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But for Adam no suitable helper was found.So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said,“this is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. —Genesis 2:21–25 After God so graciously created a helper for Adam, the man and woman lived together in pure bliss for a little while.Then one day,so the story goes,“when the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband,who was with her,and he ate it.” And we all know the rest of that story. Whether through a religious tale about the first woman who could not resist a juicy piece of fruit, or through using the most sophisticated scientific techniques available in the twenty-first century, the effort to find language that accounts for the differences between men and women has been relentless, in the Western world and elsewhere. This quest has taken us down many different roads, some of which have turned out to be dead ends, and many of which seem pretty bizarre from today’s perspective. For example, the predominant belief about sex difference in ancient Greece was that the reproductive organs, both male and female, were wild animals. However,there was an important difference between these animals’behaviors in male and female bodies. The man’s “wild animal” existed in a fixed and visible location outside his body.The woman’s,by contrast,lived inside her body,where it was free to roam around unseen and cause unexpected problems. Historian Preface 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd xi 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd xi 1/15/18 4:41 PM 1/15/18 4:41 PM xii preface Nancy Demand explains that according to one of the popular medical theories at the time, women were believed to be “weaker, moister, softer, more porous, and warmer than men,” and females were thought to be incomplete versions of males. Furthermore, it was believed that“without the moisture and weight provided by semen and the fetus, the womb would wander about the body causing alarming and dangerous symptoms.” In other words, women in ancient Greece who were not pregnant were seen as subject to all manner of health problems caused by the dangerous, yet unseen, wandering womb. Recommended treatments for the wandering womb included“fumigations and odor therapies” that would attract the animalistic womb back to its natural location. Intercourse was also frequently prescribed as a cure for such problems as menstrual blockages. The first use of the term hysteria to describe this condition is usually attributed to Hippocrates, who used the word“hysteron” (literally,“movement of the uterus,” but derived from the Sanskrit word for belly) to explain the origins of a number of women’s health symptoms. Concerns about the numerous health problems created by the wandering womb persisted for many centuries, although as early as the thirteenth century, Western physicians started to question whether hysteria was literally caused by movement of the uterus,or whether the female brain could also possibly have been involved. Within the confines of science and technology available for studying the human body at that time, of course, such questioning of these ancient Greek beliefs could only exist in the realm of speculation, and ancient Greek ideas about the uterus as a physical cause for hysteria persisted quite explicitly in many of the medical texts and widely accepted customs of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One well-known example is Victorian women’s practice of carrying smelling salts, a practice which recalled the idea that a pleasurable odor could restore the wandering uterus to its natural place. In the twenty-first century, of course, we have achieved a more scientific understanding of the human female’s anatomy. This...


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