email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
269 Amazing Sex GamesA History of MarriageA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyActionAll the WayAmerica UnzippedAmerica UnzippedAmerica's Sexual TransformationAmerican EugenicsAmerican GirlsAmerican HookupAn Interpretation of DesireAnarchism & SexualityAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of LoveAnthony GoicoleaAnticlimaxArt and HomosexualityArt/PornAssuming a BodyAutoportraitBachelors and BunniesBecoming OrgasmicBehind the Red DoorBest Sex Writing 2005Better Sex Through YogaBetter Sex Through YogaBetter Than EverBetween Mom and JoBeyond Diversity DayBeyond SexualityBeyond ToleranceBig Porn IncBill HensonBodies in DoubtBody ImagesBonkBoys Don't CryBreasts - A DocumentaryBrothelBuying SexCase Studies in Communication about SexCase Studies in Sexual DevianceCaught in the WebCelibaciesChildren and SexualityChildren and the Politics of SexualityChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChristy ReportClay's WayClinical Manual of Women's Mental HealthClose toYouClumsyCold HitCollege SexComing of Age in AmericaConfessions of the Other MotherCybersexCyborgasmDare... to Make Love with 2, 3, 4... or MoreDare... to Try BisexualityDating: Philosophy for EveryoneDeadly ButterflyDebating Same-Sex MarriageDeep GossipDeparting from DevianceDesire, Love, and IdentityDigital DiariesDilemmas of DesireDirty MindsDirty StoriesDisorders Of DesireDisorders of Sex Development:Doing ItDoing ItDoing It Down UnderDown and Dirty Sex SecretsDude, You're a FagEarly Embraces IIIEmerald City BluesEmotionally InvolvedEnjoying Guilty PleasuresErotic CapitalErotic InnocenceErotic PassionsEthics, Sexual Orientation, and Choices about ChildrenEveryday PornographyEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorExploring TranssexualismFade to BlackFagbugFaking ItFamilies Like MineFast GirlsFinal JeopardyFinding H. F.Fire on the Mountain DVDFor Lesbian ParentsFor The Bible Tells Me SoForbiddenFrictionFrom Disgust to HumanityFrom Shame to SinFuckologyGay, Straight, and the Reason WhyGender in the MirrorGender OutlawsGeography ClubGetting RealGetting the Love You WantGirls & SexGirls Gone MildGirls Gone SkankGLBTQGoddess WorshipGoing DownGood GirlsGood PornGood Sex IllustratedGreat Answers to Difficult Questions About SexGuide To Getting It OnHandbook New Sexuality StudiesHandbook of Counseling and Psychotherapy with Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual ClientsHard to GetHardcore from the HeartHear Us Out!HeterosyncraciesHit & MissHomosexualitiesHookedHooking UpHow Sex Became a Civil LibertyHow Sex ChangedHow Sex WorksHow To Be GayHow to Do Things with Pornography How to Give Her Absolute PleasureHow to Have Magnificent SexHow to Make Great Love to a ManHow to Make Great Love to a WomanHow to Make Love Like a Porn StarHow to Think More About SexHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenHysterical MenI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'll Be Your MirrorIf Men Could TalkImpotenceIn a Queer VoiceIn Praise of the WhipIn the Mood, AgainInsatiable WivesIntense Games DVDInvestigating Young People's Sexual CulturesIt's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalItís Your HourJane Sexes It UpJock SturgesJust Between UsKama-Sutra--The Secrets to the Art of LoveKids Gone WildLegalizing ProstitutionLegalizing ProstitutionLet's Get This StraightLets Talk about SexLetters to Penthouse Vol. 50Likely to DieLittle ChicagoLoose GirlLosing Matt ShepardLoveLove and DesireLove and SexLove JunkieLove Lust DesireLove SickLustMad for FoucaultMagical ThinkingMaking American BoysMaking Babies the Hard WayMaking Chastity SexyMaking Peace with PornMaking ScenesMale SexualityMalefemaleMaster BreastsMating in CaptivityMedicalized MasculinitiesMelancholia and MoralismMenMental Health Issues in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Communities MiddlesexMoney ShotMoral Panics, Sex PanicsMy Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me UpMy HeartbeatMy Horizontal LifeName All the AnimalsNatural BeautyNerveNerveNew Sex Now DVDNightswimmingNone of the AboveNormalNormalNot GayNot The Marrying KindNot Under My RoofNothing PinkOedipus WreckedOn Being RapedOne Hot SecondOne Hour in ParisOpenOrgasmOrgasm Inc.OrgasmologyOrgasmsOver 100 Truly Astonishing Sex TipsOverexposedPeekPeriod PiecesPervPhilosophizing About Sex Philosophy of Love, Sex, and MarriagePin-up GrrrlsPINSPlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPolicing SexualityPolyamory in the 21st CenturyPornPorn NationPorn StudiesPorn UniversityPornifiedPornlandPornographyPornographyPornography, Sex, and FeminismPosition Of The Day PlaybookPray the Gay AwayPredatorsPremarital Sex in AmericaPrinciples and Practice of Sex TherapyPrivate Dicks - Men ExposedPrivate Practices DVDProblem GirlsPrudePsychopathia SexualisQueer