Writer Elissa Bassist shares her journey to reclaim her authentic voice in a culture that doesn't listen to women in this medical mystery, cultural criticism, and rallying cry.
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.
About the Author
Elissa Bassist is an essayist, humor writer, and editor of the “Funny Women” column on The Rumpus. As a founding contributor to The Rumpus, she’s written cultural, feminist, and personal criticism since the website launched in 2009. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Creative Nonfiction, NewYorker.com, Longreads, and more, including the anthology Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay. Currently, she teaches writing at The New School, Catapult, 92nd Street Y, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. She lives in Brooklyn and is probably her therapist’s favorite.
is staggeringly good. I am speechless, which as a reader, is a rare thing for me. I really just have a bunch of blubbering accolades to shower on Elissa. This is one of the most intelligent, painful, ridiculous, awesome, relevant things I've ever read. I am impressed.”
"In her dazzling memoir, Elissa Bassist cuts right to the heart and delivers an intimate, unexpected, funny, and original yet universal story about voice and silence and illness. Hysterical
is an impressive debut. Elissa Bassist wrote it like a motherfucker."—Cheryl Strayed
“Funny and furious and sharp and bursting with everything we’re urged to hold inside, Elissa Bassist’s Hysterical
is a god damn delight.”—Rebecca Traister
“I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE Elissa's writing. That was five loves....Quite a special, strong, funny voice."—Joey Soloway, creator/writer/director/Emmy-award winner of Transparent
"One of the qualities I appreciated most about Hysterical
is the way the author subtly and gracefully links her deeply personal life story to compelling questions about women’s sexuality, literature, history. We never notice her doing the connecting; the larger themes and analysis are seamlessly woven into the intimate story. She makes us think and care about not simply what happened to her, but about women’s bodies, our continued detachment from our own desire, our own complicity in the culture of sexual violence…This artful, moving work of creative nonfiction transcends the self, while keeping us rooted in the most intimate of stories.”
—Danzy Senna, bestselling author of Caucasia and judge of the New School Chapbook Competition
"Before reading [Hysterical
], I hadn’t found much literature (especially witty literature) on how misogyny shows up in the body. What a relief to find a book that articulates so many frustrating and familiar experiences; I couldn’t put my highlighter down.... Hysterical
examines who gets to speak and why, society’s fascination with dead girls, the “rape-culture iceberg,” and how to reclaim your voice."—The Cut
"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."—Chicago Review of Books
"Part memoir, part cultural critique, part manifesto, Hysterical
is a tour de force, a powerful response and critique of the subjugation of girls and women across all aspects of our culture—healthcare, workplaces, dating and sex (heterosexual, that is), pop culture (publishing, television, film), and of language itself. 'Patriarchy,' she writes, 'is our mother tongue and preexisting condition.' "—New York Journal of Books
"Disruptive, tender, and beautiful, this book is a reversal of women’s apologies and a demand for more."—Library Journal Starred Review
"A sharp examination of life in “a culture where men speak and women shut up"... [Bassist's] memoir stands as proof of an arduous process of healing. A fiery cultural critique."
"Bassist's resounding voice will echo in readers' heads long after they have finished the book. This book a reckoning with an unjust power system that hurts everyone."—Booklist
"To be a woman is to relate to Elissa Bassist’s fierce and funny new memoir, Hysterical
, a searing indictment of the patriarchal and misogynistic medical system that so often belittles, ignores, and seeks to silence women’s voices. ... Thus, this impassioned memoir, which critiques “a culture where men speak and women shut up,” was born, and Bassist became definitively uncaged. Hysterical
is for the women who are tired of being ignored, shamed, overmedicated, and misunderstood."—Shondaland
"Part-memoir, part-manifesto, Hysterical
asks women to tap into their anger, sadness, and joy— and to no longer silence themselves in the face of misogyny and the patriarchy."—The Millions - Most Anticipated"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."—Datebook, San Francisco Chronicle
"Bassist’s command of prose is as honed as the muscles of an Olympic gymnast. Her intelligence shines; her wit is so dry it is parched. A humorist by trade, she earned her battle scars in comedy, a field which has made some strides towards inclusion but where the majority view still seems to be that the best way to be a funny woman is to be funny, or a woman, but not both at once."—Hippocampus Magazine
"Bassist manages to be funny, precise, and intimate while dissecting the mess of modern feminism—wow, women can have it all!"—Electric Lit