In the tradition of the past few posts, The Wandering Womb and Barking and Broken Bitches, it seems only customary to discuss the next animal which served as a primary analogy for the female body in Mediterranean Antiquity: the lamb. Galen, a male pioneer of OB/GYN in 2nd Century Rome, was the first to relate the uterine lining to an amnion – a cup that was used to collect the blood of sacrificial animals. This takes direct influence from previous Hippocratic imagery that compares menstrual flow to the flowing of blood from a sacrificial animal. Moreover, Galen develops Hippocratic constructions of the female body, by constructing the amniotic sac to be a cup that collects the sacrificial blood of the female body; perhaps this blood was considered sacrificial because the female body suffered in the process of generating new life, and thereby Hippocratic physicians and Galen were seeking to construct a deeper meaning to menstruation. In this interesting instance of Mediterranean Antiquity that relates human biology to religious ritual, the female body, on one hand, becomes empowered with significance and somewhat revered for its martyr-like suffering for the greater benefit of a growing community and new life.
This is surely a revolutionary view of the female reproductive system as being anything but violent, repulsive, and shameful. However, on the other hand, this construction of the female body delivers a similar feebleness and “repress-ability” of femininity that previous gynecological treatises incessantly construct. Male physicians, such as Galen and Hippocrates, use this sacrificial imagery to equate women to animals, such as lamb, that lack the mental agency to lucidly consent to valiant efforts such as a sacrificial ritual. Just as male leaders of religious traditions believed that they could take advantage of the lives of feeble minded animals as a means of “honoring” their gods, Galen urged Mediterranean men of Antiquity to take advantage of the female body. Continuing, as the bodies of sacrificial lambs were considered only significant to the religious ritual, Galen’s detailing of the uterine lining implies that bearing children is the sole purpose of the female body and that a woman is not able to achieve anything greater than or outside giving her entire self to the production of new life. Similarly, Galen’s constructions of the “amniotic sac” implies that male physicians of the time viewed the process of gestation as a metaphoric slaying of the mother. The question we must ask out of this, then, is who is sacrificing the mother? Is it men through the aggressive act of penetration? Is it God through the painful biology of menstruation? Is the woman’s wandering womb, which violently attacks its feminine host? or could it possibly be the female body revolting against itself, in its own monthly realization of its own “innate” inferiority? However this question is answered, femininity and the female body are depicted as lesser than and something of which to be ashamed.
This medical construction in itself functions as somewhat of a sexual assault on women, as they are unconsentingly giving their bodies over to the control of others. It is quite absurd, in my opinion, that contemporary gynecologists and obstetricians continue to use vocabulary that inherently constructs women as animalistic, lacking in agency, and controllable by men, such as “amnion” and “amniotic fluid.”
So to answer the age-old question that so wrongly has been posed at Jesus, instead of the entirety of womanhood: Little Lamb, who made thee? we can confidently answer that it was Galen and the male gynecologists of Mediterranean Antiquity that made women into the sacrificial animals that we continue to see them as today.
Little Lamb, God bless thee.