Unwell Women

  • Author Elinor Cleghorn
  • Narrator Hanako Footman
  • Publisher Orion
  • Run Time 14 hours and 6 minutes
  • Format Audio
  • Genre History.

Listen to a sample

What to expect

‘Seamlessly melding scholarship with passion, Unwell Women is the definition of unputdownable’ Telegraph

‘A richly detailed, wide-ranging and enraging history… Unwell Women is not just a compelling investigation, but an essential one’ Observer

‘A passionate and indignant history’ The Times

‘A searing, brilliant investigation, an intricate and urgent book on how women’s health has constantly been misunderstood and miscast throughout history’ Kate Williams

‘One of the most important books of our generation’ Fern Riddell

‘UNWELL WOMEN is a powerful and fascinating book that takes an unsparing look at how women’s bodies have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed for centuries.‘ Lindsey Fitzharris

‘We are taught that medicine is the art of solving our body’s mysteries. And as a science, we expect medicine to uphold the principles of evidence and impartiality. We want our doctors to listen to us and care for us as people, but we also need their assessments of our pain and fevers, aches and exhaustion to be free of any prejudice about who we are, our gender, or the colour of our skin. But medicine carries the burden of its own troubling history. The history of medicine, of illness, is a history of people, of their bodies and their lives, not just physicians, surgeons, clinicians and researchers. And medical progress has always reflected the realities of a changing world, and the meanings of being human.’

In Unwell Women Elinor Cleghorn unpacks the roots of the perpetual misunderstanding, mystification and misdiagnosis of women’s bodies, and traces the journey from the ‘wandering womb’ of ancient Greece, the rise of witch trials in Medieval Europe, through the dawn of Hysteria, to modern day understandings of autoimmune diseases, the menopause and conditions like endometriosis. Packed with character studies of women who have suffered, challenged and rewritten medical orthodoxy – and drawing on her own experience of un-diagnosed Lupus disease – this is a ground-breaking and timely expos√© of the medical world and woman’s place within it.

Critics Review

  • A searing, brilliant investigation, an intricate and urgent book on how women’s health has constantly been misunderstood and miscast throughout history, how men invented theories that plunged women into misery, pain and even death – from Anne Greene hanged for a miscarriage to the 1940s housewives lobotomised or subject to other operations to treat their depression, from drugs intended to ‘control’ women’s health that were rushed to market to women experimented upon in the name of science, the cruel differential treatment of women of colour. Cleghorn unmasks with devastating clarity how so much of ‘women’s health’ has been tied into efforts to control women, inculcate what was proper feminine behaviour and slot them into patriarchal culture as happy reproductive units.

    Kate Williams, author of Rival Queens
  • Unwell Women is one of the most important books of our generation. I read it in a rage, and recognised myself in its pages.

    Fern Riddell, author of Death in Ten Minutes
  • If doctors have ever misdiagnosed you, disbelieved your symptoms, or discriminated against you, then Unwell Women is the holy grail of answers you have been waiting for. Elinor Cleghorn has written a decisive, comprehensive, well-researched, and fascinating book about the ways in which medicine has failed women, from the 19th century until now, and what that neglect has cost us-including our lives. I wish I’d had this book in 2018 when I was fighting with my gynecologist to remove my fibroids, but I am glad to have it as I navigate two chronic illnesses; as we continually negotiate power dynamics with doctors, Unwell Women will instantly become an invaluable addition to the arsenal of tools we need to fight for the care we deserve.

    Evette Dionne, author of Lifting as We Climb
  • UNWELL WOMEN is a powerful and fascinating book that takes an unsparing look at how women’s bodies have been misunderstood and misdiagnosed for centuries. From wandering wombs to demonic explanations of menopause, Elinor Cleghorn packs each page with disturbing historical details that will haunt your psyche for days and weeks to come.

    Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art
  • Cultural historian Cleghorn’s meticulous and wide-ranging debut examines the links between patriarchy, misogyny, and the mistreatment of women’s health needs… After building a damning historical case against the medical field, Cleghorn shares the harrowing story of how her symptoms were “overlooked, ignored, and dismissed” for seven years before she was diagnosed with lupus. The result is a deeply informed and passionately argued call for change.

    Publishers Weekly
  • This book will make you angry. And so it should! Just like their brains, women’s bodies have been treated as defective and deficient for centuries… Even in the 21st Century Cleghorn uncovers harsh truths about medicine’s continuing biases, especially in the intersection between gender and race. Hopefully this book will be a wake-up call to a profession that can still refer dismissively to ‘women’s problems.’

    Gina Rippon, author of The Gendered Brain

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to get tailored content recommendations, product updates and info on new releases. Your data is your own: we commit to protect your data and respect your privacy.