Those darned humanities professors, teaching about literature and words and history and all that fuzzy stuff.

The course is titled “The Wandering Uterus: Journeys through Gender, Race, and Medicine” and gets its name from one of the ancient “causes” of hysteria. The uterus was believed to wander around the body like an animal, hungry for semen. If it wandered the wrong direction and made its way to the throat there would be choking, coughing or loss of voice, if it got stuck in the the rib cage, there would be chest pain or shortness of breath, and so on. Most any symptom that belonged to a female body could be attributed to that wandering uterus. “Treatments,” including vaginal fumigations, bitter potions, balms, and pessaries made of wool, were used to bring that uterus back to its proper place. “Genital massage,” performed by a skilled physician or midwife, was often mentioned in medical writings. The triad of marriage, intercourse, and pregnancy was the ultimate treatment for the semen-hungry womb. The uterus was a troublemaker and was best sated when pregnant.

But that’s ancient history! No one could believe that after the Middle Ages!

It just got transmogrified in the 19th century.

It was believed that hysteria, also known as neurasthenia, could be set off by a plethora of bad habits including reading novels (which caused erotic fantasies), masturbation, and homosexual or bisexual tendencies resulting in any number of symptoms such as seductive behaviors, contractures, functional paralysis, irrationality, and general troublemaking of various kinds. There are pages and pages of medical writings outing hysterics as great liars who willingly deceive. The same old “treatments” were enlisted—genital massage by an approved provider, marriage and intercourse—but some new ones included ovariectomies and cauterization of the clitoris.

Oh, those Victorians! No one believes that kind of crap now.

This wasn’t just any fall semester. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate time to consider the history of hysteria than September 2016, the week following Hillary Clinton’s collapse from pneumonia at the 9/11 ceremonies, an event that tipped #HillarysHealth into a national obsession. Rudolph Giuliani said that she looked sick and encouraged people to google “Hillary Clinton illness.” Trump focused on her coughing or “hacking” as if the uterus were still making its perambulations up to the throat.

For many months, Hillary had been pathologized as the shrill shrew who was too loud and outspoken, on the one hand, and the weak sick one who didn’t have the strength or stamina to be president on the other. We discussed journalist Gail Collins’ assessment of the various levels of sexism afoot in the campaign. On the topic of Hillary’s health, Collins wrote, “this is nuts, but not necessarily sexist.” We, in the Wandering Uterus, wholeheartedly disagreed. But, back in September, we did not understand how deeply entrenched these sinister mythologies had already become.

But that was 2016! We know so much more now, in 2017!


  1. naturalcynic says

    Therefore, the wandering uterus must have also had another [and ultimate] cure: death. It must have been truly a wonder that it was always in the same place post mortem.. Its wanderings were now at an end [at least with every autopsy] and it could finally rest in peace.

  2. wzrd1 says

    Well, we can thank that outmoded nonsense of hysteria for the modern vibrator. ;)

    As for HRC’s pneumonia, well, only sick people get pneumonia. :P
    It’s interesting how young people can get a chest cold that turns into pneumonia, it’s just a thing that happens. HRC gets pneumonia, it’s a world class event, proving that she’s frail or something.

    When are people going to stop being so fucking stupid?

  3. Ed Seedhouse says

    “It must have been truly a wonder that it was always in the same place post mortem.. ”
    Post mortems were against the law until fairly recently.

  4. naturalcynic says

    @ Seedhouse
    That didn’t stop those few who wanted to really learn anatomy.

  5. says

    I think there isn’t a cis woman who hasn’t been dismissed and had her opinion invalidated because of her anatomy.
    We’re never justifiably angry, we’re always at some point in our menstrual cycle that makes us irrational, usually for way longer than our periods last…

  6. wzrd1 says

    @Giliell #7, consider yourself in good company.
    Our youngest daughter did have exceptionally lengthy menstrual cycles, on occasion, many months long, due to PCOS. Her complaints were ignored by multiple physicians as a “female complaint”.

    I’ve also read my wife’s chart (before there was a HIPPA act) and saw the very literal wording, “Hysterical female complaint”, written by a physician who had a fine New England refined accent. We told the office manager, we will change practices if she’s *ever* scheduled to see him again.
    His junior partners, who now own that practice took over and initially showed greater concern.
    Alas, her osteoporosis was permitted to advance to the point where her degenerative disc disease is inoperable, save if we can manage to rebuild her bones.
    Honestly, that one physician, well, I want to strangle him to death using his own neck to do it!
    But, malpractices suits forced him to retire. That’s good enough for me.
    One of the partners that took over left the practice, due to one of his partners volume over patient priority.
    The other, well, we switched away due to his lack of due care and due diligence. We only realized, several years after, the level of damage done by his malpractice.
    We’ll not bother, we have more important things to think about. Such as getting her proper care, as every cervical disc is failing, L5-S1 is crushing the equina cauda, due to prior profligate prescriptions from the aforementioned practice, her liver has cirrhosis, yeah, we have a *lot* of things that are more important to concern us.
    As our only car blew a head gasket and is now utterly inoperative and we can’t afford a replacement, yeah, we’re scratching our heads and I’m growing more and more desperate.

