Imperial Hierarchies, Climate, and Race
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.
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