It’s like sexual release that’s allowed
March 20, 2015 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Hysteria and Teenage Girls - How Justin Bieber, The Beatles, Morrissey, Franz Liszt, the Salem Witch Trials and the invention of the vibrator might all be related.
posted by jillithd (18 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
The pout, the snake hips in his younger days, the flash of pale stomach when he's whirling the flowers around his head, the tortured poetry...why yes.
posted by billiebee at 2:46 PM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


" “One of the things that is most noticeable about conversion disorder is that it tends to occur in people who don’t necessarily command a lot of social attention; by social attention, I really mean society’s attention—in that they are not the focus of their society. And historically and traditionally that’s women,” she said. “So when you look to things like the Salem Witch Trials, these girls were by no means a focus of their community until they developed their physical symptoms. And then they became a center of a town’s narrative in a way they would have never have been able to otherwise.”"

Huh, I wonder if that's why men get couvade -- it shows up across cultures, throughout history, all over the world, and it's the one time that men can definitely count on commanding less social attention than their wives, even in extremely patriarchal cultures.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Husbands didn’t want to be sidled with this job of having to bring their hysterical wives to climax either.

Huh? There are/were plenty of men who would be overenthusiastic about doing this, I would think.
posted by Melismata at 2:53 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I love the discussion of Elvis versus The Beatles. I had heard that saying of how a person can be an Elvis fan or a Beatles fan, but they can't love both. And I never understood it before. But the author's argument that Elvis was from the manly-man patriarchy times and The Beatles are the burgeoning feminists (or sympathizers, at least) ... I can totally see that now!
posted by jillithd at 2:55 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


FWIW, my cousin Betsy went to see the Beatles when they played the Indiana State Fairgrounds. She says she barely heard any music for all the girls screaming. And that show was outdoors.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:04 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh? There are/were plenty of men who would be overenthusiastic about doing this, I would think.

Hysteria was considered a medical problem, and the treatment of stimulating women to climax wasn't considered a pleasant sexual task but a tedious medical one. Rachel Maines' The Technology of Orgasm (referenced in the article) is a really interesting book about it. (and here's full text of chapter one, looks like!) Definitely worth reading - it's so interesting to see how society's received wisdom about how sexuality works have swung wildly all over the place.
posted by aka burlap at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Beatles' enormous influences, borrowings and passionate dialogue with 'girl groups', and why this made them go off like an atom bomb inside young womens' heads in 1964, have been examined by writers quite extensively: not all of it available online but the work of Sheila Whiteley, Matthew Bannister, Barbara Bradby, Greg Panfile and others is relevant.
posted by colie at 3:34 PM on March 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Huh? There are/were plenty of men who would be overenthusiastic about doing this, I would think."

I think Rachel Maines may have engaged in somewishful thinking that this was not sexual abuse and there was "no sexual intent" by the medical professionals doing this to women.

She also says this " It is certainly not necessary to perceive the recipients of orgasmic therapy as victims: some of them almost certainly must have known what was really going on."

Which is really disturbing.

Why would the medical professionals doing this to MENTALLY ILL women not understand basic sexuality, whereas mentally ill women "understood what was going on?"

This was systematized sexual abuse. To say otherwise is a grotesque distortion of what was being done to women who were considered mentally ill (whether they were or weren't or became ill once classified and treated that way).
posted by xarnop at 3:37 PM on March 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


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posted by cortex (staff) at 4:08 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Huh? There are/were plenty of men who would be overenthusiastic about doing this, I would think.

Imagine you're a highly privileged man in the 19th century. Your wife, who seems kinda batty to you anyway, starts acting strangely around the house and particularly odd when doing her once-a-week wifely duty. She won't tell you what's up -- heavens no, ladies don't talk about this -- but it seems like the only thing that will solve the problem (and you will view this as a problem) is that you must work harder.

Well, that's not appropriate. Unacceptable. Time to call the doctor.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:17 PM on March 20, 2015


Huh? There are/were plenty of men who would be overenthusiastic about doing this, I would think.

