Between 2016 and 2018, Elissa Bassist saw over twenty medical professionals for a variety of mysterious ailments. Bassist had what millions of American women had: pain that didn't make sense to doctors, a body that didn't make sense to science, a psyche that didn't make sense to mankind. But then an acupuncturist suggested some of her physical pain could be caged fury finding expression, and that treating her voice would treat the problem. It did.
Growing up, Bassist's family, boyfriends, school, work, and television had the same expectation for a woman's voice: less is more. She was called dramatic and insane for speaking her mind; she was accused of overreacting and playing victim for having unexplained physical pain; she was ignored or rebuked like women throughout history for using her voice "inappropriately" by expressing sadness or suffering or anger or joy.
Because of this, she said "yes" when she meant "no"; she didn't tweet #MeToo; and she never spoke without fear of being "too emotional." So, she felt rage, but like a good woman, repressed it. In Hysterical, Bassist explains how girls and women internalize and perpetuate directives about their voice, making it hard to emote or "just speak up" and "burn down the patriarchy." But her silence hurt more than anything she could ever say. Hysterical is a memoir of a voice lost and found, and a primer on new ways to think about a woman's voice, where it's being squashed and where it needs amplification. Bassist breaks her own silences and calls on others to do the same--to unmute their voice, listen to it above all others, and use it again without regret. (Hachette Books)
Paulina Pinsky is a writer and educator based in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from Columbia University, where she has been teaching Comedy Writing to high schoolers since 2017. She is the co-author of IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE AWKWARD published by Clarion Teen. She writes the substack newsletter "Newly Sober," and she received the 2021 Ernest and Red Heller MacDowell Fellowship.