Women and people with vaginas are still fighting for bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and access to life saving healthcare.
While watching our community stand up and fight like hell for what we deserve has been inspiring, we shouldn’t have to go to battle just to be seen as human beings and have our basic needs met.
But this (sadly) isn’t anything new. The history of healthcare for people with vaginas has been a dark, disappointing, and strange one. So let’s take a look back at where gynecological care started and how we got to where we are today. So strap in, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!
Take it Back Now Y’all
Let’s start at the very beginning! That’s right, we’re talking about the Twelfth Egyptian Dynasty y’all *whoo whoo*. This is where we were introduced to the first ever recorded writing detailing gynecological health: the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus. This three page document describes ancient methods for promoting fertility, contraception, and providing general gynecological care. During this time there was much more of a ‘hands-off’ approach to gynecological health and the main focus of care revolved around all-natural and non-invasive practices.
A personal favorite highlight is the practice of ‘fumigating’ the vagina with incense and natural oils to promote health and healing. Honestly, I think they were onto something here.
Purity Culture at it’s Finest (aka Worst)
We’re jumping all the way to Europe in the 1800’s. This was not a high point for reproductive health, bodily autonomy, or just people with vaginas in general. Shocker, I know. This was a time when purity vulture in both society and medicine ran rampant. *boooo* So medical “professionals” viewed sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy outside of marriage, and pelvic examinations as moral punishments for “women of vice”.
And to drive home just how ruthlessly the patriarchy reigned, the Contagious Diseases Act of 1860 was passed which forced any woman that was suspected of being a sex worker register with the police and be examined for sexually transmitted infections *non-consensually*. If any of the tests came out positive, they would be sent to a lock hospital or asylum.
Think of this as a witch hunt for sex workers…and this stigma and shame surrounding sex still lingers today.
Read More: Sex Worker Rights Around the World
The Scumbag of Modern Gynecology
In the mid-to-late 1800s Dr. James Marion Sims was coined “The Father of Modern Gynecology”...but he was far from a hero. Sims was responsible for created what is now known as the speculum and a surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, or tears between the vagina and bladder that can occur during childbirth. But Sims’ infamous reputation comes from his outrageously unethical and blatantly racist practices.
Sims would perform experimental surgeries on Black enslaved women WITHOUT ANESTHESIA . These forced surgeries that were done without consent highlight just how deeply rooted racism (especially towards women of color) is in the medical field. Luckily, current day medical professionals are rebuking the unethical and barbaric actions of Sims and in 2017 his statue was removed in New York City’s Central Park. Good F#cking riddance.
Let’s take a moment to share our love and respect for Lucy, Betsey, and Anarcha, the enslaved women that were subjected to Sims' brutal practices. They will not be forgotten.
The 20th century brought us significant breakthroughs in gynecology. We were introduced to everything from oral contraceptives and the IUD to in vitro fertilization and the ability to screen for various cancers via pap smears. Be it family planning or practicing preventative care, women and people with vaginas *finally* started to have a choice when it came to their bodies and futures. This progress was largely correlated to the advancements made in women’s rights and more women working in the medical field, especially in areas where they have been historically underserved.
But there was (and still is) a major problem in diversity because of the lack of POC professionals entering the field (due to higher barriers to entry for POC, the lack of educational resources available to underserved communities, and racism within the medical field). And we still see how disproportionately POC individuals, specifically Black women, are negatively impacted by medical bias, resulting in higher rates of misdiagnosis, lower pain/symptom management, and higher mortality rates overall, especially during childbirth. HERE is a list of resources for Black birthing people looking for medical care and other reproductive health information.
That takes us to today! As technology and medical research advances, the field of gynecology is expected to change rapidly in the next few decades. It is my hope (or manifestation?) that these advancements include making gynecological care more accessible to all people with vaginas, advancements in trauma informed care, prioritizing patient pain-levels and comfortability, and putting an end to medical bias. The road to modern-day gynecological care has been a tough one, but we won’t stop fighting until we all receive that care we deserve.
So Happy Women’s History Month. We can do this.
Momotaro Apotheca and its materials are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. All material on Momotaro Apotheca is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition.