Unraveling the Gendered History of Trauma: From Hysteria to PTSD Recognition

Explore the fascinating evolution of trauma recognition, from dismissing women’s pain as “hysteria” to acknowledging PTSD in male soldiers. Uncover the links between this history, feminism, and medical biases, as we delve into how women’s trauma experiences have been marginalized. Discover the imperative need for a more inclusive and empathetic approach to mental health.


The history of recognising and understanding trauma-related psychological disorders, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a journey deeply intertwined with societal attitudes, biases, and gender dynamics. Over time, the acknowledgment of trauma’s psychological impact has evolved, shedding light on the disparities in how women’s pain and distress were treated compared to their male counterparts. This blog post delves into the historical context, connecting it with feminism, misogyny, and the persistent challenges women face in having their trauma taken seriously by medical and psychological professionals.

The Era of Hysteria: Dismissing Women’s Pain

The term “hysteria,” originating from the Greek word for uterus, was historically used to label women who exhibited symptoms of psychological distress following traumatic experiences. It was a label that delegitimised their experiences and perpetuated gender-based discrimination. Pierre Janet’s work in the 1890s highlighted a connection between hysteria and episodes of sexual abuse within the family. Similarly, Sigmund Freud famously linked hysteria to premature sexual experiences, often perpetrated by individuals close to the young women he treated.

The Turning Point: First World War and Male Soldiers’ Trauma

It wasn’t until the First World War that symptoms of trauma began to be taken more seriously, but the recognition was primarily for male soldiers. Clinicians observed symptoms among male soldiers, such as emotional numbing and interpersonal disconnection, that resembled those previously attributed to “hysteria” in women. This shift in recognition can be attributed to societal norms that considered men’s suffering, particularly in war, as more valuable and deserving of attention.

Feminism’s Lens on the Gendered Trauma Narrative

This historical differentiation in recognising trauma based on gender brings us to the heart of feminist discourse. Feminism highlights the systemic inequalities and power dynamics that have shaped not only societal norms but also medical and psychological practices. Women’s pain, whether physical or psychological, has often been minimized or attributed to emotional instability, a reflection of deeply rooted misogyny and sexism.

Challenging Biases in Medical and Psychological Fields

The biases and power imbalances embedded within the medical and psychological fields are glaring. Women’s experiences have been overlooked, misdiagnosed, or undermined, perpetuating a cycle of distrust and neglect. Even in modern psychology, male experiences often serve as the default or benchmark for psychological health, further marginalising women’s experiences.

Building a More Inclusive Approach to Trauma

Addressing these deep-seated issues necessitates a multi-pronged approach. It involves challenging traditional gender roles, dismantling the hierarchy of suffering, and fostering an empathetic and inclusive approach to mental health. Recognising and validating women’s experiences of trauma are crucial steps toward a more equitable and just society.


The historical journey of recognising trauma-related psychological disorders reflects the interplay of feminism, misogyny, and biases in medical and psychological practices. The slow recognition of women’s experiences and the gendered lens through which trauma was understood underscore the urgent need for change. Empowering women, reshaping psychology, and challenging norms are essential in creating a society where trauma is recognised, validated, and treated with empathy, regardless of gender.


  1. Janet, P. (2004). The Major Symptoms of Hysteria. New York: Routledge.
  2. Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror. New York: Basic Books.

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