Hysteria is a riot of the soul. It’s the voice that comes not from your throat, but from your entire being. It’s the heart lashing out when reason fails, and the body short-circuiting when repression becomes unbearable. It’s the panic that takes over when you have no control over your own body or wellbeing. It’s the rueful laughter of a person tortured to madness. It’s raw emotion unencumbered by concern for making others comfortable. It’s knowing you will never be safe.
We create hysteria when we torment our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters with oppressive laws and repressive social mores. We summon it when we allow corrupt institutions to steal our autonomy and claim control of our bodies. We become it when we’re not really free.
For thousands of years, hysteria was considered a female mental disorder. In the modern age, it became a common medical diagnosis for women, often treated with imprisonment in psychiatric facilities and forced hysterectomies. The American Psychiatric Association dropped the diagnosis in 1952, but its implications live on. Even today, we’re constantly described as “crazy” or not “likable” enough, so we spend much of our lives trying to prove that we’re not those things, we’re not THOSE women.
But, really, hysteria is the culmination of all the things we aren’t supposed to feel: fear, powerlessness, betrayal, inadequacy, shame, panic, resignation, anger, rage.
And we need to talk about it. We need to do something about it. We need to educate our hearts. So I’m going to SHOW you how it FEELS. I hope it makes you uncomfortable. I hope you despair. I hope you squirm a little, laugh nervously, or flinch even. But more than anything, I want you to feel this project. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the series of images I captured when Chloe and I came together, at our wit’s end, to collect these feelings in front of my camera. It was heavy. It was liberating. Allowing hysteria to consume us for a moment in time forced us to take up space.
In my country, corpses have more rights than I do.
When a woman willingly chooses to carry a baby to term, she agrees to sacrifice her autonomy and share her body’s resources with another being. Such an altruistic offering is in no other circumstance required by law.
In no other situation can the government force a human being, living or dead, to sacrifice his/her body for the sake of another without consent. If someone — a child even — needs a new kidney, the state can't force you to give one to that person, even if it means saving a life. Under the law, our organs must be offered voluntarily. This right extends even to corpses. If a person didn't agree to donate their bodies or organs while alive, they can't be used or harvested after death.
A woman’s uterus should be no different. It must be her choice to share her earthly vessel with another being. She must give consent. Yet, in banning or restricting access to abortion, the government is ultimately granting a zygote non-consensual use of another living person’s body, mind and spirit. Bottom line: Dead people have more rights than we do.
But no one bothers to contemplate what it does to us — or to society — when our government values unrealized collections of cells more than our own lives, when it defines our worth as less than that of a corpse. It commoditizes us in the service of others, in service of the powerful. It reduces us to human chattel. It attacks our own conception of ourselves. It commits an otherwise thriving society to death, extinction.
The psychological impact of this seems impossible to measure, so here’s a picture of what it FEELS like.
We can only cast off our bonds if we realize their true nature.
The abortion bans enacted in 8 U.S. states so far this year — and the existing restrictions in many others — have nothing to do with protecting the sanctity of life and everything to do with the threat to social order posed by women in control of their bodies. These bans are about controlling populations who threaten the wealthy white patriarchy — women, people of color, poor people — and preserving an underclass of wage slaves. They’re intended to suppress our economic, political and cultural impact on our country because they fear what they believe about us. They fear that we would treat them the way they have treated us.
By forcing women to have babies they either don’t want or can’t care for, we condemn future generations to a cycle of poverty, exposing families to higher rates of homelessness, addiction, abuse, neglect, malnutrition, violent crime and other social ills that researchers and social workers have observed for decades. We smother an economy that increasingly relies on diverse voices coming together to innovate and grow the value of our goods, services and markets.
Granting women equal rights under the law and the freedom to make our own reproductive choices inevitably leads to consecrating the definition of what it means to be a person in this country. And our government’s track record on this is dismal.
Any law or amendment that recognizes our reproductive rights naturally leads to the need for legal definitions of many other issues that politicians have avoided for decades: our right to equal pay for equal work, our right to healthcare, our right to use our own bodies to provide for ourselves.
Enshrining our human rights into law means relinquishing power over us. Defining our value as human beings means including us at every level of society and sharing with us the profits they are reaping off our backs.
I’ve never been able to grasp how women often treat other women. We hurt each other — and our shared cause — more than any man ever could.
Whether or not we acknowledge it, society has conditioned us for generations to compete for resources we’ve been scammed into believing are scarce: Husbands and children. Jobs, promotions and raises. Material wealth. Success. Security.
