The History of Hysteria

By K. Randall

Let’s face it Indivisibles, we have a gender imbalance within our ranks. This is not by design, but you’ll notice at any of our meetings the female population in the room might be seventy percent? I am proud of my sisters who so boldly stand side-by-side with me, and for our male counterparts who are just as enthusiastic.

But there is this word that the other side has been using a lot lately: hysteria. Every time I hear it, my hackles raise a little bit, partially because of who is saying it and partially because of the history of the word.

“Hysteria” was once a psychological diagnosis that was applied exclusively to women. Symptoms included: sexual desire, insomnia, shortness of breath, irritability, a “tendency to cause trouble,” or seventy other problems. Hysteria was basically a catchall term applied to women with real or imagined issues, and was sometimes used as a political tool against women such as suffragettes or others who had aspirations outside of the home.

So it rankles when Representative Martha McSally called us hysterical when we met with her in February. And it made me feel dismissed and diminished when she referred to us as hysterical in her closed door meeting with bankers in May.

Martha McSally and her Koch brother alumnus communications director have been trying to cultivate an image of being a powerful, strong and heroic woman who is looking out for other women (see her interview with Glamour Magazine). But it is hard to champion women when invoking language that reduces us and transforms our concerns into mere “hysteria.”