Why Does Mass Hysteria Affect Mostly Women? – Facts So Romantic

Stage actress Sarah Bernhardt in a scene from an unnamed theatre production. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 2012, in Le Roy, New York, four cheerleaders developed Tourette’s-like symptoms, which eventually spread to 13 others. In 2011, nearly 2,000 female factory workers fainted on the job in factories throughout Cambodia. In 1962, laughing fits took over half the population of an all-girls school in a village in East Africa. In 1560 in a convent in Xante, Spain, a group of nuns fell to the ground, tore off their veils and began to bleat like sheep.

In each of these episodes, no organic or toxic cause for the strange behavior could be found (both the 2012 and 1962 incidents prompted extensive medical and environmental tests).1 And they all involved women.

Hysteria is one of the first recorded neuroses, and it was associated with women right from the start. An ancient Egyptian papyrus from 1900 B.C. suggests that a woman suffering from hysteria should stop her uterus (from the Greek hystera, meaning uterus) from wandering. Hippocrates, the Greek physician who gave us the Hippocratic Oath, described the uterus as an autonomous creature prone to straying from its proper spot, low in the female abdomen. Otherwise…

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