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Unwell Women: A Journey Through Medicine And Myth in a Man-Made World Paperback – 7 July 2022
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'We are taught that medicine is the art of solving our body's mysteries. And as a science, we expect medicine to uphold the principles of evidence and impartiality. We want our doctors to listen to us and care for us as people, but we also need their assessments of our pain and fevers, aches and exhaustion to be free of any prejudice about who we are, our gender, or the colour of our skin. But medicine carries the burden of its own troubling history. The history of medicine, of illness, is a history of people, of their bodies and their lives, not just physicians, surgeons, clinicians and researchers. And medical progress has always reflected the realities of a changing world, and the meanings of being human.'
In Unwell Women Elinor Cleghorn unpacks the roots of the perpetual misunderstanding, mystification and misdiagnosis of women's bodies, and traces the journey from the 'wandering womb' of ancient Greece, the rise of witch trials in Medieval Europe, through the dawn of Hysteria, to modern day understandings of autoimmune diseases, the menopause and conditions like endometriosis. Packed with character studies of women who have suffered, challenged and rewritten medical orthodoxy - and drawing on her own experience of un-diagnosed Lupus disease - this is a ground-breaking and timely exposé of the medical world and woman's place within it.
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Unwell Women is one of the most important books of our generation. I read it in a rage, and recognised myself in its pages. ― Fern Riddell, author of Death in Ten Minutes
If doctors have ever misdiagnosed you, disbelieved your symptoms, or discriminated against you, then Unwell Women is the holy grail of answers you have been waiting for. Elinor Cleghorn has written a decisive, comprehensive, well-researched, and fascinating book about the ways in which medicine has failed women, from the 19th century until now, and what that neglect has cost us-including our lives. I wish I'd had this book in 2018 when I was fighting with my gynecologist to remove my fibroids, but I am glad to have it as I navigate two chronic illnesses; as we continually negotiate power dynamics with doctors, Unwell Women will instantly become an invaluable addition to the arsenal of tools we need to fight for the care we deserve. ― Evette Dionne, author of Lifting as We Climb
UNWELL WOMEN is a powerful and fascinating book that takes an unsparing look at how women's bodies have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed for centuries. From wandering wombs to demonic explanations of menopause, Elinor Cleghorn packs each page with disturbing historical details that will haunt your psyche for days and weeks to come. ― Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art
Cultural historian Cleghorn's meticulous and wide-ranging debut examines the links between patriarchy, misogyny, and the mistreatment of women's health needs... After building a damning historical case against the medical field, Cleghorn shares the harrowing story of how her symptoms were "overlooked, ignored, and dismissed" for seven years before she was diagnosed with lupus. The result is a deeply informed and passionately argued call for change. ― Publishers Weekly
This book will make you angry. And so it should! Just like their brains, women's bodies have been treated as defective and deficient for centuries... Even in the 21st Century Cleghorn uncovers harsh truths about medicine's continuing biases, especially in the intersection between gender and race. Hopefully this book will be a wake-up call to a profession that can still refer dismissively to 'women's problems.' ― Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain
If you live in a female body, and if you've ever thought to yourself, "Why-oh-why are doctors not taking my legitimate health concerns seriously," this book answers that question definitively. This history of the female patient is the one I was searching for the entire time I was writing my own book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. One thousand more books like this, please. ― Sarah Ramey, author of The Lady's Handbook For Her Mysterious Illness
This is a fascinating look at history, UNWELL WOMEN is both captivating and enraging - a worthy voice for so many women who have been silenced for so long. ― Catherine Cho, author of Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness
At once grand in scope and deeply personal, Unwell Women is a powerful and important exploration of the history of Western medicine. Elinor Cleghorn lays bare centuries of unnecessary suffering in this meticulously researched, scorching indictment of how male-focused medicine has failed women - and shows us how far we still have to go. ― Emily Brand author of The Fall of the House of Byron
Feminist historian and academic Cleghorn, herself a victim of medical misdiagnosis, brings first-hand knowledge of the gender bias endemic in the medical profession to this scholarly yet personal, specific yet comprehensive study of dangerously outdated medical practices and attitudes. ― Booklist
Seamlessly melding scholarship with passion, Unwell Women is the definition of unputdownable ― Telegraph
