 🙂

    • brotroscopy says:

      Thanks! its a pretty subtle reinforcement of gender roles and we aren’t usually encouraged to look for those social norms that are always being re-affirmed around us. However i think and experience that once you start noticing these things you find them everywhere and begin to see why these binary gender roles are so strong. They are everywere!

      I feel for your ptsd, i hope you can one day overcome it. Thankfully these days i just get to watch the long lines that extend past pepco out my office window 🙂

  2. I have seen this display. A lot of people found it disturbing. We are a “medical family,” so we thought it was cool. The nipple observation is fascinating. Do you think truly intentional?

    • brotroscopy says:

      sorry for the slow reply, busy week!

      Body Worlds is an awesome exhibit, i loved it the first time i went to see it and this time enjoyed it as well. I dont think the gender differences are intentional but definitely show me how ingrained our ideas about gender norms are. The creators of the exhibit may not personally be thinking about gender differences and socially accepted gender norms when they make the plastinates but on an unconscious level they are following those norms and showing us how strong they are

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