SPECIAL PHYSIOLOGY Essay
With a feeling of reverence for ourselves we now take up the subject of special physiology to learn what makes us women. In the study of general physiology we find very few physical differences in the sexes, but when we come to investigate what is called the reproductive system we find entire difference of structure and of function.
Boys and girls in early childhood are much alike in their inclinations. They both love activity—to run, to climb, to shout, to laugh, to play. If left to themselves one sees not much more difference between boys and girls than between different individuals of the same sex. But as they grow and develop they begin to take on characteristics that indicate the evolution of sex.
The boy grows rapidly in height, his voice breaks, the signs of a moustache appear, he seems constrained and embarrassed in society, and yet he begins to show more politeness towards women and more of an inclination to be gallant to girls. He is becoming a man, and assumes manlike airs. Often, too, he becomes restless and willful, hard to govern, self-assertive, with an assumption of wisdom that provokes laughter from his elders. The boy is passing through a serious crisis and needs much wise and loving care. There are inner forces awakening that move him strangely; he does not understand himself, neither do his friends seem to understand him. Sometimes they snub and nag him, sometimes they tease and make fun of him. In either case he does not find home a happy place, and frequently leaves it to seek more sympathetic companionship elsewhere.
I once spoke to an audience of women and girls along this line, and appealed to the mothers and sisters to be kind to the boys in their homes who were between twelve and eighteen years of age, to remember that they were passing through the critical period of transition from boyhood to manhood, and to try and help them by sympathy and kindness. Some time later, as I was on the train, a young lady came and sat down by me and said: “I want to thank you for what you said to us the other day about boys. I have a brother about sixteen, and we have done just as you said; we have teased him about his moustache, and his voice, and his awkwardness, and laughed the more because it seemed to touch him. He had gotten so that he never would do anything for us girls, and we called him an old bear. Since I heard you I concluded that we had done wrong and I would make a change, so that evening I said kindly, ‘Charlie, don’t you want me to tie your cravat? I’d like to, ever so much.’ I shall never forget the surprised look he gave me. It seemed as if he could not believe that I, his sister, wanted to do something to please him, but as soon as he saw I really meant it he accepted my offer with thanks, and since then it seems as if he could not do enough for me. Really I have almost cried to think that so little a thing would make him so grateful. I have invited him to go out with me several times, and he seems so glad to go. Then I’ve begun to make things for his room—little fancy things that I never thought a boy would care for—and he has appreciated them so much. Why, he even stays in his room sometimes, now, instead of going off with the boys. And the other day, when one of the boys came to see him, I heard him say, ‘Come up and see my room,’ and the other boy said, ‘Well, I wish some one would fix up my room in such a jolly fashion.’ Really,” said the girl, “if you have done nothing on your trip but what you have done for me, in showing me how to be good to my brother, it has paid for you to come.”
I often think of this little incident when I see boys at this critical age who are snubbed and teased just because they are leaving the land of boyhood to begin the difficult climb up the slopes of early manhood towards the grander height of maturity; and I wish all parents, sisters and older brothers would manifest a sympathy with the boy who, swayed by inner forces and influenced by outward temptation, is in a place of great danger.
The girl at this period is also passing through a crisis, but this fact is better understood by her friends than is the crisis of the boy’s life. Her parents are anxious that she shall pass the crisis safely, and they have more patience with her eccentricities. She, too, often shows nervousness, irritability, petulance, or willfulness. She has headaches and backaches, she manifests lassitude and weariness, and is, perhaps, quite changed from her former self. She weeps easily or over nothing at all. She is dissatisfied with herself and the whole world. She feels certain vague, romantic longings that she could not explain if she tried. She inclines toward the reading of sensational love stories, and if not well instructed and self-respecting may be easily led into flirtations or conduct that later in life may make her blush to remember. Certain physical changes begin to be manifest. She increases rapidly in height, her figure grows fuller and more rounded, her breasts are often sore and tender. Hair makes its appearance on the body, and altogether she seems to be blossoming out into a fuller and riper beauty. She is changing from the girl to the woman, and this is a matter of sex. At this time the organs of sex, which have been dormant, awaken and take on their activity, and it is this awakening which is making itself felt throughout her whole organization.
We are sometimes apt to think that sex is located in certain organs only, but in truth sex, while centralized in the reproductive organs, makes itself manifest throughout the whole organization. I used to feel somewhat indignant when I heard people talk of sex in mind, and I boldly asserted that it did not exist, that intellect was neuter and had no reference to sex; but I do not feel so now. When I see what an influence the awakening of sex has upon the entire body and upon the character, I am led to believe that sex inheres in mind as well. That does not mean that the brain of one sex is either inferior or superior to the other; it means only that they differ; that men and women see things from different standpoints; that they are the two eyes of the race, and the use of both is needed to a clear understanding of any problem of human interest.
You know that the true perspective of objects cannot be had with one eye only, for each eye has its own range of vision, and one eye can see much farther on one side of an object than the other can. You can try this for yourself.
If, then, in viewing the vital problems of life we have the man’s view only or the woman’s view only, we have not the true perspective. We cannot say that either has superior powers of vision, but we can say that they differ, as this difference is inherent in them as men and women, and not merely as individuals.
Instead, then, of looking at sex as circumscribed, and perhaps as something low and vulgar, to be thought of and spoken of only with whispers or questionable mirth, we should see that sex is God’s divinest gift to humanity, the power through which we come into the nearest likeness to Himself—the function by which we become creators and transmitters of our powers of body, mind, and soul.
It is important that a young woman should understand her own structure and the functions of all her organs, and so, with this feeling of reverence for sex, we will begin this study.
The trunk of the body is divided into three cavities; the upper or thoracic cavity contains the heart and lungs; the central or abdominal cavity contains the organs of nutrition, the stomach, liver, bowels, etc.; the lower or pelvic cavity contains two organs of elimination, the bladder and the rectum, and also the organs of reproduction, or of sex. Between the outlet of bladder and bowels is the inlet to the reproductive organs. This inlet is a narrow channel called the vagina, and is about six inches in length. At the upper end is the mouth of the womb or uterus. The words mean the same, but womb is Anglo-Saxon and uterus is Latin, and as Latin is the language of science, we will use that word. The uterus is the little nest or room in which the unborn baby has to live for three-fourths of a year. It is a small organ, about the size and shape of a small flattened pear. It is suspended with the small end downwards, and it is hollow. It is held in place by broad ligaments that extend outward to the sides, and by short, round ligaments from front to back. These ligaments do not hold it firmly in place, for it is necessary that it should be able to rise out of the pelvic into the abdominal cavity during pregnancy, as the baby grows too large to be contained in the small pelvic space.
On the posterior sides of the two broad ligaments are two small oval organs which are called ovaries, meaning the place of the eggs.