What is Hysteria?
Female Hysteria is a serious medical condition which, as the name implies, predominantly affects women. Nevertheless, men are occasionally diagnosed with Hysteria, and for a brief period of time during the Edwardian era, it was deemed fashionable and a mark of sophistication and enlightenment for men to be diagnosed as hysterical.
What are the causes of Hysteria? Is this “disease” new?
The scourge of Hysteria has plagued women for the past 4000 years. Scholars with the University of Cagliari have uncovered references to this “disease” in Egyptian texts dating back to 1900 B.C. These papyri identified the reason for Hysteria as the “spontaneous” movement of a woman’s uterus.
Subsequently, the ancient Greeks aided in future elucidating the origins of the condition. Philosopher Plato asserted that women experienced Hysteria because the “uterus is sad and unfortunate when it does not join with the male and does not give rise to a new birth.” Hippocrates (you know, the “Father of Western Medicine," NBD) who coined the name “Hysteria” from the Greek word “hystera” or uterus, likewise supported Plato’s analysis. He contended “the uterus is prone to get sick, especially if it is deprived of the benefits arising from sex and procreation.”
So, in brief, Hysteria is triggered by a woman not engaging in regular baby-making activities, thus causing her womb to become despondent and begin wandering around like Sir Galahad looking for the Holy Grail (i.e. a penis).
What are the symptoms of Female Hysteria?
As previously mentioned, the symptoms of Hysteria include headaches, the retention of fluid, insomnia, but also drowsiness, trouble breathing, irascibility, and let’s not forget, “a tendency to cause trouble.” However, and we're adults here so let’s not be immature, “excessive vaginal lubrication” and “erotic fantasy” were trademark symptoms of the “disease,” too.
Can't stop fantasizing about Tom Hiddleston? Me either! Which leads us to our next burning question…
Do I have it?
Probably definitely yes. As old-timey dudes from history can’t get enough of reminding us, women are basically animals (thanks for that one Aretaeus of Cappadocia). If we deny our natural states (i.e. barefoot, pregnant, and subservient) we become perilously susceptible to debilitating physical and mental disorders like Hysteria. Don’t think you’re in danger? Check this out-17th century English physician Thomas Sydenham conjectured that hysterical outbursts were the second most commonplace ailment, only fevers were more prevalent, and “there is rarely [a woman] who is wholly free from them.”
Yes! Luckily, smart, enterprising men have come to our rescue again! There are numerous methods for quelling Hysteria.
1) Get a baby inside of you NOW!
2) Pelvic massage resulting in a “hysterical paroxysm” (a.k.a. orgasm). These can be administered manually by your kindly doctor, though you should be warned, this is not as easy as it sounds. According to English surgeon Nathaniel Highmore, inducing a female orgasm is comparable to “that game of boys in which they try to rub their stomachs with one hand and pat their heads with the other.” Thank your doctors, ladies. They’re attempting the medical equivalent of trying to find a unicorn!
3) Hydrotherapy. For Hysteria, this entails having a stream of water directed towards a woman’s pelvic region. A particularly effective treatment, it’s been called “impossible to describe; experienced, it is never forgotten.”
4) Get a vibrator. First introduced during the late 19th century, they were quickly available in steam-powered (1869), transportable (1882), and electric (1902) varieties. Though clinicians cautioned that women ought to be supervised when using these medical devices to avoid “overindulgence,” vibrators were soon out of the doctor’s office and in every home.
5) Psychotherapy or the “talking cure,” as pioneered by Sigmund Freud, but if we’re honest we can agree treatments 1-4, definitely sound more
Are you serious?
Though I wish I could tell you this “disease” is a completely fictional April Fool’s Day joke, the medical diagnosis of Hysteria existed until the 1950s and wasn’t removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) until 1980. Unfortunately, women (particularly teenage girls) are still regarded as being highly predisposed to experiencing a similar malady widely labeled as mass hysteria. Stay tuned for a companion blog-post on the history of adolescent girls and mass hysteria.
Until next time, bitches, keep those wandering wombs on lock. We can't have them meandering off alone without appropriate male supervision!
For more about Hysteria, check-out these sources:
Female Hysteria: 7 Crazy Things People Used To Believe About The Ladies' Disease
Timeline: Female Hysteria and the Sex Toys Used to Treat It
Women And Hysteria In The History Of Mental Health
Sawbones Podcast Episode on Hysteria