I've been thinking about wombs lately -- big sassy ones, little skinny ones, wombs decked out in all their fertile finery. Normally I'd be pondering uteruses, but right now the word womb is resonating with me. Jiggling me a little. Sort of giving me the creeps. I thought I'd tell you why.
First, though, a word about this series, from Elise:
Feminisms is a series of weekly feminist diaries. My fellow feminists and I decided to start our own for several purposes: we wanted a place to chat with each other, we felt it was important to both share our own stories and learn from others’, and we hoped to introduce to the community a better understanding of what feminism is about.
Needless to say, we expect disagreements to arise. We have all had different experiences in life, so while we share the same labels, we don’t necessarily share the same definitions. Hopefully, we can all be patient and civil with each other, and remember that, ultimately, we’re all on the same side.
Womb: Not Just a Nightclub in Tokyo
Over the centuries, the word womb has meant everything from belly to bowels. Men used to have wombs. Here's a description of one poor fellow's (probably fatal) health challenge:
c. 1205 LAY. 19800 "His neb bigon to blakien, his wombe gon to swellen"
I think this guy probably just wanted some privacy:
c. 1430 Pilgr. Lyf Manhode II xxxiv "...berest him to priuee chambres to voide his wombe"
(Both quotes from The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, 1989)
Womb vs. Uterus: Which Side of the Pond Are You On?
Womb. Say it with me now. The word has a ripe, chunky sound -- Old English with a touch of the Norse. If it weren't already in your vocabulary, I could probably convince you that it was the name of a primitive waterproof pouch used in keeping ship's biscuits dry, or maybe the name of the ritual beverage served at Viking funerals.
These days, in the U.K. and other parts of the English-speaking world, womb is the common name for the uterus. It's not unusual to see a headline such as, "Author Tyndale Dead at 89 From Womb Cancer".
In the U.S., though, womb is generally used only in reference to pregnancies, and then only rarely. The other place you'll hear womb is in Bible stories.
I think that's why these headlines disturbed me:
Perhaps I'm a little sensitive about this -- over the past six years, as I've watched the erosion of Roe, as decency police have started harrassing people on airplanes, I've sometimes felt like we're twenty minutes away from living in .
The Secret Life of the American Uterus
When does a uterus become a womb? Does it start off as a uterus, become a womb during the fertile years, then revert to its cool Latin name once the eggs have stopped dropping? Does my ninety-year-old neighbor have a womb? Does my seven-year-old daughter? My husband is relieved that he's not obligated to have one anymore -- he sees the trouble I have with mine and just thanks his lucky stars that he's living in the 21st century.
Frankly, it's not just the word womb. When I see terms like "covenant marriage" in the news, or when I hear anyone outside of a church refer to Jesus of Nazareth as "Christ", I get that same Handmaid-y feeling.
What about you? Are you seeing particular words in the media that are giving you the creeps?