Hysteria

I learned a lot from this movie in which many Victorian women have pleasure at their doctor’s hand. Here are my take-aways:

1. Female pleasure cures many ailments.

2. While many Victorian women sought help from doctors, it is likely that their husbands were not able, willing or interested in doing their duty. So, alas, women turned to Hugh Dancy.

3. The doctor needed a little relief as well. Hugh’s vulvic massage technique became a hardship, causing his cramped hand and overwork! Poor dear!

4. The doctor, while doing his duty, asked the female patient things like, “Is that all right?” Sweet! (The expressions on the women’s faces were priceless!)

5. Settlement Houses for the poor did (and do!) a lot of good. Especially when a headstrong woman like Charlotte, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, was in charge.

6. In running the Settlement House, Charlotte had a secret agenda — to empower women. Love that! (Also, she refused to put down socialism — the French would agree!)

As you probably know, Hysteria is about the invention of the vibrator. This is the first movie I can think of in which female pleasure is seen as a cure-all. But even in this movie, the women are seen as slightly silly or “hysterical” if they want or need sexual enjoyment. (For example, Charlotte is too busy tending to her flock at the Settlement House to need this middle-class luxury of sexual release! “She’s a tough case.”)

In most mainstream movies, it is a given that men must seek pleasure — usually from flawless, scantily clad woman wearing black lace. In this movie, there’s a bit of lace but it is found in a high collar or a long skirt. When the women are pleasured by the doctors, they are fully dressed, and their lower bodies are hidden behind a velvet curtain (which resembles a puppet theater).

This delicious movie opens in a week. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about another feel-good English movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, in which senior citizens discover that they are still entitled to pleasure. First, senior citizens and now women! Such radical notions coming from England — all adults are entitled to pleasure! We’ve come a long way, baby.