London 1880. Mortimer Granville is a great young doctor who has difficulties in finding a job because of his progressive ideas in medicine. But England in the Victorian Age is far away from being open-minded in many ways. It is well known that the more a society lives in moral austerity, the more the human activity is considered “unmoral”. In order to prevent them from sinning many women of the high classes go to Dr Darlymple to nurse their hysteria. Defeated by the amount of work, Dr Darlymple employs the promising Dr Granville as assistant.

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At those times hysteria was the favourite diagnosis for every sort of women’s anxiety, depression, desire or worries: every kind of problem concerning women’s life was attributed to some medical troubles with their uterus. It is definitely true, as Simone de Beauvoir wrote, that if a man has no difficulty in affirming his masculinity, a woman is never allowed to do that. „One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman[1]“. A woman will be always conditioned by her innate interior biological composition. What I find interesting in this comedy is that it shows both faces of the history of feminine masturbation: the repressive and the emancipated ones.

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In a first moment it seems in fact that women sexuality could be satisfied only and totally with penetration, a natural or an artificial one. Actually all Dr Darlymple and Dr Mortimer’s patients want to alleviate their existential pains by being masturbated. But both doctors and patients are far away from thinking that they are having sex. Masturbation is not sex, is a medicine against frustration, especially for women who are mostly believed hysterical. That is to say, etymologically speaking, that they (we) think with their (our) uterus. It’s easy to solve their (our) problems: as far as you are able to stimulate her genitals you are able to make her happy and satisfy her life.

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It’s amazing to see how the perspective changes if we link, as the film director Tanya Wexler does, masturbation up to the history of the feminist movement. From a feminist point of view masturbation and vibrators are symbols of women’s autonomy against men: as far as a woman is able to find pleasure alone, she doesn’t need men. This sexual independence wants to be a representation of moral independence.

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Finally we can say that masturbation is a bivalent symbol in the history of women: it could represent either their repression or their freedom. In the first case masturbation is something that women receive passively, as a medication. In the second one it is something that women practice by themselves in order to please their own body.

 

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I hope you will appreciate the movie!

Hysteria Trailer

Dorotea

 

Sources:

Simone de Beauvoir, The second sex, Lowe and Brydone LTD: London, 1956.

Hysteria. Reg. Tanya Wexler. Act. Hugh Dancy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rupert Everett.Bim Distribution, 2011. Movie.

Notes:

[1] De Beauvoir 1956: 273.

 

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