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The Remedy for All Diseases – Female Circumcision in Victorian England

“The state of excitement, which occurred very often, disappeared completely after the operation, the wound healed completely, the patient’s condition is good. Sexual arousal does not bother her either, ”wrote gynecologist Gustav Braun in 1865 after amputating his patient’s clitoris and labia. If you think that female circumcision is a tradition of a distant uncivilized world, then you are wrong.

For centuries, men have sought to curb female sexuality by separating women from their own bodies, making them think that their libido is something alien, dangerous, and base. Making you feel ashamed of your genitals.

As medical historian Leslie Hall writes, in the 19th century, “due to the lack of attention given to the clitoris in the medical literature, only a few doctors could find it with certainty.”

And it would be better not to find it Since it was at this time that a new layer of emancipated women began to appear, who were eager to study their bodies and receive pleasure from them, more stringent measures were required to control female sexuality.

Clitoridectomy. By the 1860s, the clitoris was accused of being guilty of the moral promiscuity of women. They become prone to hysteria and mental disorders and may even behave “unfeminine”. Yes, doctors in those days believed that because of the clitoris, women behave “unfeminine”. That is, they “shy away from marital duty,” “move away from their own husband,” show aggression, and may even respond with taunts to their husbands.

Enemy of the clitoris

Clinic, Cure, Disease, Illness, Irritation, sex, Pleasure, Stimulation, Surgery, Signs, Top Stories

Isaac Baker Brown. That was the name of the person in whose publications a mention of clitoris amputation first appeared. He was a respected member of the London medical establishment. He was born in 1812, studied at the College of Surgery, operated on ovarian cysts and tumors. And in 1858 he founded his own clinic in Notting Hill. He called it poetically and intricately: “London Surgical House for the reception of ladies and respectable ladies who suffer from diseases that are curable by surgery.” Isn’t it florid? However, sometimes he expressed himself in shorter terms. He just said “operation”.

In one of his works in 1861, Brown calls one of the conditions “hypertrophy and irritability of the clitoris.” In modern parlance, ordinary masturbation. Brown argued that “external stimulation of the external genital organs” negatively affects the female nervous system and can even cause infertility. However, he immediately specified that “irritation of the clitoris and its monstrous consequences are often curable.”

As a treatment in those days, doctors suggested putting leeches on the outer labia, taking cold baths, and sticking to a diet. Brown went further: he believed that the solution to the problem lay in the “operation.” And he had many followers.

The bad wife cure

Baker Brown was an ambitious man. He claimed that with his method he cures diseases that were previously incurable. Calling his method “humane and effective”, the surgeon convinced everyone that clitoridectomy can be salvation from catalepsy, seizures, hysteria, dementia, and mania. In his works, he cites the example of a woman who previously, according to her husband, “attacked him and scratched his skin like a tigress.” After removing the clitoris, she “became a good wife in all respects.”

A 17-year-old girl with catalepsy, a condition characterized by body rigidity and lack of response to external stimuli, is also, according to Baker-Brown, “cured.” Another “lucky woman” with dementia, after removing the clitoris, learned to read, mastered the Bible, and even began to attend services.

Refusal of the panacea

Of course, Baker Brown himself did not consider his actions “barbaric”, he sincerely believed in what was good. But in medical circles, doubts have settled about the effectiveness and ethics of this procedure, and in addition, about the violation of certain legal subtleties.

In 1866, Baker Brown began to receive negative feedback for his actions. Other professionals began to ask questions about the effectiveness of the unusual method. In one of The Times articles, it was said that Baker-Brown is taking on the treatment of women who suffer from mental disorders. And the surgeon’s clinic did not have an appropriate license, that is, officially he could not take on cases of mental illness.

In addition, many have argued that Baker Brown’s methods are unethical because he does not always get consent. No, of course, not the consent of the patients, but the consent of their husbands or fathers.

Baker Brown admitted that he sometimes hid the operations from the patients’ husbands because they begged him to perform the operation in secret from their loved ones. This argument did not convince the experts. Baker-Brown was expelled from the medical community, his clinic was closed, and he was left penniless. He died in 1873 from “softening of the brain.” Although his “operation” was no longer considered effective, it continued to be practiced in the United States. At the same time, the official ban on female circumcision in England came out only in 1985.

Female sexuality

But with the death of Baker Brown, doctors did not change their attitude towards female masturbation. Gynecologist William Hector wrote in his 1875 treatise that “masturbation can be characterized as habitual intemperance that provokes disease.” He believed that “as a general rule, a humble woman rarely desires any sexual gratification for herself. She resigns herself to the embrace of her husband, but mainly in order to please him … A married woman does not want to be put on a par with her mistress. ”

Many more years will pass before female sexuality finds its own “voice”, and women begin to learn not to be ashamed of their bodies.

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