Lessons in duplicity – Whatever happened to “hysteria”?


I went to college…(a few times :). I’ve also been to other places of disrepute. The brightest people I know collect and build their own library of experiences, the rest “play the game.” What is the game? What are games?

I was told by Dr. Peter Cardew (sex therapist, no joke) that he wouldn’t give me my degree (I knew the schlemiel he was, and is). He didn’t know that I had gained all the credits I needed in electives outside his coursework and he didn’t have the power, nor to stop me going on Erasmus, another dick move he tried to pull. Failed again, douche.

One of my electives was with a left leaning femiminist (they’re all…), so just for a change (and because I needed the grade) I pandered to the “grand vision,” even though it was tosh designed to align completely with her orientation. Important to remember, confirmation bias is the gold standard of academics (even though it should be the reverse). Wear that suit, you’ll do well…until .   .   .

When I explained to them how stupid they were, they said my work failed their test. When I pandered to their whims, they said I was a genius. Here endeth the lesson.


Years later I watched the wolf of wall street and saw it as a grotesque parody. A good friend saw the same movie and viewed it as a call to arms that validated his life choices, larger than life characters as role models and a true method to gaining riches. He became a botcoin impressario, did very well indeed. To me it was a transparent con. To him, and the public at large, he’s a genius. He had practiced the sequences before, so had developed proficiency in depriving the marks of their cash.

Without further ado: Mental masturbation 101

Once one begins to explore the murky” interface between medical discourses on this psychosomatic disturbance and its cultural construction over the past centuries” Bronfen ( 2000) one discovers a clear delineation between …

                                     Whatever happened to “hysteria”?

“The term relates to an illness to which women in particular seem prone and refers to the Greek word usterus” Weissberg, (2005).

“The womb –the matrix of woman becomes a wandering thing when the organ remains empty beyond its proper time. Becoming “discontented and angry,” it dries up, shrivels ups, and breaks loose from its tethering – only to begin travelling about the body in an upward direction – interfering with breathing and circulatory function – driving the woman so afflicted to every extremity, causing every kind of disease – including strangulation if reaching the chest – until such time as it has been sown and rendered again content and docile” Plato paraphrased by Crowley (2010) whose notion of a priori truths include the notion that women were inferior and incorporated into medical dictum by the father of modern medicine Hippocrates of Kos (460-370 BC) whose claim was to have separated medicine from religion. “The person most appropriate to deal practically with illness was not a priest but a knowledgeable lay man” Orfanos (2007).

“Theories which guided doctors practice from the late nineteenth century to the earliest twentieth century held that women’s normal state was to be sick” Ehrenreich & English (1978 p99). The theory of innate female sickness, skewed so as to account for class differences in ability to pay for medical care, meshed conveniently with the doctors self interest” Ehrenreich & English (1978 p104)

“A physician in 1859 claimed that a quarter of all women suffered from hysteria” Briggs (2000) Maines (1999) observed that such cases were quite profitable for physicians, since the patients were at no risk of death, but needed constant treatment, “the cure… commending itself to the ladies” The only problem was that physicians did not enjoy the tedious task of vaginal massage (generally referred to as ‘pelvic massage’) Maines (1999).

“Once one begins to explore the murky” interface between medical discourses on this psychosomatic disturbance and its cultural construction over the past centuries” Bronfen ( 2000) one discovers a clear delineation between power, patriarchy, hierarchy and its consequent power and the idea of women as submissive, decorative and facile. “When a mystique is strong it makes its own fiction of fact” Friedman, B (1963 p 55).

This supposition is a key to the feminist position. While different authors use the sexual politics of Freud’s male view of a female orgasm being rooted in the vagina as proof of his lack of knowledge of the female, others continue to view his theory as flawed meta-narrative, consequently keeping it vibrant and alive Masson (1999 p84). “The elevated perspective, the cartographers view, the male gaze of meta theory” Vetters in G.U.S.T. (1999 p356).

The notions of patriarchy and male dominance advanced by Feminist critique of “his-story” is accepted a key construct to the examination of “hysteria.” Emile Kraeplin (1855-1926) had advanced a medical taxonomy in grouping symptoms into “clinical categories and in large part the forefather of the American Diagnostic and Statistical manual of mental disorders, due to be introduced as a fifth edition in 2013. “Kraeplins agnosticism about the cause of psychosis …left a vacuum which the Freudians were destined to fill” Ripley (2003 p 101).

