For centuries women’s problems, medical symptoms and even their emotions have been the object of great debate and discussion. Unfortunately this discourse was done primarily by men and that might be why the female experience and even the female anatomy is still relatively so misunderstood and marginalized even in the 21st century.
The widespread disease of female hysteria is the product of an age old trend of men mistrusting and pigeon-holing women as frail, erratic and downright crazy beings. From being branded, tried and killed as witches in the 1600’s to being called crazy for wanting their right to vote, women have come a long way since ancient times when in Egypt any outlandish or un lady like behaviour was said to be the result of a woman’s uterus travelling either North or South as they believed it “was a free-floating, independent, autonomous organ that wandered the body, its traveling ways causing all sorts of mental and physical maladies, disturbing and disrupting women from the inside out.”
Fortunately for women, medical science now acknowledges that what appeared to be hysteria to those in the past might have been an array of psychological disorders including Schizophrenia, Manic depression and even Dis-associative Identity Disorder among others. If a doctor today were to come up to a patient and claim that their uterus was the cause of all sorts of maladies, it would be hilarious to hear but the fact remains that historically women were put through some of the most insane “treatments” to cure their Wandering Womb Syndrome.
Let’s take a look at some of the most bizarre facts about the disease;
1. You can thank Hippocrates for coining the term
Hippocrates is known as the literal FATHER OF MEDICINE and he was no far behind in “discovering” that women’s wombs were quite possibly magical. We hear you! However, when the great man himself coined the term, he quite like the Egyptians believed that unfulfilling sex lives were what led to wandering uteri in women and even cited some of the symptoms as having a sense of suffocation, of paralysis, anxiety and even convulsions.
2. The cure lies in the way the Womb travels
Since ancient Egyptians believed the wandering womb was the root of all a woman’s problem, they sought out quite an interesting cure for the problem. If the womb had traveled North, it could be subdued by placing some pungent substance near the woman’s nose while simultaneously holding fragrant and pleasant substances near her nether regions. If in case the womb felt like going South, the same process would be reversed.
3. Two words. Uterine Exorcisms.
Yep. You heard that right. Times sure were confusing in the Middle Ages since people were so afraid of pesky witches ruining everything! So naturally when a woman showed too much individuality or even exhibited signs of mental imbalance, unholy magic was to blame. Therefore priests carried out exorcisms for ladies wombs that were quite obviously possessed by demons.
4. It’s all about animal magnetism
Things just kept getting weirder and weirder for 19th century hysteria patients as Franz Mesmer claimed that all humans and animals had magnetic fluid coursing through our bodies and also said that “mental illnesses result from having the flow of those fluids interrupted. Therefore applying magnets to the seat of the disease restores the harmonious flow.” He also sought out hypnosis as a viable cure for female hysteria and convinced his patients via hypnosis that they were cured.
5. So that’s how vibrators were invented!
Victorian ladies were perceived to be super fragile creatures who were prone to swooning and fainting any time and so they carried acrid smelling salts with them to ease their wandering organs, however physicists had psychoanalysis on their side by now and believed that hysteria had more to do with women’s suppressed or unfulfilled sexual desires, therefore a thorough massaging on the patient’s pelvis was a sure fire way on inducing an orgasm that would cure the libido.
But who can be bothered to spend that much time satisfying a woman right? So, the men found a faster and more efficient way of treating these sexual urges when George Taylor developed the first steam powered vibrator. Modern women around the world thank the kind doctor for his services.
6. It remained valid till the 1950’s
An explanation of female behaviour in the form of hysteria has been around since mankind has walked the earth and unfortunately for a lot of misdiagnosed women, the medical malady was not ready to go out so easily. It was a genuine medical disorder well into the 20th century and we still see it’s aftermath in the sexist “Crazy” woman trope that still exists in our pop culture and history today.