If you have been lucky to date, marry or related to a Greek woman, you might have heard the stereotypes—“she’s hysterical,” “she makes a big deal out of nothing,” “She’s a nut job,” “she’s a drama queen.” Are these stereotypes true? Are they fair? And if there is some truth to some of these observations about Greek girl behavior, where do they come from?
From anecdotal accounts, it would seem that out of every three Greek women, one can be characterized as “intense.” An American friend who had a long-standing relationship with a Greek-American woman characterized Greek girls as “complicated”, “full of issues,” and “problematic.” He eventually killed the relationship because he just could not handle the extreme emotionality of his partner. Alternatively, a Greek-American man who had tried unsuccessfully for many years to appease his parents by dating only Greek girls gave it up because as he said, “They’re all crazy.” He is now happily married to an Irish-German very American woman “with no hang ups.”
From what I have heard from guy friends, both Greek and non-Greek who date Greek women, the verdict is that Greek girls are wracked with insecurities, jealousies, petty disagreements, that present major challenges to relationships for guys who want just a laid-back, live-and-let-live type of relationship. “My girlfriend would drive me crazy,” Jack confessed. “When I’d be away, she would text me and call me constantly. She was always checking up on me to see if I wasn’t cheating on her.” Jack recounts that when he had tried to pull away from the relationship, she would come kicking and screaming at his apartment at 11 at night threatening to kill him. He even had to get an order of protection against her. “I have found that my Greek girlfriend was more apt to go off the deep end when stressed than the other women I have dated,” Jack describes. “Latinas when they get mad will fight with you and clobber you in your face, but with Greek girls,” he continues, “they will harp on you till you die.” Having dated two Greek women in the past, he verifies that they are “something different.” Greek women tend to be overly dramatic—they threaten to kill you with a butcher knife—or lock themselves up in a bathroom stall and threaten to kill themselves because of what you said about them three months ago. “They tend to get hysterical,” he comments.
Lets face it—issues, personality disorders, insecurities are not exclusively Greek phenomena, as other cultural groups are not immune to their fair share of madness. But there might be a basis for understanding some of the extremes in Greek women’s reactions and “neuroses” especially as they manifest in romantic relationships. In fact, the birth of modern psychiatry might be linked back to the search for the cure for Greek women’s madness from ancient times. According to Greek mythology, the experience of hysteria in women was attributed to core of their madness.
Researchers at the University of Calgari in Italy in an article entitled “Women and Hysteria in the History of Mental Health,” tell us the back story:
The Argonaut Melampus, a physician, is considered its founder: he placated the revolt of Argo’s virgins who refused to honor the phallus and fled to the mountains, their behavior being taken for madness. Melampus cured these women with hellebore and then urged them to join carnally with young and strong men. They were healed and recovered their wits. Melampus spoke of the women’s madness as derived from their uterus being poisoned by venomous humors, due to a lack of orgasms and “uterine melancholy” [2–4].
Thus arose the idea of a female madness related to the lack of a normal sexual life: Plato, in Timaeus, argues that the uterus is sad and unfortunate when it does not join with the male and does not give rise to a new birth, and Aristotle and Hippocrates were of the same opinion [2–4].
The Euripidy’s myth says that a collective way of curing (or, if we prefer, preventing) melancholy of the uterus is represented by the Dionysian experience of the Maenads, who reached catharsis through wine and orgies . Women suffering from hysteria could be released from the anxiety that characterizes this condition by participating in the Maenad experience. Trance states guided and cured by the Satyr, the priest of Dionysus, contributed to solving the conflict related to sexuality, typical of hysteria disease .
The Greek physician provides a good description of hysteria, which is clearly distinguished from epilepsy. He emphasizes the difference between the compulsive movements of epilepsy, caused by a disorder of the brain, and those of hysteria due to the abnormal movements of the uterus in the body. Then, he resumes the idea of a restless and migratory uterus and identifies the cause of the indisposition as poisonous stagnant humors which, due to an inadequate sexual life, have never been expelled. He asserts that a woman’s body is physiologically cold and wet and hence prone to putrefaction of the humors (as opposed to the dry and warm male body). For this reason, the uterus is prone to get sick, especially if it is deprived of the benefits arising from sex and procreation, which, widening a woman’s canals, promote the cleansing of the body. And he goes further; especially in virgins, widows, single, or sterile women, this “bad” uterus – since it is not satisfied – not only produces toxic fumes but also takes to wandering around the body, causing various kinds of disorders such as anxiety, sense of suffocation, tremors, sometimes even convulsions and paralysis. For this reason, he suggests that even widows and unmarried women should get married and live a satisfactory sexual life within the bounds of marriage [2–4].
However, when the disease is recognized, affected women are advised not only to partake in sexual activity, but also to cure themselves with acrid or fragrant fumigation of the face and genitals, to push the uterus back to its natural place inside the body [2–4].
So the ancient experts have spoken: If Greek women are more neurotic than most, it’s due to lack of sex and a “melancholy” uterus. If a girl does not get enough, it might translate into erratic behavior. The cure to get their uterus whammed back into place is by having sex over and over so that the penis like a good hammer or a screwdriver can fix it. Perhaps. But why no one has given a name for the same disorder in men is curious. If the stereotypes are right, then men should be even more neurotic, crazy and violent when they do not get enough satisfaction of their carnal urges.
My hunch is that there are greater societal and cultural forces at play in women’s neuroses. I believe at the core of Greek women’s “hysteria” is their lack of self-esteem and their harrowing insecurities. If you are raised in a culture that makes you believe either consciously and subconsciously that you are inferior, second-class, your internal landscape will be skewed so much that you might not even be aware of your own unhappiness. The backlash Greek women give to their partners might be a repressed expression of their outrage at being oppressed and suppressed. In fact, those who point the finger and label Greek women with these stereotypes are the ones responsible for perpetuating them. As Greek women, we come from a long-long tradition of philosophers, historians, doctors pointing out what is wrong with us. Take the ancient writer Semonides. He wrote an entire treatise categorizing women into not one but many distinct stereotypical categories.
‘In the beginning Zeus made the female mind separately’ Here he is immediately isolating women – women were made differently and should be treated differently – this was the male justification. He carries on to describe the ten different characters of the female species, these are: the pig (a slob), the fox, earth (glutton), the bitch (‘always yapping’), the sea woman (moody), donkey (promiscuous), ferret (‘she makes any man she has with her sick’), the horse (lazy), the monkey (‘the biggest plague of all that Zeus has given to man’) and the bee lady (a respectable housewife). These characters all lay the basis for the ancient Greek stereotype of women, as is evident, the majority of these stereotypes are negative.
By first stating women have identifiable different minds they can now easily be pigeon-holed. Once this is done it follows (in the Greek mind) that woman now have set capacities, boundaries which they cannot aspire to surpass, whereas men, who are not categorized, have no limit to their capabilities.
One of the main features of Semonides’ prejudice and, indeed the prejudice of the male population of Greece, was the belief that women were autominate – they not only make bad decisions (‘she eats up sacrifices left unburned’ – ferret), they are physically unable to make moral distinctions between right and wrong:’she often calls bad things good and good things bad’ – the Vixen’she knows nothing good or bad’ – Earth ‘when it comes to the bed of love she accepts any partner’ – the Donkey
If we are being raised in a tradition that degrades us, is it any wonder that we might grow up with a fair share of hang ups? It is a matter of blaming the victim. If that is the case, most women who have been raised in a hostile patriarchal system can be considered “nuts.”
A comment a reader made on one of the dating forums perhaps sums it up, “No doubt exists that all women are crazy; it’s only a question of degree.”