“Campus Rape Hysteria”

I came across this sign on the way to one of my lectures this past week. It irritated me, and I took this picture to show a friend later. But then one of my students came up to me after class and told me how she was being sexually harassed by another student in a particularly vulgar way. And I got angry. As anyone who is paying attention knows, Trump’s rise and election has emboldened the people who had previously been quiet about their misogyny, racism, and jingoism. While I can’t directly blame Trump for my student harasser or for this event, I can state without much doubt that discourse about sexual harassment and sexual assault has devolved over the last year. And if we don’t call it out, it will get worse. Here’s me calling it out. I’ve annotated the sign to point out all of its problems, obvious and not.
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“I was calling it the feather duster.”

I find it rather delightful that someone made an entertaining romantic comedy based on the feminist critique of the “hysteria” diagnosis and the invention of the vibrator. The quote above is what Rupert Everett’s character, Edmund St. John-Smythe, says when the first woman they test the contraption asks him what the machine is named. Heh.

Perhaps you remember that in old movies, a woman would be screaming and crying in rage or anguish, and oftentimes, a nearby man would say, “She’s hysterical!” And he might slap her, or, if it were available, inject her with a sedative. Hysteria used to be a medical diagnosis, and it was thought that the only cure for the women who suffered its most extreme forms was a full hysterectomy – the surgical removal of the uterus. What hysteria actually was a diagnosis for was not terribly exact, but it was terribly sexist. In the words of Charlotte Dalrymple – Maggie Gyllenhaal’s character in the charming period comedy about the invention of the vibrator Hysteria – hysteria is “a catch-all diagnosis for women without opportunity forced to spend their lives tending to domestic chores and selfish, prudish husbands who are unwilling or unable to make love to them properly or often enough.” Continue…