Hello storytellers! Welcome back... today we are talking uteruses and the day we celebrate those who have them and are responsible for raising - without pay - all those who come out of one: moms*! (27 March was mum's day in the UK.)
[*including women, non-binary and trans people, adoptive mothers and all those who can get pregnant!]
First up... the uterus: an organ responsible for bringing all new life into this world and preserving humanity, yet is perpetually misunderstood, mistreated and even demonised.
The uterus: revered as a woman's most prized possession, yet has been - and continues to be - controlled by everyone but her.
The uterus: held up as the main differentiator between men and women and - though it gives life to all humans - is cited as the reason women are biologically inferior and deficient.
...you get the picture.
In this week's episode - which is split into two parts - I speak with Elinor Cleghorn about her book, Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World, where we get into the long, dark history of medicine's role in subjugating women, starting with her uterus.
"Hysteria" comes from the Greek word for uterus - hystera. This "diagnosis", which is completely made up and has no actual medical basis, has been around since the time of Hippocrates (5th century BC) when it was believed that the womb would wander around a woman's body in search of "male seed". It was rebranded through the centuries, and most recently used to "diagnose" female patients for everything from a fondness of writing to PTSD and depression to infertility... and anything else the (male) doctor found mysterious or unmanageable in women.
For real, less than 100 years ago women were treated for their (completely fake and made up) hysteria by being prescribed tranquillisers, locked up in asylums, and even undergoing lobotomies where parts of their brains were surgically removed. Before that, they were called witches and burned at the stake.
In the late 1800s through the mid-1900s, a big reason women were "diagnosed" was because they started to demand equal rights and education. (How dare they!) This is a real prescription for "hysteric" symptoms, called the Rest Cure, taken from a book written in the 1935:
"Live as domestic, as life as possible. Have your child with you all the time, lie down an hour after each meal, have but two hours of intellectual life a day, and never touch pen, brush or pencil. As long as you live."
And while this can feel very far removed from today's world, the millennia long legacy is still very much present in medicine...
Are you a woman - or do you know a woman - who has been misdiagnosed, met with mystification, or disbelieved when it comes to describing the symptoms of your own body? If so, unfortunately, you are very far from alone. These experiences are incredibly common, and just a few of the ways medicine's dark history manifests within healthcare still today.
Have a listen to my chat with Elinor to learn more!
In other news, happy mum's day to all those in the UK... and wherever else it was celebrated on Sunday... and to just all moms out there, because you deserve FAR MORE than one day a year of flowers and chocolates.
I feel a bit like I did on International Women's Day... I am happy for an opportunity to celebrate the magnificent women who tirelessly take care of everyone around them, too often at the sacrifice of their own selves. However, as stated, mom's deserve a whole lot more than a card from hallmark. How about paid parental leave, support for transitioning back to work after having a kid and affordable childcare for a start?
Funnily enough, women's labour rights are the very things the founders of the modern version of Mother's Day wanted:
According to the National Retail Federation, US shoppers spent over $26 billion in 2020 on Mother's Day. I would never dream of advocating not to celebrate mothers on this day, but just imagine what that amount of money could do to make real, life-changing improvements for moms around the world.
Finally, I was featured in an interview on The Feminist Shop's blog this week... check it out! :)
That’s all for today. Thanks for being here and holding space for woman’s story!
To all you mom's out there, stay cool...
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