Saturday, November 15, 2008

Visible Human Project

In 1994, the National Library of Medicine released a 15GB dataset called the Visible Man. It consisted of 1,871 cross-sections of the donated body of a prisoner executed in Texas. This was followed by an even more detailed series of images (5,189 cross-sections) of a normal female body, a Maryland body donor chosen to become the Visible Woman. In graduate school, I wrote a paper called "Virtual Discrimination," in which I suggested that the Visible Human Project was layered--however unintentionally--with society's gender stereotypes. Like the early anatomists, who perpetuated cultural errors even after they peered inside the body, I wrote, the creators and users of the project, and the media who have promoted it, have assigned traditional roles to the Visible Humans that preserve a hierarchy in which the male is primary and the female secondary. Among other things, I pointed out that searching for a suitable female subject was characterized as finding a wife for the Visible Man, an Eve to his Adam. He was called an "Internet Angel" by the media, offering his body as expiation for his crimes, while she was referred to as an Internet housewife. And the Visible Man was considered the standard, while the focus of the Visible Woman was her reproductive capacity. I had a chuckle over the fact that this representative male body was missing a testicle! All the same, the project has led to many adaptations and uses. Click here for a flythrough of the Visible Man's body from head to toe. Amazing!

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