Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hysteria: The Problem With A Name

Some call it "the vibrator movie." And yes indeed, it is about the invention of that magical device in England at the end of the 19th century.

The electrical manipulator was believed to be a cure for hysteria, a female affliction with a plethora of symptoms. In the 20th century Betty Friedan called the disorder, "The problem with no name."

Whatever it was dubbed, women were suffering in a draconian  society where  they were expected to be nothing more than decorative and deferential pianoforte-playing poufs of pink.

The strength of this thoroughly enjoyable period film is that it's about more than vibrators. It opens a window onto the practice of medicine at a time when leaches were a cure-all, only radicals believed in  germs and washing hands to prevent infection was a laughable concept.

The movie also delves into the thinking of early feminists, who knew women had more to offer than looking demur and making sure fish forks were on the table. And maybe, just maybe, they'd even be allowed to vote. Someday.

Bravo to Maggie Gyllenhaal for her performance as one of these far-thinking women.

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