The British scholar Elinor Cleghorn makes the insidious impact of gender bias on women’s health starkly and appallingly explicit: 'Medicine has insisted on pathologizing ‘femaleness,’ and by extension womanhood.' ... Cleghorn is unsparing in her examples of women suffering unimaginable and unnecessary horror at the hands of doctors who were unwilling either to listen closely or to admit when they were stumped ... 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. But her decision to organize it chronologically rather than thematically can slow her momentum, forcing her to circle back to certain topics repeatedly.
... the author’s anger is detectable on almost every page ... I was already familiar with many of the ways medicine has neglected women’s illnesses or failed to investigate their causes, but Unwell Women: Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World makes connections between the role of physicians and society’s interest in controlling women’s bodies that I had never fully appreciated ... Cleghorn provides bracing accounts of the rise of feminism and of the women’s health movement, including the ethical and medical controversies surrounding the development of the first oral contraceptives, in the 1950s: relatively high-dose hormone combinations ... The scope and detail of Unwell Women are vast and, at times, overwhelming. Its most striking lesson is that, when it comes to women’s diseases and their treatment, false beliefs and sexist attitudes have a life of their own.
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bias endemic in the medical profession to this scholarly yet personal, specific yet comprehensive study of dangerously outdated medical practices and attitudes.