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Defining Girlhood in IndiaA Transnational History of Sexual Maturity Laws$
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Ashwini Tambe

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042720

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042720.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM ILLINOIS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.illinois.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Illinois University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ISO for personal use.date: 16 September 2021

Tropical Exceptions

Tropical Exceptions

Imperial Hierarchies, Climate, and Race

(p.17) 1 Tropical Exceptions
(p.iii) Defining Girlhood in India

Ashwini Tambe

University of Illinois Press

The book’s first chapter delves into the geopolitics of knowledge production about human puberty, asking, “At what age do girls gain the maturity to make sexual choices?” The chapter explores how the earliest efforts in the 1920s at the League of Nations to harmonize a common international age of sexual consent were undercut by ideas of climatic differences in the age of puberty for girls. These purported differences, which rested on a legacy of race science, functioned as code for racial difference in the League of Nations setting. The second section of the chapter demonstrates how the importance of climate in race science rose and fell at various points. Even if dominant understandings of race in the 1920s did not center upon climate, variations in temperature were treated in some fields, such as geography, obstetrics, and gynecology, as an acceptable explanation for the timing of menarche. This history illustrates the uneven commerce among natural science, practitioner knowledge, and folk conceptions. Ultimately, this chapter explains how scientific understandings about girls’ puberty at the beginning of the twentieth century embedded racial hierarchies between peoples and nations.

Keywords:   puberty, sexual maturity, climate, race, League of Nations, race science

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