Wandering Womb Script


I am dressed as a wandering womb. Yes, I am wearing a period costume, shall I give you some period drama? Or is that too bloody for you. I am an angry female body. Yes, Medicine Man, I am angry at you too. Willow bark was recommended for swollen joints, but women who tried to heal with nature were burned as witches. Centuries later a chemical compounded sourced from willow bark is used to make aspirin, and medicine became male dominated, and an angry female body will become pathologised and given a psychiatric label. The burning of a witches happens on the inside.

Medicine is patriarchal. It will turn my womb in to contested site that doesn’t belong to me. This is fertile ground to cause women so much pain. It doesn’t matter which period we’re talking about. But I am going to talk about the experiences of millions of women since Victorian times, who have unfortunately met psychiatry.

Hysteria was Greek for wandering womb. The wandering womb was thought to cause women to go mad. Just owning a uterus was enough to send a person uncontrollably insane.


There was also the belief that the wandering womb caused all sorts of physical and mental health problems for women.  It was thought the womb wandered around the body, greedy for semen, and if it ended up in a particular part of the body, it would cause pain or problems there. In ancient times, the cure was marriage, intercourse, and pregnancy.

But I say give it freedom of movement. Give it a passport, let it say: This grants the bearer of the womb, the vulva, the clit full citizenship and sovereignty, let it wander, let it be free.

Because I do not own this. All rights are not reserved. When will there be a period where women can just live?

Menstruation has over the centuries been seen as both magical and terrifying. According to Pliny the Elder, contact with the monthly flux of women turns new wine sour, makes crops wither, kills grafts, dries seeds in gardens, causes the fruit of trees to fall off, dims the bright surface of mirrors, dulls the edge of steel and the gleam of ivory, kills bees, rusts iron and bronze. WHY COULDN’T HE SAY HE WAS JUST SCARED OF IT? OR DIDN’T UNDERSTAND IT.

Most religion thinks of it as a curse or unclean. I think the way women have been treated is the curse. It will only cause pain for EVERYONE. It is a strange sensation to carry a womb that does not belong to me.

This is the site of fertility, but not all women want children. The source of womanliness, but not all who have one have the soul of a woman, just the body and the oppression and conditioning that went with it. Has it cramped my style?

When you pathologise a mind, you pathologise a person, and when you pathologise the womb, you pathologise a whole sex. When will we get a standing ovulation?

Take a witch to water, if she drowns, she is innocent. If she floats, she is a witch and needs to be burned. Take a traumatised woman to psychiatrist. If she accepts the dismissal of her trauma and the pathologisation of her pain, she will drown. If she doesn’t accept this and still hurts, she will be deemed to have a broken personality.

They say ask for help from someone who will potentially demonise you, invalidate you, disbelieve you, punish you for not acting like a lady.

With the arrival of psychiatry came the rise of the incarcerated women. Before that, insanity was the domain of men. Victorian psychiatry decided that female insanity was linked to their reproductive symptom.


In Victorian times, lunatic asylums were the in place for difficult and troublesome women. Any poor woman rebelling against the restraints of society usually had a one-way ticket to the lunatic ward. You are seen as mad if you don’t know your place in the world, and are not content with your oppressed lot. Passivity is a prerequisite to be accepted as a woman in our society.  But that is the role of psychiatry and, up to a certain point, the role of madness. History does not know what to do with women who misbehave. They were once the witches that were burnt. Nowadays the inconvenient woman is trolled, abused or labelled with a personality disorder. A woman nowadays is not allowed to get anything right. She has to be sexy but not too sexy. She has to be successful but not more successful the men in her family. She has to be confident but not too confident.

I won’t prevaricate or vacillate on what I think about psychiatry. I think it is absolutely disgusting and vile monstrosity birthed from sordid genesis of racism, sexism, homophobia and classism that help create psychiatry in the first place.

Psychology is little better. Both disciplines in their early years used the Western male’s mind as a blueprint for sanity, regarding non-Western people as inferior which fed into and sustained the eugenics movement that helped inspire Nazi policy to exterminate their ‘undesirables’.

