The female body has baffled men since the beginning of time. In fact, its mysterious form, unique monthly visitor, and complex orgasm continues to leave men scratching their heads. Over the course of history, the world’s greatest thinkers have attempted to explain female biological processes such as menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy using logic which proves to be absolutely absurd!
While such theories have been severely debunked by science, the lingering notion that women are inferior to men still persists in many subtle ways, even in medicine, and can probably be linked to some of these ancient ideologies. Read on to laugh (or cry) at eight absolutely ridiculous things people used to believe about the female body.
1. The Saber-toothed Vagina
According to ancient folklore belonging to cultures around the world, the inside of the vagina is decorated with a ring of sharp teeth. The myth of vegina dentata describes the vagina to have the ability to castrate or cause extreme harm to any unlucky male, foolish enough to engage in sexual activity with a woman. This belief is a clear allusion to the archetype of the “evil seductress”, and has even been used as the concept for Belgian comedy-horror movie Teeth.
2. The Poisonous Period
In 1919 Viennese gynecologist, Professor B. Schick published findings that deemed blood from menstruating women to cause flowers to wilt, and wine to spoil. He stated that this was due to a toxin found in period blood called menotoxin. While his study was entirely baseless, and menotoxin has not even been identified in women, news of his findings caught wind in India, where it is still considered hazardous for a menstruating woman to go near the kitchen or perform household chores.
3. The Wandering Womb
Hysteria was a malady that was heavily diagnosed in women for hundreds of centuries, that according to Plato was a result of a wandering womb. Common symptoms of hysteria were; fatigue, anxiousness, low sexual appetite, and extreme irritability which were postulated to have been caused by the physically active uterus “blocking passages, obstructing breathing, and causing disease.” Female hysteria is thankfully no longer recognized as a legitimate medical disorder, however one historical scholar claims that a common treatment for hysteria was to massage around the pelvic area, which subsequently led to the invention of vibrators!
4. The Inside-out Vagina
The male and female reproductive organs were considered practically identical for thousands of years. The idea was that women lacked heat, and therefore had inverted male genitals for warmth purposes, while men, who were apparently just naturally warmer, possessed hanging, external genitals without the need to be toasty. This belief was championed by Galen, a prominent Greek philosopher during the Roman Empire who wrote, “turn outward the woman’s, turn inward, so to speak, and fold double the man’s and you will find the same in both in every respect.” We beg to differ.
5. The Infertile Academics
In the late 1800s, former professor at the Harvard Medical School, Edward Clarke, asserted that women that devoted energy towards studying, would hinder the development of their reproductive organs by weakening the “flow to power”, thereby weakening their ability to reproduce. This idea became a strong argument for opponents of women’s education, and was heavily debated amongst many during the introduction of co-education. Academic excellence by women soon after however, swiftly refuted Clarke’s silly claim.
6. The Rape Exception
Perhaps the most heinous myth listed in this article, is the former belief that female rape survivors were incapable of getting pregnant. This stems from Greek philosopher Galen, who along with claiming the vagina and penis were one and the same, stated that much like the men, women released a seed during intercourse. This ‘seed’ could only be produced upon female orgasm, and therefore would not occur from rape. For many centuries, Galen’s theory was used in medieval court to dismiss rape survivors as complicit in the accused rape if found pregnant. While this myth is now understood as completely untrue, it still finds its way in modern discussions about rape and pregnancy.
7. The Impressionable Pregnancy
One of the earliest explanations for birth defects arose in the 18th century, with the notion that external stimuli experienced by the mother during pregnancy could affect the physical appearance of her child. This bizarre phenomenon called maternal imprinting, was most famously used to explain the elephant-like appearance of Joseph Merrick, who’s mother was known to be startled by an elephant during a circus show. Maternal imprinting was also used to explain the birth of a not-so-attractive child, it was proposed that if the mother looked at ugly things while pregnant, it would be reflected in her child’s appearance. We suppose this is a far gentler explanation than let’s say, genetics.
8. The Lesser Smile
Aristotle also proposed that women had fewer teeth than men, which could have been a result of poor dental hygiene amongst women. However, even that defense is rather weak considering he could have easily counted the number of gaps in women’s teeth, to understand that men and women have in fact, the same number of total teeth. Or perhaps he was under the illusion that women’s’ missing teeth, were resting in another cavity altogether.
Women’s bodies are still under constant policing, but it’s nice to think that at least some progress has been made in regards to how we view the female body. There are however, indirect consequences of the dated ideologies described above, for instance, infertility research is still largely focused on female bodies, while male-centered infertility research is hugely lacking. Additionally, a study examining the effects of male birth control was abruptly shut down last year for negative side effects, while it took years to discover the link between depression and birth-control administered to women.
These discrepancies in research can be traced to ancient perceptions of femininity, and the female body. While Aristotle, Galen, and Plato may have forgotten their female origins, we surely hope you do not! It is, after all, the female body, that brought each and every one of us into this world.