Framing Contemporary Women’s Hysteria: the Archive, the Mediated Self, and the Recontextualization of Women’s Madness


December 2023


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This creative dissertation seeks to expose the rudimentary issues of male-posed photographic documents of “truth” about the female hysterical body. The hysterical photographs I refer to were taken in the 1870s at the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. These photographs depict women posed by male photographers, and the poses reveal sexuality within the hysterical pose. My work juxtaposes contemporary documentations of the female body against these historical documents as a means of clarifying what constitutes a hysterical female body and how women continue to be called hysterical. It is evident to me that the images produced in the French sanitarium have been replicated in advertising and in the portrayal of sexualized females in movies and television, as well as in social media. If we look at paintings which pre-date the hysterical photographs we can also see similarity of the pose. The conclusions that I have drawn from comparing imagery produced across time is that there is ample evidence to suggest a formal continuity of posing. Throughout history and under the oppression of patriarchal social structures, the pose has been controlled by men. Therefore, I argue, for centuries women have been socially engineered to accept the logic of this male perspective, which, I further argue, has influenced women’s beliefs about how to look, behave, and think about themselves and their places in the world. The images I produced for my exhibition and the ideas contained within my dissertation chapters explore—through visual analysis—whether the persistence of the aesthetic formalities of the past that I see in current photographic compositions constitute a continued oppressive cultural framework and a reinforcement of the status quo regarding women’s position in society.



Hysteria, Women's studies, Selfie culture, Women, Archive