What is currently called “conversion disorder” originated with Freud, his talking therapy and” the one most often cited on the origins of hysteria in women Masson (1990 p85) The extraordinary spread of psychoanalysis between 1920 and 1970 owed more to marketing than to therapeutic triumphs” Ridley (2003 p101). “Mahoney describes Freud’s narrative style as one in which a brilliantly painted logical mask conceals inconsistencies and contradictions… either accept his interpretations as evidence of an accurate beginning toward a more complete explanation or recognize Freud’s disclaimers as a literary device that “spins” the reader’s attention away from critically evaluating Freud’s constructions of Dora’s history” Sacks (2005) “

The sense of integrity and propriety attached to this position is unexamined and debate is bounded within hierarchical principles of patriarchy Ripley (2003 p102) makes a simple point which bears repeating, like all effective religions psychoanalysis redefined scepticism as further need for its services Ripley (2003 p102) Masson (1990) Webster (1996) Brinkema (2007) ~this element is key to the top down processing of hierarchical patriarchy, questioning the decision of an expert is itself madness. The “white dudes burden” Driscoll (2009) Poole (2007) Cohen ( 2005) Moore (2002) is bounded by extraordinary self deception and confounded by religious, cultural and social conditioning, endeared by interest, and palliated by all the artifices of self-deceit, gives us time to form distinctions in our own favour” Johnson (1750) Baudrillard (1994) James (2001) Klein (2008).

Freud’s (neuroscientist and doctor) psychodynamic libidinal theory, influenced by Joseph Breuer (doctor), John Martin Charcot (doctor) and Rudolf Chrobak (gynaecologist) was that female sexual dysfunction created “nervous illness” Wiessberg (2005) In the particular case of Dora, (Ida Bauer) the intelligent lively and independent minded Masson (1990 p 87, p 89). “She unwillingly acceded to her father’s demand that she see Freud for treatment” Toplin (2004)”most of the therapy reads like a battle of wills” Thurschwell (2000 p85). she expressed her belief that Herr K had made sexual advances to her (Masson 1990 p88) “Freud ignored Dora’s protestations that she had been abused by Herr K” Sachs (2005) Masson (1990) Weissberg (2005)

When the notion of nervous” ill-ness” is connected to the sexualisation and otherness of women, “woman as a kind of self-evident, essential and superficially ‘natural’ category, and certainly without the kind of complexity which he believed informed his own [Nietzsche]elevated perceptions” Perry & Whiteside (2007), the male myth achieves a cultural dominance. Mies clarifies, the concept of progress which emerged in this particular patriarchal civilisation is historically unthinkable without the one-sided development of the technology of warfare and conquest Miles (1998 p 74) “Ideas are not natural. On the contrary they arise from and can be explained in terms of, particular forms of society and culture” Hall (2007 p146) Torgovnick (1991 p13-14, 17) Baudrillard(2005 p144) Foucault calls the “catachresis” of therapy or rehabilitation a form of social judgement“ “the new mode of punishment becomes the model for control of an entire society” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/foucault/ (2010) “Hierarchization and the distribution of rank” Foucault (1991 p 184)Therapy-a microcosm of society” Silverstone (2003 p4)

Ripley (2003) echoes Dawkins (1996), Wilson (1975) Dennett (2003) and others that culture is different from brain. At the zenith of hierarchical cultural domination through empire, patriarchy and social isolation through disenfranchisement, lack of a personal income and perceived irrationality a “tipping point” Gladwell (2000) occurred in “herstory” Morgan (1970). “The hysterical woman was frustrated by the tasks of nineteenth century womanhood” Thurschwell (2000 p31) Briggs (2000) quotes Ehrenreich & English as believing that hysteria was virtually a diagnostic fiction, using the Harvard president Edward Clarke (1873) who stated that education could lead to collapse. Freud fits the zeitgeist of the time.