This presumes that men cared about whether women had orgasms, and I don't think we have much evidence that they did, or, in a lot of cases, knew they could. I mean, this remains an issue for a lot of women today, let alone in the past.
posted by Miko at 6:21 PM on March 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


See also mass psychogenic illness.
posted by Miko at 6:25 PM on March 20, 2015


Thorzdad, my mother took her 7 year old brother to the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl (also an outdoor venue) and couldn't hear anything but shrieking the whole night.
posted by brujita at 6:49 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the Victorian model sticks out partly because it was a historical oddity. The puritans certainly get a bum rap on this subject. They took the classical perspective that a woman's orgasm was a key part of ensuring conception, and a suspicious number of firstborn children in puritan America came a few months early when you compare wedding and birthdates.

Laqueur puts the blame for many 19th century ideas about sexuality on medicalization and the patent medicine industry. I sort of wonder if the excesses of George IV shortly followed by Victoria's extended public mourning sort of set the stage as well. But women as the temperate gatekeeper on sexuality was tied to race and class, and never very consistently. The same century had tons of pornography, both literal and literary.

With respect to Salem, I think a fair bit of historical theorizing has been dominated by treating it as an absolutely singular case of groupthink and legal mass murder as opposed to a mildly distinct example of colonial systems run amok due to a combination of internal and external stress. The horrific response to the New York Slave Rebellion comes to mind as another example that colonial systems of government could become brutally violent.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 7:22 PM on March 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The great aunt for whom my partner is middle-named was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Berkeley in the 1920s, and went on to become the first female Superintendent of Schools of a populous California county.

She was over six feet tall and so strikingly beautiful that when I first saw a photograph I felt compelled to joke to my partner that 'is this your aunt, or is it Nicole Kidman in period costume on a movie set?'

But she was also sexually adventurous and unashamedly pursued an affair with a colleague to the point it became a scandal in the town, and ended up getting her involuntarily committed to an institution for the criminally insane. While there, she was involuntarily subjected to a complete hysterectomy to cure her of her "nymphomania." She was never the same after that, and drifted in and out of sanitoria for the rest of her long life until she died in her late 80s.

Women have suffered untold and horrific abuse at the hands of doctors behind the screen of a diagnosis of "hysteria", and neither doctors as individuals nor the medical profession as a whole have ever been held to account for it in the slightest degree.
posted by jamjam at 7:29 PM on March 20, 2015 [27 favorites]


While there, she was involuntarily subjected to a complete hysterectomy to cure her of her "nymphomania."

That is so fucking horrible I just...I cant even..GAH!
posted by The Legit Republic of Blanketsburg at 10:21 AM on March 21, 2015


a suspicious number of firstborn children in puritan America came a few months early when you compare wedding and birthdates.

This is well documented - the bride was pregnant in about a third of pre-17C Puritan marriages. They were a lot more concerned with being able to verify paternity (and thus responsibility to children) than with virginity.

With respect to Salem, I think a fair bit of historical theorizing has been dominated by treating it as an absolutely singular case of groupthink and legal mass murder as opposed to a mildly distinct example of colonial systems run amok...

This is absolutely true. People are generally unaware that the witch hysteria was rampant globally long before it was expressed in Salem, and that even in the colonies that would eventually become the US, the events in 1692 Salem were only unusual in the number of death sentences handed down. There were hundreds of incidences of witch hysteria and many went to trial.
posted by Miko at 11:55 AM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Genxers aren't immune from hysteria -- I saw U2 in Boston in 1982 or 1983, and Bono announced from the stage that while it was being recorded for a live album ("Under a Blood Red Sky"), the engineers told him the fans were screaming so loud they couldn't use it. Which of course made the fans scream louder. All very high-pitched, that screaming.

I think one song from that show is on the album.
posted by msalt at 4:47 PM on March 23, 2015


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