Questions of Power: The Politics of Women's Madness Narratives

Questions of Power: The Politics of Women's Madness Narratives

Questions of Power: The Politics of Women's Madness Narratives

Questions of Power: The Politics of Women's Madness Narratives

Synopsis

"Questions of Power: The Politics of Women's Madness Narratives explores the ways in which women have used autobiographical writing in response to psychiatric symptoms and treatment. By addressing health and healing from the patient's perspective, the study raises questions about psychiatric practice and mental health policy. The ultimate thesis is that autobiographies by women psychiatric patients can expose many of the problems in psychiatric treatment and indicate directions for change." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

In THE LOCATION OF CULTURE, Homi Bhabha writes, “a range of contemporary critical theories suggest that it is from those who have suffered the sentence of history—subjugation, domination, diaspora, displacement—that we learn our most enduring lessons for living and thinking.” By analyzing autobiographical writing by women who were treated for psychiatric problems, the present study focuses on women who suffered and confronted the sentence of history. Elizabeth Packard, Ada Metcalf, Clarissa Lathrop, and Lydia Smith claimed that they were falsely labeled as insane and unjustly incarcerated in asylums. Other women, such as Jane Hillyer, Barbara Field Benziger, and Joanne Greenberg, viewed their suffering primarily in terms of the ravages of mental illness. Writers such as Kate Millett, Jill Johnston, and Susanna Kaysen are critical of psychiatric and cultural understandings of “mental illness.” Although they understood the cause of their suffering in different ways, all of these women confronted the sentence of history through autobiographical writing.

An analysis of these autobiographical accounts necessarily engages scholarship in several areas, including medical and social history, psychiatry, and feminist theory, as well as literary and cultural analysis of the texts themselves. Autobiographical writings by mental patients have come to be seen as important sources for the history of psychiatry. Similarly, feminist scholars have turned to women's autobiographies for evidence of gender bias in psychiatric practice and cultural attitudes about women. The emphasis of the present study, however, is neither historical nor theoretical; the main focus is on the lives of the women themselves. Yet, it is important to ask what these . . .

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