By Adam Turner
It was 1921. A time in America remembered for activity, life, and energy. But Arthur was tired. A merchant, 57 years old, he’d lived with chronic arthritis in both knees since his late 30s. Recently the pain had been getting worse. Arthur had trouble walking just one or two city blocks. And it wasn’t just his knees. He didn’t feel as ambitious as he used to. He felt his memory was failing. He also noted a “distinct decrease” in his sexual potency. Rather than take these changes in his body as just the signs of aging, Arthur sought the services of a doctor who might help him. The doctor Arthur went to see was Harry Benjamin.
Once upon a time (about two months ago) a group of academics/activists got together to start Nursing Clio, a collaborative blog project that aimed to engage with historical scholarship as a means to contextualize present-day political, social, and cultural issues surrounding gender and medicine. To be honest with you, dear readers (all 5 of you), in the planning stages I sometimes doubted whether we would have enough present-day material to continue the blog past the first month. What if we ran out of material? What if we said everything we needed to say? I made sure to make a list of emergency blog post ideas just in case we got desperate.
As it turns out, we have never once had to break into the emergency blog post survival kit. Between the North Carolina preacher who invoked the Holocaust in an anti-gay sermon, to the continuing War on Women, to the new movie Hysteria – our gender, medicine, and history cup runneth over, my friends.
Having researched and delivered conference papers on the topic, the medical historian in me danced a little jig when I heard Sony Pictures Classics was releasing a movie called “Hysteria.” I did, however, enter the theater with some reservations. Motion picture portrayals are notorious for being historically inaccurate, and if films are true to history, those not in the field tend to find it a little, well, boring. (That is unless Werner Herzog is narrating it with his dry but inadvertently humorous observations.) Thankfully, the $7.50 spent on a matinee wasn’t a waste at all. Just about anyone- unless you are akin to the Victorian “social purist” Anthony Comstock- can walk away from this movie feeling quite satisfied.
Our own Carolyn Herbst Lewis recently sat down with Jackie Wolf, host of WOUB’s Conversations From Studio B, to talk about her new book, Prescription For Heterosexuality: Sexual Citizenship in the Cold War Era. Carolyn’s book examines “how medical practitioners, especially family physicians, situated themselves as the guardians of Americans’ sexual well-being during the early years of the Cold War.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post to bring you this late-breaking historical analysis of the news. I planned on devoting my blogpost this week to my experiences documenting the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, but then Pastor Worley happened. The head of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina recently delivered a fiery sermon denouncing President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage rights. His now-infamous sermon has swept the blogosphere and created easy fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. In Worley’s sermon he urges his congregation to never vote for “a baby killer and a homosexual lover.” Although some in the LBGT community would question whether the President is, in fact, a “homosexual lover,” many others, however, see the President’s public proclamation of support as a monumental step forward in the Gay Right’s Movement. Worley, on the other hand, sees Obama’s endorsement as a sin against nature, America and Christianity.
I remember the moment I found out I was pregnant. It was a glorious day. The sun was shining, the temperature was about 70 degrees, with a light breeze from the south, and the birds sang a glorious tune as I informed my wonderful husband that I was pregnant. We both hugged and contemplated the gift that was growing in my belly and what fantastic parents we were going to be. Pregnancy was just the beginning…
Going to a doctor, you generally expect a remedy to your problem. In fact, some times you might demand a cure even when there may not be one. (Now, be honest- How often have you visited a doctor’s office with a cold or a stomach virus and said, “But I don’t want it to run it’s course! Isn’t there something you can give me to make me better?!?”) Pain during sex can prompt visits, however uncomfortable they might be, to your general practitioner, urologist, or gynecologist. And, you expect results. After all, problems in bed can lead to other consequences- strain in the relationship, inability to conceive, linking sex with negativity rather than pleasure or enjoyment. Yet, barring an obvious physical problem, pain during sex, for women, is usually classified as vaginismus or dyspareunia- both mental disorders.
This view of female sexual dysfunction probably wouldn’t be as disturbing if this didn’t have sexist roots dating back over a century….
Like many graduate students, I obsess about my particular academic interests and have a hard time letting them go at the end of the day. I happen to study the history of women and medicine in the United States, so I see my specialization everywhere, often to the dismay of my friends and family. I interrupt movies to point out inaccuracies and anachronisms, and I offer unsolicited historical commentary about the depictions of women on Mad Men. I lecture people about the stupidity of 1950s nostalgia, and I get angry about advertisements for Dr. Pepper. I am, in short, lots of fun at parties.
Here we go again. That sound you hear is millions of Americans gasping and clutching their pearls over the new Time Magazine cover story on attachment parenting. The blogosphere is already atwitter with comments of disgust, outrage, and shock over the photo of an attractive mother nursing her 5 (ish) year-old-son. Let’s be honest here, however you might feel about older children breastfeeding, the picture is clearly meant to shock – it is intended to stir the pot. In fact the cover, incredibly enough, manages to alienate all mothers – either you are put on display as a freak that over-parents, or you are shamed for not parenting enough. The headline says it all: “Are you Mom Enough?” It might as well say, “You Will Never be Good Enough – Regardless of your Parenting Choices – We Will Always Judge You. Happy Mother’s Day!” (OK, maybe that title is a bit too long.)
By Carolyn Herbst Lewis
There is much ado these days about E.J. James’ Fifty Shades series. While some folks are defending it as sex-positive, others condemn it for promoting female powerlessness and submission. The problem with much of the commentary is that since nobody wants to be a jerk and give away the story, most stop at the Red Room of Pain and the BDSM contract between 27-year-old Christian Grey and 21-year-old Anastasia Steele.