Male mental illness in History
April 26, 2009 9:37 AM   Subscribe

No matter their approach, the typical French physician who accepted the notion of male hysteria continued to think that its victims were in some way sexually abnormal: "Thus, despite Charcot's innovative work, the male victim of hysteria in late-nineteenth century French medical imagination was still frequently envisioned as an effeminate heterosexual, an overt homosexual, or a physical or emotional hermaphrodite." If not different sexually, male hysterics were said to be different in other ways, such as race or nationality, among whom African, African-American, south Asian, Arab, or Eastern European Jewish men predominated. Outside of France, other methods of denial appeared, such as the suggestion that male hysteria was restricted to Frenchmen. The medical literature of the time is full of evasions and denials and contradictions of the truths that Charcot had quite obviously demonstrated.
- Macho Misery, an extensive and interesting review of Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness.

Hysterical Men is by Professor Mark S. Micale and the review is by surgeon Sherwin B. Nuland who gave this interesting TEDTalk on electroshock therapy.
posted by Kattullus (8 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Nice post, though I'd qualify the title a little, since hysteria/hypochondria (conversion symptoms in Freud's terminology) are only one variety of "male mental illness" and melancholia and delusionality were identified long before Charcot.

Let's add this quote from Nuland's review:
Among other reasons for this state of affairs, claims Micale, the "turning of the male gaze inward" at itself is too threatening, too fraught with the danger of discovering elements of femininity in the masculine psyche, too much liable to result in an unacceptable homoerotic perception. "Fear, vanity and the drive for power are the underlying sentiments operating in this story."
See also: Review - Hysterical Men at Metapsychology Online Reviews.
'The Great Victorian Eclipse', recounts the ways in which this disease was written out of medicine as part of a process of maintaining a system of difference between the sexes in biomedical knowledge.
posted by psyche7 at 10:50 AM on April 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

Looks like a really interesting book. After reading the review, I've requested it from the library. Thanks!
posted by lysimache at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2009

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
posted by speedo at 12:03 PM on April 26, 2009

camps out with a small lawn chair, waits for opportunity to say "epon-hysterical!"
posted by davejay at 2:54 PM on April 26, 2009

"The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."

I wish my mass would be a bit quieter.
posted by srboisvert at 3:57 PM on April 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

That TED talk was quite enlightening. And, ah, fuck it.
posted by localroger at 4:03 PM on April 26, 2009

Yeah, most TED Talks leave me... well... feeling like I ate something tasty but without remembering anything about the flavor. That one has stayed with me for ages, from whenever I first saw it (I believe it was linked from MetaFilter sometime).
posted by Kattullus at 6:55 PM on April 26, 2009

The bibliography is interesting. I find it odd that he explicitly ignores neurasthenia because it was a 'positive' diagnosis, though. A good chunk of the eugenic movement in Britain arose out of fears about the ways that civilization itself was causing the deterioration of the British race because of increased mental effort by those segments of society which were deemed most important. It's not a condemnation, but it's surely not a good thing.

I don't see any references to Frank Mort? No Lesley A. Hall? No George M. Beard?

I am glad you posted this! I will have to read it. I want to know how it is he makes such a clear demarcation between hysteria and other mental illnesses, particularly in the period with which I'm familiar.
posted by winna at 10:59 PM on April 26, 2009

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