- Paperback: 359 pages
- Publisher: Harcourt (December 1, 1989)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156982951
- ISBN-13: 978-0156982955
- Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,291,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Women and Madness Paperback – December 1, 1989
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The single most important work on women and mental "health" and "illness," this book has revolutionized psychiatry since its publication in 1972. It is not an exaggeration to say that Phyllis Chesler gave birth to what is now known as feminist therapy through her analysis of how patriarchy shapes our definitions of madness, and of how psychiatry is used as a form of social control. What she shows is that women are defined as mad when they deviate from sex role stereotyping; that sex, class, race and marital status affect the likelihood of a woman being diagnosed as mad, and further determine her actual diagnosis or "type" of madness. And although much has changed in the world of therapy and psychology, this book remains as timely and significant today as it did over 20 years ago. -- From The WomanSource Catalog & Review: Tools for Connecting the Community for Women; review by Patricia Pettijohn
About the Author
Phyllis Chesler is the author of seminal works including the 2.5-million copy bestseller Women and Madness, as well as Letters to a Young Feminist and Woman's Inhumanity to Woman. Her most recent book, The New Anti-Semitism, has won her international acclaim and sparked huge debate.
She is an Emerita Professor of psychology and women's studies, the co-founder of the Association for Women in Psychology (1969), the National Women's Health Network (1974), and the International Committee for Women of the Wall (1989). She is currently on the Board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and is also affiliated with Haifa and Bar Ilan Universities. She lives in New York City.
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The only thing I wish she had addressed in this revised edition is deinstitutionalization and its affects on women. Perhaps another time? Soon?
She wrote in the Introduction to this 1972 book, "This is a book about female psychology... This is a book about the dramatically increasing numbers of American women of all classes and races, who are seen, or who see themselves, as 'neurotic' or 'psychotic,' and who seek psychotherapeutic help and/or are psychiatrically hospitalized. This is a book about the many 'whys' of such help-seeking behavior; about 'what' is experienced and viewed as in need of help; and about 'how' those women are---or aren't---helped."
Here are some additional quotations from the book:
"Today more women are seeking psychiatric help and being hospitalized than at any other time in history... There were significantly more women being 'helped' than their existence in the population would allow us to predict." (Pg. 33)
"I think (Dr. Thomas Szasz) underestimates the deeply conditioned nature of woman's compliance with her literal and psychological self-sacrifice. Many female mental patients ... commit themselves, quite voluntarily, to asylums or to private psychiatrists. The fear of economic, physical, and ... punishment teaches women to value their own sacrifice so highly that they quite 'naturally' perform it." (Pg. 106)
"Each woman, as patient... wants from a psychotherapist what she wants---and often cannot get---from a husband: attention, understanding, merciful relief, a personal solution---in the arms of the right husband, on the couch of the right therapist." (Pg. 109)
"Paradoxically, while women must not 'succeed,' when they DO succeed at anything, they have still failed if they're not successful at everything... A woman has failed if she succeeds at winning a legal or intellectual battle and has hurt another woman's (or man's) feelings in the process ... Ironically, mothers are often seen as 'failures'... because they haven't also achieved careers or independence from their families." (Pg. 277)
Beyond Chesler's core concept that women are considered mad when they do not conform to man's concept of women-hood, which I can agree on, she states that the idea of monogamy works against women and is a very male idea, which makes women who have close relationships with men feel threatened by. Tied to this concept is her statement that there is a biological fact and significance of heterosexual rape and pregnancy as the primary factors in the formulation of the patriarchal family coupled with a primary factory that man's need for proof of his genetic immortality was so great that he felt entitled to colonize women's bodies.
I find fault with her theories on monogamy and patriarchal relationships. If anything I strongly believe, and there is just as much evidence to support my belief as there is her concepts, that the patriarchal family was a construe of the female race to protect themselves and allow them to control a particular man and related revenue stream. The t6raditional patriarchal woman has positioned herself to a situation where she can exist on someone else's life effort. It is to her best interests to have a monogamous relationship. The requirement of his mate's monogamy has more to do with ensuring he is supporting his genetic offspring and not someone else's.
Furthermore, she also states that the certain type of "mindlessness" and "superficiality" that men attach to female to female communications which is neither "mindlessness" or "superficiality" is in fact a higher level of communications that provides a vehicle to an emotional resolution in which their feelings are embedded which itself is "abstracted" and "summarized" in a non-verbal and/or non-verbalized form. Seemingly unrelated facial expressions, pauses, sighs, and seemingly unrelated, or "non-abstract" responses to statements are crucial to their dialogue, with a special prescience at work, affording women a measure of emotional reality and kind of comfort they cannot find with men.
It seems she believes only woman has this "abstracted" "summarized" non-verbal and/or non-verbalized form of communication completely ignoring the male testosterone prescience, that is just as crucial to the male dialogue as what she describes is to the female dialogue.
For the most part there is a lot in this book that the average, and not so average, male should know about. Unfortunately if one does not have the ability to read between the lines they can quickly get caught up in the "Feminism" driving Chesler's work, and dismiss it all.
Society has changed since this book was first published and a good deal of what the Feminism movement, and Chesler, were all about has been incorporated into many of today's westernized society and culture.
It would be interesting to read the newer up-to-date edited edition to see if it suffers the same incorrect theories and concepts.