|Oops! Sorry about yesterday, got knocked out by a migraine. Not that I regret missing out on Colin Powell, but Stephen's guest had potential.
Anyway, tonight: Maggie Gyllenhaal may well talk about her kids (there are a bunch of 'balancing motherhood and filming a/k/a two kids are hard work' articles out there), but I think we've got a better than average chance that they'll talk about the movie. From RottenTomatoes):
Hysteria is a romantic comedy with an accomplished cast led by Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Felicity Jones and Rupert Everett, that tells an untold tale of discovery - the surprising story of the birth of the electro-mechanical vibrator at the very peak of Victorian prudishness.
The tomatometer is only at 54%, but headline writers apparently loooove this movie:
Bonus points to "Hysteria Review: Hey Diddle Diddle With Your Cat I Want to Fiddle" -- but then, that's a blog.
I'm pretty much ignoring traditional media on this. The first mention of Hysteria I saw was this, at Alternet:
Hysteria': What the New Movie About the Fascinating History of the Vibrator Leaves Out
(the bechdel test: a movie "1. It has to have at least two [named] women in it
A romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator tells the story of a fascinating moment in female sexuality. So why does it center on men?
A romantic comedy about the invention of the vibrator. Set in Victorian England. With references to feminism, socialism, class privilege, phone sex, prostitution, harm reduction, science, evidence-based medicine, and steampunk. What could be bad?
A fair amount, unfortunately.
Hysteria is quite enjoyable. I found it funny (generally), charming (usually), intelligent (mostly), and entertaining (often). But I wanted so much more than to just like it. I wanted to love it. I wanted to be shouting about it from the rooftops. I wanted to be stopping strangers on the street, grabbing them by the lapels, and pleading with them to run out and see it right this minute. It was a movie about the invention of the vibrator, for fuck's sake. I didn't want to leave the theater thinking, "Yeah, that was pretty good -- but it could have been so much better."
And far too much of what was wanting from the film had to do with its treatment of the central topic -- female orgasm...
Like I said, there's lots to like about "Hysteria." It's hard to argue too strenuously with a romantic comedy that weaves progressive politics with naughty Victorian fun. It's harder to argue when the movie treats female sexual pleasure as a given, something that's both undeniably real and undeniably good. And it's harder still to argue when the movie has a heroine who fights for women's rights, advocates for science-based medicine, runs a settlement house for disadvantaged women and children, unapologetically calls herself a socialist, speaks her mind fearlessly, and knows sexual pleasure when she sees it. Especially when she's played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. It's a likeable movie, and not at all a waste of time.
So why was it disappointing?
Partly, it was disappointing for purely narrative, movie-making reasons...
More seriously: I was greatly disturbed at how male-centered this movie was. Especially given the topic. This is a story about women's bodies and women's pleasure and women's sexuality... and it is overwhelmingly driven by men. It is overwhelmingly -- not exclusively, but primarily -- a story in which men are the inventors and the instigators, and women are reacting to them.
The movie does pass the Bechdel test. Barely. It does have a couple of scenes with two female characters, who talk to each other, about something other than men. But of all the movies in the universe, a movie about the invention of the vibrator should have passed the Bechdel test with flying colors...
2. Who talk to each other
3. About something besides a man")
This romance novelist loved it, though:
The movie Hysteria is an absolute gem. It's about the invention of the vibrator. It's also about women's rights in 19th-century England. Oh, and it's a love story. And a comedy. It's historical romance at its best: an entertaining romp that informs in a funny and charming way.
Elsewhere, it's called "the quintessence of the non-misogynist romance movie."
Looks like most reviews are somewhere in the middle there. MoJo titled theirs "Hysteria": Very Feminist, Very Socialist, Mildly Funny, and took the opportunity to post Timeline: Female Hysteria and the Sex Toys Used to Treat It (which, astonishingly, is also posted at a whole lot of other blogs without attribution. Imagine that).
And I found a few thoughtful pieces. In A Review Turned Rant Turned Review: Hysteria (the film) & The History of the Vibrator:
In spite of the almost too perfect and–in moments–far fetched plot, the film was overall sweet and entertaining with some fabulous performances. As a sex educator, and knowing all that I do about women’s sexual history, I feel like I had a slightly different reaction to this light and humorous film. I couldn’t help but notice my own sadness and anger at times when the rest of the audience was laughing. Hysteria after all was a disorder invented to keep women in their place. Women who were considered hysterical were also institutionalized, given hysterectomies and later clitordecotomies (in the United States too people).
Then there's “Hysteria” Shows The War on Women Is Nothing New:
Don’t get me wrong, I celebrate the invention of the vibrator, I’ve had many a glorious romp with my trusty toy and think they can be a great gift for many women. I also have a hard time understanding why 100 or so years later there is still great shame around masturbation and owning sex toys. Why are there no regulations on sex toy manufacturing to prevent them from being made with cancer causing materials? How is it fucking possible that they are considered illegal for sexual use any where?
