• Unwell Women

  • Misdiagnosis and Myth in a Man-Made World
  • By: Elinor Cleghorn
  • Narrated by: Hanako Footman
  • Length: 14 hrs and 8 mins
  • 4.8 out of 5 stars (134 ratings)

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Unwell Women

By: Elinor Cleghorn
Narrated by: Hanako Footman
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Publisher's Summary

A trailblazing, conversation-starting history of women’s health - from the earliest medical ideas about women’s illnesses to hormones and autoimmune diseases - brought together in a fascinating, sweeping narrative.

Elinor Cleghorn became an unwell woman 10 years ago. She was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease after a long period of being told her symptoms were anything from psychosomatic to a possible pregnancy. As Elinor learned to live with her unpredictable disease, she turned to history for answers, and found an enraging legacy of suffering, mystification, and misdiagnosis.

In Unwell Women, Elinor Cleghorn traces the almost unbelievable history of how medicine has failed women by treating their bodies as alien and other, often to perilous effect. The result is an authoritative and groundbreaking exploration of the relationship between women and medical practice, from the "wandering womb" of Ancient Greece to the rise of witch trials across Europe, and from the dawn of hysteria as a catchall for difficult-to-diagnose disorders to the first forays into autoimmunity and the shifting understanding of hormones, menstruation, menopause, and conditions like endometriosis.  

Packed with character studies and case histories of women who have suffered, challenged, and rewritten medical orthodoxy - and the men who controlled their fate - this is a revolutionary examination of the relationship between women, illness, and medicine. With these case histories, Elinor pays homage to the women who suffered so strides could be made, and shows how being unwell has become normalized in society and culture, where women have long been distrusted as reliable narrators of their own bodies and pain. But the time for real change is long overdue: answers reside in the body, in the testimonies of unwell women - and their lives depend on medicine learning to listen.

©2021 Elinor Cleghorn (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“In Unwell Women, the British scholar Elinor Cleghorn makes the insidious impact of gender bias on women’s health starkly and appallingly explicit.... It’s impossible to read Unwell Women without grief, frustration and a growing sense of righteous anger.” (Janice P. Nimura, The New York Times)

“The book is a call to arms for any woman who feels that doctors have not adequately addressed her illness or pain.” (The Washington Post

“Researcher Cleghorn provides an essential history of misogyny in health care.... This clear-eyed assessment is both a catalog of how medicine has been complicit in female oppression and a call to action for drastic reform.” (Scientific American

“An intriguing exploration of the history of women’s health.... Unwell Women by Elinor Cleghorn shows us that without acknowledgment and understanding of these issues, these ills will continue on into new generations and in untold eras. We owe it to ourselves as a society to understand.” (The Chicago Review of Books)

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Profound Read; A Sincere Stepping Stone to Understanding My Own Why

It was profoundly sobering, validating and eye opening. I am not the same person after hearing the truth about the paternalistic and misogynistic society that our current medical system stems from. It is a system set up against women from the very beginning to present day. Knowing my medical history, had I experienced myself in any other century or decade, I now know exactly what would have become of me. It had me in tears, aching, deep tears. It makes you feel deep empathy for the women before us. I feel less alone. I hate with deep anger the past that stands behind us and the current status of things; my own personal struggles as well as those of every women in my life, and every women everywhere: I want better for us all. This book is a stepping stone to my unraveling my own personal why. WHY and HOW did I end up misdiagnosed, unwell and suffering. You cannot even begin to grieve, much less heal, until you understand. Thank you deeply for this book. My daughters will be reading this someday when they are old enough, and I will recommend to everyone in my life.

6 people found this helpful

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How Women Have Been Treated Like Shit

This is an excellent look into the medical mistreatement of women over time. It is a historical piece that also gives a huge nod to current issues affecting women in health and medicine. I would recommend this book to everyone, especially men.

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Tough but important book

It is so sad to hear how little the treatment of unwell women has improved over time. But it did have an inspiring end and is an important book!

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An important education

I came at this book as a genealogist wanting to better understand the ordeal of a particular female ancestor who received a gendered diagnosis in the 1800s. In the end, I now feel closer to all of the women in my family tree, from myself right on back the branches, because I have such a better understanding of what this part of their lives was like and how their generations contributed to what we know today. This book was so informative, well researched, and well written. It’s a talent to explain so much medical and scientific information in such an understandable and entertaining way. At times the outrageous scenarios made me furious and frustrated, but the history is so important to understand. We need to know what past and present generations of women have endured so that we recognize why we need to pay attention and keep up the fight for better health care and understanding for everyone.

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Just.. WOW

I loved this whole book and learned so much. I, too, am an unwell woman, and not only identified with the authors struggle to get diagnosed, but am among therapists pioneering a more affirming world of chronic Illness support within the field of mental healthcare. I highly recommend this book to anyone in the field of social work, medicine, mental healthcare or any access point for women.

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I have a fatal autoimmune disease too

I suffer with Stiff Person Syndrome, a one in a million occurrence worldwide. It took THIRTY YEARS to get a diagnosis by which time I was end stage, partially paralyzed, neurologically challenged, and devoid of feeling emotions. At the beginning I was handed antidepressant after antidepressant, told my symptoms weren’t real, that I was just unhappy and wanted to be sick.

I have become increasingly aware of medical gender bias, especially given my own very rare diagnosis, but I didn’t understand the full history behind it. I do now. This book is an excellent explanation of the way society has viewed women and therefore the lack of appropriate medical care. Thank you to the author for her exhaustive research and plain language explanation of why women are seen as less important in medicine and the greater world.

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Essential information for all women and healthcare professionals

As a woman and a nurse, I found this audio book extremely well done with essential information to help all women and the healthcare professionals we look to to help manage our well being.

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Wonderful

This is a must read/listen to all women. Until we understand our past, we can’t see our future.

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Eye-opening history

This an excellent historical review of the status of women in society and how they have been treated and mistreated with respect to their healthcare

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Put On Your Seatbelt

I can't emphasize the importance and need for this book. It absolutely opened my eyes and helped validate things I've experienced as a patient with a uterus. Everyone should read this book, especially those working in healthcare and ESPECIALLY those working in reproductive health.

At times it was excruciating to hear about the things women have endured throughout history due to racism, sexism, classism, etc. but learning our history is imperative if we want to grow better from it.

**Extra points for the narrator, she had an animated, but a soothing voice that really held my attention the whole time! Thank you Elinor Cleghorn for this important work!