The Hysterical Woman Gone Forever in 2013

We’ve come a long way baby! Along with eight other psychiatric disorders, the American Psychiatric Association’s book on psychiatric disorders (DSM IV) will most likely eliminate the Histrionic Personality Disorder for its 5th edition, to come out in 2013. The DSM V to eliminate Nine Psychiatric Disorders in 2013.

Wow, although Freud was quite brilliant and contributed much to our understanding of behavior, the hysterical, sexually repressed woman of his Victorian times was his theoretical faux pas. He assumed the hysteric existed separate from culture and would travel through time casting her spell on whomever promised to fulfill her needs.  And, boy, have women paid a high price in unfair treatment because of it. Hysteria according to the DSM IV is:

“a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive emotionality, attention-seeking, need for approval and inappropriately seductive behavior. These persons are lively, dramatic, enthusiastic, and inappropriately sexually provocative. They are impressionistic, naïve, egocentric, self-indulgent, and persistently manipulative. Blanche of the Golden Girl’s sitcom was the perfect histrionic stereotype.

What is so wrong with the histrionic woman in our day and time? It’s sexist! And, although the DSM IV has been careful to label the histrionic as persons rather than women, we all know it’s women to whom they are referring.

The damage has been done, and we are still trying to recover from this Victorian rendition of us. I for one as a woman and as a professional in the field of clinical psychology will be happy to see this category gone forever.
Some of the ways in which this disorder has worked to keep women down are:

·         A woman’s physical complaints to medical professionals are often taken less seriously than a man’s and the impetus for a psychiatric referral. After all, she’s prone to getting attention inappropriately.
·         Language to describe a woman’s characteristics and capabilities are of less import than for a man. For example, when’s the last time you heard a smart man called bright? Intelligent women are often characterized through this label.
·         The histrionic characterization that includes being lively and enthusiastic has made many women today fearful of showing their passionate commitment in today’s workplace.

I for one enjoy being a feminine, intelligent woman who enjoys the differences between men and women but resists any description of my gender that is meant to keep me down. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


6 Responses to “The Hysterical Woman Gone Forever in 2013”

  1. I could not agree more with your last statement Dr. Khoshaba. In college, I was told by an advisor, in regard to my pending-business major, "Oh! Business, I'm an advocate of women going through the business school." Now, some women would have let that slide, but to me it was the ultimate form of demeaning women, and devaluing their intelligence. Did he think that he was giving me a compliment? Unfortunately, society is still suffering from hegemonic masculinity, but it takes steps likes these to squash the incongruent-societal norms.

  2. How insightful of you Elizabeth to see through your advisor's statement. It is important to see through such subtle messages so that we don't let them rule us. You are so right–it is an important social step that the APA is going to eliminate "illnesses" that are sexist and have no basis in our time and culture. Thank you for your wisdom. Dr. K.

  3. avatar Kathy Knopf says:

    'Yes, Ma'am. The Victorian women was overlooked by Doctors as only emotional issues.

  4. Yes, thanks Kathy. So glad, this diagnosis will be gone forever. Let's hope the change in our culture doesn't take so long.

  5. avatar Amanda says:

    Though it may sound somewhat oversimplified, I think the best way to overcome stereotypes is simply to ignore them and press on. For women in a professional environment, I believe that if their performance exceeds that of their male counterparts – at the end of the day, that's what ultimately wins, regardless of race, religion etc. Call it idealistic, but I do believe that if you're THAT much of a rockstar – then nothing is really going to be able to stop you from getting where you need to go. I think if a woman excels in school, in work, etc. – and sustains that momentum over an extended period of time, it usually means she's simply killer. Arguably, she may have to work harder or maybe even be "smarter" than her male counterparts – but so be it! Do it. I also think that being underestimated as a woman in certain scenarios is a tremendous strategic advantage. There is no more powerful role to play in a situation than that of the underdog. Everyone else shows their cards too quickly, operating on the assumption that you're not on their level. If someone treats you that way, I say let him (or her) run their mouths until they run out of steam and have nothing interesting left to say.And then, when you finally take center stage, you have a firm, comprehensive grasp on the dynamics of the situation, and thus a bonafide chance to knock it out of the park! By a scale of relative change (as opposed to absolute), this can amplify the effects of a positive impression made by you on others, which might otherwise have been "eh," or "so-so."To be fair, even though I believe Freud's perspective on the Victorian woman was unquestionably sexist, I do lend a (microscopic) grain of credence to the concept of female "excessive emotionality." I think that is still somewhat applicable to today's environment. Through my own work, I have known several women to blow a fuse in public; I have seen them walk off projects, instigate problems with co-workers over trivial issues, exhibit extreme judgment, underhandedness, and over-the-top aggression. I am proud to be a young professional (and a woman), but some of these experiences in the past have left me wondering whether the same behavioral patterns would have been displayed had the individual been a male colleague instead of a female. Possibly, but possibly not.

  6. avatar Amanda says:

    Thanks so much for your time, Dr. Deborah! You pointed out a vital, glaring flaw in my (comment) thesis earlier, which is that I was isolating the context and trajectory of my thoughts to professional women within a westernized context – as in, where women have been given the opportunity to excel societally – which, of course, so many women had to fight for throughout history. This is something I should have said, and in retrospect, I think I was speaking more to Elizabeth's comment about what her college advisor had said. I sincerely appreciate your perspective on that, and also for your thoughts on ignoring stereotypes. Also, I agree with what you said about operating in stealth or feeling the need to. That's a great point! I am not sure that I would feel differently about strategic development if I were a man, however. I feel that it is always wise to keep a low profile in a meeting, simply to get a read on the situation and the people (regardless of sex or race) first – before making a move. I feel it's wise to consider what relevant knowledge you have to the "case," and what comes out implicitly in the early stages of interaction. In that sense, I thought of such strategic development more like a chess game in letting the opponent develop their position first, regardless who is on the other end of the table (or their gender / sex). I find such a strategy (more reactionary than preemptive) to take longer to develop, but it's usually more solidified by middle game. But I do think it's a really great point you made. It is very difficult to determine the outcome of the theoretical, whether I would feel this way if the variables were thrown down differently (if I were a man, etc.) – I'm not sure. Truly, I am so glad to read about this from you, because it's a fantastic, highly relevant issue you have raised, and you certainly hold a unique perspective from your field of expertise. I can't wait to hear more from you on it!


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