Women and Madness

Women and MadnessPhyllis CheslerDoubleday Books1972

This definitive book was the first to address critical questions about women and mental health. Combining patient interviews with an analysis of women’s roles in history, society, and myth Chesler concludes that there is a terrible double standard when it comes to women’s psychology. 

A conversation with Phyllis Chesler about Women and Madness, 47 years after publication, conducted by Jody Raphael.

From Jody Raphael’s interview with Phyllis Chesler: In a nutshell, the book’s thesis is that women who are labeled “mad” and medically treated, or even institutionalized, are either “acting out the devalued female role or the total or partial rejection of one’s own sex-role stereotype. […] Women who reject or are ambivalent about the female role frighten both themselves and society so much so that their ostracism and self-destructiveness probably begin very early. Such women are also assured of a psychiatric label.”

Women and Madness is a pioneer contribution to the feminization of psychiatric thinking and practice.

Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich’s review of Women and Madness in New York Times Book Review, 1972.

Women are impaled on the cross of self-sacrifice. Unlike men, they are categorically denied the experience of cultural supremacy and individuality. In different ways, some women are driven mad by this fact. Their madness is treated in such a way as to turn it into another form of self-sacrifice. Such madness is, in a sense, an intense experience of female sexual and cultural castration and a doomed search for potency

Phyllis Chesler in Women and Madness / page 91.

Table of Contents
(from the 2005 updated edition)

Demeter and Clytemnestra, Revisited
Chapter 1: Why Madness?
… Women in Asylums: Four Lives
… Mothers and Daughters: A Mythological Commentary on the Lives
… Heroines and Madness: Joan of Arc and the Virgin Mary
Chapter 2: Asylums
… The Mental Asylum
… The Female Social Role and Psychiatric Symptoms: Depression, Frigidity, and Suicide Attempts
… Schizophrenia in Three Studies
… A Theoretical Proposal
Chapter 3: The Clinicians
… How Many Clinicians Are There in America?
… Contemporary Clinical Ideology
… Traditional Clinical Ideology
… The Institutional Nature of Private Therapy
Chapter 4: The Female Career as a Psychiatric Patient
… The Interviews
… Women
Chapter 5: Sex Between Patient and Therapist
Chapter 6: Psychiatrically Institutionalized Women
Chapter 7: Lesbians
… The Interviews
Chapter 8: Third World Women
… The Interviews
Chapter 9: Feminists
… The Interviews
Chapter 10: Female Psychology: Past, Present, and Future
… Female Psychology in Our Culture: Women Alone
… Female Psychology in Our Culture: Women in Groups
… Amazon Societies: Visions and Possibilities
… The Problem of Survival: Power and Violence
… Some Psychological Prescriptions for the Future