“Chauvinism thematically saturates this dialogue. Freud, the male medical authority, is assured; as the possessor of the facts and as the custodian of rationality and logic, he can accuse. But the woman is disempowered and socially marginalized; rather than accuse, she has all to do to defend herself with a stark cry of physical pain and with an unrealizable plea for empathy” Mahony (2005)

When hysteria, [applied sexually] seemed most impregnable was when it slowly began to die. “Bronfen (2000) is also not the first to note that hysteria is the special way women rebelled within the tight confines of Victorian (and earlier) forms of patriarchy” Strozier (2000) Bronfen (2000) Thurschwell (2000 p30)Marx (1847) proposes that the thinking of a historical epoch is driven by the ruling class of that period and it is argued that doctors are a form of scientific elite who were at the zenith of their Newtonian prowess up to the coming of “relativity” in the 1920s. “Observing affects the observed in ways that are unknowable unless the observed has a voice, inaccurate observations must lead to inaccurate explanations” Sachs (2005) Heisenberg (1925) The “paradigm shift “ Kuhn (1962) to “ sovereignty of the individual” Goldman (1969) of gender relations occurred during the first and second world wars, the consequent acceptance of female labour, the women’s suffrage movement and universal suffrage in 1928 [U.K.], the move into “a service economy” Rifkin (2000).

In a U.K. context the introduction of the national health system and “Beveridge’s welfare state policies” Timmins (2001) Ed Gladstone et al (1999) “the Family allowances Act became law in 1945 and provided 25p a week to the second and all subsequent children…the first universalist benefit of the modern welfare state had been created” Timmins (2001) allowing access to “the pill on the N.H.S. in 1961,” followed soon after by The abortion Act of 1967allowed the break from the Freudian thesis that “anatomy is destiny” allowing women to choose their sexual role . The consequent welfare and communitarian principles applied paradoxically till the advent of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. In respect of market provision, some have identified a paradigm shift in social provision from the late1980s, resulting particularly in a shift to privatisation and decentralisation Ed Gladstone et al (1999)


This discourse resides in the power relations of the sexes, for sexuality is used as derogation rather than “signifier.” Goffmann (1973). The physical fact that women bear children, imbued with the care and maintenance of those children offers that the convenient representation of women as child bearer and wife. While socially constructed docile and domesticated identity offers a certain set of circumstances that lead to women becoming disenfranchised and voiceless, a similar result is offered in the psychological application of hysteria. “Female hysteria was an extremely lucrative business (logically so given woman equals womb equals hysteria)”Crowley (2009).

The technological and social changes that resulted, the action of the suffragettes, the course of two world wars, the contraceptive pill and decreased reliance on physical labour are addressed by many authors. What Betty Friedman and others allege is that “when a woman was seen as a human being of limitless potential, equal to man, anything that kept her from realising her potential was a problem to be solved “Friedman (1963 p54). The narrative usage of language is proposed by Turner who argues that “what is at stake in control of the body, in short is the control of social relations of personal production…the body remains the site of some of the most fundamental forms of social inequality” Turner quoted by Totton (2003 p47). Foucault ( ) “The “somatisation” of social relations of domination” Bourdieu & Wacquant (1992 p 172) quoted by Totton (2003 p47). “The case against women is decided by pre existing narratives that consign her a priori to an ethically inferior place” Pythagoras quoted by Evans (1998 p9)

What is argued is that the key to all oppression is rooted in the tool of language on a political level. “Deconstructionist feminists… think that the political actor is somewhere between subject and agent” Voet (1998 p93) It is gendered language which feminists try to examine “We cannot rely on existing ideologies” Ozick quoted in Ed Schneir (1995 p192-200). The women’s liberation movement has produced a deluge of books and articles working from often from a socialist, post structuralist and deconstructionist model. “Their major task has been the exposition and criticism of our male centred heritage” Daly quoted Ed Schneir (1995 p283) Friedman (1963) Goffman (1990) looks at the concept of “disidentifier” (1990 p60) as being used to make the person “discreditable”-offering a common sense explanation for Crowley’s idea that. “If you’re female and of age, chances are high you have been called “hysterical” at least once in your life – probably more” Crowley (2009).

The language of hysteria proposes a patriarchal focus for all four of Mitchell’s “structural elements, production, reproduction, socialisation and sexuality” Mitchell quoted in Ed Schneir (1995 p 204-211).Her focus is on the social but the key element so of the disease of hysteria is to do with woman as womb. “In that sense a discussion of the way gender might fruitfully interrogate grand narratives, such as the humanist project(see Kuhn ), touches upon what, in relation to hysteria, I have been calling the foreign body of traumatic knowledge upon which self-representations feed, even while they never fully assume this knowledge”(Bronfen).

The basis of the grand narrative as grand fiction is discussed by Derrida (1981), Baudrillard (1994) and Foucault “docile bodies”(1999 p 135-169), the power of the norm (1999 p 177-184) informing the focus of intellectual debate that is wider than binary forms male/female, rapine/frigid, and mad/sane Paine ( )“we may be reaching an impasse – the end of a golden age of theorizing about sexual identity – because of the current limitations and contradictions of psychoanalytic language and theory” Maguire and Dewing (2007).

