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"Hysteria," a vibrator rom-com

Back in the 1800s, hysteria (literally, “womb disease”) was considered the most common “disorder” among women; its symptoms were mental and emotional distress, thought to be brought on by the womb’s revolt against sexual deprivation. (Live in a sexist society where you can’t vote or work and you have to submit to the uninspired jackhammering of your owner/husband, and you’d be distressed, too.) By some estimates, as many as three-quarters of all women suffered from this “hysteria,” and, in fact, mention of the ailment can be found as early as 4 BC.

The “cure” was a doctor-administered genital massage that would lead to “hysterical paroxysm”—in other words, an orgasm. Talk about bedside manner. Not surprisingly, these treatments never provided a permanent “cure”; rather, doctors found that their “frigid” female patients kept returning in droves for regular manual administrations. Doctors who ran out of elbow grease would fob off the work to midwives. Then, in 1869, an American doctor invented a steam-powered mechanical device to replace the manual genital massage—and, behold, the world’s first vibrator!

When the forthcoming movie “Hysteria” is touted as “based on a true story,” this is the story. The indie rom-com, set to begin shooting in October, stars Maggie Gyllenhaal (natch) as the daughter of a Victorian doctor (Jonathan Pryce) who specializes in treating “hysteria.” The doc’s young and good-looking assistant (Hugh Dancy), with the help of his friend (Rupert Everett), experiments with a new electrical device to help with treatments. Sex, love and hilarity ensue!

It’s being directed by Tanya Wexler, and produced by three women. Let’s hope all this female influence in the production of this film means there will a feminist approach to the story, focusing on female empowerment and sexual liberation, rather than it just ending up full of titillation and cheap sex toy jokes.

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image of antique vibrator from GoodVibes’ Antique Vibrator Museum