For those of you who don't know what "female hysteria" is, be ready to get super depressed.
To put it simply, female hysteria was an umbrella diagnosis doctors used to label women they considered, in any way, psychologically "unstable."
The idea of female hysteria was around for centuries, but it reached the height of its diagnostic popularity at the turn of the 19th century, and it was only in 1952 the term was finally declassified as a legitimate psychological disorder. In the end, of course, it turned out to be complete and utter horse sh*t.
It goes all the way back to ancient Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries BC.
Plato (yeah, that Plato) blamed it on women's uteruses. He wrote that a woman's uterus "is like an animal within an animal,” and that it is constantly "blocking passages, obstructing breathing and causing disease." And this notion of the "wandering uterus" remained a part of western medicine and philosophy for centuries.
Basically, people thought the uterus behaved like Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the movie “Bad Boys” — they meant well and you needed them when the time came, but they were dangerously unpredictable and caused tremendous and random property damage.
Confused? Good, that means you are not an idiot. Let's continue.
Here is a list of some of the alleged symptoms of hysteria:
Yeah, women were treated for hysteria if they wanted to have sex AND if they didn't want to have sex. So basically, you had to have a lot of sex but never want to. You know, in order to be sane.
If you didn't catch that, the notion of a wandering, cootie-filled uterus that gave women a serious mental illness is 400 years OLDER than Jesus Christ. Yes, the idea that “BITCHES BE CRAZY!!” has been around longer than idea that God ever had a son.
In fact, the term “hysteria” is derived from the greek word for uterus (or: hystera).
So, when those Victorian doctors used their super-serious-doctor-voices to explain to some lady who was really sad about essentially being sold into marital slavery at 18 that she had “female hysteria,” they were actually saying: “Sorry lady, but you have an acute case of Uterus Brain.”
Oh, and by the way, if a woman had an actual disorder -- such as schizophrenia, or even epilepsy -- that was also just labeled as hysteria and would therefore be treated the exact same way (meaning: so, so f*cking terribly).
Yeah, there were over 2,000 years of this insanity.
Treatments for hysteria varied over the years, but in "extreme" cases women were sent to insane asylums or forced to have surgical hysterectomies (having their uteruses cut out).
This is supposedly what hysteria looked like.
Whether there was something actually wrong with the lady in these photographs is anyone's guess, but I'm sure her problem was definitely not that a wandering, renegade uterus was f*cking hijacking her brain stem.
Let me please just take a moment to apologize for my gender.
The fact that for thousands of years men just labeled a woman with this ridiculous umbrella diagnosis if she had the guile to be anything but constantly cheerful, staggeringly beautiful, more fertile than the Nile river, and 100 percent DTF all the time is so tragically indicative of how psychotically spoiled and willfully ignorant men have been throughout history.
This pseudo-disorder's primary accomplishment was that it made misogyny clinical. It classified the very act of being a woman as a disease. It's heartbreaking, and we need to talk about it way more.
OK, now that you are all sufficiently depressed and are searching for a pillow to furiously stab, let's discuss masturbation.
Masturbation, guys! Fun! Don't be sad! Jizzing is fun! OK, are you back with me?
Until the early 20th century, women were told (by men who knew way better than they did) that it was simply impossible for them to have orgasms.
Yeah, the female orgasm apparently just was not a thing.
So basically a woman was expected to have sex with her husband whenever he wanted to (or else she'd be hysteric), but she couldn't act like she enjoyed it (or else she'd be hysteric) or even expect to enjoy it (because orgasms weren't a thing). Lovely.
Even though hysteria had been around forever, near the turn of the 19th century it was suddenly rampant. It was trending hard. Remember beanie babies? Hysteria was like that.
Around this point, people surmised three quarters of ALL WOMEN displayed hysteric symptoms — which seems absurd, but really shouldn't, considering it was pretty much impossible not to.
And it was during this period of hysteria-mania one old treatment for the disorder got hugely popular.
As a treatment for hysteria, doctors started jerking women off.
You did not misread that. And making depressing pornographic etchings is not one of my hobbies.
Women given a hysteria diagnosis would go to doctors who would manually stimulate their vaginas (the kids call it “fingerbanging”) until they had an orgasm. Of course, with orgasms officially not existing and all, these doctors had to call it something else. They settled on “hysterical paroxysm.” I guess it sounded way more science-y than “the cumpocalypse,” which, fun fact, was their first idea.
Now WHY did they decide to start doing this, you ask? Excellent question. The answer is: They're assholes.
A medicinal “pelvic massage” (as it was called) also had its roots in ancient Greece, but it really came into popularity starting in the 1870s. At that time, another cause of hysteria (sometimes dubbed "the widow's disease” in this era) was said to be a build-up in female semen, which apparently turned poisonous if left up there too long.