Most of the early years of both professions was concerned with moral insanity. Eg, people not behaving as the straight white middle-class man would feel comfortable around, or behaving in a way that can’t be controlled by them. Women were mad because they were not rational like men supposed they are.

let’s talk about early psychiatry. There were only men in charge. Sanity looked like these men, it’s funny that. Let’s look at some of these men. Probably one of the most famous was Maudsley, who has a hospital named after him. Maudsley also had the belief that men were logical, therefore had superior minds and mental health. Maudsley called these ‘hysterical’ women ‘morally perverse’.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Psychiatry is not a method of care or curation but an ideology of inferiority. Psychiatry has partly been birthed from eugenics and the belief that people who were mad were degenerates, genetic riff raff, better off dead or secluded. Poverty and hopelessness do not cause madness in poor people, poor are degenerate so therefore they cause poverty and hopelessness themselves. Maudsley blamed the victim of madness for their own madness.

Maudsley believed there was a physical cause to all mental illness and that there was such a thing as mental weakness, which was hereditary. He was one of the first rich psychiatrists.

American obstetrician James Marion Sims (1818-1883) ‘treated’ uterine ailments. Sims is sometimes referred to as ‘the father of gynaecology’ for his pioneering work.  Some people think this is a sick accolade. This is because his early experimental surgery in Alabama was performed on enslaved African women. He said Black women didn’t feel as much pain. There was some research last year saying Black women as still more likely to die giving birth in this country. When you dig a little deeper, you have staff assuming Black women don’t feel as much pain. Is there a connection? I am going to ask you: Who owns the history to your thoughts?  You don’t. Will you own the future of your thoughts by questioning your racist conditioning even if you heart is in the right place.

I guess we can be relieved that Dr Issac Baker Brown is not around. He removed clitorises and then labias in women to ‘cure’ insanity. He conducted female genital mutilation (FGM) on five women whose ‘madness’ was wanting a divorce, or on women who liked to masturbate.

Another Doctor, William Sargent, one of the so-called pioneers of lobotomy, recounts in one of his textbooks a lobotomy for a depressed woman. ‘Her lobotomy will enable the woman to cope with her marriage.’ The woman was married to a violent psychopath.  The honourable doctor also said ‘No one regrets a lobotomy!’

Look at psychiatry in any given year and you will find the prejudice and power structures in society. Luckily nowadays there is no FGM on offer in psychiatric services, the mutilation happens elsewhere, it happens on the inside, in the heart, the sense of self, in your place in the world.

No psychiatrist or psychologist can make you happy, only ordinary and oppressed.


In Freud’s early work with patients, he found they told him about their experiences of abuse. He reported this finding to psychiatric circles, and found himself rejected by his fellow doctors. After a few months of this exclusion, he changed his story about his patients’ sexual abuse and said they were fantasies. He said this even when he wrote to Fliess. “Unfortunately my own father was one of these perverts and is responsible for the hysteria of my brother and several younger sisters. Fliess abused his own son. One wonders if he deflected Freud from the impact of sexual abuse on mental health.

when you steal any chance at beauty by pathologizing them, knowing that it is more likely that the person’s distress is linked to adverse events or circumstances, and you do all that to them. Enacting violence to the already hurt, silencing the already mute. Your childhood rape is tedious to society. We can thank, in part, Freud for that.

Later on, Freud and Breur gave women labelled as hysterical a more sympathetic response, but still the social and personal circumstances of the women were ignored, such as Dora’s father’s adultery and unwanted sexual attention. Freud insisted her hysteria came from incestuous desires for her father. This is all so woman-shaming in the grand tradition of woman shaming. Freud talked about his hysteric patients as if he was battling them. You should have believed the women, Freud, you did not believe the women.

Freud called the vagina a void, a lack, and that’s why there is penis envy. He was very wrong, he was a dickhead. The vagina is not the sexual organ, it is the clitoris. With 5000 more nerve ending than a penis, why should there be the jealousy? I think the jealousy belongs elsewhere. He also called the clitoral orgasm immature. OMG he was a wanker.

My hormones are raging, my Freud.


