Why Women Need to Drop the 'Chill' Act and Embrace the Hysterical

The pressure to be "chill" is just the modern iteration of calling women "crazy" and "hysterical."

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Apr 22 2016, 4:00am

For decades now it has been severely out of fashion to deem a woman hysterical. The word, of course, brings to mind to hysteria—a mental illness that only affected women and, for hundreds of years, plagued the men who made it up. The symptoms of hysteria varied over historical periods, from full-on epileptic fits to nervousness, irritability, anxiety, and "heaviness" in the abdomen. At it's core, hysteria was the mental frustration of being a woman materializing itself, aggravated by a lack of respect from men and sexual deprivation.

It wasn't until the 19th century that a popular "cure" for hysteria came about, which involved seeing a professional physician who would rub a woman's clitoris until she came. Suddenly, her symptoms were healed—at least temporarily—and soon, doctors had repeat customers. This eventually spurred the creation of vibrators, utilized by busy doctors whose fingers couldn't keep up with demand.

Luckily, women are no longer deemed hysterical (at least, not by medical professionals), and most men understand our desire to have orgasms. Some even know how to give them to us. And while you might occasionally hear a guy refer to his "crazy" ex-girlfriend, that's fallen out of fashion too. The "good guys" know not to call us that, because that's what rapists call their accusers, and the "good guys" don't identify with rapists.

So here's where my big question comes in: Why, in my formative dating years, was I still so scared of being called hysterical or crazy? Hadn't society gotten over all that? It's because those terms have actually been replaced by something far more insidious. That term is "chill."

I spent my early dating life taking the backseat, letting men steer the way on a nonstop ride to Chilltopia, where the girls are never clingy, emotional, jealous or bossy.

In a piece for Matter last April, Alana Massey wrote about the chilling effects of being chill, arguing we had reached peak chill. "Chill has now slithered into our romantic lives and forced those among us who would like to exchange feelings and accountability to compete in the Blasé Olympics with whomever we are dating," she wrote. I could not agree more.

Being a chill woman is the opposite of being a hysterical one. When you're chill, you're always calm, cool, collected, and down to fuck with no strings attached. Or, as Massey puts it, "chill asks us to remove the language of courtship and desire lest we appear invested somehow in other human beings." Who exactly is asking us to remove this? The men we're fucking. Like the hysterical woman, the chill woman is bogged down by men's expectations on how to act and—more importantly—react.

The pressure to be chill is the reason I pretended to be cool with an open relationship, even though that shit is really not for me. It's the reason I never confronted men who fucked me, then ghosted me. It's why I acted like it was fine when someone I was in an exclusive relationship with wouldn't call or text me for days at a time. It's why I let so many men lecture me on what it means to be "sex-positive," why I accepted sending pictures of my ass and tits even when men said it was "too personal" for them to return the favor, and why I let these same men convince me that boys will be boys, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. It's why I was OK with my sexual partners not going down on me, and why I often felt the need to compete with other women who I felt were trying to out-chill me.

It's why women have done the same to me. It's the explanation for why I've agreed, so many times, with so many different men, that my interests were less important and my pursuits more frivolous. It's the reason I spent my early dating life taking the backseat, letting men drive me on a nonstop ride to Chilltopia, where the girls are never clingy, emotional, jealous, or bossy.

The thing is, even when I strived for chillfection, things never ended up working out. No matter how chill I was, there were always new things popping up for me to be even more chill about. In other words, like chill icon Chandler from Friends, I found myself constantly shouting, Could I BE any more chill?, into a loveless dark void, and that void would always answer back with a strong yes. It was a never-ending cycle of chillness.

I knew I needed to finally drop the chill act around two years ago, when I told the guy I'd been seeing for months that we needed to define our relationship. He was floored—in his mind, we were just friends. Never mind the fact that we were having sex. We were just hanging out, having fun. I let him convince me that it was my fault for developing feelings, and instead of letting him know how much he hurt me, I tried my hardest to play it cool and win him over. That was the last nail in the coffin. RIP Chill Alison.

Now I strive to be hysterical. The way I see it, if we can take back the word "cunt," we can take this word back too. To be hysterical is to say what's on your mind, to express every single one of your emotions, and to put your foot down when you're not OK with something. The hysterical woman makes herself emotionally available, and she demands that someone respond to her text rather than accept that she's been ghosted. Hysterical women are not mysterious or elusive, and they don't pretend that nothing is bothering us. To be hysterical is to be genuine.

For centuries, women have been urged to repress their emotions in order to placate men. Enough. Owning the thing we have been conditioned to fear most is the first step. To accept hysteria is the only way to eradicate it and any new form it may take.

Follow Alison Stevenson on Twitter.

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