So this is an amazing, wonderful, shocking, revelatory book that is well-researched, beautifully written, thoughtful and that frames a moral imperativ...moreSo this is an amazing, wonderful, shocking, revelatory book that is well-researched, beautifully written, thoughtful and that frames a moral imperative of undeniable power. It is also among my favorite feminist texts, and whenever I open it to look something up, I inevitably find myself rereading entire sections or chapters because I can't put it down.
Nevertheless, I only gave it four stars. I have some criticisms of it, which explain the non-perfect rating, but I love it so much I feel conflicted about that non-perfect rating. I'd give it 4 1/2 or 4 3/4 if fractional ratings were allowed on this site.
The book was first written in 1972, but the edition I have is a revised one from 2005, in which she addresses how much things have changed since she first wrote it, both in terms of science and politics. Politically, the mental-health professions are not the bastions of patriarchy they were when Chesler first wrote about them: lots of women are in these professions, and lots of therapists are feminists, and incorporate feminist principles into their practice. More obviously, our understanding of the biological underpinnings of mental illness has improved, and with it our ability to treat them.
Another reviewer criticized Chesler for ignoring actually seriously ill women in favor of healthy women whose disobedience or nonconformity was called illness as a pretext for locking them up; I don't know if this person read the revised edition or not, but in the book I read she does acknowledge disabling mental illness. She goes out of her way to state that she does not wish to romanticize mental illness, nor to argue against any treatment that relieves a mentally ill person's suffering and enables that person to live a longer, fuller life.
She also discusses some famous case histories of women who suffered actual mental breakdowns, who clearly needed help, but who were not really helped by the treatment they got. These women included Zelda Fitzgerald, Bertha Pappenheim (better known as "Anna O."), Ellen West, Catharine Beecher, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Sylvia Plath.
Far more disturbing to me were her descriptions of real women who were not insane at all, and did not seek treatment for themselves, but who were committed to lunatic asylums by husbands and fathers who wanted them out of the way. Those women include Elizabeth Packard (whose theological opinions differed from her husband's, and whose crime was to speak these ideas in public), Adriana Brinckle (who sold some pieces of furniture she hadn't fully paid for, and was locked up for almost thirty years), and Freud's other famous patient "Dora" (whose father was basically pimping her out to some other guy, and who was quite understandably upset about that).
(She also discusses a FASCINATING study by a psychiatrist named Shirley Angrist that compared women mental patients who had been released from the asylum, women who had been re-hospitalized at least once, and normal housewives, and found that mental health had little to do with whether a woman was pronounced cured or not: rather, the determining factor seemed to be her willingness to keep house and defer to her husband. This study was done in 1961).
There is also a very long section, making up the majority of the book, that contains Phyllis Chesler's own original research, which was a series of detailed interviews with a bunch of women who had been treated for mental illnesses. She divided her subjects up into categories, though she admits there is a lot of overlap between some of them: women who had been in sexual relationships with their therapists, women who had been hospitalized for mental illness, lesbians, feminists, and "Third World women," which seems to be a confusing label for poor women of color. (I say it is confusing because some or all of the women in this group are Americans; "Third World" to me connotes foreign origin as well as dark skin, poverty and disenfranchisement.) All of these women describe experiences that did not help them; only some were ever actually mentally ill; and lots of them, especially the women of color, the women who were institutionalized long-term, and the lesbians, tell horrible tales of abuse. Almost all of the lesbians were committed just because they were lesbian.
There is a recurring Greek-mythology motif that never quite seems to belong; Chesler explores female archetypes from that canon, particularly myths that explore mother-daughter relationships, like those of Demeter and Persephone or Clytemnestra and Electra. These sections were very interesting, and poetic, and gave me new ways to see these stories I've known since I was a child, but they don't really mesh with the rest of the book. There are a few areas of thematic commonality --- one of Chesler's ideas is that women check themselves into asylum so much because we are so starved for mother-love --- but for the most part they seem more in keeping with her later books, which focus on relationships between women, than with this book.
I also really wanted to see her discuss women with developmental disabilities, as the same concerns about institutional abuse and power dynamics apply to them.
Ultimately, I want people to read this, even if it is incomplete and most of the stories it tells are old. I think the ethical questions it raises about how we treat mental illness, and the extent to which we do not treat people with mental illnesses like People Who Matter, and the extent to which the institutions we have set up for those members of our society who can't take care of themselves tend to breed abuse, neglect and authoritarianism, are very, Very, VERY important. So I recommend this to everyone --- not my usual practice when reviewing a book about such a specialized topic, especially a history book, but this one is just that necessary. It shines a critical light where most people are content not to look.(less)
This book is an exhaustive look at a fairly large body of scientific literature --- Rebecca Jordan-Young is trying to evaluate the evidence for the th...moreThis book is an exhaustive look at a fairly large body of scientific literature --- Rebecca Jordan-Young is trying to evaluate the evidence for the thesis that testosterone and estrogen shape distinctly male and female, and also gay and straight, brains sometime during gestation.
To do this, she looks at all the studies ever published following either of these designs: 1) using a sample of people about whom something is known of their prenatal hormone exposure (like people with disorders like congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or people whose mothers allowed researchers to test their blood or amniotic hormone levels while pregnant) and trying to gather data about their abilities, personality traits, sexuality and compliance with gender norms, or 2) getting a bunch of "gender-atypical" people, like gay, lesbian or transgender people, or straight, cisgender people who defy gender norms in some other way, like women who are engineers, mathematicians or computer programmers, and trying to gather data about their early hormone exposure.
There's a lot of that literature to go through, and she does it meticulously, though her focus is less on answering the question "Are there male or female brains?" (she doesn't think we can answer that yet) and more on determining exactly what all these studies can tell us, and how well they fit together.
