It’s Time to Stop Diagnosing Women

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There’s no shortage of studies about women. Our bodies, our voices, our emotions, our work, our sexuality. According to science and society, there’s always room for improvement.

When I see another set of research and its subsequent flurry of prescriptive articles crop up—“Women who are funny at work are damaging their careers!”—I often wonder to myself whether this will, finally, be the end of it. With data points around body image, timidity, upspeak, vocal fry, imposter syndrome, perfectionism, and mom guilt under their belts, researchers can’t possibly have more to say about what’s wrong with women.

Then the next morning, I scroll through my news feeds and, inevitably, find yet another innate way women have failed, according to research. 

It’s, frankly, depressing. But it’s been this way for centuries.

Think back to hysteria, the first mental disorder attributed solely to women. As researchers debated which aspect of womanhood caused such feminine distress, the disorder became a catch-all for everything women might be suffering: nervousness, emotional outbursts, sexual urges—feelings men most definitely experience, but are rarely advised to check. 

And even before hysteria had a name, philosophers in ancient Greece believed the uterus could wander the female body, damaging other organs. That internal tustle, somehow, caused women’s anguish.

I like to imagine this being true: my uterus, a bully, giving my kidneys the old one-two punch. The strength of Muhammad Ali packed into four inches.

Of course, philosophers didn’t mean to empower, in any way, the most female organ in my body. They meant to correct it—and they still do.

When you read articles about women, they rarely suggest that the issue with how women are perceived is the fault of anyone but the women themselves. It’s not our culture that needs to adjust its criteria for being; it’s women who need to say daily affirmations in the mirror every morning and, maybe, lose 10 pounds. Fixing the “flaws” in women is the favorite game of advice columnists and headline writers. 

In the workplace, these corrective tips tell women to assimilate, to act like men, to fit into a working world where the standard for good leadership and respect has long been set, and it wasn’t set by a woman. Rarely do we stop to wonder what would happen if a company or even our society accepted women wholly as who they are, without call for adjustment, without fixing them.

Is it so revolutionary to believe there’s nothing wrong with half of our population and our workforce? It seems silly to even ask that question.

Then again, I thought it was silly to think of my uterus sucker-punching its roommates, and the sexism behind that theory still impacts the world we live in today.

Perhaps more of us need to be questioning who’s responsible for women not filling the mold our culture has created. Perhaps it’s time for that mold to be recast.

Beth Castle is the managing editor at InHerSight.