Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Unmentionable by Therese Oneill

"Remember, the center of a woman is her uterus. Her crazy, crazy uterus..."

The fabulous Jenny Lawson, AKA The Bloggess, recommended Unmentionable. It sounded really interesting and funny, and I do occasionally read books that aren't kept in the YA section, so I asked my library to add it to their collection. They did, because I have some pull there. Not to brag or anything, but I'm a card-carrying member. (Banter is fun, and I may have been watching too much Gilmore Girls this weekend, because it makes me all babbley.)

Unmentionable promises to tell the dirty secrets behind the scenes of Victorian life. Movies and novels make it seem like a carefree jaunt full of gentlemen callers, dances, feasts, and flattering empire-waisted dresses. The reality was somewhat of a shock, full of crotchless undergarments, chamber pots, and poop in the streets.

Oneill uses excerpts from medical journals and instructional books to show how a well-off Victorian woman lived. These men, women, and men pretending to be women mused upon all aspects of daily life. There was advice on grooming, romance, even that special lady time of the month. It's funny, interesting, and a little bit scary at times. The author's summaries, captions, and comments were always hilarious.

It really does show how far life has progressed. The majority of medical advice back then was that having a uterus was evil, and the only thing to be done for it was to fill it with babies made in wedlock. It was fun to read about grooming and dressing, and the fun of flirtation. The chapter on menstruation was just as awkward as the actual subject, and mostly focused on those evil uteri again. Because if you have difficult periods, you must be an evil sinner. Obviously. The least fun of the chapters was on hysteria, that crazy women disease that comes with having that old uterus (again). Women were locked away in asylums. They had to undergo barbaric treatments and shock therapy, and the symptoms of "hysteria" were actually quite broad and could cover any number of actual maladies.

It can be fun to imagine living in another time, maybe trading in the complications of modern life for a simpler time. Whenever I think of that, though, I remember the freedom that comes from living in modern time that wouldn't have been available to me then. I like being able to vote and go places without a chaperone. I want to wear pants and not be thrown in an asylum! There are a million things to feel lucky for that wouldn't have been possible then. However, I know that there is still a long, long way left to go. It's going to be difficult with our future president, a decidedly anti-feminist political party in control, and a culture that still doesn't seem to understand concepts such as no means no. Maybe there is a little light at the end of the tunnel in the very fact that women went through so much and still persevered? That we have come so far in the time since then? I hope so, and I definitely hope that years from now, we will also be able to look back and marvel at how far we have come. Hopefully, it won't be very many years.

Sorry for so much digression! I highly recommend Unmentionable. It's great as a historical book, and even better as a humor book.

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