Unwell Women

Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781474616874

Price: £10.99

ON SALE: 7th July 2022

Genre: Humanities / History

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Medicine carries the burden of its own troubling history. Over centuries, women’s bodies have been demonised and demeaned until we feared them, felt ashamed of them, were humiliated by them. But as doctors, researchers, campaigners and most of all as patients, women have continuously challenged medical orthodoxy. Medicine’s history has always been, and is still being, rewritten by women’s resistance, strength and incredible courage.

In this ground-breaking history Elinor Cleghorn unpacks the roots of the perpetual misunderstanding, mystification and misdiagnosis of women’s bodies, illness and pain. From the ‘wandering womb’ of ancient Greece to today’s shifting understanding of hormones, menstruation and menopause, Unwell Women is the revolutionary story of women who have suffered, challenged and rewritten medical misogyny. Drawing on Elinor’s own experience as an unwell woman, this is a powerful and timely exposé of the medical world and woman’s place within it.


Cultural historian Cleghorn's meticulous and wide-ranging debut examines the links between patriarchy, misogyny, and the mistreatment of women's health needs... After building a damning historical case against the medical field, Cleghorn shares the harrowing story of how her symptoms were "overlooked, ignored, and dismissed" for seven years before she was diagnosed with lupus. The result is a deeply informed and passionately argued call for change.
Publishers Weekly
If you live in a female body, and if you've ever thought to yourself, "Why-oh-why are doctors not taking my legitimate health concerns seriously," this book answers that question definitively. This history of the female patient is the one I was searching for the entire time I was writing my own book, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. One thousand more books like this, please.
Sarah Ramey, author of The Lady's Handbook For Her Mysterious Illness
A searing, brilliant investigation, an intricate and urgent book on how women's health has constantly been misunderstood and miscast throughout history, how men invented theories that plunged women into misery, pain and even death - from Anne Greene hanged for a miscarriage to the 1940s housewives lobotomised or subject to other operations to treat their depression, from drugs intended to 'control' women's health that were rushed to market to women experimented upon in the name of science, the cruel differential treatment of women of colour. Cleghorn unmasks with devastating clarity how so much of 'women's health' has been tied into efforts to control women, inculcate what was proper feminine behaviour and slot them into patriarchal culture as happy reproductive units.
Kate Williams, author of Rival Queens
Feminist historian and academic Cleghorn, herself a victim of medical misdiagnosis, brings first-hand knowledge of the gender bias endemic in the medical profession to this scholarly yet personal, specific yet comprehensive study of dangerously outdated medical practices and attitudes.
Powerful... It's impossible to read Unwell Women without grief, frustration and a growing sense of righteous anger. Cleghorn's prose is lively, and she has marshaled an enormous amount of material.
New York Times
UNWELL WOMEN is a powerful and fascinating book that takes an unsparing look at how women's bodies have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed for centuries. From wandering wombs to demonic explanations of menopause, Elinor Cleghorn packs each page with disturbing historical details that will haunt your psyche for days and weeks to come.
Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art
A completely gripping look at the medicalisation of women's bodies in the 19th and 20th centuries, Unwell Women will have you riveted.
Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Five
Revelatory and sometimes enraging
Sunday Express
At once grand in scope and deeply personal, Unwell Women is a powerful and important exploration of the history of Western medicine. Elinor Cleghorn lays bare centuries of unnecessary suffering in this meticulously researched, scorching indictment of how male-focused medicine has failed women - and shows us how far we still have to go.
Emily Brand author of The Fall of the House of Byron
This is a fascinating look at history, UNWELL WOMEN is both captivating and enraging - a worthy voice for so many women who have been silenced for so long.
Catherine Cho, author of Inferno: A Memoir of Motherhood and Madness
Eye-opening... Elinor Cleghorn uses her own misdiagnosis at the hands of male doctors as a jumping off point for an alarming history lesson
Unwell Women is one of the most important books of our generation. I read it in a rage, and recognised myself in its pages.
Fern Riddell, author of Death in Ten Minutes
Unwell Women is a wide-ranging history of myths and medicine... [which] seeks to answer the question of how women should relate to the medically trained people who are supposed to know them best...Unwell Women does so with remarkable success.
Times Literary Supplement
This book will make you angry. And so it should! Just like their brains, women's bodies have been treated as defective and deficient for centuries... Even in the 21st Century Cleghorn uncovers harsh truths about medicine's continuing biases, especially in the intersection between gender and race. Hopefully this book will be a wake-up call to a profession that can still refer dismissively to 'women's problems.'
Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain
If doctors have ever misdiagnosed you, disbelieved your symptoms, or discriminated against you, then Unwell Women is the holy grail of answers you have been waiting for. Elinor Cleghorn has written a decisive, comprehensive, well-researched, and fascinating book about the ways in which medicine has failed women, from the 19th century until now, and what that neglect has cost us-including our lives. I wish I'd had this book in 2018 when I was fighting with my gynecologist to remove my fibroids, but I am glad to have it as I navigate two chronic illnesses; as we continually negotiate power dynamics with doctors, Unwell Women will instantly become an invaluable addition to the arsenal of tools we need to fight for the care we deserve.
Evette Dionne, author of Lifting as We Climb
Seamlessly melding scholarship with passion, Unwell Women is the definition of unputdownable
A passionate and indignant history
The Times
A richly detailed, wide-ranging and enraging history... Unwell Women is not just a compelling investigation, but an essential one
A thorough compendium of women's history in the Western world...fascinating...a laudable history of women and the Western medical system
The I Paper