A richly detailed, wide-ranging and enraging history... Unwell Women is not just a compelling investigation, but an essential one ― Observer
A passionate and indignant history ― The Times
Eye-opening... Elinor Cleghorn uses her own misdiagnosis at the hands of male doctors as a jumping off point for an alarming history lesson ― Guardian
Revelatory and sometimes enraging ― Sunday Express
Powerful... It's impossible to read Unwell Women without grief, frustration and a growing sense of righteous anger. Cleghorn's prose is lively, and she has marshaled an enormous amount of material. ― New York Times
A thorough compendium of women's history in the Western world...fascinating...a laudable history of women and the Western medical system ― The I Paper
Unwell Women is a wide-ranging history of myths and medicine... [which] seeks to answer the question of how women should relate to the medically trained people who are supposed to know them best...Unwell Women does so with remarkable success. ― Times Literary Supplement
A completely gripping look at the medicalisation of women's bodies in the 19th and 20th centuries, Unwell Women will have you riveted. ― Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Five
- Publisher : W&N (7 July 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 496 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1474616879
- ISBN-13 : 978-1474616874
- Dimensions : 5.1 x 0.3 x 19.5 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 2,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
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Would definitely recommend if you're interested in looking at the history of this issue and want to see how far it has gone in the past and the present.
We begin as far back as Ancient Greece, and linger in the Medieval era as we encounter a procession of twisted religious views on women's bodies and minds and how these fuelled witch hunts. Moving forwards into the 1800s/early 1900s, much of the story shifts to the U.S. and medical "progress" which often came at the cost of causing terrible harm to women's bodies, in particular those of Black women.
I actually wasn't able to read all of the book - I found the sheer quantity and weight of hatred against women in these pages overwhelming, and I do wonder if some sections could have been contracted without losing any of the message (the book is nearly 500 pages long). I was also disappointed that so little time was spent in the present day; Cleghorn recounts her awful and not uncommon experience of suffering from Lupus and finally getting a diagnosis, but in total, the "modern day" elements make up about 5% or so of the book. I am a sufferer of axial spondyloarthritis, a type of rheumatoid arthritis, and having waited longer for a diagnosis than I should have, I wanted to read more about what is happening in medicine right now (in the vein of 'Invisible Women').
Still, I can only commend Cleghorn for the detail of the book and her academic rigour. This is an epic of vital history.
Starting in the ancient Greek times where any ailments women suffered were blamed on her "wandering uterus", to all women's ailments being blamed on hysteria and the weak female mind, forced hysterectomies and unneeded lobotomy, this book is certainly comprehensive.
I can't lie I couldn't help but stifle some giggles during the Ancient Greek parts at the image of a wandering, mischievous uterus roaming around causing havoc!
The treatment of women's medical issues, even to present day, hasn't exactly been smooth sailing.
I really enjoyed learning from this book, it was certainly accessible even to a history novice like me!
I liked that Dr Cleghorn presented the work and opinions of doctors and activists, detailing the changes they made but also acknowledging their faults and their problematic views.
Unwell Women also examines the treatment of women to the modern day, with particular emphasis on chronic illness and how difficult it is for women to be believed and receive a diagnosis- their pain and symptoms being dismissed constantly and Dr Cleghorn pulls on her own experience of having Lupus.
I found the small section regarding Myxedema (advanced hypothyroidism) particularly interesting - a small view of what life was like before the invention of thyroxine. I've had hypothyroidism since birth, and even 26 years ago Dr's asserted that I "wouldn't come to much". I've been taking levothryoxine my whole life, and have sort of taken that for granted - only looking into the condition more into my late 20s to fully understand it and the effects of it. My life would certainly have been much different had I been born 50-100 years earlier!
I really recommend this book- I took my time with it to fully take in what I was reading, but it is a brilliant non fiction work that I is worth pursuing!
This book is an absolutely fascinating but also deeply angering journey through medical history, focusing on the experience of women (mostly in the UK and North America), so often brushed aside as hysterics, and how treatment of female conditions progressed, but also highlighting the cost of these progressions - particularly with medical trials on unsuspecting black, poor or Puerto Rican women. It's informative but very readable and I would recommend it to anyone - particularly those who think sexual discrimination is a thing only of the past.
With thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.