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Feminist icon Chesler's pioneering work--2.5 million copies sold--revised and updated for the first time in 30 years. 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 c Feminist icon Chesler's pioneering work--2.5 million copies sold--revised and updated for the first time in 30 years. 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. In this new edition, she addresses head-on many of the most relevant issues to women and mental health today, including eating disorders, social acceptance of antidepressants, addictions, sexuality, postpartum depression, and more. Fully revised and updated, Women and Madness remains as important today as it was when first published in 1972.


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Feminist icon Chesler's pioneering work--2.5 million copies sold--revised and updated for the first time in 30 years. 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 c Feminist icon Chesler's pioneering work--2.5 million copies sold--revised and updated for the first time in 30 years. 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. In this new edition, she addresses head-on many of the most relevant issues to women and mental health today, including eating disorders, social acceptance of antidepressants, addictions, sexuality, postpartum depression, and more. Fully revised and updated, Women and Madness remains as important today as it was when first published in 1972.

30 review for Women and Madness

  1. 5 out of 5

    Stephy

    Phyllis Chessler looked at women's "Craziness" as it was defined by patriarchal culture (remember this is early in neo-feminism, maybe thirty years ago) as: Anything that made them want to have their own lives, defined by themselves, not by the men in their lives. She examined her belief that "mental illness" in a women was anything that was inconvenient for men. She proved her case brilliantly. The "warehousing" of the mentally ill was in vogue then, and women could be locked up in mental instit Phyllis Chessler looked at women's "Craziness" as it was defined by patriarchal culture (remember this is early in neo-feminism, maybe thirty years ago) as: Anything that made them want to have their own lives, defined by themselves, not by the men in their lives. She examined her belief that "mental illness" in a women was anything that was inconvenient for men. She proved her case brilliantly. The "warehousing" of the mentally ill was in vogue then, and women could be locked up in mental institutions for years over an instance of postpartum depression. There was so much more to it than I can write here, and anybody who wasn't born under patriarchy will question the necessity for such a book. It was a book of phenomenal social importance then, and is still frightening valid in many women's lives and circumstances today. Still an important book. It should be required reading in high school.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    Phyllis Chesler knows little of and chooses not to focus on what the actual expereince of being mad (and being labeled mad) is like for women who have legitimate illnesses, and chooses to instead focus on how madness is precieved in women. In this respect, she is like the professionals she criticizes - equally giving her diagnosis (nontraditional female in rebellion) and not listening to those who are labled - accuaretly or not - as mad. She has made madness a social construct but ignores the re Phyllis Chesler knows little of and chooses not to focus on what the actual expereince of being mad (and being labeled mad) is like for women who have legitimate illnesses, and chooses to instead focus on how madness is precieved in women. In this respect, she is like the professionals she criticizes - equally giving her diagnosis (nontraditional female in rebellion) and not listening to those who are labled - accuaretly or not - as mad. She has made madness a social construct but ignores the reality that true insanity is a dehibilitating expereince that should be treated. She chooses to focus not on those who are truely mad - perhaps three pages to the subject of shizophrenia, only to discuss how it used to be precieved - but instead on maragnialized groups who have encountered the mental health profession. She talks about how the mental health profrofession can be used to "normalize" these women.True enough and somebody should be saying it. Perhaps the book is very outdated, but I found myself frustrated that she focuses on women who choose to be in therapy for a precieved need, as oppossed to the realities of those who have to meet with a physcatrist and/or therapist because they do have a legitamate illness and it is required. In the end, she did nothing to liberate those who are truly mad, and simply ignored them as if they are not part of the equation. Would be a good book, if it weren't for this reality.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay

    So 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 conflict So 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Clare Carter

