“Relax. You’re hysterical”: the most insulting expression that haunts women
“Whore” and “hysterical” are the two most repeated insults throughout history to discredit any woman that has gone beyond the norms established by men. At any hint of female response, the prescription is always the same: “Relax. You’re getting hysterical.”
curiously Both concepts are sexual terms but contradictory in themselves.: If whore refers to a promiscuous woman who enjoys sex on a regular basis; Hysterical refers to those who suffered dizziness, blindness, fainting, insomnia, irritability or anxiety, among other symptoms, due to lack of good sex. The classic “malfullada”.
“Hysterical” was the favorite insult that Spaniards used on social networks against the young woman Greta Thunberg during the Climate Summit in Madrid, according to a media study. Before, donald trump He called her a “hysterical child” and directly advised her on Twitter: “Relax, Greta, relax.”
It has not been the only example. In 2017, during the interrogation of the former US State Attorney Jeff Sessions for investigations into the Russian plot; Trump campaign advisor Jason Millerdescribed the Democratic senator as “hysterical” Kamala Harris simply for your incisive questions.
It is relatively easy to hear on television talk shows with politicians and journalists involved how they tell their fellow debaters “But relax, woman.” And if not, tell the representative of Unidas Podemos. Tania Sanchez to which a commentator even advised her to take “a lexatín” in the middle of a discussion.
“Everything converges in the idea that within every woman there is an unbalanced being, with a weaker and much more neurotic nervous system. The term ‘little woman’ has also been used as an insult, along with hysterical,” clarifies the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the Jaume I University, Rafael Ballester.
But what is hysteria really? A disease or a weapon of male control over women throughout history?
Since Antiquity, both in Egyptian and Greek treatises, this psychological illness has always been related to women. In fact, even her very name, “Hysteria” comes from the Greek word meaning “uterus.”.
In it IV Hippocratic Treaty they talk about her as a “disease of virgins”“, relating the symptoms to the lack of sex. An idea that passed on to Galeano and Plato: “The call womb and vulva look like a willing animal to make children that when it does not produce fruit for a long time after the season, it becomes afflicted and sad, and wandering here and there throughout the body and closing the passage to the air, not allowing it to breathe, it produces the greatest anguish in the organism and generates diseases of all kinds.
The Middle Ages and accusations of witchcraft only increased the concept and in 1486, in the Malleus Malificadorum, already there was direct talk of “hysterical epidemics”a term that has traveled over the centuries to describe any female protest movement, including March 8. “We are not hysterical, we are historical,” the aforementioned protested.
The rise of hysteria diagnoses, however, It was produced in the 19th century in the United Kingdom and France. The treatment for wealthy Victorian women who suffered from this disease was the so-called “pelvic massages”, that is, forced masturbations until reaching orgasm performed by the doctors themselves or the midwives.
The humiliation was double in the face of women who were accused by their own husbands of being frigid, hysterical and weak of spirit since It was a stranger who forced what at the time was called “hysterical paroxysm” either by hand or by vaginal washing. while a companion, her husband or mother, sat next to her to wait.
The number of “hysterics” treated with this method was such that at the end of the 19th century the British doctor Mortimer Granville He invented the first vibrator to be able to attend to these massive masturbations without getting tired.
Uterus or mind?
Against those who considered that hysteria was an exclusively female disease born from the womb, the French doctor Jean-Marie Charcot and his medical experience in the hospital La Salpetrierearound 1862. Charcot had almost 4,500 admitted insane, epileptic and hysterical women (diagnosed) whom he used in his studies to try to separate physical illnesses from psychological ones.
His obsession was to demonstrate that hysterical men also existed since his line of research established the origin of this disease in neurological disorders, not in the womb, which could originate in wars or industrial accidents.
However, his treatment proposal, hypnosis, ended up partially weakening his theories, and turning his experiments into theatrical shows with women as the sad protagonist. Charcot himself recognized his mistake years later.
Of course, these studies were gold for one of the most advantaged students in his classes: Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis.
In Spain, there were also hysterics
Charcot’s theories They also arrived in Spain but later and nuanced. Although Spanish doctors supported more conservative theories, diagnoses of hysteria and hypnosis shows also took place in our country, as reflected in some books of the time.
In fact, in 1894, the Government asked the Royal Academy of Medicine about the effectiveness of hypnosis treatment and she replied that it was a dangerous exercise and that it could only be directed by doctors.
“The treatments were very similar because it was a European trend and the most famous Spanish gynecologists had been trained in Europe,” explains Rafael Ballester.
One of the most important gynecologists in Spain at the time, the Catalan Miguel A. Fargasestablishes in his treatises the danger of incomplete copulation that can cause “hysteriform attacks” and “vaginismus.”
And it establishes as a prescription the control of female sexuality aimed exclusively at motherhood: “For the sexual woman, her future, her well-being and her happiness lie in her perfect aptitude for motherhood.”.
These medical theories directly affected those women who thought of entering public life in some way, especially activists or writers, such as Charlotte Perkins Gilmanwho was sentenced in the US to rest and a milk-based diet for hysteria.
For the doctors of the time, if women stimulated a specific organ too much they could cause the deterioration of another, that is, If they developed their brain too much they would harm their reproductive organs. and they would end up hysterical.
With the arrival of the 20th century, hysteria lost strength in diagnoses, especially after in 1950 the American Psychological Association established that it was not a mental illness. Yes indeed, The negative charge of the insult has remained intact and has even become popular with new connotations after the rise of the feminist movement.
“Currently There is still that sexism when it comes to diagnosing. “If she is a patient, we always tend to think that she suffers from a psychological problem and if she is a man, she is looking for something physical,” Ballester concludes. And if we don’t know what she is… hysteria.
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