Journal of Medical Humanities

, Volume 34, Issue 1, pp 33-57

First online:

Hysterical Again: The Gastrointestinal Woman in Medical Discourse

  • Amy VidaliAffiliated withDepartment of English, University of Colorado Denver Email author 

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This article suggests increased attention to how medical discourses of gastrointestinal (GI) disorder and distress are fraught with social assumptions and consequences by examining nineteenth-century and contemporary medical texts focused on chronic constipation and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). I suggest that these medical discourses present what I call the “gastrointestinal woman,” who is characterized as having unjustified anxiety and is to blame for her condition. My approach to understanding, and ultimately revising, the representation of the gastrointestinal woman is shaped by disability studies scholarship, which encourages intervention in problematic medical discourses and more active shaping of discourses of chronic pain and illness by those who have these conditions.


Medical discourse IBS Constipation Nineteenth century Hysteria Disability