Women and Madness

by Phyllis Chesler

Paperback, 1982




Avon Books (1982), Edition: Eleventh Printing


Feminist icon Phyllis Chesler's pioneering work, Women and Madness, remains startlingly relevant today, nearly fifty years since its first publication in 1972. With over 2.5 million copies sold, this landmark book is unanimously regarded as the definitive work on the subject of women's psychology. Now back in print, this completely revised and updated edition adds perspectives on eating disorders, postpartum depression, biological psychology, important feminist political findings, female genital mutilation, and more.

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½ (35 ratings; 3.7)

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LibraryThing member Lynn_Kathleen_Barker
The author explores perception of women and gender roles, making a case that "madness" can be a normal response to intolerable pressures and exploitations experienced by women. Issues in the myth of Demeter and Persephone are explored. As an introduction to the topic, Chesler cites writings of and
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by four women who were institutionalized as psychiatric patients: Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald, Ellen West and Elizabeth Ware Packard.
I was particularly interested in the perspectives on E.W. Packard, since she was one of my great-great-great grandmothers. in the 1860's, Packard was committed on the say-so of her minister husband, purely because of her progressive views on religion. She spent three agonizing years in the Illinois state mental hospital, and subsequently wrote about her experiences. She later became an activist, urging state and federal legislators to change laws that permitted men to commit their wives to institutions virtually at will. She argued persuasively for basic rights for mental patients. Her story is compared with those of Plath, Fitzgerald, and West in the first chapter.
Chesler goes on to look at attitudes of therapists of both sexes toward women. She discussed the nature of asylums, and the therapeutic relationship between clinician and patient.
Chesler conducted 60 interviews with women who had been in treatment for mental illness. She categorized the interviewees as women who had been sexually involved with their therapists, those who had spent time in psychiatric hospitals, those who identified themselves as lesbians, those who thought of themselves as feminists, and "third world women" who came from a background of poverty. Some women were listed in more than one category. The experiences of the women are compared and analyzed.
Women and Madness was a little hard to get through, but ultimately worth reading. The author thinks of herself as more of an artist than a scientist, and tends to rant and ramble around her topic. She is passionate about pointing out the injustices endured by women in modern society, and gender inequities in psychiatric care.
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