Hysteria = Uterus

30 Jan

I just read an article in the NY Times, in the opinion section, “Hysteria and the Teenage Girl” by Caitlin Flanagan. The article is a response to a kooky Onion article about a group of cheerleaders from NY who “developed” Tourette’s; it began with one and then the rest “caught’ it. After some research, Flanagan found that what they actually had “caught” was hysteria. Interestingly, Flanagan found that this happens often. Teenage girls experience hysteria due to puberty, in most cases, or stress. She cites several cases of girls suddenly developing outrageous symptoms as early as 1962.

While this is a curious occurrence, I am surprised at the lack of critique this article provides regarding the long history of using hysteria to undermine women and their desires. The story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 1892) grapples with mental illness and sexism. It is an example of how women can be discarded because of this kind of affliction. There is no commentary on how the girls community responded.

As a I understand it hysteria has been attributed to women only, although it happens to men as well –the article mentions a boy also developed the same symptoms–it is after all the Greek word for uterus. Therefore, hysteria means women are crazy or always have the potential to be crazy especially if they have a uterus. And if they do become hysterical then they are dismissible.

This diagnosis is a way to dismiss women, period. And this author could have had an opinion about that.

One Response to “Hysteria = Uterus”

  1. Cristin March 12, 2012 at 2:54 PM #

    Flanagan, of course, doesn’t have the best track record in terms of supporting women.
    There’s this Slate Article about a recent book: http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/roiphe/2012/01/what_caitlin_flanagan_s_new_book_girl_land_gets_wrong_about_girls_.html

    And also, I couldn’t remember, but didn’t she have something to do with/say about that “Mr. Good Enough” book?

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