Women's Sexuality and Body
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Women's sexuality has been of great interest through the ages. Her sexuality has been viewed as good and bad, and pregnancy and birth have been focal points. Early impressions depicted female sexual anatomy similar to the male's. The uterus, by studying the uterus of other mammals, was thought to be composed of seven separate cells and capable of carrying many fetuses. Leonardo Da Vinci's work in the 15-16th centuries, in which he used cadavers in his studies, resulted in more accurate images of the human body, including the sexual components.
Women's Sexuality and Negativity
Both the body of women and their sexuality have been viewed negatively over the course of time. Birth pain was considered God's punishment brought down on Eve and her daughters, women were depicted as witches, as giving birth to the anti-Christ, and seducing men, evidence of the fear of the female body and her sexuality.
Sexuality and Ancient Customs
Some ancient customs considered menses to be unclean, thus quarantining the woman, refusing her Christian Communion in the 8th to 11th centuries, while Pharaohs drank the blood of Isis to become divine. Now, through scientific study, we know the following facts:
- A female is born with a lifetime of eggs, about 450,000
- The eggs are stored in the follicles of the ovaries
- The hypothalamus regulates libido and endocrine functioning
- How ovulation occurs
- The cycle that makes up menstruation
Rather than being impure, menses is now considered a natural periodic cleansing of the uterus and vagina of sperm and bacteria. We know that, just as men, women are sexual beings who have a natural sexual life that is controlled and influenced by her psyche and her brain.
Medical anthropology concerns itself with the cultural patterning of health related behavior. A distinction between disease and illness is clearly made in medical anthropology due to the sociological origins of how the medical field approaches the two concepts. Disease is a clinical deviation from biological norms of the body while illness is impairment to bodily function that is generally defined by culture and society. The difference between the two is that disease is defined by the biological deviation but illness is defined by how a culture perceives impairment to the body.
Emily Martin, in her book "The Woman in the Body", asserts that women have no choice but to accept the language used to describe their bodies, biological processes such as childbirth and menstruation, and their maladies or sicknesses. The reason women have no choice is that they are not in control of this language. For historical, cultural, and patriarchal reasons, this language has come to be used in the medical profession. Thus when women become involved with the profession in childbirth, illness, or other ways, the way they are viewed and treated is determined almost completely by this traditional language. This language is commonly used not only in the medical field, but also in journalism and ordinary conversation. So even if some women disagree with the language used by the medical profession about their bodies and see the harm of it, they nonetheless still have no choice about accepting it, or being effected by it, because it is the jargon determining how they will be seen and treated by the medical profession. This language also determines how their bodies and related biological processes will be seen by the general public.
The mind-body split reinforces that it is largely intuitively that women resist the traditional and common metaphors and other language referring to their bodies and its functions. Martin contends that women with a higher self-consciousness, more attuned to cultural change and feminist agendas, or who are familiar with the perspectives and ideas found in Martin's book, will have a relatively explicit or overt resistance. Women who are less educated or are lower on the socioeconomic scale or who are more strongly influenced by cultural, ethnic, or patriarchal perspectives will have a less explicit or conscious resistance. All women, however, in some way resist the mind-body metaphors reflexively used to refer to their bodies. The reason for this is that these metaphors do not reflect the experience women themselves have of their bodies and how their mind processes them. The metaphors--notably "labor" for childbirth--suggest that a woman's body is mechanical in nature, as if it were a machine. Woman, however, experience their bodies in general and particular functions such as menstruation and childbirth as normal biological organisms or processes. Even though nearly all women respond to medical examinations and treatment based on the traditional, mechanistic, language and may even use this language with themselves and other woman, they intuitively resist being treated or having their bodies perceived in such a way because the language does not conform to their experiences of their bodies. Thus the title of Martin's book--"The Woman in the Body"--calls attention to the fact that there is a woman in her body; her body is not like a machine.
Martin's critique of biomedicine is that it has alienated women from their bodies, through teaching doctors a purely technological, male-based model of medicine. For example, menstruation was seen as pathological rather than a natural process of the female body. Menstruation was a failure of reproduction, an elimination of waste within the female body. If fertilization of the egg is achieved, the process of reproduction is clinically likened to that of an industrial era factory, in terms of "efficiency", "management" and a "product" developing in the second trimester of birth. Furthermore, once menstruation stops and menopause begins, physicians tend to treat menopause as a pathological condition, with reproduction and production of the egg signaling a breakdown in the machine that gives woman her value.
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