The historical denial of the female body

Within the framework of the commemoration of International Women’s Day on March 8, one of the recurring themes in the field of gender inequality is how women’s bodies are socially subject to scrutiny and domination: from genital mutilation that still exists in some countries, to the way in which control over women’s bodies goes through practically unattainable standards of beauty, as an inheritance of the thought that for a woman to ensure her survival with a provider would have to get married. And to get married, she had to behave, but above all, also look a certain way.

All of this has influenced the way in which women’s bodies appear to be a subject of public scrutiny, with much differentiation in the way men’s bodies are objectified. And going even further back, it has not only influenced the control function of the socially imposed aesthetic canons of the body, but also the way in which we conceive the female body and its biological functions. We find that even today there are many unknowns about the functioning of the women’s body, product of centuries of medical, scientific, humanistic and historical studies, in which the woman’s body was simply relegated to its reproductive function.

Historically, medical studies of bodies have been done primarily on male bodies. The female body was an object of curiosity at the stage of pregnancy, but all other biological functions were practically ignored or even unknown. For example, menstruation and hormonal fluctuations, for many centuries were considered from pathology to products of witchcraft.

Around the world, there were a series of remedies that were implanted in the vaginas of women, without any scientific support, to cure illnesses that, in the light of today’s science, were most likely due to mental health issues. And it is difficult to frame these cases, when the subject of mental health today has many social stigmas, especially when it is related to women. How not to suffer from depression or anxiety, when historically it was relegated to a role of “quasi object”? The history of hysteria deserves a separate chapter, as it is full of misogynistic preconceptions about the female psyche.

Today, there are many female conditions that affect a large percentage of the world’s female population on which very little research is done – compared to other conditions – such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome or dysphoric syndrome premenstrual In popular belief, everything is due to “female hormones”, when in reality they have been conditions on which, even in recent decades, more research has been done on their etiology, treatments and prognosis. In practice, this generates that many women are misdiagnosed, and therefore, they are administered treatments that, in the best of cases, are not very effective. In this way, today we carry a historical disadvantage in access to health for women about which we must not only be aware of the beliefs about the body, but also in the way in which science and the way in which society shapes women’s bodies, they affect the daily lifestyle.

Liliana Martinez Lomeli

Food and society columnist


Food and society columnist. Gastronaut, observer and foodie. She is a researcher in sociology of food, nutritionist. She is president and founder of Funalid: Foundation for Food and Development.

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