PhilosophyRapeRape Is RapeRated X - A Journey Through PornRazmatazRecruiting Young LoveRedefining GirlyRedefining RapeRegulating SexRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRethinking RapeRunning with ScissorsSatan's Sex BookScreening SexSelling Sex ShortSexSex & Single GirlsSex (Ed)Sex and SpiritSex and the American TeenagerSex and the SoulSex and the Soul, Updated EditionSex and WarSex at DawnSex by NumbersSex DetoxSex Fiends, Perverts, and PedophilesSex in CrisisSex ObjectSex OffendersSex on the BrainSex PositionsSex Q & ASex, Family, and the Culture WarsSex, or the UnbearableSex, Therapy, and KidsSex, Time and PowerSextasySexting and Young PeopleSexual ArtSexual Boundary ViolationsSexual DevianceSexual DisordersSexual EcstasySexual EthicsSexual FluiditySexual IntelligenceSexual Orientation and Psychodynamic PsychotherapySexual Orientation and School PolicySexual PleasureSexual PredatorsSexual Teens, Sexual MediaSexuality in AdolescenceSexuationSexyBookShameShamelessShy GirlSlutWalkSmall FavorsSmutSocial Control of Sex OffendersSome Assembly RequiredSplit ScreenStir-FryStraight to JesusStrange BedfellowsStripped BareSurviving Sexual ViolenceSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTalk to Me FirstTechniques of PleasureThe Anthropology of SexThe BabiesThe Better Sex Guide to the Kama SutraThe Big Book of PornThe Birth of the PillThe Blue Moon Erotic Reader IIIThe BodyThe Breast BookThe Breath of Tantric LoveThe Busy Couple's Guide to Great SexThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Chemistry Between UsThe Clitoral TruthThe Education of SophieThe Emergence of SexualityThe End Of AliceThe End of SexThe Erotic EdgeThe Erotic Lives of WomenThe Essential KamasutraThe Fate of GenderThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Gay Baby BoomThe Good Vibrations Guide to SexThe Happy Hook-UpThe Hite ReportThe Humble Little CondomThe Illustrated Guide to Extended Massive OrgasmThe Illustrated Story of OThe Love CureThe Madness of WomenThe Men They Will BecomeThe Mirror of LoveThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Moral Panics of SexualityThe Naked Truth About SexThe Nature of Sexual DesireThe New Erotic PhotographyThe New Gay TeenagerThe Notebook GirlsThe Only Girl in the CarThe Order of the Poison OakThe Origins of SexThe Other HollywoodThe Other PlaceThe Other Side of DesireThe Perils of MasculinityThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of PornographyThe Philosophy of Sex: Contemporary ReadingsThe Pleasure's All MineThe Politics Of LustThe Porn TrapThe Pornographer's GriefThe Pornography IndustryThe Praeger Handbook of TranssexualityThe Psychodynamics of Gender and Gender RoleThe Purity MythThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Right to Be ParentsThe Secret Lives of GirlsThe Sex Addiction WorkbookThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Sex MythThe Shared HeartThe Sleep of ReasonThe Smart Girl's Guide to PornThe SurrenderThe Ten Minute Sexual SolutionThe Tenth CircleThe Transformations of GwenThe Transformations of GwenThe Trauma MythThe Ultimate Guide to Sex and DisabilityThe Vagina MonologuesThe ValleyThe Violence of CareThe Virgin BlueThe Virginity ClubThings Tom LikesThinking KinkThinking XXXToo Hot to HandleTransTransTransgender Children and YouthUltimate JudgementUltimate SexUndoing GenderUnlikelyUntangling the WebVirginVirgin NationVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysVirginity LostWhat Women WantWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?What's Wrong with Homosexuality?When Jeff Comes HomeWhen Sex Goes to SchoolWhen the Piano StopsWhere Do We Fall When We Fall in Love?Who Has What?Who's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWilhelm ReichWired for IntimacyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWomen and MadnessWritten in the FleshZen Sex
'The disease category "hysteria" is as old as man -- or, rather, as woman', notes Mark S. Micale at the beginning of his provocative and fascinating study, Hysterical Men (p. 5). His book is devoted to an exploration of the hidden, masculine history of this 'most gendered' disorder -- its intrinsic connection with the female body advertised in its very name, hysteria, the condition of the restless womb.
The history of male hysteria is a history of absences: the absence of male equivalents to female disorders, the absence of female voices in the narratives woven around those disorders, the absence of the terminology to describe and legitimize the application of a condition associated with weakness, emotionality and madness to the male constitution. That hidden history, Micale argues, can now be uncovered, and needs to be uncovered as part of the continuing process of questioning received versions of masculinity and exploring masculine self-understanding, both historically and as contemporary individuals.
