So… Experimenting on Slaves Brought a Breakthrough?-Bunmi O.

Part One of Get Me Out by Randi Hutter Epstein essentially focuses on the iconic men who have paved a way in making not only giving birth, but also making the after-effects more pleasant, resulting in discoveries that changed the way people saw pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum. 

First there philosophers Aristotle and Galen were but supporting roles in the grand scheme of things. They were philosophers, men who wondered about things of this Earth, and drew ideas from their “outside-the-box” thinking. This was much appreciated among people of their time, though looking back it’s a bit ironic that they made claims of women physiology, fertility, pregnancy, and delivery without much background on it at all. Actually, quite comical if you think about it, since men were told to stay out of the delivery room. Where did they get this knowledge of women pregnancy? To expand my point; a quote from Get Me Out: “Many of the earliest women’s health books were written by monks the very people who had the least use for the information.”(Get Me Out, page 9) Monks! Men who lived in solitude, away from distractions to meditate on their ideals.

Aristotle “believed that a man’s “seed” shaped the menstrual blood into a human being.” (Get Me Out, page 10) The notion must havbe made sense to some of course. There will always be those that believe in philosophers, though some medical men decided that this idea could be right. “Doctors reconsidered. They ought menstrual blood flowed upward and turned into breast milk.” (Get Me Out, page 10) I wonder what the cellular process would be, to turn blood to breast milk. Mich like Jesus’ miracle at the wedding, where he turned water into wine. Doctors of this time also thought “men provided the life source that created th  human. Women were mere baby-making vessels.” To reinforce the idea a sixteenth-century (self-proclaimed) expert said that the reason a vagina existed was to serve as an “antechamber to lodge a Man’s Yard.” (Get Me Out, page 10)

Let that sit for a while. These were the views of women in those times, where it really was man’s world. Where they made the rules, and we had to placidly follow. Women were expected to only think good thought while pregnant, to be courteous to all the people around her, to only look at pretty things, and to still serve others without complaint. While she held a human child inside her.

On a funnier note, Galen (yet another male philosopher; known for discovering that blood traveled through arteries *whoop whoop*) thought that orgasms were “essential for conception”(Get Me Out, page 10). This started a whole fad of making women feel better under the covers, and who’s to say it was a bad thing? I will say though that the methods for which people did so were incredibly amusing. In Get Me Out, there is motion of nonspecific herbs used to lengthen a man’s yard, but there a few ways that are just too funny. One doctor recommends for patient to apply horseradish cream to said man’s yard for forty days. Jane Sharp (a midwife in 1671) suggested eating beans and roughage because “windy spirits inflated the penis.” (Get Me Out, page 12)

On a darker note on the way women were viewed in these times the book mentions that a guidebook had said that “getting pregnant was the same as catching a serious disease-an oppurtunity to die” the book goes on to say that “motherhood was a downhill slope into ugliness and old age, “a loss of beauty, which is the most precious she has.” (Get Me Out, page 12)

Fortunately, society does not stay in the dark for much longer. Or rather, it seems that the lighting of the room in which those who make the rules for us sit has changed. Shifted to focus onto delivery, and tools for which to do so safely, preferably without death, though he medical field was a land mine in 1500’s. The Chamberlens caused the shifting of light, with their long-coveted tool-the forcep. This tool they kept a secret for such a long time it landed them “steady work with royalty and earned them phenomenal wealth.” (Get Me Out, page  17)The forcep saved lives after it was exploited by one of the many Peters in the man-midwife business. This tool seemed to look like two huge spoon-like scissors used to pull th baby out if it was stuck. It seems a bit odd, but others had attempted to with save the child and in the process kill the mother by breaking her pelvic bone. They tried saving the mother but killing the baby by trying to brashly pulling it out and breaking its skull. They’ve tried pulling out the said stuck baby by hooking hooks into the skull and pulling it out. 

As we evolved from hooking babies out of the womb, we also started to look at how these deliveries were affecting the women. Vaginal fistulas were not only for the poor, but they seemed inevitable to just about all women. Almost a given. The tears in the vagina then made the woman vulnerable to infections. And with obstetrictics moving at almost a snail’s pace, you can imagine how many women died from these infections. These fistulas caused women to leak urine and occasionally feces into the vagina.

The solution to this was much appreciated, but not without a cost. Of course any new method will demand that you have money for the practioner to service you, but this breakthrough was made possible because James Marion Sims (the man who discovered the cure for the gruesome tears in the vaginal region) experimented on black slaves to get to his discovery. About ten female teenage slaves were subjected to whatever tests, poking, probing, and stitching Sims decided to put th through. The women exuded a terrible stench, and all-in-all were a “source of disgust” (Get Me Out, page 36). Three of them are rumored to have consented to Sims’s holding their legs apart and taking a look inside their lower region in detail. Consented to other’s watching as Sims’s pushed, pulled, and sewed back together her tears.

Many historians admonish him for not using anesthesia, though in his defense most doctors didn’t use it. He thought they were deadly, so he did not touch them along with many other experts in the medical field. Though his breakthrough brought many women relief, and helped evade vaginal infections he did experiment on the slaves. This is seems as inhumane, and who could really disagree? 

Not to take sides, but can we really hold this nineteenth-century man to our twentieth-century standards? It was believed that blacks had a higher pain tolerance, which made them a logical choice. Is he a villain? A hero? To be honest, I see him as neither. Sims was pugnacious, and truthfully quite arrogant. His discovery made women suffer, and made a way for women to bounce back from their delivery. I don’t really think we should focus on him being a villain or hero. He’s dead, and has been for a while. Does it matter? If we are to be fair, then commemorate the vigilant women he experimented on, putting them beside Sims, making a statue to remember their sacrifice, because truly without their sacrifice James Marion Sims’ discovery would have never happened.

There cannot be breakthrough without sacrifice.

3 thoughts on “So… Experimenting on Slaves Brought a Breakthrough?-Bunmi O.

Add yours

  1. When I read your blog post, I knew for a fact that you completely understood part 1 of the book. You talked about almost everything that happened and answered some of the questions I had about he breakthroughs these doctors had. Not only did you answer them, you went above and beyond without even knowing. I completely agree with the opinion you made about how cruel some of these procedures were. I also decided to put you as a reference in my blog post because I really do agree with you. -K.Ru

  2. As I was reading Get Me Out I too questioned so many things, like how these men came and told women what to do and how to do it even though they gave us only 2 things to do in life, give birth (because we are vessels right) and to serve. I also questioned how these men just wanted to pick us apart piece by piece to know everything about us, such as James Madison Sims, I get how he really made breakthrough but you don’t put a naked human being on a table and sew them up 30 times. I mean just think, that would not happen if it was men who had to give birth. I think it is really good for us to be reading this book so we know how far our “sisters” have come with giving birth. -Elissa T.

    1. I 100% agree with you. It’s startling to see how it can be justified. It’s crazy, and while it got us where we are now it’s a bit disturbing by how many people don’t see it as dehumanizing. The women were the essential part of he discovery, but Sims gets most of the credit. It’s makes me have mixed feelings, though I’m certainly of one thing. These women need to recognized, and appreciated just as much Sims is currently, if not more so for their sacrifice.-Bunmi O.

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