Editor’s Note: The author, Brittany Harris, is a student in the fall 2010 Women’s Studies Program Special Topics course, That Chick is Crazy: Women and Madness, at The University of Akron.
Women are often seen as emotional creatures, and for the most part, they are. Certain races see women as delicate beings who must be catered to every moment of every day. Other societies see certain classes of women, mostly those from the upper and middle, as beings who are to be sheltered and quiet.
It is not uncommon in certain societies for a man to say that a woman is to be seen but never heard. Women are merely ornaments; they decorate the men they are with simply because they are taught to be beautiful at all times. They way they walk, talk, look and behave are delicate and graceful.
White upper and middle class women were educated on which fork to use at a dinner party and how to feed their newborn child. Working was not an option unless it involved doing the dinner dishes and helping the maid with the child.
Any woman who dared to speak her mind and make her voice one that was heard, not just seen, was considered to be mental. She could not possibly be in good mental health if she liked reading and found joy in writing. As a result, she was often given the rest cure or diagnosed with some mental illness she most likely did not have until people kept telling her there was something wrong with her.
Women of color were not as fortunate to have the same privileges of being a housewife or a trophy wife. They had too much against them, including numerous stereotypes and the color of their skin. These women had to work for everything they had and then some. They were not afforded the same opportunities as white upper and middle class women because many of them worked for white upper and middle class women.
They were degraded and looked down upon, thought of as no better than animals and were treated and talked to as such.
Society taught women of color to be strong and independent because in numerous cases, they had no choice but to do so. Then society dehumanized them for not having submissive mentalities and drove numerous women to mental health issues.
Some women killed themselves because they could not face the everyday struggles stacked high against them. Others killed their children or sent them away because they did not want their children to go through what they faced every day. It is tragic that women, who are connected to their children on a more intimate level than the biological father of their children, felt that the best thing for their child was to end their life, literally or figuratively.
Women of all races and classes have one thing in common, madness. It is because of a male dominated society that the stress and pressures of being a good wife, mother, and respectable woman are so high. Not only do women have great expectations for themselves, but the men they are surrounded by do as well.
Though the expectations and the goals may not line up with society, a woman will always have a choice, and with that choice madness will always have the opportunity to knock at her door. Answering the door is an entirely different matter.