(French pelvic douche of about 1860 from Fleury, reproduced from Siegfried Giedion, Mechanization Takes Command (New York: Oxford University Press, 1948)
THE HYSTERICAL FEMALE
Mental health disorders have plagued both genders throughout history, however, Hysteria was the only diagnosis given solely to women. The term was originally coined by Hippocrates in the 5th Century BC and it wasn’t until the early 20th Century that scientific studies finally conceded that hysteria was not exclusively a female disease.
Hysteria was thought to be directly related to a women’s biology, to what Hippocrates described as a “wandering” uterus. Through the ages Hysteria became the “catch-all” diagnosis for women whose symptoms included a lack of or exuberant sexual desire, depression, anger, anxiety, and/or noncompliant behavior.
Treatments for Hysteria varied with the times. In the middle ages, the popular belief was that Hysteria originated from demonic possession or witchcraft; thus exorcism, torture and even death became notable treatments. The 19th Century saw the largest increase of women being diagnosed with hysteria. Women were either locked away in asylums, or prescribed special douches, or “medical manual pelvic massage”; the latter prompting the invention of the vibrator. It took a long time for Psychiatry to concede that hysteria was not attributable to gender, or sexuality.
As a result of that long history, Hysteria’s effects are still present today. Female emotional instability is not a biological fact, and yet it is implied in subtle ways i.e.,”Is it that time of the month?” If a women buys into the notion that they are overreacting, could it cause them their life?