Crazy Ladies?

Here’s a question. Are women victims of their biology? And do certain events in a woman’s life such as childbirth or menopause, predispose us to mental health disorders?

Cards on the table, I’m not sure I go with this one.  Absolutely, hormones and stressful events can trigger all kinds of physical and mental problems.  But don’t major life experiences also affect men? (Or is ‘Tiger blood’ Sheen a glorious figment of my imagination?) Gender differences may predispose us to certain kinds of craziness – busyness in women for example, or disengagement in men.  But just because we women are different, doesn’t make us nut-bars.

Historically, women have been seen as victims of biology. During the Victorian era, mere possession of a womb was enough to classify you as seriously unstable.  There are lots of different reasons for this, but here’s some that spring immediately to mind.

One – if you’re in a culture that equates repression with morality, then of course emotions will leak out in unhealthy ways.  That’s partly because you’re HUMAN, not just female. (Interestingly, it is during this period that we see a rise in behaviours which today would be classified as eating disorders, depression, self-harm and ME.  It’s also when thinness re-emerges as an ideal connected to progress and gentility).

Secondly, you’ve got the emergence of a new middle-class of essentially kept ladies.  Now, if those women were made of the same stuff as me, they may also have had brains and UNCONTROLLABLE DRIVES to DO.  I’m guessing that needlepoint alone doesn’t quite hit the spot – especially if you’re blessed with sausage fingers.  What’s really surprising is that more women didn’t cut loose, (or perhaps they did but were all locked in the attic).  Nowadays of course, you can just channel your angst, call yourself Shakira and release a (stonking) hit single where you pretend to be a SheWolf. (I would add the link but I’ll lose you forever).

Thirdly, if you’re squeezed to within an inch of your life into a whalebone corset, of course you’re going to get ‘the vapours’.  That’s because your kidneys are now inhabiting the space marked ‘ tonsils’.

But what about today?  Can’t we women ‘have it all?’ Haven’t we been set free from the ‘feminine myth’ and our bondage to stereotypes? Or, (as Appignanesi argues), are our cultural definitions of madness still closely tied to gender expectations?  Surely in today’s enlightened culture we’ve moved beyond such primitive thinking. After all, we invented Facebook.  Then again, just because  gender expectations are different today, doesn’t mean that they’re healthier or less pervasive.

6 thoughts on “Crazy Ladies?

  1. Yes, you’re right. And culture always seems to swing from one extreme to the other. It takes a while to balance out (if it ever does).

    From a worldwide perspective we are all in different places – so in some areas women are still horrifically abused and oppressed (as the accepted norm). I’m reading a book Zondervan have asked me to review on this topic – so my mind is churning over it at the moment!

  2. Hi Lucy
    That’s a good point. It’s easy to write from a limited perspective- even within the Western world there are enormous differences in gender experiences and expectations, let alone beyond that.

  3. I think im with you.

    Have you seen this series?

    Not sure what I really think – I definitely think that we, and by we I mean all humanity, can sin in an emotional response to a situation. And I think I’ll even grant that in general women can be more emotional than men, but I worry that there is a danger of condemning women who are already acutely aware of their sin! And like you, I’m not sure men are exempt.

  4. Hi M

    Just checked out this series – it’s brilliant. (Check it out if you haven’t already).
    Like you say, women (or people in general) might be more or less ’emotional’ – but in itself that’s neither good nor bad. It may mean for example, that we are more insecure, but it can also mean that we are more compassionate. I guess it’s about giving who we are to the Lord, so that He can make more of us as we are made to be. (What that looks like in practice is another question)

  5. Funny that imbalance is often linked to femininity. Ever noticed most of the ‘crazy’ people that Jesus deals with in the bible were, in fact, male? Women, also followed Him faithfully, last at the cross, first at the tomb. There were certainly ladies available to make the butt of a joke or hold up as bad examples, but that is not what He did. Just one more thing that makes Christianity unique in world history. Jesus wept, got angry, shouted, called people names, threw stuff ( righteous anger of course), was lonely and dreaded the misery of the cross. Fully human or just that time of the month?
    What a mighty God we serve.

  6. LOL. Caroline – you are a tonic. And spot on – in His humanity Jesus encapsulates the best of both women and men.

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