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I have heard that hysterical women say

They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.

Of poets that are always gay,
William Butler Yeats, "Lapis Lazuli"

This trope characterizes women as less rational, disciplined, and emotionally stable than men, and thus more prone to mood swings, irrational overreactions, and mental illness.[1] As a result female characters may be coddled, or their opinions undervalued. In Western works it's more likely to affect female characters over the age of 30 and who are Hollywood Homely and/or Hollywood Pudgy; bonus points if she's a Housewife. This trope is a type of Strawman Emotional.

A blatant Double Standard, it was used and invoked quite freely in older works. These days it is rarely invoked, as most people are aware of the obvious Unfortunate Implications. It's still far more common however to portray female characters becoming emotionally overwrought when under stress or behave far more irrationally than men, even when it would be out-of-character. Although unsympathetic or comedic male characters may also do so.

If pushed too far, may snap and become The Ophelia. Often prone to Inelegant Blubbering. May involve Get a Hold of Yourself Woman. Compare Screaming Woman. Contrast Women Are Wiser and Emotionless Girl.


Examples of Hysterical Woman include:


Film

  • This trope is hilariously spoofed in Airplane!, with a long line of passengers lining up to slap the hysterical woman, with increasingly lethal weapons.
    • The gag is recycled in Airplane 2: The Sequel when the same woman testifies on Ted Stryker's behalf in a Kangaroo Court -- the memory of her hysterics sends her into a fresh episode of hysterics, which prompts the members of the court to line up to beat it out of her.
  • Lambert(Veronica Cartwright) in Alien.
  • Mrs Peacock in Clue seems to be this. She's Obfuscating Insanity, at least in one of the Multiple Endings.
  • In Pulp Fiction during the diner robbery, Honey Bunny is this when Jules points a gun at "Ringo".

Literature

  • The narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper was diagnosed with hysteria. The whole point of the work was that isolating and babying women who became mentally ill was not the way to treat them.
  • The wandering womb diagnosis gets direct mention as "a classic case of hysteria" by a doctor in one of the Falco novels, which are set in 1st century Rome, along with Helena Justina's utter contempt for this particular brand of medical theory.
  • In Murder on the Orient Express, Mrs. Hubbard goes through this a few times. First is when the supposed murderer escapes into her room after murdering Mr. Ratchett, then when she discovers the murder weapon in her sponge bag. It's an act.
  • Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure appears to be a walking bundle of neuroses who is nonetheless trying to live life as an enlightened, liberated woman. It doesn't end up working for her.
  • In The Pale King, Toni Ware pretends to be one in her final scene, Inelegant Blubbering and all.

Live Action TV

  • House had a mass hysteria case where the normally quite competent Dr. Cuddy was struck rather hard by this trope.
  • Dr. Janice Lester, a villain-of-the-week from Star Trek the Original Series was one of these. She quickly went insane when put in command of a ship, and broke down sobbing into her male assistant's arms at the end of the episode. She was also, at one point explicitly described as "red-faced with hysteria."
    • From "Wolf in the Fold":

 Kirk: All right, Mister Spock, what do we have? A creature without form, that feeds on horror and fear, that must assume a physical shape to kill.

Spock: And I suspect preys on women because women are more easily and more deeply terrified, generating more sheer horror than the male of the species.

 Tarrant: You enjoyed that, didn’t you?

Soolin: There are two classic ways of dealing with a Hysterical Woman. You didn’t really expect me to kiss her, did you?

Video Games

  • Inverted in the third Quest for Glory game. Tarna, land of the liontaur people, though a monarchy with a king, has a council of lawmakers made up entirely of women because men are seen as too emotional to make government decisions.
  • Dead Space's female population was almost entirely these or Laughing Mad women. Justified by the fact that enemies hunted down, killed, mutilated, and revived you as one of them.
  • Implied in Valkyria Chronicles. Alicia spends the second half of the game building up to an emotional meltdown, but main character Welkin (and the rest of Squad 7, really) brushes off her cries for help until she has a literal meltdown, at which point he calms her down with a hug and an engagement ring. Apparently she wasn't worth listening to before she tried to kill herself in the most bombastic and destructive way possible, and afterward, all she really needed was a husband and a baby.

Web Comics

  • "Hysterical Dame" is one of the characters in Problem Sleuth, and initially this fits perfectly, though everyone ends up fairly competent by the end.
    • In Hysterical Dame's case, getting hysterical is about much the same as going berserk.

Western Animation

  • Mocked in, of course, The Simpsons. Marge foils a burglar and Homer arrives far too late (being unable to maintain the same running speed as Marge). Marge says how exhilarating it was, to which Homer responds that it's always exhilarating to watch the police get their man and save "a hysterical woman."

Notes

  1. The ancient Greeks believed that a woman's uterus would move out of place and attack other organs, causing all sorts of maladies, both mental and physical. The trope name comes from the Greek word hysteros, womb or uterus.
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