Hysteria: Medicine as a Vehicle for Gendered Social Control
Li, Laura;Luo, Yi
Written for HIST 312: Biomedical Approach to History, Dr. Moramay López-Alonso
This paper analyzes the historical phenomenon of hysteria, a psychiatric label once commonly applied to female patients to explain a variety of physical ailments and deviant behaviors. Beginning with an examination of its ancient historical roots, the paper then focuses on hysteria’s application in Victorian England. Hysteria can be viewed as both cause and consequence of a male-dominated society and medical profession, used a means of enforcing traditional gender roles and expectations for feminine sexuality. By emphasizing and pathologizing the female reproductive organs, diagnoses of hysteria reinforced cultural ideas about women’s reproductive role and the male physician’s right to regulate that role. In these ways, hysteria is a compelling example of the socially contingent nature of illness and the power of medicine as a tool of social control.