Posted in Feminism, Medical, Politics, Reviews, women

Book Review: Unwell Women and The Slow Decline Back To The Middle Ages

I wasn’t intending for this to be the topic of my first foray back into blogging (after about two months of the worst case of writer’s block I have ever experienced), but sometimes life happens and you just have to roll with the punches.

Writing has always been my preferred way of making sense of what’s happening in this increasingly confusing and bewildering world we live in, and a way to articulate how I feel about it.

This weekend, the American Supreme Court made a landmark ruling which overturned its previous 1943 ruling on Roe vs Wade, which had given women in America the freedom to decide whether or not they wanted to carry a baby to full term, essentially protecting a woman’s right to have an abortion.

I couldn’t stop thinking about all of this over the weekend, and I just happened to have a lot of time on my hands to think about it. I pored through the many articles, editorials, opinion polls, and celebrity tweets whilst on a 7-hour coach journey to the coast of Cornwall, because of course my holiday happened to fall on the week of the railway company strikes.

(Note: I didn’t have the option of driving because I’m in a state of perpetual procrastination about taking my theory test which would have enabled me to have a UK driver’s license. Ugh. I should really get on that).

The whole issue around Roe vs. Wade made me think about this book called Unwell Women, which I bought and read ages ago but never got around to reviewing for some reason. At the time of purchase, I was going through a phase where I was buying every book about women’s rights and gender equality that Waterstones had on their shelves, all to process my own thoughts and feelings about the prospect of living a life that most people I know would call non-traditional.

Unwell Women gave me a lot of insight into how women have been treated, mistreated, and been failed by medicine since time immemorial.

There was a time when a woman was defined by her uterus, when the most intelligent and enlightened minds of the time believed that the cause of any female illness was the migration of the womb to other parts of the body, which then caused a disturbance in the force (sorry, Star Wars reference).

Ever notice that the word hysteria and hysterectomy share the same prefix?

Yeah, they both originate from ‘hystero’ , the latin word for uterus, and no, a coincidence that is not.

The cure for any female malady was, of course, to get married, have sex and give birth to a number of babies – in that order, as each were seen as mutually exclusive of the other during the dark ages.

At the time, no one could even conceive of such a thing as endometriosis, now a well-researched and well-recognised medical condition deserving of proper treatment. No one knew what PCOS was, neither did anyone do a study on the effects of mental health on the physical body, or any other explanation that had nothing to do with a Wandering Womb.

All practising physicians were men who had absolutely no idea what it was like to have human beings and other things come out of their vagina. It seemed to me like the diagnoses and subsequent treatment for women’s illness were based on two things: the whims of the male imagination and the all-consuming agenda to keep women in their rightful place: at home, cooking dinner and taking care of the fruits of their loins.

Let’s have all women procreate, it will solve everything. This was basically the tagline of medical institutions, from Ancient Greece to the 19th century. It feels relevant to bring all this up now to highlight how far we’ve come in terms of medicine and gender equality, and how much further we have to go, especially when we keep re-treading the same steps and having the same old arguments.

There was a time when women didn’t have any say over their bodies and for America it seems like that time has come again.

Like I said, I’ve been turning this over and over in my head trying to decide how I feel about it, and what to write about it. I grew up in a very religious country, and I have lived with consequences of internalised Catholicism for most of my adult life. I am still, for the most part, a practising Catholic, and in my hearts of hearts I am probably pro-life…but I am also pro-choice.

I feel very passionately about a person’s fundamental right to live their life on their own terms and not by how other people think they should live it, especially because I have often been of judgement in my own pursuit of independence. I have been the object of concern which is really nothing more than thinly-veiled pity, and the recipient of rude, intrusive questions about why I am still single at a time when most women my age have children in grade school.

I spent all of my late 20s and most of my early 30s swiping left and right on various dating apps, and going through an endless, repetitious (wasteful) cycle of swipe, text, meet, drink, ghost, repeat….and for what? For the dubious pleasure of having met societal and familial expectations? To force myself into a box labelled ‘in a relationship’ when I knew that none of the guys I met online were right or worth giving up my freedom for?

No, thank you.

I’m going to try and make myself and my position clear before I come to the end of this very long (and probably incoherent) blog post.

I am not an advocate of abortion, the thought absolutely pains me.

I am not against traditional relationships with the right partner, at the right place, at the right time and under the right circumstances.

I have every respect for mothers and housewives and those that have chosen to devote their life to their children. In fact, I am in awe of them.

I am a Christian through and through.

But I also don’t see the point of cramming morality down other people’s throats or preaching proverbs from the Bible to teenagers who are victims of rape and incest. It won’t help them. At least, not until they get proper medical care.

The overturning of Roe vs Wade has made it difficult for them and women like them, who are also a victim of unwanted circumstances, to get access to that. The Supreme Course has instead put them in a position where they are staring down the barrel of a future they never wanted or asked for.

I am, above anything else, an advocate of women’s choices. I believe they are more than qualified to make them, and therefore those choices should be heard, validated, honoured and respected.

Oh that’s right. I’m meant to be doing a book review. Suffice to say that Unwell Woman is an incredible book which charts the history of women’s eternal struggle for equality as told from the perspective of medicine and health care. From wandering wombs to witch hunts, from birth control pills to abortion, its all there, and its never been more relevant as it is now.

There is no such thing as absolute freedom. The world turns on a series of checks and balances, but those checks and balances should rightfully remain in the hands of the individual, not other people, and certainly not the government. The only person who will live through the consequences of your choices is YOU after all. Its only common sense that you get first say on what those choices ought to be.

Author:

Extraordinarily ordinary. Nurse. Teacher. Part-time traveller, full-time bookworm and music lover. I incorporate wishes, dreams and being a hopeless romantic with a sense of realism grounded on life experiences. I have yet to fully take off my rose-coloured glassed when it comes to life -despite occasional disappointments - and I prefer to keep it that way. I am in love with London, my adopted city. Every day is a new adventure, a chance to try something new. It has become such a part of who I am that I can't imagine living anywhere else. I am under the illusion that people will actually want to hear what I have to say and if it does turn out to be just an illusion, who cares? I want to put my thoughts out there for anyone to listen. I want to be heard because I have so much to say and I'm going to have fun doing it. I enjoy banter and a good back-and-forth. There is nothing more stimulating for me than an interesting conversation. So feel free to comment, express your opinions and let me know what you think. Let's get the world talking, one blabbaholic at a time.

One thought on “Book Review: Unwell Women and The Slow Decline Back To The Middle Ages

  1. I am pro-life as well (but only for myself – as in I could never abort my own baby), but I do think all women should be able to decide for themselves based on their circumstances, and I was absolutely dismayed by this direction from the SC.

    I have never been much into feminist literature, but I should probably start now.

    Like

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