Texas Tech University

From Hysteria to Hormones: A Rhetorical History

Joseph Marcades

September 17, 2018

Dr. Amy Koerber, Professor in Communication Studies and Associate Dean for Faculty Success in Texas Tech University's College of Media & Communication, explores the history of these ideas in her new book

For centuries, medical experts have been researching the female body and whether or not there is a connection between reproductive processes and the brain. These ideas of “pregnancy brain” or “hormonal women” are not new concepts. Some of these ideas, although in different forms, can even be traced back to Ancient Greek and Egyptian texts. However, there is debate, even today, about whether or not these concepts have any validity.

Amy KoerberDr. Amy Koerber, Professor in Communication Studies and Associate Dean for Faculty Success in Texas Tech University's College of Media & Communication, explores the history of these ideas in her new book, “From Hysteria to Hormones: A Rhetorical History.” She said she became interested in this topic because of a series of remarks she had heard in expert and popular discourse, related to the idea of the “hormonal woman” (which was the book's original title).

“I was ready for another big project and honestly, I think it was just a couple of recurring remarks,” Koerber said. “It was things I was hearing people say about women's bodies and hormones that just got me thinking, where did this come from, This idea of the hormonal woman?”

Koerber said she would hear these remarks sometimes in a derogatory sense, but other times, it was more of a casual observation. She said she wanted to understand more about where these ideas came from and the history of their origination.

Really what I wanted to draw attention to is the things that seem scientific,”

Koerber said that although the book was written in an academic capacity, she wanted it to be accessible to a broader audience as well. She said she wants the book to provoke thought among people about how we use language in certain ways that we may not think about very often.

“Really what I wanted to draw attention to is the things that seem scientific,” Koerber said. “Like when WebMD has a website that says ‘How to Control Your Raging Female Hormones' and it seems like neutral scientific stuff. That's the kind of stuff I wanted to draw attention to.”

While she did not have any preconceived notions going into the research, she said one thing that really surprised her was how things had not changed very much over the centuries. She said she kept hearing the same things said over and over again, but in different ways.

Koerber noted that by encouraging inclusion and diversity among the people who produce scientific knowledge, society will have a better body of knowledge to draw from.


“The fact that these things kept recurring and even in the 21st Century that you can still find examples,” Koerber said. “That was probably the biggest surprise. And depressing.”

Koerber noted that by encouraging inclusion and diversity among the people who produce scientific knowledge, society will have a better body of knowledge to draw from.

“What we have here is a situation where for many, many centuries, up until very recently, you've had one group of people being the ‘knowers' and the other group of people being the ones that are known about,” Koerber said. “Anytime you have a situation like that, it's not going to produce the best knowledge.”

From Hysteria to Hormones: A Rhetorical History” is available at most major book retailers and online.