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Julie Livingston
"Inside the Uterine Wall: Tswana Women’s Sexuality and Nursing in a Changing Moral Landscape"

In southeastern Botswana, uteruses have historically been ambiguous spaces – embodying both the promise of productive, generative power, and the perils of secrecy, autonomy, and pollution. The literal wombs within the bodies of actual women are imbued with this doubled nature, as are the socio-architectural spaces within domestic compounds that draw their meaning, and indeed their shape from the uterus whose qualities and purpose they extend into the social realm. This essential organ of femininity looms large in the overlapping social and medical imaginaries – such that ideas and talk about uteruses as organs and as architectural spaces reflect and shape ideas about women as social actors. This paper makes a foray into the modern social history of southeastern Tswana uteruses, by describing on set of changes in the talk and practices within and around wombs (both material and symbolic) in the two decades following World War II. During this time, ambiguity continued to characterize uteruses as much as ever, but an increasing stress on the hidden nature of the womb arose – of the womb as a space where one never quite knew what kind of toxins and trouble might be brewing, just as gerontocratic and masculine control over (mostly junior) women’s labor and sexuality became more tentative.

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Last updated 4/6/05 by Selene Platt