Here translated for the first time are a series of shocking texts from the 19th century German psychiatric literature, which, while almost completely unknown to modern readers, have had a devastating influence on attitudes toward women and children in the 20th century. The articles on the sexual "lies" and sexual "fantasies" of children were seminal, brutal, and still resonate in today's literature, having taken a terrible toll on the intellectual ideas of modern psychiatry.
The articles document brutal treatment for masturbation, hysteria, and vaginismus, as well as incidences of the so-called fabricated sexual abuse of "prematurely perverted" children. Though by no means an "easy read," Masson's collection of these nine articles exposes a point in the history of the practice of psychology that proves ignorance and negative attitudes towards women created a dark science that modern psychiatrists struggle to overcome.
This is a book of readings, selected and translated from French and German medical journals that appeared between 1865 and 1900. These readings—all from standard, reputable professional journals—illustrate how men in positions of power over women’s lives, especially their sexual lives, misused that power to warp, damage, inhibit, and even destroy the women’s sexual (and sometimes emotional and physical) selves. They are shockingly brutal, offensive, and pornographic. It is, to paraphrase a title from Doris Lessing, not a very nice story. But it is also a true story—perhaps even the true story.
These articles, moreover, are not mere curiosities from by gone days. In some fundamental sense, they represent the unspoken content of much of modern psychiatry. What I mean by this is that these nineteenth-century doctors display openly, deliberately, and without embarrassment an attitude that many modern psychotherapists (including psychologists, psychoanalysts, social workers, sex therapists, and so on) would be ashamed to acknowledge but which I believe accurately represents their approach to therapy. If the origins of this approach are examined, serious questions can be raised about modern psychiatric practice. That is, if we can fully expose the root, perhaps the plant will die.
For this exposure to succeed, it seems to me that what is required is more than a narrative account. Nothing has the same force as a historical document. Much of what follows makes for painful, almost unbearable reading. But for millions of women, these documents constructed and reinforced the nightmare world in which they lived. We cannot begin to understand that world, or free ourselves from the long shadow it cast, until we examine, firsthand, the foundations on which it was built.