February 26, 2014
Hysteria and Monstrosity in Foucault’s: Madness and Civilization Hysteria today is most commonly described as madness, in the sense of exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion. What’s interesting is back in the late 1800s the term was meant to describe women who had a medical condition. Women in the 18th century with this “condition” were seen as insane. People believed then that women were more prone to collapsing into a nervous breakdown, therefore leading to the conclusion that women were the prime targets for hysteria.
The meaning of hysteria today has somewhat changed, perhaps for the better. The term devalued and materialized women back then, but now can be interpreted as chaos in any form. How was it that women came to be seen this way? Women were thought to be “hysterical” based on their body chemistry, they were more mentally unstable than men, and were more vulnerable to becoming institutionalized in the 1700s. If they were not married or failed to perform their duties as wives or daughters, they were often seen as hysterical. Women’s constant mood swings and unstable behavior made them unable to function properly, therefore leading others around them to think they were monsters.
Foucault links hysteria with Hippocratic Corpus, which also is described as the “wandering uterus”.
Ancient Greeks believed that a “wandering uterus” needed to be satisfied and contained. Hysteria supposedly had the connection with the uterus and that all diseases originated from the uterus. Foucault says, “Insofar as diseases of the nerves had been associated with the organic movements of the lower parts of the body, they were located within a certain ethic of desire.”(156) This certain desire should be the need for a man. A man that can occupy the feeling of emptiness the woman is experiencing. Women tended to have less control over the “lower parts of the body”, so were then thought of as out of control monsters. The different emotions these women were experiencing overwhelmed them until they were driven to the edge. Most men weren’t categorized as feminists, they were seen as strong, level-headed men. And since men lack the “lower part