Most of the book is spent delving into technical details of how each study was done, and it seems to be written for an academic rather than a lay audience. I found this book valuable, and will definitely refer back to it a lot, but I didn't enjoy reading it the way I enjoyed reading Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender, which addresses similar issues for a more general audience, and is written in a much more engaging style.(less)
Very, very interesting --- if confusingly structured and sometimes awkwardly written --- discussion of something really bizarre that happened in Ameri...moreVery, very interesting --- if confusingly structured and sometimes awkwardly written --- discussion of something really bizarre that happened in American psychology during the 1980s and 1990s.
People would go into therapists' offices, looking for help with various psychological problems --- eating disorders, depression, relationship problems, etc. --- and, sometimes, the overzealous therapist would leap to the conclusion that the person must have been abused as a child, and would insist that memories of the abuse must lie buried within the patient's unconscious mind, waiting to be dug up.
One of the writers of this book, Elizabeth Loftus, is a memory researcher who found herself in the middle of a bunch of court cases relating to repressed memories, which she believes were mostly fictitious. (She doesn't think anyone knowingly lied about being abused; she just thinks some very desperate and suggestible people and some therapists who were very, very strongly committed to the idea that all psychopathology stems from childhood trauma got together and created these lurid, nightmarish stories of abuse, which both patient and therapist believed in). Loftus describes her research, especially the turns it took as she tried to prove her suspicions about the origins of these bizarre memories: at one point, she is able to demonstrate that you *can* create a memory of a traumatic event where none existed before, just by suggesting to someone that they actually experienced whatever it is you want them to remember. (Loftus's example was getting lost in a mall --- something scary enough, to a child, that "remembering" it caused distress, but not so horrific as to do lasting psychological damage to the people she suggested it to).
Besides the bizarre, unreal nature of so many of the uncovered memories, I was also struck by just how *unhelpful* so much of the recovered-memory "therapy" was to the people undergoing it. In the cases Loftus describes, the patients would go into the therapist's office with persistent, but manageable, psychological problems, and would become so consumed by the memories of abuse they discovered in therapy that they would become totally unable to cope with daily life. It really brings home the magnitude of the ethical violations these therapists committed, giving traumatic memories to people who had none.(less)
This book is a critique of two popular fallacies about men and women: gender essentialism (the idea that all men and all women resemble their own sex...moreThis book is a critique of two popular fallacies about men and women: gender essentialism (the idea that all men and all women resemble their own sex and differ from the other sex in the same ways) and universalizing maleness (using the average man as a stand-in for the average person). She mostly tackles essentialism in popular culture and psychology, particularly by looking critically at the studies cited as proof of gender stereotypes (say, that women are more empathic) and identifying factors those studies neglected to consider, and comparing them to studies that did factor those things in; usually, the gender gap narrows to insignificance in the more rigorous studies. Universalizing of maleness, on the other hand, is more often seen in medicine (where doctors learn anatomy and surgery from male bodies, and test medications and study disease primarily in men, with female physiology considered as an afterthought, if at all) and law (where one's actions often have to pass a "reasonable-man" test, which obscures the fact that a reasonable woman will often not make the same choices that would be reasonable for a man, especially when it comes to self-defense). Also noteworthy is her take on PMS, which she largely does not believe exists.
Very informative, and a great resource for gender-difference myths and facts. (Tavris does *NOT* believe men and women are the same; she merely believes that what differences do exist are small and fairly specialized, and that the variation within each sex is many times wider than that between the sexes).
The only caveat I have about it is that it was written in 1992, so there is probably a lot of gender-related research (both legitimate and in need of debunking) from recent years that will not be addressed here. Which is too bad, since I would love to see what Tavris thinks of Simon Baron-Cohen's hypothesis that autism is an extreme version of the normal, "male" brain. (less)
Prozac Nation is definitely not great literature, but it's absorbing all the same. It reads like a demented cross between The Catcher in the Rye and F...moreProzac Nation is definitely not great literature, but it's absorbing all the same. It reads like a demented cross between The Catcher in the Rye and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas --- a mash-up of the former's diffuse middle-class anomie and the latter's frenetic, drug-fueled antics.
Parts of the book may be triggering, particularly when she describes cutting herself and attempting suicide.(less)
**spoiler alert** The edition of this book that I have is by "Hannah Green," which I later discovered is Joanne Greenberg's pseudonym. Apparently some...more**spoiler alert** The edition of this book that I have is by "Hannah Green," which I later discovered is Joanne Greenberg's pseudonym. Apparently some parts of the story are autobiographical, and she was unwilling to reveal her mental illness at the time.
This book, written in the early sixties, details sixteen-year-old Deborah Blau's psychotic break with reality, and the efforts of psychoanalyst Dr. Fried to bring her back. Deborah slips back and forth between reality, which she experiences as colorless and not-quite-real, and the vivid imaginary Kingdom of Yr, with gods who speak to her in riddles, a howling chorus of accusatory voices called the Collect, and a gatekeeper between worlds, known as the Censor. Over the course of treatment, Dr. Fried reveals to Deborah how she has in fact created Yr to mask her conflicted feelings toward her own family, particularly her younger sister.
Yr is easily the best thing about this novel. The scenes with Deborah's family, especially when I reread it now, paint a stereotypical picture of the family dynamics that were once believed to bring on schizophrenia in children: the mother is a tightly-wound, emotionally unavailable worrywart who clings to the appearance of normalcy like a security blanket, while the father is as quiet and hands-off as she is controlling and talkative. The family really isn't developed much beyond showing its role as an incubator for Deborah's madness.
Also, though I don't remember for sure, it's quite likely that the book contains outdated information about the causes and treatment of schizophrenia. (less)