    So for a book that I feel like is super popular (as it says on this cover, millions of copies have been sold), this does not have many Goodreads reviews. I wonder if this is because it was published in the 70s? I do not know. Anyway, this was another that I had to read for class. Actually--I only had to read the a couple parts for class, but I decided to read the entire thing because 1. I'm a completionist when it comes to books but also 2. I thought it was very interesting! The reason this only So for a book that I feel like is super popular (as it says on this cover, millions of copies have been sold), this does not have many Goodreads reviews. I wonder if this is because it was published in the 70s? I do not know. Anyway, this was another that I had to read for class. Actually--I only had to read the a couple parts for class, but I decided to read the entire thing because 1. I'm a completionist when it comes to books but also 2. I thought it was very interesting! The reason this only gets 3 stars is just because a LOT of the material went right over my head. I was very glad that even though we're not reading the entire book in class, we're going over all the chapters, because I needed that extra help to fully comprehend a lot of the ideas Chesler addresses this book. I also probably didn't agree with EVERYTHING in here, but it's hard to pin down exact examples because a lot of the time I wasn't 100% what she was saying, so I don't know all of her exact perspectives. Anyway, I never would have read this otherwise, because it's a bit of a slog through depressing topics, but I definitely feel more educated for having done so!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nora

    Essential reading to understand how much we don't understand but also how much we have learned. Very dense so prepare to be furious at the system and take breaks. Essential reading to understand how much we don't understand but also how much we have learned. Very dense so prepare to be furious at the system and take breaks.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jas

    A must-read for anyone interested in the history of institutionalized women, the emergence of feminism in the field of psychology, and about the human psyche as it relates to female role-models in religion, whether Christian (the virgin Mary, Ruth, etc.) or pagan (Demeter, Persephone, Electra, etc.). There is a LOT of material here. Originally written in 1972 (!!) and given a new preface and introduction (and minor edits throughout) in 2005, this work remains extremely relevant in 2019.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vasil Kolev

    First, as everyone (includding me) seems to misunderstand the title - this is not book about the madness in women (although there's some of that), it's a lot more on how it has been used as a label against them, to stop them from deviating from the societal ideas about their place and purpose. There are some problems with this book - some statements are unsupported, it tries to make you feel like all this is your fault and on some levels does seem to have been written with only female readers in First, as everyone (includding me) seems to misunderstand the title - this is not book about the madness in women (although there's some of that), it's a lot more on how it has been used as a label against them, to stop them from deviating from the societal ideas about their place and purpose. There are some problems with this book - some statements are unsupported, it tries to make you feel like all this is your fault and on some levels does seem to have been written with only female readers in mind. On the other hand, the information in the book, especially the part with the interviews will be an eye-opener to most people. There are also some very good explanations of things which are otherwise hard to understand (for example, why men don't see the point in women's conversations where it seems like nothing is being said). It can easily be said that it's one of the good feminist books.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leigh

    It's so interesting to me to read first-edition second-wave feminist texts. Reading the original version gives you some insight into what these women were trying to achieve before the rest of us came along. This is the first of the 60's and 70's works I've read that mention women of color and women in poverty in any truly meaningful manner, which seems revolutionary given the feminist movement's roots in upper-class whiteness. I liked Chesler's framing of mental illness against the various arche It's so interesting to me to read first-edition second-wave feminist texts. Reading the original version gives you some insight into what these women were trying to achieve before the rest of us came along. This is the first of the 60's and 70's works I've read that mention women of color and women in poverty in any truly meaningful manner, which seems revolutionary given the feminist movement's roots in upper-class whiteness. I liked Chesler's framing of mental illness against the various archetypes in ancient myths, but would have much rather had some further analysis of actual women and their experiences with mental health problems, institutionalization, and medication. I'm sure later editions probably do go into further detail; I just had to buy this first edition when I stumbled across it. Because, c'mon.

  9. 4 out of 5

    seroquelle

    redundant, opaque. i cringed through the entire chapter on 'third world women'. she offers a lot of half-baked theories but no real solutions. redundant, opaque. i cringed through the entire chapter on 'third world women'. she offers a lot of half-baked theories but no real solutions.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Daniels

    First compiled and written in the early '70s, this revised edition released in the infancy of the new century still relies heavily on its original data. There are references to progress or cultural changes in the intervening 30-35 years, but in large part they act as little more than footnotes or asides to the author's theses from what is now half a century ago. That said, a lot of it is still very much relevant to the state of women's place in society, their perceived value in both the home and First compiled and written in the early '70s, this revised edition released in the infancy of the new century still relies heavily on its original data. There are references to progress or cultural changes in the intervening 30-35 years, but in large part they act as little more than footnotes or asides to the author's theses from what is now half a century ago. That said, a lot of it is still very much relevant to the state of women's place in society, their perceived value in both the home and the workplace, the ways they are exploited and endangered, and how all these feed into their own self-esteem and overall mental health. One section in particular struck me profoundly: "Women alone and in groups, including feminist groups, found it hard to abandon the virulent double standard of male-female behavior. They still do. Paradoxically, while women must not "succeed," when they *do* succeed at anything, they have still failed if they're not successful at *everything*. Women must be perfect (goddesses) or they're failures (whores).... If a woman accomplishes a valuable task she, unlike men (who after all, are mortal), still has failed if she has, for example, abandoned the daily care of her children or her looks in order to do so." That hits really close to home, and it hopefully will cause me to check my reaction when it happens again.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mollie

