Picture this: You’re experiencing a weird pain in your leg. It might be tied to your daily jogs, or it could be something more serious. You go to the doctor, hoping for a diagnosis and suggestions for treatment. Instead, the man in the white coat tells you that your suffering is caused by your uterus, and insists that getting married and having a child will cure you.
Sounds ridiculous, right? It is, but it’s also a pretty accurate example of what could’ve happened not too long ago.
This history of the medical field’s misunderstanding and mistreatment of women’s bodies is explained in Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World, a new book by British historian Elinor Cleghorn that’s equal parts fascinating and infuriating.
Beginning with a study of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, Cleghorn’s book explores Western medicine’s dismissal of women’s health issues. She notes that Hippocrates, for his part, understood that women’s bodies were different from men’s, but in his view—which thereby influenced the views of medical professionals for centuries—those differences could be reduced to a single organ: the uterus.