Getting hot and botheredBMJ 2009; 339 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.b2869 (Published 15 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2869
- Stephen Gillam, GP, Luton, and specialty director, public health, University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine
The idea that women are biologically inferior to men has a depressingly long trajectory in Western civilisation. Prejudices concerning the modern menopause can be traced back to Aristotle and Galen. The belief that menstrual blood was a foul excretion was regularly repeated in medieval times. “Whosoever were to take a hair from the pubis of a woman and mix it with menses and then put it in a dung heap would at the end of the year find wicked, venomous beasts,” said one French observer. Louise Foxcroft’s entertaining book traces a history of the climacteric from Classical times to the present day—but makes grim reading for (male) doctors.
Most of the humane exceptions in an otherwise gruesome cast list are, of course, women—though not quite all. John Fothergill’s sensible essay Of the Management Proper at the Cessation of the Menses (1774) stated: “Nature is sufficient to provide for her own security on this occasion.” His advice was being echoed nearly two centuries later by such as Marie Stopes: “Do not anticipate any trouble at all at this time.” …