Lisa Wong Macabasco in The Guardian:
Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine, believed that women were controlled by their uteruses. The father of modern gynecology, James Marion Sims, in the mid-19th century experimented on enslaved black women without anesthesia, convinced that they felt less pain than white women. (Until its removal in 2018, his statue stood in New York’s Central Park for over a century.) Doctors claimed that women’s suffrage would cause injury to women’s fragile bodies and diminished minds. Such examples cast an abhorrent pall over “first, do no harm”.
The history of medicine is every bit as social and cultural as it is scientific, and male dominance is cemented in its foundations. But even the author Elinor Cleghorn, who spent the past year immersed in the history of women’s relationship to medicine, was surprised by “just how conscious and insidious it was”, she told the Guardian. “Biological theories about female bodies were used to reinforce and uphold constraining social ideas about women.”
Cleghorn’s new book, Unwell Women, enumerates a litany of ways in which women’s bodies and minds have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed through history. From the wandering womb of ancient Greece (the idea that a displaced uterus caused many of women’s illnesses) and the witch trials in medieval Europe, through the dawn of hysteria, to modern myths around menstruation, she lays bare the unbelievable and sometimes horrific treatment of women for millennia in the name of medicine.