What is often conceded by Freudians is that Freud was the “mastermind” who was always the final authority on what was psychoanalytical and what was not” Thurshwell (2000 p22) As his well documented cosseted upbringing and desire for fame attests, the leader of a cult of personality “Orthodox Freudians still profess to believe in the sexual origin of all neurosis…and translate what they hear into sexual symbols, they still manage to find what they are looking for” Friedman (1963 p94) Webster (1996) Brinkema(2007) Masson(1990). “Charcot studied the disorder meticulously and systematically, and identified the four stages of a hysterical attack… Catherine Bell, applying the Durkheimian model, argues that ritual can be seen as a means by which the collective beliefs and ideals of the community are at once ‘generated, experienced, and affirmed as real’… In this way, ritual becomes a point of convergence between the lived and the imagined world” Theodoridou (2010)

Masson (1990) discusses Freud’s treatment of Dora Anna O and how his interpretation of hysteria discredited her interpretation that Herr K was sleeping with….. Friedman (1963 p91-111) devotes a chapter to Freud seeing him as major contributor …”women are animals, less than human, unable to think like men, born merely to breed and serve men…merely reappeared in the forties in Freudian disguise…To Freud women were a strange, inferior, less than human species” Friedman (1963 p 91).

The Freudian notion of “penis envy” conjure up the notion once again of feminine lack, a missing desired appendage worship of the male and the need for this sexualised apparatus as totemic symbol of mastery (and women consequently “ritual scapegoat”, “penis now an instrument of chastisement”…the chimera of sexual congress as a paradigm of power over other human beings” Millett (1970) quoted in Ed. Schneir (1995 p229-244). “Not to thought of as something positive and full of potency but as a kind of divisive negativity” Frosh (1999 p146) .

In a contrasting and illustrative viewpoint Anthony Clare observes that nowadays “these wives [ older women] have cultivated friendships, involved themselves in the neighbourhood and community and created a multifaceted and intrinsically robust identity…”while the male identity bound up with work left them in retirement , no longer a man” Clare (2000 p90) Gilligan (1982)Miller (1987)quoted by Kelly(2006). In a nice social about turn Clare quotes Marilyn Baxter Director of planning at Saachi & Saachi, “male candidate are gauche and apparently incoherent” Clare (2001 p 93) the “mystique” of male aggression has replaced the idea of female passivity, male size and lack of “grace” replaced by female precision and sociability ,“male violence is endemic” Clare (2001 p41).

What is presented here is a view of human beings having heuristically applied social values which directly affect their life morbidity and mortality( suicide two to five times more common in men in Europe (Clare 2001 p82)- in china the reverse is true (quote). “In Marmot’s work on the Whitehall II study, he attributes two-thirds of morbidity and mortality to relatively low social status and a person’s lack of control over their own destiny” Verrinder & Denner (2000). In a strange social myopia we see unable to see the label itself as the defining metaphor and the justification of this label forming the social context. The context is clarified by Friedman (1963),” is that all?” “Can the image of a woman be cut down to the point where it becomes a trap?” Friedman (1963 p 59)

Consider the connoted meanings. “Profit” and “self interest” allows the story of a 14 year old girl told by a self publicist to supersede over rational inquiry, using a concept in the public domain that has mutated and changed over time but containing the simple ingredients of salaciousness, received popular folk psychology, expert testimony and a vivid and lively writing style and the mass audiences willing gullibility.

“A group is extraordinarily credulous and open to influence, it has no critical faculty and the improbable does not exist for it…and finally, groups have never thirsted after truth. They demand illusions and cannot do without them” Freud quoted by Rogers (1951 p 328).

Author in Source Title

Consider this in relation to the fact that Edward Bernays (1891-1995) Freud’s nephew is credited with “inventing” the profession of public relations. To base the idea that Freud was an incompetent chauvinist quack is to miss the point, G.W. Bush is the same caricatured, punch drunk buffoon but he also uses hysteria to get what he wants Driscoll (2009). Convenient fictions cover a far more cynical ploy, “misdirection”.

He doesn’t give Dora a voice, she has no part, only to introduce the master magician, the point is not the narrative but what the narrative tries to hide, that Freud knew a good story, and his convenient fiction was to discredit the truth of women, using her verbal non productivity (saying what he wanted her to say) as proof of the need for his expertise.