And the hysterical paroxysm was intended to expel all that imaginary lady jizz (or whatever). Honestly, I don't think these doctors gave it much thought. Because clearly “ladies' brains get poisoned if they don't f*ck enough!” is a very male and very lazy notion.
Behold! The "Magic Power Of Fine, Gentle Massage!"
Now, I know I am making a lot of jokes, but much of this material is genuinely too absurd and shocking not to laugh at.
I should remind you, though, the undercurrent of all this is that for hundreds of years women had their sexuality and sanity contorted and controlled by doctors, psychologists, husbands, and a whole institution of socio-economic male power whose entire purpose was to dominate women and enslave their bodies.
The thing to keep in mind here is that many women who were sent to these doctors must have felt so violated and confused by what was happening to them when they got there. Imagine it, a stranger in a white coat fingering you. Because people said you were "crazy."
Honestly, it's all so unbelievable and tragic that trying to find a way to laugh is one of the only ways you can think about it without throwing yourself off a building.
So, yeah, generally this whole subject is about as funny as a child murdered on his or her birthday.
But I still sort of just can't get enough of certain aristocratic ladies being like:
Because think about it: Here is a whole generation of women who are deeply sexually dissatisfied, and suddenly there are these doctors who you can see to have an orgasm no problem. In fact, these treatments became so enormously popular among women that doctors started desperately looking for a more efficient way of getting their patients off.
As third-base expert (and vagina doctor) Nathaniel Highmore lamented in 1660, getting women off by manual stimulation is REALLY hard to get good at! As Mr. Highmore eloquently put it:
Thanks, Nathaniel Highmore, why don't you go get Morehigh.
With the demand for this treatment skyrocketing and the diagnosis of hysteria at an all time high, doctors worked tirelessly to find a way to make the experience more efficient and easier to execute.
So, for the sake of orgasmic efficiency, doctors invented the vibrator!
Yeah, I know.
This is one of the earliest vibrators. This scary contraption was actually steam-powered and coal-fueled. You know, like trains. It was called "The Manipulator," which is coincidentally also the name of Jean-Claude Van Damme's next movie.
Other methods for producing orgasms were used as well, such as the tried and true "pelvic douche." But they were a bit less successful.
This one was actually invented in the 18th century, meaning it was actually invented a hundred years before the shower head.
In fact, I don't think it's a giant leap to suggest this pressurized water-shooting device is an early ancestor of the shower head. Going by this logic, when you're taking a shower, you're actually standing under a glorified vagina hose.
Now you know that.
The invention of the vibrator brought the “treatment time” down from an hour to just 10 minutes.
Eventually someone must have realized steam-powered vibrators were just super weird, so an electrical one was developed. Now, I'm assuming it looked a little less gnarly when it was brand new.
Suddenly a variety of super weird vibrators hit the medical scene.
There is obviously a lot of super upsetting f*cked-up sh*t about this practice, of course (if you don't agree, just picture a doctor fingering a woman suffering from schizophrenia).
But, in a way, it also kind of delights me to think about this generation of women -- whose husbands thought that “being good at sex” involved wriggling around on top of their depressed wives for 25 seconds before lighting a cigar -- going to doctors and having the time of their lives.
If there is a silver lining in all this horribleness, although I'm not sure there is, that would certainly be a contender.
In fact, women apparently liked the vibrators so much they started looking for furtive ways to get easier access to them without having to go to the doctor.
Disguised vibrators soon made their way into the home for personal use. Like this "Face Massager."
This face massager removes wrinkles and cures headaches. You know, apart from getting women off real fast, that is.
...Or this hand-cranked, multi-purpose "Pain Reliever" from the year 1900.
You're not fooling anyone, Susan.
Thankfully, as the 20th century plodded along, hysteria diagnoses started to rapidly fall.
Essentially, as our understanding of psychology developed, people started to realize the hysteria umbrella diagnosis made less and less sense. By the 50s, it had completely disappeared, along with this practice of doctor's office orgasms. It only took us 2,000 years. Men, it seems, are excruciatingly slow learners.
Thankfully, the vibrator had other uses and remains with us today, hiding in sock drawers all around this great country.
What I think is important about all this -- aside from it being totally bonkers and peculiar -- is this culture that insisted all women were basically insane, sexually diseased, controlled by their sexual organs and in desperate need of male salvation is still very much with us today.
When you see people starting hashtags like #howtospotafeminist and come across sh*tty tweets like the one above, just remind yourself that those human fecal repositories are operating under the exact same belligerently selfish male impulses and systems of thought as a doctor in 1850 who insisted a woman needed to have her uterus cut out because she hated her marriage and, you know, cried too much.
So, in my mind, there is no “light” misogyny. Just like, I'm sure you'd agree, there is no “light” racism. I think each instance of misogyny reverberates throughout culture and fuels the momentum of a society that dominates and attacks women. I honestly don't think I'm exaggerating in any way.
I just hope it won't take us another 2,000 years to figure that out.