Gender Identity, Betrayal, and Hysterectomized Women

Holy Hormones Journal: A new word has been added to my vocabulary “hysterectomized” – rhymes with victimized, demoralized, demonized, ostracized, stigmatized, and castracized – 10.25.15 Hysterectomyget the picture? Harsh? I would say not for the most common gyn surgery around the world. Who the hell deemed that taking out our uterus would cure ort emotional and physical problems? (Answer – Freud and other male yahoos from the beginning of time.) Yet there are many of us who believe and feel that the womb – is the seat of woman’s soul. Her ability to cycle, ovulate and menstruate to bring life into the world is nothing less than being a Goddess. And this is the very power that is suppressed and surgically removed from our bodies.

Hysterical – hysterectomy – remember what the great feminist Eve Ensler said? “Hysteria is a word used for making women feel insane for knowing what they know.” That knowingness most times comes for our womb soul – the throne of our intuition and spirituality.

So many women have told me – I wish I had met you before I had my hysterectomy. how is it possible that women have had no education about their endocrine and menstrual health and yet we sadly go running off to the doctor and scream “take it out?” I can’t stand the emotional and physical pain of having my period any longer. And then we deal with a whole other reality of being castrated – and prescribed synthetic hormones – and we become androgynous.  We lose our soul – our throne of sacred power to the knife.

If you are considering a hysterectomy please consult with me – let me share years of evidence-based woman wisdom from our foremothers who predicted this onslaught on our bodies many moons ago. And if you have had a hysterectomy – consult with me and let me share how you can regain your cyclical sense of womanhood and power.

Dr. Jean Elson, a fellow colleague of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research (I would hyperlink to the site – but it was hacked last week and taken down – perhaps this growing body of feminist menstrual health advocates is becoming too vocal?), emailed the article to the membership last week. Jean who was interviewed For Ms. Armeli’s post will be on my Holy Hormones Honey! podcast that will air on November 15 – the very day I will be speaking on the sacredness of the hormone cycle at Denver’s Athena Festival. 

Dr. Elson is the author of Am I Still a Woman? Hysterectomy and Gender Identity.

Who Am I Without My Uterus? The Psychological, Social and Cultural Stigmas of Hysterectomy

The Huffington Post
October 20, 2015

A uterus can embody many things. For some women, it provides a sense of self, gender identity, and sexual prowess. For others, it signifies fertility and can even dictate a woman’s cultural desirability. And still, hysterectomy continues to be one of the most common gynecological surgeries performed worldwide. [1]

Young woman covering head in hands

But women are speaking out. Stories of psychological, social, and cultural stigmas experienced by hysterectomized women are surfacing — many of which reveal the residual costs that have left some to question who they are now and how they can relate to the world around them post-hysterectomy.

“At the time, I had no idea what was happening to me,” recalled Lise Cloutier-Steele, whose own hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy at age 38 spurred her to write the book, Misinformed Consent: Women’s Stories About Unnecessary Hysterectomy. “In my interviews, I was hearing the same things. A common thread between the hundreds of women I spoke to were feelings of betrayal. We weren’t told what would happen after the surgery.”

And experts agree. The experiences of women who undergo hysterectomy have not been given adequate attention — especially in the area of how reproductive organs can provide a sense of identity to women.

“Gender identity is one of the most fundamental means by which individuals are recognized, both by others and by themselves,” explained Dr. Jean Elson, Ph.D., MA, MEd, sociologist and senior lecturer emeritus for the department of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “It is our core inner feeling of who we are as women, men, both, or neither.”

In Elson’s research, as discussed in her book, Am I Still a Woman? Hysterectomy and Gender Identity, she found that gender identity is produced through personal embodied experience. Depending on the culture and the individual, this gender identity could be affected if a woman experiences changes to her body. “Most women in my study found hysterectomy a crisis that prompted them to examine the connection between sexual reproductive organs and gender identity.”

Although the uterus itself is only a fraction of a woman’s gender identity, its presence — or absence — is part of how she relates to the world around her. This is especially true concerning her intimate relationships. The quality of relationships plays a significant role in whether a woman is able to maintain or reclaim gender identity after surgery. [2] Elson explained that romantic partners could either reinforce or calm a woman’s fears surrounding the loss of sexual attractiveness post-hysterectomy.

“Sexuality is often a basic component of feminine gender identity,” explained Dr. Elson. “Some respondents found they no longer felt they measured up to appropriate cultural standards for sexual attraction, including maintaining a youthful appearance, a slim figure, and physical flawlessness.” Women who expressed concern regarding diminished sexual attractiveness were predominantly heterosexual. In addition, several women of differing sexual orientations perceived changes in their own sexual desire or response as a result of hysterectomy.

A woman’s perception of losing sexual attractiveness is compounded when sexual dysfunction becomes a reality following surgery. Earlier this year, one study found that some women who underwent hysterectomy for benign reasons experienced sexual dysfunction and increased depression.

These findings sounded all too familiar to Ms. Cloutier-Steele. Depression — due to loss of sexuality — was a common finding in her interviews. “No one asked us what sex was like before the surgery. No one explained that if they remove the cervix, the vagina will be shortened. And for those women who enjoy deep uterine orgasms, you can’t experience that anymore. It was devastating after the fact.” Patient information such as this is crucial since factors such as sexual function are significant predictors of hysterectomy satisfaction. [4]

Sexual dysfunction can be damaging to women in the healthiest of relationships but can hold even higher stakes for those who live in patriarchal societies where childbearing is highly valued and a woman’s role is to please her husband sexually.

“Most of the women I interviewed accepted strong cultural beliefs that motherhood is an essential component of women’s identity,” Elson explained. “Loss of reproductive organs created insecurity regarding gender identity for those women, including women who had already borne children or were past menopause.”

Read full article…

Article can also be found here…

Related Study

Absent organs—Present selves: Exploring embodiment and gender identity in young Norwegian women’s accounts of hysterectomy

PG

Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.