March 7, 2012

WHERE'S A CRUCIBLE WHEN YOU NEED ONE?:

Hysteria and the Teenage Girl (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, 1/29/12, NY Times)

CHEERLEADERS with Tourette's syndrome. Like a fly buzzing against the window, this weird arrangement of words flitted across the edge of my consciousness last week. I kept thinking I should take a minute to track down the Onion piece from which this kooky phrase surely emanated, but finally committed some desultory Googling, and discovered that the buzzing idea correlated (more or less) to an actual event. [...]

Googling quickly led me to an almost identical episode, this one in 2002, in a high school in rural North Carolina. Once again, a cheerleader was first to manifest the strange symptoms, and once again other girls, some of them cheerleaders, were struck with the same condition.

There are famous cases that closely mimic these strange events. In 1962, in a girls' school in Tanzania, a laughing epidemic spread to 95 students and lasted for months. In 1965 there was a fainting episode at a girls' school in Blackburn, England, that landed 85 girls in the hospital. In 1983, when there was a widespread fear of chemical warfare in the West Bank, more than 900 Arab schoolgirls and a few female Israeli soldiers exhibited the symptoms of having been gassed, but doctors found no specific cause for the outbreak.

In all of these cases, the ultimate diagnosis -- unpalatable in our post-Freudian age -- was good old-fashioned hysteria. In the cheerleader cases, the first girl seems to have suffered from some kind of mental or emotional distress, which she expressed through otherwise unrelated physical symptoms. The other girls -- victims of yesteryear's mass hysteria and today's mass psychogenic illness, in which the symptoms of hysteria pass from person to person, like contagion -- believed the condition to be communicable and "caught" it.

Hysteria is the most retrograde and non-womyn-empowering condition. It's not supposed to happen anymore (we have Title IX!), but it won't seem to go away. 



Posted by at March 7, 2012 3:56 PM
  

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