The Flip Side: Women as Hysterical

This is the first of a two-part series about the short film The Flip Side: Dating.

The Flip Side is series of short movies that “flip” the way we believe women and men act. In these scenarios, men supposedly act like women, and women like men. In the short movie about dating, the scenes are more likely to portray women as hysterical and overly sensitive and men as dirty brutes, even though these scenarios are played out by the opposite gender.

When women are portrayed as unable to control their emotions, there is almost always a hint to the underlying role of biology when explaining the way “women act.” Women are inherently unstable, emotional, needy and hysterical, and men are viewed as distracted, unavailable, emotionless and unfeeling. Just look at the scenarios played out where women act out male stereotypes: they pee on toilet seats, fart in bed, play videogames, are on their phones constantly, and look at other men. But emotional unavailability is not deemed as “embarrassing” as being emotional or sensitive; and, as many find potty humor extremely amusing, these “male traits” are really not portrayed in an unflattering way (just look at the funny commercial depicting Mandles, “candles for manly men”), as the stereotypical “female traits” are.

Some of the scenarios that are played out by men include getting flowers at work, wanting to watch a romantic comedy, crying over a former girlfriend, watching The Bachelor, and saying “I love you” to a  girlfriend without getting a reply back. While the scenarios are irritating, so is the portrayal of men as in control and women irrationally out of control.

Many advertisements depict similar stereotypes: a shrieking woman in a BMW ad, a woman yelling  at her boss in a KFC commercial. So why are women so often portrayed as illogical, overly sensitive, and hysterical?

The notion of hysteria being a woman’s disease has persisted for a long time. Its causes were variously thought to be a “wandering womb” that childbirth could help ease, or sexual dysfunction, and touching women’s genitals or using vibrators could help make them less hysterical. Interestingly, hysteria was first attributed to Hippocrates, whereas other big players in the field included Jean-Martin Charcot and Sigmund Freud (both men). Many feminist scholars believe that hysteria and mental disorders positioned as commonly female are really socially constructed and in many ways created to control and objectify women (not to take away from women’s real suffering). One interesting book that sheds light on this topic is Jane M. Ussher’s The Madness of Women: Myth and Experience, which we highly recommend.

Picture of a “Tissue Oscillator” (commonly used in cases of hysteria) uploaded by flickr user Ephemeral Scraps and shared under a creative commons license.

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