What's In a Name (Hysteria)

WanderingWomb has a lot of different meanings to me, and I figured I'd try to explain some of them.

Firstly, I'm a sucker for alliteration. W.W. Yum.

Secondly, I like the wanderlust it evokes. Wandering. Exploring. Discovering.

Thirdly, I like the feminine and comforting connotations of 'womb'.

Overall, and most importantly, it's a reference to female hysteria. In the 19th century, hysteria was a common medical diagnosis exclusively for women. Dizzy? Hysteria. Bloating? Hysteria. Experiencing sexual desire? Hysteria. Irritable? Sore? Tired? Hysteria, hysteria, hysteria. Not hungry? Nervous? Troublesome? You name it, it's probably hysteria, which often lead to asylum and hysterectomies in extreme cases.

Hysteria quickly became a catchall diagnosis. In 1859, one physician claimed that 25% of all women suffered from hysteria, while another listed 75 pages of possible symptoms and still believed the list to be incomplete*.

The history can be traced back to 4th and 5th centuries BC in ancient Greece, when Plato explained in his dialogue Timaeus that a woman's uterus is like a living creature that may wander about the body and cause trouble, interfering with other organs and such. Thus, the ailment of the "wandering womb" was born, along with the Greek word "hustera", meaning womb, and later serving at the root for "hysteric" and "hysteria". The Greeks believed it was caused by the retention of female semen, which was believed to become venomous if not regularly released through climax or intercourse.

Later, hysteria was treated with orgasms, technically called "hysterical paroxysms". Long story short, it lead to the creation of vibrators. Later post to follow.

What I love about the term "wandering womb" is just how ridiculous it sounds today. In the 20th century, the frequency of cases quickly declined as many past instances of hysteria were reevaluated as cases of anxiety neuroses, anxiety attacks, conversion disorders, or schizophrenia.

In summary, wombs do not wander about the body. The wandering womb is an misunderstanding and underestimation of women. Assuming that women must just be hysterical is a shameful part of medical history. This blog, WanderingWomb is meant to explore ways we're still mistaking women today.



*Briggs, Laura. "The Race of Hysteria: "Overcivilization" and the "Savage" Woman in Late Nineteenth-Century Obsterics and Gynecology"

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