...In the 1880s, London was experiencing an epidemic of “female hysteria,” a medical diagnosis that encompassed everything from gynecological disorders to sexual dissatisfaction to unstable moods. Hysteria was first described in the medical literature of ancient Greece in the 4th and 5th centuries BC. The cause was deemed to be “a wandering uterus,” which was thought to move throughout a woman’s body, causing disease. The 2nd century physician Galen believed the cause of hysteria was sexual deprivation, and prescribed marriage for single women, more frequent sexual intercourse for married women, and the “medical” administration of a vaginal massage by a midwife in certain situations. The usual treatments for hysteria throughout the ages included bleeding with leeches, frequent horseback rides, riding a train or carriage through bumpy terrain, or spraying water at high pressure onto a woman’s genitals.
And then there's Sady Doyle, with Remain Calm About “Hysteria”: Silly and uneven, the new film touches on just how crazy our thinking is about women., which (like a whole lot of other reviews) starts off with The sad part of all this is, I really wanted to like Hysteria:
While it seems unbelievable now, for the vast majority of recorded Western history, doctors honestly didn’t see the clitoris as a sexual organ. The prescription of a vulva massage was seen as a strictly medical act – doctors did not believe that women were capable of experiencing sexual pleasure without vaginal penetration. They also didn’t believe in female orgasm – physicians found the work tedious, dull, and tiring, sometimes spending hours attempting to bring a patient to “hysterical paroxysm” – that’s an orgasm in modern medical parlance...
...What makes “Hysteria” such an interesting film, however, is Wexler’s exploration of some of the more sinister implications of the hysteria diagnosis. Had it merely been a catch-all for depression and other vague symptoms, surely a “paroxysm” or two wouldn’t hurt. (Although I feel for the centuries of women who must surely have suffered through untreated UTIs, STIs and yeast infections.) Another prominent “symptom” of hysteria was “a tendency to cause trouble” and in these cases, the amusing “treatments” for this non-disease become incredibly disturbing, including the instruction that men should beat their hysterical wives or humiliate them publicly until they stopped expressing discontent. Some doctors even performed hysterectomy or clitoridectomy in “difficult” cases...
...An armchair diagnosis of “hysteria” was just one way the political establishment attempted to disenfranchise suffragettes. If a politically-engaged woman was considered, by her very nature, hysterical, then it was easy to dismiss concerns about women’s rights as merely a symptom of mental illness. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened for many years.
Even now we see this disturbing dynamic in action. Feminists are often accused of being hysterical or overly-emotional, which is used to minimize and downplay women’s concerns. And, while doctors may no longer recognize hysteria as a clinical disorder, doctors still often misdiagnose serious health conditions in women as psychiatric disorders. Over 40% of women with a serious autoimmune condition have been told by doctors they were hypochondriacs before eventually getting a diagnosis. Even a woman experiencing a heart attack may be told she’s just having a panic attack at the emergency room.
Just as disturbing is the fact that attitudes toward women’s sexuality have evolved little in the popular consciousness since the Victorian era. People may concede that women have the ability to experience sexual pleasure, but women who admit to enjoying sex – or even just talk about the subject - are called sluts...
There’s something a little depressing about watching a film set over a century ago, and realizing just how little some things have changed. Still, “Hysteria” doesn’t leave the viewer with a feeling of hopelessness. Instead, it ends on a hopeful note...
...The film, now in limited release, has impeccable feminist credentials. It’s directed by a woman, Tanya Wexler. It’s about a trendy, sex-positive subject—the invention of the vibrator! We like those!—and about the vibrator’s origins as a treatment for “female hysteria.” It’s a movie about a mild-mannered, good-hearted doctor who must choose between the sweet, passive Victorian “ideal” and her sister, a fiery feminist who gets into public fights and runs around ranting about the day when women will be allowed into universities. In practice, this should be the ideal feel-good ladies’ film. Especially given that it’s about, you know, ladies feeling good. All this, and a fairly subversive theme, to boot: A movie about how medical institutions define women’s lives, their bodies, and their ideas of themselves.
(Because I can't copy the entire thing, I cut the part about those "Silly, benighted Victorians." Go read.)
And yet, all that said, it’s just not great...
In fact, “female hysteria” is the classic case study for how women’s lives and bodies are pathologized. To be diagnosed with it, one only had to be female, available to doctors, and causing some sort of trouble. Legitimate illnesses went into the box: Schizophrenics went in, people with anxiety attacks went in, anorexics went in, people with epilepsy went in. But being moody, or difficult, or unlikable: Well, that was “hysterical” too. In her history of the vibrator, Rachel P. Maines points out that, according to some, “as many as three-quarters of the female population were ‘out of health.’”
Yes: It’s funny that the cure for all this was “having an orgasm.” But take a closer look, and you’ll see that the basic equation—to be female is to have something wrong, to be female is to need fixing—has not actually gone away...
...And so, though it’s a silly and uneven film, Hysteria is actually cutting to the core of something true — and hardly only relevant to the Victorians. The basics of female autonomy, of being a person, depend on one’s ability to decide what’s wrong (or right) with oneself. And we do, in fact, live in a culture that pathologizes femininity, that keeps women insecure in order to keep them manageable. Every woman, everywhere, has been told that there’s something fundamentally wrong with her, something that needs an expert fix: PMS, cellulite, pregnancy, stretch marks, an inability to Think Like A Man or acknowledge that he’s Not Into Her, or just the fact that she gets so darn hysterical...