Mary Lefkowitz, Medical Notes, "THE WANDERING WOMB," The New Yorker, February 26, 1996, p. 194
For women, certainly, anatomy is destiny. Not so much because of what they lack as because of what they possess, which is to say wombs, vaginas, breasts: the female reproductive system is a weakness of both the body and the mind. That, at any rate, is how men seem to have thought of it for millennia. At the beginning of this century, male educators argued that women would injure their wombs if they studied Greek or mathematics. Ancient doctors believed that the womb could move about in a woman's body, putting pressure on other organs and so causing serious illness, and even death... Tells about Egyptian beliefs of 1900 B.C.: a woman who was unwell was said to be "womby"... How could such diseases of the womb be cured? According to 4th century Hippocratic doctors, there were two viable courses of treatment. One was sexual intercourse, especially if it resulted in pregnancy. The other course of treatment involved medication... Tells about various treatments, including sweet-scented vaginal suppositories, fumigations or vapors, animal excrement, and human excrement mixed with beer froth. Greek doctors prescribed cow or goat dung or bird droppings, often in combination with fragrant wine or rose oil (Cures derived from animal excrement are used today: a form of estrogen used in hormone-replacement therapy is extracted from the urine of pregnant mares... Even today, when wombs have stopped wandering, medicine tends to pathologize the vagaries of the female reproductive system, from menarche to menopause. Women of ancient times themselves looked back with nostalgia on the carefree years of their childhood. Who could blame them for dreading, in sickness and in health, the prospect of their womb-dominated years?
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