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In thirteenth-century Europe, Roman Catholicism decreed that menstruation was the curse of Eve, part of the punishment issued by God to all earthly women. In the 1860s, female circumcision was considered a respective cure for misunderstood diseases including endometriosis and epilepsy. At the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine, between 1950 and 1954, three women aged twenty-eight, thirty-two, and forty-three and identified only as housewives, underwent prefrontal lobotomies as cures for ulcerative colitis. Initial clinical trials of birth control were conducted in Puerto Rico, on some of the poorest residents of the United States. Of those who participated in the trial, many suffered debilitating side effects and three died--but their deaths were never reported in the subsequent release of the pill. In Unwell Women, Elinor Cleghorn explores this almost unbelievable history of how medicine has failed women, and shows how the legacy of disenfranchisement and discrimination is alive and well in the contemporary relationship between women and sickness.

When Cleghorn was finally correctly diagnosed with an autoimmune disease after years of being told her symptoms were anything from psychosomatic to a possible pregnancy, she was inspired to unpack the roots of the perpetual misunderstanding, mystification, and misdiagnosis of women's bodies. The result is an authoritative and groundbreaking history of the relationship between women and medical practice, from the wandering womb of Ancient Greece to the rise of witch trials across Europe, and from the dawn of hysteria as a catchall for difficult-to-diagnose disorders to the first forays into autoimmunity and the shifting understanding of hormones, menstruation, and menopause. Packed with character studies and case histories of women who have suffered, challenged, and rewritten medical orthodoxy--and the men who controlled their fate--this is a revolutionary examination of the relationship between women, illness, and medicine. With these case histories, Elinor pays homage to the women whose bodies were sacrificed to make strides in this still-evolving area of medicine and to show how far we still have to go in terms of understanding the female body.

Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn

SKU: 9781474616874
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