Investing in the Bank of Hysteria

Bank of Hysteria

by Saemmool Lee

In the CITRIS Tech Museum in Sutardja Dai Hall, a new exhibit is designed to encourage “womxn, femmes, and gender-nonconforming community members” to express and share their anger. The Bank of Hysteria Toll-free Rage Hotline enables visitors to vent their thoughts at what looks like an automated teller screen, via text message or phone. Then the installation prints out transcriptions of these messages into an overflowing crate of “rage receipts” below.

A team of five Berkeley students and alumnae — Jessica Liu, Rebecca Milman, Malika Imhotep, Phyllis Thai, and Frances Thai — launched the project last fall as part of the Innovation Catalysts, a new grant program of the Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation and the CITRIS Invention Lab.

The project responds to the trope of femininity as “overly-emotional,” a stereotype that undermines women’s authority and opinions. The term “hysterical” has been long used to dismiss women’s anger.

The exhibit explains the team’s motivation: “By establishing a Bank of Hysteria, we sought to valorize that sentiment and use it as a means for social change and education. We wanted to create a space where womxn could come together, be heard, and connect with one another.”

The project was inspired by feminist thinker Audre Lorde’s famous quote from 1981: “Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.”

According to the team’s statement, the idea of offering rage receipts serves as a physical manifestation of the expression of anger and frustration, according to the team. This idea grew into the metaphor of “investment,” which represents emotions that are valid and worthy of investment. Visitors can freely take any of the receipts that resonate with them.

The CITRIS Tech Museum, located on the third floor of Sutardja Dai Hall, is open to the public on weekdays from 9:00 am – 4:30 pm for free, self-guided tours year-round (closed on university holidays).

Photo by Roland Saekow