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International Women's Day and Women with Mental Illnesses In History

Posted Mar 08 2011 12:00am

Today, March 8th is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. To celebrate, Google changed its graphic on its main page to the above design. You can find an article about that on the Huffington Post . And Google partnered with Women for Women International (an excellent organization to support) to organize a worldwide event of women gathering on bridges to commemorate this day. And here , the Huffpost displays pictures of some of the world's most influential women, but I'd argue that there are a LOT more than 19 very influential women on the globe.

I am dealing with a lot of issues, but I would be a remiss feminist to not post anything on International Women's Day, much less on its 100th anniversary. This website gives a lot of information about various events that occurred today to celebrate this date.

March is also Women's History Month. It's nice that we get one month out of the year, since our history isn't portrayed accurately or completely in most of the history books that have ever been written throughout the history of (wo)mankind In honor of this month, I decided to look up some information to share with you here on the way women with mental illnesses have been treated throughout history. Over at Women's Mental Illness: A Response to Oppression , Katie Frick writes about how patriarchal oppression causes the myth that women are the "weaker" sex, when we really are the we-get-the-discrimination sex. She talks about various mental health diagnoses and their definitions in the 19th century. It's an interesting page.

In Mad, Bad, and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors, reviewed here on Jezebel , Lisa Appignanesi writes about some of the barbaric treatments (or torture) women have been subjected to in efforts to cure their mental illnesses throughout history. I haven't read this book, but now that I've found out about it, I will.

It was in a Women's Literature class in the late 1990's that I first read the story, "The Yellow Wallpaper", by Charlotte Perkins Gilman , and learned what "hysteria" was really all about. In the story, Gilman's character is prescribed the "rest cure", which was often prescribed for so-called mental illnesses (then referred to as Hysteria) to women who were a little too self-confident, who expressed anger, who had career aspirations, and who just weren't mousy and pathetic enough to suit the status quo. Many of these women had no mental illness at all, yet they were confined to bed, to waste their days away doing nothing, and if something like that doesn't make you get depressed, you're a pretty lucky person. The story is somewhat an autobiography, because Gilman herself was prescribed the "Rest Cure".

I remember my first psychiatrist, a very conservative, right wing, Christian man who talked about God too often to be professional, telling me that I couldn't leave my Ms. magazines in his office because it would, "offend women clients" who didn't want to read that. He also told me that I suffered from a "hatred of men" or "anger at men" problem. I thought he was a sexist jackass with his love of Freud and his obviously patronizing attitude towards women. I still look back at this and laugh that this jackass was in practice at all, and am glad I eventually got away from him. What I really suffered from was severe, recurrent Major Depression, and Anorexia Nervosa, and he knew that so I don't see why it was necessary for this old white right wing man to tell me that I had anger at men just because I expressed displeasure with the history of thousands of years of oppression women have suffered. Any anger I had at men was justified. I do live in a patriarchal society, so sometimes things like that are going to happen.

This Timeline of women with mental illnesses throughout history gives some interesting stories of how women were treated by the mental health system during various time periods.

If you want a great place to find a TON of info on women's history/ herstory, go here. This is one of my favorite topics, and I could talk about it all day, so I am trying to sum a lot of information in one brief post that I want to complete before the end of March 8th which is looming in a few minutes!

If you don't know about Dorothea Dix, go here or go here , or go here and learn about this amazing, brave woman's contributions to mental health advocacy in a time period when were still caged up like animals. She is one of our foremothers, and a heroine who should never be forgotten like so many historical women have been. Dorothea is the one in the picture at the top of this post.

Happy International Women's Day and Women's History Month!
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