In Catholic grade school, Emma Bolden has a strange experience with a teacher that unleashes a short-lived chronic coughing spell—something the medical establishment will later use against her, as she struggles through chronic pain and fainting spells that coincide with her menstrual cycle.
With The Tiger and the Cage, Bolden uses her own experience as the starting point for a journey through the institutional misogyny of western medicine—from a history of labeling women “hysterical” and parading them as curiosities, to a lack of information on causes or cures for endometriosis, despite the fact that it was discovered before the Civil War. Recounting botched surgeries and dire side effects from pharmaceuticals affecting her and countless others, Bolden speaks to the ways people are often failed by the institutions meant to protect them, which protect themselves by controlling official narratives.
Bolden also interrogates a narrative commonly imposed on menstruating bodies: the expected story arc of marriage and children. She interrogates her body as a painful site she must mentally escape and a countdown she hopes to beat by having a child before a hysterectomy. Only later does she find language and acceptance for her asexuality. Through all of its gripping, devastating, and beautiful threads, The Tiger and the Cage says what Bolden and so many like her have needed to hear: I see you, and I believe you.