El's Reviews > Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Media

Hystories by Elaine Showalter
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's review
Feb 12, 2010

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bookshelves: cultural-studies-and-other, 20th-centurylit-late, hear-me-roar-and-gender
Read from April 18 to 25, 2010

The concept of "hysteria" was historically applied only to women. The idea that whatever symptoms they are afflicted by tells where the woman's uterus has moved - for example, if a woman is complaining of headaches, her uterus has moved to her head; if she is complaining of leg weakness, her uterus has moved to her legs and feet. Modern medicine has taught that the uterus does in fact not move around the body, and is definitely found in one place only. Additionally, women aren't the only people who suffer from what are considered "hysterical" symptoms; though when a man suffers from similar symptoms, the cause and treatment are defined differently.

Elaine Showalter here discusses a lot of the fads of 90s hysteria, covering a wide variety of familiar topics and pinning them all under the controversial title of "hysteria": Chronic fatigue syndrome, recovered memory, Gulf War syndrome, Multiple personality syndrome, alien abduction, and satanic ritual abuse. Showalter's take on these syndromes or experiences are founded more in the power of suggestion through their prevalence in the media or in discussions with medical professionals. Clearly any person suffering from any of the above would likely find some offense to Showalter's beliefs, and would possibly feel she's just like the thousands of other people who believe that these things are just in the sufferer's mind.

The 80s and 90s brought into the media a different sort of woman - the ambitious, the hardworking, the Supermom. Suddenly there are women going to their health professionals across the world with similar symptoms with no clear explanation. Similarly men returning from the Gulf War begin showing symptoms of their own, and then their families begin also showing symptoms. The media slaps a title on it - Gulf War syndrome. Showalter questions what came first - the symptoms or the syndrome.

Interesting all around, though often dated in some of the references. Multiple personality syndrome has become Dissociative identity disorder, and not many people really question the legitimacy of the person suffering or even consider mentioning it in the same breath as alien abduction - though Showalter is not shy. She feels that as times change, the popular hysteria of the times will change along with it. Freud was the fad-setter of his time, followed by Jacques Lacan, and the trend will continue. It's just a matter of time before a new form of hysteria hits the airwaves and the doctor's offices.
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Reading Progress

04/18/2010 page 83
37.05% "Back on page 39: "...Freud initially concluded that her hysteria was caused by masturbation and the cure was to operate on her nose.""

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