Witches, Midwives and Nurses
The suppression of women, and of the “feminine” in healthcare first becomes obvious historically during the 15th Century, where “a widespread moral panic suggesting that malevolent Satanic witches were operating as an organized threat to Christendom” gave rise to the widespread interrogation, torture and murder of female healers, perceived and painted as “witches” by a crazed patriarchy set on wrenching medicine from the earth and her people, and placing it in the hands of the elite for monetary gain and power. More than merely the dominance of men over women, this tragic era represented a deeper struggle, a struggle over class, politics and economics. It is not facile to say that as the woman and her role in healthcare was suppressed, the essence of the “feminine” (nurture, sharing, reciprocity, and the care for all) was devalued in favour of power, money and control (introduced by the “masculine”, the financial controllers; the educated elite).
The subordination of women and the physical destruction of female lay healers and their knowledge was a class battle in which the lower classes lost their healthcare; their birthright as humans born on this earth. The ruling class waged a considered crusade of intimidation on lay healers, and the institutionalisation of sexism in healthcare took root. Women healers did not protect their wisdom, but shared the knowledge of the medical subculture to which they belonged. These women were in tune with nature and her seasons, knew which plants could ease the pains of labour, or which foods could aid in digestive troubles. Their knowledge was an earth-knowledge, it was not protected by university walls or the constraints of poverty. Much of this valuable natural knowledge was intentionally destroyed and discredited by the organised rise of the elite, male, rich, “educated” physician, and the intrinsic spirituality and sympathy of the woman healer became lost in the rigidity of a scientific medicine.
The rise of the “professional” doctor separated the two inextricable halves of the healing art; elevating curing (associated with male intellect, science and reason) to the lofty heights of sequestered, moneyed arrogance, and subordinating caring (associated with tenderness, lack of skill, and empty femininity) to a menial and devalued sideline. Professional medicine was about class and control. Feminine power and autonomy in all areas was abhorred by the patriarchal constraints of the Church. Empowered women presented a religious, social, sexual and political threat to their structure of control, “In the face of the repressive fatalism of Christianity, she held out the hope of change in this world.” The church-endorsed male physician, by design, had become “beyond criticism, beyond reputation, and very nearly beyond competition.” These male doctors served only the ruling classes to which they belonged, winning the battle for control of healthcare by creating financial and social barriers into medicine, elevating the profession and undermining the medicine of nature and of women: “The real issue was control: male upper class healing under the auspices of the Church was acceptable, female healing as part of a peasant subculture was not.”
The deep misogyny of the church, represented in the institutionalised sexism of the male doctor, further subordinated women in their relationship with their own bodies and their own choices in medical care. Women were often subjected to demeaning and dangerous medical treatment, and were labelled neurotic for daring to question, or for attempting to define their medical autonomy.
This mindset is present today, in our feminine subconscious. I often wonder why I feel disempowered when defending herbal medicine, or when questioning the methods or motivations of a pharmaceutical company, a public health measure or a doctor. It is because I hold within me many years of suppressed feminine energy and power. This is why we have to stand and fight the patriarchal bonds that still hold us. This is why I will not just accept the mindset of a male-centric medical system powered only by a desire for power and capitalist gain. There should be no money in healthcare, no plant-medicine should be illegal or restricted from use. If we were all a little more connected to the earth we would be better people, happier people; healthier people. The domination and enslavement of the world and all within it must stop. The divine feminine will rise, and she will continue to stand in peaceful resistance. Her tenderness, her essence and her natural power will overcome this patriarchal destroyer which seeks only to further enslave our bodies, our minds and our earth. For we are of the earth, and cannot be without it.
Notes, quotes and references:
Ehrenreich, Barbara, & English, Deirdre: Witches, Midwives and Nurses.