Hysterical women are always wrong

One comment thread I anxiously followed this week was at Pandagon, a “debunking” of hysteria, which is a sexist, cartoonish depiction of womanhood, an invention of the patriarchy, not to be taken seriously. What is there to say to that?

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Happily, one commenter out of 70 came along to wreck the party:

odanu said:

Trauma is manifest in our society. The number of small children who are beaten, berated, and raped continually throughout their childhoods, in their own homes, is astronomical. Some children who escape that are exposed to violence and chaos in their communities, especially very urban and sometimes very rural communities. In addition, more “normal” traumas such as car accidents, long term hospitalizations, the death of a parent, etc., can lead a child to undiagnosed PTSD. An adult can develop PTSD through many means, but most commonly through war combat (including inner city gang wars) and through victimization in domestic violence and rape.
…I submit (and much of the research I followed during my years in school confirmed this) that both BPD and APD [anti-social personality disorder] are (mostly) genderized constructs of the aftereffects of untreated childhood PTSD.
BPD is much more commonly diagnosed in women than in men (something like, off the top of my head, 80% to 20%) while the reverse percentages hold true for APD. Both APD and BPD are considered “resistant to treatment” because they are considered to actually be inborn personality traits vs. something that is a response to something in the environment. Yet, several studies have shown that the amount of child sexual abuse of women with BPD is well more than double the 30% standard in the female population as well. Many small studies of APD have also found correlations with child abuse. BPD is often called the “pain in the ass” diagnosis, because these clients are often very difficult to work with, and people with APD are often considered to be “merely” criminal and not mentally ill.

So a treatable illness (PTSD) is treated as if it is a difficult to treat personality trait (BPD or APD) and those who had childhood trauma get (all too often) traumatized again, this time by the system.

That informed comment remained a spit in the ocean, til I popped in with a suggestion that women interested in womens issues might read a book, for which I got dissed by mediagirl for advocating the “acceptance” of hysteria, then one more spit in the ocean, endorsing the learning and the seeking of knowledge:

Coyoteville said:

Drs. Herman and van der Kolk did the key research that found that 2/3 of the people (mostly women) they studied with diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder had histories of extended physical and sexual abuse. The psychiatric profession wasn’t ready to hear this, tho’ …

The psychiatrists who don’t want to hear it have themselves some strange bedfellows. I’ll stick with Maggie Cho who asked her own readers, “Why don’t we believe hysterical women? Hysterical women are always right.”

Posted in BPD et al., Child abuse, We Love Women
6 comments on “Hysterical women are always wrong
  1. sly civilian says:

    frustrating to see a lack of nuance in these arguments. the classification and response is constructed and gendered, but originating traumas may be entirely real…

    not that difficult, but when there’s an axe to grind…

  2. flawedplan says:

    Hi Sly,

    I have an axe to grind too, a big, unwieldy ontological motherfucker. The semantic problem is real, but the critics of the term hysteria need to offer an alternative for engaging the state, unless they want to deny that too, which I find unsupportable in feminist ideology.

  3. The general social tendency is to assume: If you are emotional, you are just too sensitive. Yet, isn’t the opposite often true: If you are not very emotional, you are just too robotic!

  4. flawedplan says:

    (Hi Jennifer, my first comment to you and I appreciate your visits.) I agree and think women who take that route are accepting the cultural devaluation of emotion and giving into masculine and psychological norms. People need to deal with their hangups about excitation, some things are worth getting hysterical about.

  5. Just read through the thread at Pandagon and just wanna say you are awesome. I spent a lot of time beating myself up in college with my own anti-psychiatry quests, after soaking my psyche in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Phyllis Chesler’s Women and Madness, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s The Assault on Truth, and later, Kate Millett’s The Loony Bin Trip. (Also everything by Chrystos.) The problem for me was that I was construing everything in black and white, pro- and anti-psychiatry terms. I had serious mental health issues, but accepting “treatment” options seemed to mean accepting an apolitical, antifeminist agenda. Whereas accepting an idea that all mental health paradigms were inherently and inexorably false on political grounds left me without the language to name my difficulties (beyond naming the traumas which I knew had likely caused them, and continuing to name them, over and over).

    I was lost, either way I went. Wish I could have found some road into the more nuanced understandings you share here. I nearly died from all that “either/or.”

  6. Burrow says:

    It’s good to see someone trying to bring light to the situation. It frustrates me to no end. As someone who has severe PTSD and has been labeled as BPD I am really frustrated with how people view my disAbility. *goes to check Pandagon thread now*

    As always, love your insight.

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