Hysteria is his “drama” not his object, the object is to advance the legend of Freud. The central tenet of this idea is that Freud is aware of his audience’s predilection for interesting stories. “Ratman”, “wolfman”, “penis envy”, frigidity, dream interpretation, infantile sexuality and “death instinct” are consistent themes in the bestseller lists of today.

Similar to Conan Doyle’s “ Sherlock Holmes” or Flemings “James Bond”, the narrator Freud builds up a fictional character who in his own life time reflected this glory back on the “real” Freud. His trick was to make Dora forgettable, the same trick that hysteria renders on the hysteric, the issue is not that of managing tension generated during social contacts , but rather that of managing information about his[or her] failing” Goffman (1990 p 57). Charcot’s “resolution” or fourth stage of the process includes tonic rigidity, grand movements or “clownism”, passionate attitudes and final delirium [a return to catatonia] Justice Malloy quoting Goldstein (1995).

It is the mistake of the feminists to make Ida Bauer a similarly facile mouthpiece for Freud’s legend. Brinkema offers that the “bullshitter”, rather than applying his craft to a question of enunciation, “misrepresents what he is up to” and thus veils the crucial deception: “the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him” Brinkema (2007).

Conversely Dora has no credentials and she is passive and mute. The human response is to grant Freud his illusion Pratkanis et al (1992, 1998, 2007 p230) Pratkanis (2007 p30) Janis (1972) Asch (1951/1955), Millgram (1974/1977) Cialdini (2001). Brinkema gets to the key point before I do, that the best strategy is the one Dora chose, “it was her preliminary exit from treatment that we might read as the utterance of radical feminine indifference, which resists with force all attempts (including Freud’s) to read it symptomatically” Brinkema (2007). I completely accept that the social conditions of the time did not allow the vast majority of women this luxury, thus the post script whether true or not is evocative.  In her later years Ida Bauer had become a well known card player, “Her partner on these tours was Frau Zellenka, none other than Freud’s Frau K” Weissberg (2005)


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Journal of Intercultural Studies, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2001

Kelly, V. (2006)”Women of Courage: A Personal Account of a Wilderness-Based Experiential Group for Survivors of Abuse” THE JOURNAL FOR SPECIALISTS IN GROUP WORK

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PERLIN. M & DOUARD, J. (2008) “Equality, I Spoke That Word/As If a Wedding Vow”: Mental Disability Law and How We Treat Marginalized Persons” The Law Review template volume 53

Stewart et Al. (2001) “International psychosocial and systemic issues in women’s mental health” Archive of Women’s Mental Health (2001) Vol. 4 p13–17

Verrinder, A. & Denner, B.J. (2000) “THE SUCCESS OF MEN’S HEALTH NIGHTS

AND HEALTH SESSIONS” Australian journal of rural health Vol. 8 p81-86

Web References

Crowley, G. (2009) “Female Hysteria” http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art26128.asp (31-3-2010)

Bronfen, E. (2000) “The Language of hysteria: A misappropriation of the master narratives”https://www.scribd.com/document/216247746/Bronfen-The-Language-of-Hysteria

Wikipedia.org (2010) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_hysteria (31-3-2010)


Weissberg, L. () “Exit Dora: Freud’s patient takes leave” Published by ….

Sachs D. M. (2008)”Reflections of Freud’s Dora case After 48 years”https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07351692509349117

In Search of Theory:Freud, Dora, and Women Analysts

MARIAN TOLPIN https://goo.gl/vkfKmE

Rosalia H.: with Freud in a prelude to psychoanalysis

IAN PARKER (2007) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14753630701576906

Freud’s Unadorned and Unadorable:A Case History Terminable and

Interminable (2008) PATRICK J . MAHONY, PH.D. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07351692509349116

Wikipedia.org (2010) Hysteria http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hysteria (23-3-2010)

Wikipedia.org (2010)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatization_disorder(23-3-2010)

Wikipedia.org (2010) Conversion disorder http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_disorder (23-3-2010) Wikipedia.org (2010 )http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagnostic_and_Statistical_Manual_of_Mental_Disorders#DSM-IV-TR_.282000.29(23-3-20101)

International Kraeplin society(2010) http://www.kraepelin.org/_wsn/page3.html(23-3-2010)

Wikipedia.org (2010)”Hippocrates “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocrates#CITEREFLeffLeff1956 (24-3-2010)



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