This book is not a nagging rant by any means. Bassist is much too good for that. She takes us on this wild and uncomfortable ride with ease thanks to her incredible wit and humor to help us not to scream at the top of our lungs—which Bassist would probably be ok with or encourage ... Her writing reads like a wise older sister, insightful and to the point, brutal when need be, but there to catch you when you’re ready to fall. I read this book in a couple of days, swiftly and hungrily. Anytime I got the urge to stop because I felt too angry to keep reading about this frustrating world, I kept going.
Reading Hysterical: A Memoir by Elissa Bassist sometimes feels like sitting across from a delightfully bright and very amped woman while she tells you the story of her life. Well, the bad parts. Only it’s not really the story of her life; it’s a passionate, conversational and discursive exploration into all the ways in which women are oppressed, shunned, not listened to and hated, and how all of that is why she has such a hard time telling her story ... This memoir, which I suspect is a designation assigned by the marketing department because memoirs sell well, is more a feminist critique and primer on rape culture as seen through the lens of one woman’s personal experiences than it is a traditional memoir ... Bassist is herself very funny ... Let me admit here that I approached the book with a bit of a been-there-done-that attitude. Bassist’s examinations of her fraught early romantic relationships felt young and too familiar to me at first. I found it navel-gazing (a term often used to dismiss women writing about their lived experiences) and a little derivative (she cites and quotes feminist thinkers with abandon) ... By the end, “Hysterical” felt like a kind of a breakthrough, a celebratory whoop and a call to action all in one, even for someone who has identified as a feminist for decades. As I finished it, I found myself wanting to press it into the hands of everyone I know because whether it is a revelation or a reminder, Hysterical is part of the essential story of being female today.
Bassist expertly takes apart the patriarchy by way of various misdiagnoses. The constant belittling suggestions and minimizing responses to her complaints are painfully compounded by her own participation in downplaying her pain so as not to seem problematic or, worse, 'hysterical' ... By dissecting everything from being overmedicated because prescription dosages are based on a man’s body to the overwhelming disbelief in women’s pain in the medical field to the way we understand 'women' in the context of 'the language machine,' Bassist explores what it’s like to be a mystery woman in this very well-defined man’s world—or, rather, a white, heterosexual, cis woman in a heterosexual, cis man’s world. Bassist is careful to acknowledge her own privilege by including necessary underscores ... She never loses sight of which perspective she is speaking from and perhaps largely to whom ... Bassist expertly braids some of her previously published essays into this hybrid memoir ... One of the most compelling elements of Bassist’s memoir is her exploration of rape culture, how women are groomed to participate in their own violent suffering, and the problematic co-opting of the word consent ... She dares to shine a light on the patriarchy’s most unacknowledged participants—misogynistic women suffering from toxic masculinity, a particular brand of woman she didn’t realize she had become ... Bassist’s memoir is both a detailed diagnostic and a measured prescription for women, specifically American women and all those who have the capacity for pregnancy, at this particularly patriarchal juncture in a post-Roe time. At once self-examining and dismantling, Bassist’s unflinching wit and dry humor deliver a hybrid, almost mosaic, memoir that weaves personal essay, feminist criticism, research, and social commentary.