The term ‘Hysteria’ came from Greece in 5th Century BC. Hysteria meant ‘Wandering Womb’ in Greek.

Psychiatry borrowed the term and turned it into a diagnosis in 19th century Europe. Symptoms of hysteria included anxiety, breathlessness, fainting, insomnia, irritability, loss of appetite for food or sex, sexually suggestive behaviour (yes, we know, any women who didn’t want sex or did want it couldn’t escape a diagnosis!). Women with Hysteria were seen to have a ‘tendency to cause trouble for others.’ Hysteria stood for all extremes of emotionality, which was seen as the trophy of the feminine.

 Victorian psychiatry decided that female insanity was linked to their reproductive symptom. Women were unable, it seems, to have a lifetime of sanity. Victorian psychiatry deemed women as intrinsically unstable. Women were considered mad when they went against ‘feminine propriety’ This meant things like unbridled sexuality and the others offenses to decorum. Psychiatry linked ambition in women with hysteria. It was part of the reason they were not allowed to work, vote, etc.

Those Victorian women who wanted more than society could give them were prone to ‘hysteria’. Yearning for independence and freedom from marriage and motherhood, in the minds of psychiatry, was the cause of hysteria. Rebellion again the domestic life was pathologised. Any rebellion in fact was pathologised. The hunger strike of suffragettes at Holloway Gaol was seen as a symptom of hysteria.

Psychiatry was a machine to ensure women were dutiful wives in the service of men, by a profession of men. In Victorian times many women were institutionalised for these perceived moral failings, such as being an unmarried mother, for being gay, for answering back her husbands, for not exhibiting feminine behaviour deemed appropriate, or for having the cheek to want an orgasm. Victorian psychiatry helped husbands cheat, divorce and abuse their wives with impunity, with a so-called scientific stamp.

Psychiatry thought hysterics were shamming or attention-seeking, using their ill health to avoid their feminine duties and control their families. Their cure was to punish ‘attention-seeking’ by giving negative attention. It was named ‘observant neglect’ in Victorian times, to show they didn’t deserve sympathy.  If things have truly changed from psychiatry’s dubious history, this ‘attention-seeking’ belief about female patients would have died out. Many a female psychiatric patient nowadays will tell you that belief is alive and kicking still. Nobody can truly say that modern psychiatry has not left that rationale behind.

And of course there is CHARCOT’s ‘Augustine’  Those famous pictures of Augustine, the medical celebrity, be famous for your pain. 

Her name was Louise Augustine Gleizes. She was raped at aged 13. Aged 14, She was sent to the Salpêtrière Hospital  on 21 October 1875.

Charcot would put on a show at the psychiatric hospital every week for the public to see the performance, the spectacle, watch the woman’s body, the physical metaphor of what psychiatry doesn’t want to listen to. Augustine’s attacks ranged from feeling pain, seizures, feeling choked, or slamming the back of her head repeatedly. It was a theatre of ignoring the obvious.

Oh, I must be attention-seeking, I must be such a drama queen to get your attention, because you just silence the abuse.

They say Charcot didn’t invent hysteria, he just gave the symptoms the wrong name. But I say he did invent hysteria, a dustbin of misogynistic beliefs about the stress and distress of women.

There were hysterical men too. These were men who broke down after been exposed to the horrors of WW1. Dr Lewis Yealland had one patient who endured the worst battles of the war, namely Ypres and Loos, and became mute. Yealland gave him cigarette burns to his tongue and then electro-shocked his pharynx with increasing levels of volts. When he finally began to speak, he was required to say thank you to Yealland. Hysterics were people who couldn’t fulfil their gendered roles.

The female body is not allowed to get angry, not allowed to protest, not allowed to be different, not allowed to be free from external control. Hysteria is easier to deal with than rage. If you say this woman is justifiably angry, what can you do, if you are part of a system that solicits that anger? You have to demean and pathologise, to make the person inferior, manageable, disempowered, so you can help her feel empowered, and less inferior. What are we going to do about psychiatry as social control? If it was ok for women to be angry all around the globe, the world would have to change.