The history of nineteenth-century psychiatric and psychological medicine is a dense, controversial and highly complex field, but Micale is a master of his subject and this is a book that wears its learning lightly. Through five chapters, plus prologue and conclusion, Micale both defines his topic and explores it with enviable focus, concision, and an admirable lucidity and elegance of prose.
The intellectual territory to be explored and the key issues to be illuminated are mapped out at the beginning: the gendered nature of hysteria as the feminine malady, the hidden histories of masculine nervous disorder, the professional and intellectual currents within nineteenth-century medicine and wider society that shaped the discourse of hysteria and legitimized some discussions while outlawing others. The central issue, Micale points out, is that male hysteria is present despite this cultured non-recognition, in texts from the Renaissance onwards, in a widespread preoccupation with nervous symptoms, melancholia, debilitating ailments of various kinds, and in the personal ailments of figures from Charles Darwin to William James. The history of this masculine malady, Micale observes, is to be found largely in non-medical sources: letters, memoirs, novels and autobiographies. Only in strictly medical terms is it a 'hidden' history.
The title of the first chapter 'Hysterick Women and Hypochondriack Men', emphasizes the gendered channelling of discourse that has applied to this disorder, in a process Micale traces from the ancient classical world to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The key point to emerge is that male hysteria was accepted in British medical literature for a century after the 1680s, in what Micale calls 'a sort of pre-psychiatric discourse on male hysteria' (pp. 46-7). The next chapter, '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. There was a political element to this process, with Micale relating the imposition of newly rigid regimes of gender difference to a wider cultural-political backlash against the late eighteenth century revolutions that had produced not only political but also social upheaval. Femininity is increasingly narrated as home-centred and passive, cyclical and inherently unstable, as against the outward-looking, active, purposive, stable characterization of masculinity. Micale is surely right in connecting medical conservatism with such wider reactionary currents, but does not perhaps pay enough attention to a parallel development that was of great significance, the increasing professionalization of medicine and the focusing of institutionalized medical power in relatively few -- inevitably male -- hands.
The three subsequent chapters move between case studies and broader socio-cultural explorations. The careers of Jean-Marie Charcot and Sigmund Freud are considered in detail on either side of a much more widely-drawn consideration of 'Male Hysteria at the Fin de Siecle'. This works well in a chronological sense, but does lead to a certain amount of recapitulation. The examination of the significance of the 'dark side' of fin-de-siecle modernity, anxieties of degeneration and decline, is generally well-balanced but does not make the important point that such concerns were never universal. The school of habitual optimism thrived in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century medicine, but it still awaits its historian.
As might be expected from Micale's extensive previous work on hysteria, his analyses of Freud and Charcot in this book are perceptive, well-informed and well-argued, and throw new light on his subjects. In the case of Charcot, the French physician who pioneered the study of male hysteria in the 1880s just as he had established a new paradigm for investigating female hysteria in the 1870s, Micale argues that his significance is to be found in his fundamentally neurological approach to hysteria. Charcot removed the emotionalizing, sexualizing interpretations of the disorder and focused on locating the physical behaviors that characterized hysteria in the male body, freeing them from their dependence on what were seen as essentially feminine pathologies. The diagnosis of hysteria was thus in one sense liberated, but in another sense it was newly restricted by the class-based nature of Charcot's work. His new model of hysteria was applied overwhelmingly to the working-class patients who came to his hospital. He maintained the distance of difference in social, if not in gender, terms. Freud's engagement with hysteria was marked by profound fascination with the dynamic potential of the conceptions of the psychosexual that lay behind the disorder, but an ambivalence about the social consequences of his insights; not least, he excluded male patients from his published work on hysteria. Micale finds the roots both of Freud's insights and his ambivalence in the very personal significance of his attachment to Wilhelm Fliess -- an attachment which became the unspoken leitmotif of his conceptualization of male hysteria as an expression of repressed homosexual neurosis.
This book opens up an area of medical history where much remains to be done. All future investigators of the topic will owe Mark Micale a great debt of gratitude for the clarity and thoughtfulness with which he has investigated and illuminated the hidden history of male hysteria. The implications of the uncovering of the characteristics that have been seen as essentially female in men remain, he suggests, as controversial and important today as they were at the time of Charcot and Freud. Today the environment within which gender is viewed and discussed has been, he observes, 'fundamentally altered' by the social, cultural and political movements which have transformed Western culture since the middle of the last century. Yet the feminization of masculinity and the turning of the male gaze inwards, the inner acceptance of 'otherness' which that requires, remain difficult and, for many, unacceptable notions. The story which Micale tells so fascinatingly in this book remains an unfinished one.
© 2009 Ralph Harrington
Ralph Harrington, Ph.D. is a historian who has researched, lectured and published on medical history and the history of trauma, among other topics. His web site is at http://www.greycat.org