It’s been an eye opening couple of weeks on so many levels. I have been listening, reflecting and doing my own inner work around the topic of racism – how I have experienced it as a mixed race woman in the different places I have lived and traveled as well as the places I have been ignorant and mistakenly oppressed. It has also highlighted for me the importance of raising my girls understanding that all lives matter when black lives matter. I am grateful for the conversations that are happening, the spotlight that is being shone and hopeful for the direction of love that we can all move into.
In light of the racism conversation, it felt appropriate to use this platform to highlight the history of modern gynecology in today’s blog post. If you don’t know the history of gynecology this may be very triggering. It was something I was completely ignorant to when I learnt about it in my vaginal steaming training and reinforced the importance of reclaiming vaginal steaming as a modern day practice.
History of gynecology
The founder of modern day gynecology was an American physician and slave owner named James Marion Sims (January 25, 1813 – November 13, 1883). He used enslaved black women and children for surgical experiments without anesthesia. It is unknown how many people he killed during these experiments. What we do know is that once he learned how to perform uterine surgery without killing someone, Sims opened up a Women’s Hospital to train other doctors how to perform this surgery on white women with anesthesia so they wouldn’t feel pain. Modern day gynecology still uses the tools and methods developed by Sims and glorifies him as the grandfather of gynecology.
This was all happening in the 1800s, so that then leaves the question of what was happening long before this?
This is a worldwide practice with roots in Europe. There have been British, Italian and French records found of vaginal steaming. So why is it not more well known and when it is mentioned it is often disregarded as a primitive practice?
Sadly, the legacy of racist colonial systems has disregarded anything other than white male medical science. These structures still dominate the medical field dismissing anything other than what has been studied by the predominately white medical field.
Reclaiming vaginal steaming is the return to a gentle method of care used by female physicians before Sims took over the field. Many invasive medical procedures could be avoided through the use of vaginal steaming. Vaginal steaming is needed to bridge the healthcare gap and address the worldwide women’s health crisis. It’s the return to a method of care that didn’t depend on cutting up enslaved black bodies. It is the acknowledgement that white males don’t know everything about treating the female body and there are other treatment methods that weren’t created by them that may be useful for uterine health.
My hope is that this blog post leaves you reflecting on how and when the practice of vaginal steaming was cut off in your ancestral line. We each have to be mindful of learning our unique ancestral lineage of vaginal steaming in order to fully reclaim it. This will help to build a strong foundation for the women of the world to reclaim our medicine. To bring it back into you and your families lives.
For more information on the history of gynaecology please see “Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology” by Deirdre Cooper Owens”.
I would love to hear your thoughts on what this post has brought up for you. If you would like to learn more about vaginal steaming I will be holding my first FREE virtual circle Steaming Tea Talk next Thursday 9am EST. Link to the talk is here.