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Feminist Studies 47, no. 3. © 2021 by Feminist Studies, Inc. 627 Kirin Joya Makker Womb Chair Speaks The human womb is extraordinary, an active biological marvel that moves through 450+ menstrual cycles during a lifetime.1 Comprising a unique and curious set of organs, the womb provides an optimal environment for conception and gestation. Yet over time the reproductive system’s cycles and tissues also makes the womb an active site of aberrant cell growth and scarring. Thickening and thinning hundreds of times over decades, this anatomy often ends up acquiring a host of irregular formations—spongey cysts, fibrous tumors, mushroomy polyps, soft adhesions, and other fragments of endometrial flotsam.2 Anyone with a womb experiences this biological operation and manages its manifestations and effects throughout their life. 1. This project considers the term “womb” to be first, a biological characteristic of a population of humans, primarily composed of women. The term “womb” is used because it comprises not only the uterus, but the entire reproductive system as well as a deep pelvic region of the body. However, the project emphasizes that the term “womb” works metaphorically to describe human sexuality, femininity, and care work, and thus the womb as a cultural phenomenon affects and constrains womxn, femmes, and trans and nonbinary people, whether they have physical wombs or not. The title “Womb Chair Speaks” was the idea of May Farnsworth, whom I thank sincerely. 2. Natalie Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999), 124–25. 628 Kirin Joya Makker Despite the womb’s dynamic, textured, and resilient biology, it has not received tribute and attention in line with its complex qualities.3 Medically, socially, and aesthetically, our conceptual understanding of the womb has been tightly framed by its role in reproduction. Gynecology and obstetrics—the fields devoted to the biology and health of the female genital tract—are centered on this procreative function. There remains no medical specialty devoted to the womb’s unique cellular biology, tissues, or menstruation, despite detailed knowledge of diseased pelvic anatomy from the first century CE.4 When the womb has been given sustained theorization and study in the sciences, it has included spurious diagnoses of “hysteria” for women who are now believed to have been struggling with chronic pelvic pain.5 The emphasis in medicine on the procreative purpose of the womb has encouraged widespread ignorance in the healthcare industry and its patients about the genital system’s everyday existence and functioning , from its biology to its short- and long-term cycles, to understanding 3. Susan D. Mathias, Miriam Kupperman, Rebecca F. Liberman, Ruth C. Lipschitz , and John F. Steege, “Chronic Pelvic Pain: Prevalence, Health-Related Quality of Life, and Economic Correlates,” Obstetrics and Gynecology 87, no. 3 (1996): 3, 321–27, This article reports that worldwide, between fourteen and thirty-two percent of women of childbearing age report chronic pelvic pain. See also Abimbola A. Ayorinde, Gary J. Macfarlane, Lucky Saraswat, and Siladitya Bhattacharya , “Chronic Pelvic Pain in Women: An Epidemiological Perspective,” Women’s Health 11, no. 6 (November 2015): 851–64, /whe.15.30. This article reports that most studies about chronic pelvic pain are conducted among women of reproductive age. Older women, who are perceived as less susceptible to pelvic pain, have been traditionally excluded from prevalence studies. In 1994, a cross-sectional analysis of a primary care database in the United Kingdom found higher rates of chronic pelvic pain in women aged 61 to 73 compared with women in younger age groups. More recent population studies in the United Kingdom and the United States have also confirmed significant reporting of chronic pelvic pain among older women. While the highest rate reported in one of the studies was in women aged 18 to 25 years (17 percent), women older than 75 years had a rate of 13 percent (855). 4. Greek Physician Soranus of Ephesus, first/second century CE, wrote a fourpart treatise on gynecological diseases and is believed to have been the first Western physician to describe the symptoms of pelvic disease at length. 5. Camran Nezhat, Farr Nezhat, and Ceana...


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