Chimera Song Mosaic
Tuesday, September 02, 2003
If one more woman comes up to me and says that she had her uterus out this summer and was so glad to get rid of it, I might have to scream. Barring medical emergencies (which, I’m sure, precipitated the majority of these decisions), why are so many doctors so willing (or so easily able) to talk women into disposing of their so-called seat of femininity? Would men who were told they needed to get rid of a similarly sex-affirming body part—say, for examples, their balls—be so overjoyed to get rid of them?
Of course, uteruses and balls are not homologous—ovaries and balls are homologous—and women usually aren’t happy to get rid of their ovaries because that drives them into premature menopause, with the hormone fluctuations, mineral deficiencies, and all that. But women (based on my completely non-scientific and insufficient data) seem more than happy to fork over their uteruses. Why? They still have hormone fluctuations (not as bad as pregnancy and menopause, but hey—they’re still women), but they don’t have cramping (there’s nothing left to cramp), and they don’t have periods. Periods. Are they that bad?
Are uteruses becoming the appendix of the 21st century? Are they really that expendable—even obsolete?
Of course, not if you want to have children—and bear them in your womb. That’s part of the reason I am so appalled by these women’s reactions to major surgery. I think to myself, “You’re glad to be rid of it? But that’s where little Joey used to live!” My mother still has her uterus, but I wonder what it would feel like if she didn’t. Would it be similar to that feeling of your parents selling the house you grew up in while you were away at college?
I know I’m romanticizing this idea of the seat of femininity, blah, blah, blah, but it does give me cause to wonder. I have known a few men who were close to losing one ball or two, and the only reason I know this is because I was close to them. It’s not the sort of information they usually broadcast. Or maybe I only heard it in the form of gossip--respectfully hushed tones, “That man just lost one ball. Like Lance Armstrong. Poor guy!” And we are all thinking to ourselves, “And yet he is still a man! Amazing!” Of course we are better off without these ridiculous, sentimental stereotypes of what it means to be a real man or a real women—and real women sometimes don’t have uteruses.
But the next time I hear a woman say she has tossed out her uterus (which should be any day now), instead of the jubilant tone (perhaps suggesting “I’m halfway to perfection—almost as good as a man now!”), I’d like to hear something more along the lines of, “I had my uterus removed this summer. I was kind of sad to see it go. But the doctor said it had to come out. I actually feel much better now, and I’m getting used to the idea of it not being there.” After all, it generally is unnoticeable, tucked deep inside us, and only draws attention to itself about 12 times a year—not like those balls, which demand to be scratched at least once a day (I’ve heard).
Perhaps I would feel better about this if I knew that hysterectomies were always performed due to medical necessity—not, for example, like they were in Victorian times (and a new name for the procedure would also be a good move). A number of my students, single mothers trying to put themselves through school, have told me that they can’t handle any more kids, and they are going to request that the doctor give them a hysterectomy. One of them said, “I can’t understand why my insurance won’t pay for it!” I try to explain to them that it’s not an elective procedure, but maybe I am wrong about that. Maybe one day it will be. I can see how some women would feel empowered by the status of being unable to bear children. After all, it would make them more like men. But I think Cosmo and its disciples need to realize that empowering women is not about enabling them to be more like men. It’s about enabling them to be themselves—accepting them—hormones, cramps, and all.
(By the way, this title is ripped off from an Anne Sexton poem.)