    In this current climate, all I’ll say is, we *humans* need to stick together, whether cis applies or not. Otherwise, the socviopaths will win and this misanthrope wouldn’t like that at all. ;)
    Actually, I do need a better “title”, as I tend to like people, individually and in small groups, I loathe what larger groups turn into. Anyone?

    And yes, for once, (OK, not for once, but now), I’m being totally serious. My wife is very, *very* ill. To the point where I dream about it badly.
    I actually am fairly good at reading diagnostic imaging. Decent enough for a TUH (Temple University Hospital) head of radiology have me give a briefing on an X-ray image of an infant with intestinal occlusion, due to imperforate anus. That was due to a chance comment with the head of radiology at the hospital, while I was on a gig working on PC’s and noticing “The case of the week”, which had previously went unsolved.
    I even managed to predict how long the poor infant survived, as damage was severe enough that survival was impossible.
    I gave the briefing, explained why the diagnostic image showed what it did, the hallmarks
    Cried myself to sleep that night and the night after that briefing. Introduced as a military medic by the head of radiology.
    MRI and CT, coloring in the comic book, with wonderful details, if you understand anatomy and physiology.
    I understand why he left out the SF part, to shame his students.
    But, when my wife’s MRI of her neck came back, after a review, I *literally* looked for, “OK, let’s focus on what works” and was surprised to find she still had arm function. That’s a big deal, as she’s an artist.
    I also was invited to review their departmental reviews, in my spare time. I quite enjoyed that, I learned a lot. Right until I saw a coworker’s image from the ED, after he was struck by a car, while deploying PC’s and misdiagnosed by the ED doctor (not unusual, ED docs aren’t radiologists, although they like to pretend to be, they aren’t). He was released as OK, he had a tibial plateau fracture, which was painfully apparent to me, but doctor added a few views, “Look at all four quadrants, not only the area of complaint”. I had forgotten that one and followed the chain for the poor infant.
    I left that job due to deployment. Those lessons only helped once, on an one-off event. Didn’t save a life, but it likely shortened the kid’s hospital stay by a month or so.

    Back to your comment, our youngest is receiving competent medical care now, using birth control pills to help regulate her cycle without trying to bleed to death
    Interestingly, both of our offspring are quite liberal.
    I remain what I am, centrist, save when it comes to giving rights to the oppressed wrongfully. I have rights, so do you.
    Now, to the point of worrying myself, late at night, over pigs rights and I happen to quite love eating pork. If someone tips the scales, I’ll go for lamb.
    Despite my paycheck to paycheck income and the price of tofu here.
    I find myself right-centrist, but leaning so far left to question that in some things, left-centrist as well, as I treat everyone equally, right until they repeatedly prove themselves to be an asshole.
    I’m overall, a middle of the road kind of person.
    I’m also the kind of guy who didn’t stop the community from badly beating a man who drugged myself and my wife, then raped my wife in my own bed. I’m also dick enough to have preferred to have beaten him down myself, as representative of the injured party and as protector of the citizen, as my wife remembered enough to want to kill him.
    Which is something exceptional for her! Understandable, but exceptional. She’s *never* wanted someone killed, not even bin Laden.

    Now, the lot of you have a little more knowledge of my background, life experiences and behavioral traits.
    This past week, we learned *why* he served time in prison, rape. His girlfriend, a daughter of the homeless couple we serendipitously took in before my wife’s condition devolved badly, requiring 24/7 observation and care, broke up with him after an undisclosed event. Previously, before the community took action without my knowledge (honestly, I’d have stopped them, but arranged to have him corralled for a fair fight, with only my cane on my person and he gets his favorite knife).
    I’m old fashioned enough to find that acceptable, I’m liberal enough to want my cousin to marry her choice of woman and gladly attend their wedding.

  7. Ed Seedhouse says

    “@ Seedhouse
    That didn’t stop those few who wanted to really learn anatomy”

    I don’t think the people who talked about roving uteri were among them.

  8. handsomemrtoad says

    “I’m in pain! And I’m wet! And I’m still hysterical!”

    –Leo Bloom, The Producers.