    This book wasn't quite what I expected. With the title "Women and Madness," I thought there would be more about women with madness. It turned out to be more about how women are thought to be mad when they exhibit (or don't exhibit) certain female traits. As a female engineer, I am in a very small minority, but apparently I am very lucky because I couldn't relate to a lot of the things Chesler discussed about being female in a male-dominated field. My family dynamic was also apparently quite stra This book wasn't quite what I expected. With the title "Women and Madness," I thought there would be more about women with madness. It turned out to be more about how women are thought to be mad when they exhibit (or don't exhibit) certain female traits. As a female engineer, I am in a very small minority, but apparently I am very lucky because I couldn't relate to a lot of the things Chesler discussed about being female in a male-dominated field. My family dynamic was also apparently quite strange since unlike the "norm" Chesler presents in her book, my father was much harder on me than on my brothers (I am not imagining it; the other members of my family agree). I also don't agree that getting rid of the family structure is going to make things any better or women. I read another book of Chesler's that I liked very much, but I guess I was a bit disappointed in this one. She did bring up some good points, though, and I especially liked the interview section of the book. I guess I was just hoping for more than I found in this one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This text definitely has some astute and important points about feminism and women, but I'm not sure why it's called Women and Madness because I did not find madness to be a focus at all. It touches on it at points, certainly, but doesn't seem to have an overall argument about madness other than the extremely vague point that madness might exist but most women are not mad. What about the women that are truly mad? How does she define it, how often does it occur, why does it occur? The text says l This text definitely has some astute and important points about feminism and women, but I'm not sure why it's called Women and Madness because I did not find madness to be a focus at all. It touches on it at points, certainly, but doesn't seem to have an overall argument about madness other than the extremely vague point that madness might exist but most women are not mad. What about the women that are truly mad? How does she define it, how often does it occur, why does it occur? The text says little about this, which is unfortunate because it is what I am primarily interested in. I also found this edition confusing, as some areas have clearly been untouched since the 1970s and there are some overwhelmingly modern updates, but it isn't made clear which is which so it was just an odd reading experience. And, lastly, I personally don't get anything out of Greek mythology, unfortunately, so the large points on that were somewhat lost on me. I appreciate that this book is important and can absolutely see how it would appeal to many readers, but it just wasn't for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alice Harbin

    I thought I was a feminist and supported the "Me Too"movement, but this book was over the top for me. There was a lot of writing about lesbians and I guess I had never thought about them as being feminists. Oh I know that is funny, but the only lesbians I know are my niece and her partner. Nether of them seem to behave as what I had thought of as feminists, but just the opposite. Much of the writing was too complicated for me. This mostly was about the feminist movement. The parts that related t I thought I was a feminist and supported the "Me Too"movement, but this book was over the top for me. There was a lot of writing about lesbians and I guess I had never thought about them as being feminists. Oh I know that is funny, but the only lesbians I know are my niece and her partner. Nether of them seem to behave as what I had thought of as feminists, but just the opposite. Much of the writing was too complicated for me. This mostly was about the feminist movement. The parts that related to the writings of educated women who'd been kept in mental institutions as a convenience for their husbands having mistresses were interesting. I wasn't aware that private mental hospitals weren't much different than state hospitals. Fortunately so much has changed since then.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa Chrisman

    I read an updated version (2005, republished in 2018). I agree with some of the criticisms— I don’t think that “madness” is an entirely social construct, and I wish that had been parsed out more. Yet, I think this book offers a valuable perspective on madness and women. I know I will return to it often in my scholarly work.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Phillip Elliott