We sustain a damaging system of insecurity — constantly logging one another’s flaws and filing them away for later use — because we know in any given enterprise there’s only room for one of us at the top. We’ve learned that suppressing our femininity affords us the best hope for success. We have to be in on the joke. “I’m a woman, but not one of THOSE women. Pick me!”
We uphold the patriarchy because we’ve learned how to benefit from it. We think we’ve outsmarted the system. White women in particular know that if we don’t make waves, we get all the privileges. We think we get to be in on the joke.
In fact, women powered the anti-suffrage movement. A woman led the campaign that prevented the Equal Rights Amendment from becoming law. A woman wrote the Alabama abortion ban; another signed it.
One would expect female lawmakers to champion causes that reduce women’s burdens because they personally understand our struggles. But rather than appeal to our shared humanity, many work instead to ensure their own survival: “If I uphold the standards of the patriarchy in my community, they will empower me.”
Being harmed by another woman is the ultimate betrayal — a puncture wound in our vulnerabilities — because she fundamentally understands what’s at stake.
But the joke’s on us. Men have learned how to exploit it all.
We too often pump our girl-power pompoms only to revert to the same behaviors that keep us here. It’s madness.
The only way to change this system is to unite in sacrificing the privileges and perceived securities we’ve individually worked so hard to achieve. What are YOU willing to sacrifice?
I’m ashamed of how long it’s taken me to accept myself and feel comfortable in my own skin.
Until recently, I thought I alone experienced the hysteria caused by living in a body that society doesn’t value. But I’ve learned that every woman feels these emotions at some point, regardless of our zip codes or net worth. We universally share these scars.
So why do we suffer alone? Because we’re too damn ashamed to admit how we feel.
Our society is powered by the subtle trafficking of shame. You should try this plumper (read: your lips are too thin). You should go boxing with me (please fix your body). Let’s go take selfies in the poppy fields (your life is uninteresting). You really should try meditating (you’re too angry, too loud).
Women are shamed into conformity: We should have ambitions, but not too many. We should say “fuck” less, but dress like we want to fuck, while behaving as though we don’t want to fuck as much as we actually may desire. Our perspectives on child-rearing get more attention than our views on politics, science, art and literally every other subject.
And we’ve internalized it both as individuals and as a culture. We are labeled, stereotyped and stigmatized until shame eventually becomes part of our identity. It becomes the lens through which we see the world.
Shame is the feeling that there’s something wrong with us, that we’re not good enough. It’s exhausting; it makes us nauseous and want to disappear. And we’ll do anything to avoid it — shame other people, lie, post Photoshopped images of ourselves, and repel anyone who reflects our own flaws and weaknesses.
Our shame fuels our hysteria, which in turn feeds the shame we feel about losing control. We perpetuate the cycle because we’re so afraid of what will happen if we break it — that something we’ve been told was scarce and have worked for our entire lives will be taken away; that we will lose something we never had in the first place.
But if we accept ourselves and others and own up to our shit, we will break the cycle and flourish. We are enough.
I reject the notion that it’s not OK to be angry. In fact, I don’t think we allow ourselves to be angry enough.
Anger is important. It lets us know something is wrong, and it calls attention to something that matters if not to ourselves, then to someone else. Anger consumes a lot of energy and singular focus. It’s raw and messy, and makes us uncomfortable.
We are repulsed by anger in our society, so we do everything we can to avoid expressing it. Women in particular tend to rationalize our anger, which not only invalidates the pain at the root of it, but also prevents us from growing and embracing all of the things we can learn from it.
Believing that our anger is irrelevant or that it’s wrong to express it leaves us at its mercy. So, today, I’m honoring it.
It makes me angry when:
The government tries to tell me what I can and cannot do with my body;
The government cages children and claims it’s for my protection;
The government imprisons dissenters and whistleblowers;
Police murder people of color;
Police get away with murdering people of color (or anyone for that matter);
Men think they can touch me without my consent;
Women get paid less for jobs we’re as good or better at doing than men;
Women stab each other in the back;
Friends don’t show up for you, but still expect you to show up for them;
People pretend they are something they are not;
People don’t stand up for themselves or others;
People judge others for something they themselves are unwilling to do;
People don’t try their best;
People play both sides of the fence;
People take advantage of other people;
People make assumptions about me;
People don’t listen, with their minds or their hearts;
People think they are better than me;
People tell me I’m too angry or overreacting;
People call me crazy;
People tell me I’m not likable enough;
People try to invalidate my feelings;
People don’t take me seriously;
I do any of the above.
What makes YOU angry? Let it out in the comments.