    I've read several of Ms. Chesler's books. I keep reading her because I find them intellectually challenging. I find myself challenged to think outside my box and provoked into reconsidering my reality. This book was different. It felt angry, small and contrite. In short it was beneath Ms. Chesler. It will be the last of her that I read. I've read several of Ms. Chesler's books. I keep reading her because I find them intellectually challenging. I find myself challenged to think outside my box and provoked into reconsidering my reality. This book was different. It felt angry, small and contrite. In short it was beneath Ms. Chesler. It will be the last of her that I read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kaitlin Sumner

    This book is full of information. I read it for a class in college. It may take a while to read because of the severitu of the info, but it is a good book. I was unaware of how women were/are treated in psychiatric institutions and in private therapy. And in society in general. It is an eye opening book!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    This is a beast of a book. There’s a lot to sift through, and while there are really important and interesting parts, there is also a fair bit that can be skipped over. Overall, a really fascinating look at the history of women and mental health.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    A fascinating and thought-provoking read for anyone who has said or heard the words "women are crazy". (So. Everyone.) A fascinating and thought-provoking read for anyone who has said or heard the words "women are crazy". (So. Everyone.)

  19. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Read long ago. Only comment is "fair" Read long ago. Only comment is "fair"

  20. 4 out of 5

    Silke Toenshoff

    Brilliant!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laurelle Johnson

    Abandoned it rather quickly

  22. 5 out of 5

    Layla

    While I don't deny the importance of this book, I did find many of its claims to be dangerously generalized and reductive, especially when it came to discussion of Middle Eastern/ Islamic societies. While I don't deny the importance of this book, I did find many of its claims to be dangerously generalized and reductive, especially when it came to discussion of Middle Eastern/ Islamic societies.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    yes i'm suffering from severe killing eve withdrawal, yes it hasn't even been a week since the finale yes i'm suffering from severe killing eve withdrawal, yes it hasn't even been a week since the finale

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    I'm thinking I should have read her other book instead.... I'm thinking I should have read her other book instead....

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maddie

    Interesting concept with a pretentious execution.

  26. 5 out of 5

    G. Lawrence

    And excellent and horrifying read

  27. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    Good, good stuff, and still very relevant despite its publication date of 1972. Chesler posits the theory that women are declared insane and embark on "psychiatric careers," either as lifelong therapy patients or as asylum patients, when their behavior becomes inconvenient for the men around them. Women are most often branded insane for two reasons: rejecting the female role (refusing to marry and breed, focusing on careers, choosing active independence rather than passive dependence) and accept Good, good stuff, and still very relevant despite its publication date of 1972. Chesler posits the theory that women are declared insane and embark on "psychiatric careers," either as lifelong therapy patients or as asylum patients, when their behavior becomes inconvenient for the men around them. Women are most often branded insane for two reasons: rejecting the female role (refusing to marry and breed, focusing on careers, choosing active independence rather than passive dependence) and accepting the female role (marrying, having children, choosing passive dependence and exhibiting "traditional" female characteristics, all of which mirror deep depression).

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    4.5 A must-read. I only hope there is a follow up to it as well written & studied that could incorporate the intersections of gender with other identities (race was conspicuously absent-- which I understand, given when this was written, but it's never too late to update things a bit... especially as many of the problems outlined are still all too prevalent). Synopsis: she writes of a study in which doctors were asked to identify features of a healthy adult and an unhealthy adult (mentally). Then s 4.5 A must-read. I only hope there is a follow up to it as well written & studied that could incorporate the intersections of gender with other identities (race was conspicuously absent-- which I understand, given when this was written, but it's never too late to update things a bit... especially as many of the problems outlined are still all too prevalent). Synopsis: she writes of a study in which doctors were asked to identify features of a healthy adult and an unhealthy adult (mentally). Then she asked them to do the same with men & women. The distinguishing features of a mentally unhealthy gender-neutral adult are the same as the "healthy" woman. What then?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kylie

    After briefly beginning this book for a class, my teacher became aware of it's comments on lesbianism and decided that it was not an appropriate book for BYU. So I happily put it aside. It isn't a book I would've read on my own and didn't really capture my interest. After briefly beginning this book for a class, my teacher became aware of it's comments on lesbianism and decided that it was not an appropriate book for BYU. So I happily put it aside. It isn't a book I would've read on my own and didn't really capture my interest.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Susan Clark-cook

    An excellent look into how women have been pathologized and mistreated throughout history, with a well researched base. The topic is serious but is written to be accessable to all. A good look at mental health in women, or lack of it.

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