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Posted in: Feminism, Gender, Psychology & Law

Published on Oct 13, 2005 by Phyllis Chesler

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Women and Madness

Why are so many women in therapy, on psychiatric medication, or in mental hospitals? Who decides these women are mad? Why do therapists have the power to deem a woman mentally ill when she asserts herself sexually, economically, or intellectually? Why are women pathologized, but not treated, when they exhibit a normal human response to abuse and stress - including the lifelong stress of second-class citizenship?

Phyllis Chesler confronts questions like these and persuasively argues that double standards of mental health and illness exist and that women are often punitively labeled as a function of gender, race, class, or sexual preference. Based on in-depth interviews with patients and an analysis of women's roles in myths and history, Women and Madness is an incomparable work.

Originally published in 1972, this classic has sold over two-and-a-half million copies. Passionate and informative, with a new introduction that examines the trauma of psychiatric labeling and envisions a psychology of liberation for the ages, this special twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Women and Madness remains frighteningly up-to-date.


"Intense, rapid, brilliant. A pioneer contribution to the feminization of psychiatric thinking and practice."
--Adrienne Rich, Front Page New York Times Book Review

"Sometimes forceful, sometimes tender, Women & Madness, like all important books, has the enormous power to trouble the sleep of the world.
--Roland Jaccard, LeMonde, Paris

"Challenges the definition of madness itself. No serious future studies will be able to ignore its theories or its very existence."
--Gloria Steinem, Ms. Magazine

"The right book at the right time by the right person. As a practicing psychoanalyst, I can validate most of what Phyllis Chesler says."
--Robert Seidenberg, M.D.

"This is sure to be one of the most important, even distinguished books to come to us in a long while -- a landmark."
--Kate Millett

"Chesler has synthesized history, personal pain, therapy, poetry, and a rage for liberation into a work of art."
--Jack Newfield, Author

"This is an extremely important book, a signal that the women's liberation movement is coming of age. Phyllis Chesler writes with high passion and compassion; What is unusual is that the passion is firmly rooted in professional research. Chesler is one of the new breed of social scientists, well trained, skilled and literate in many fields, whose loyalty is to the public rather than to any establishment. Considering the painful, shocking nature of its subject matter, Women and Madness is more robust than bitter, more hopeful than desperate - in the best sense a consciousness-raising effort."
-- The Saturday Review of Books

Library Journal
CHESLER, PHYLLIS. Women and Madness. rev. ed. Palgrave Macmillan. 2005. c.416p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 1-4039-6897-7. $16.95. PSYCH

"Still strident after all these years, prominent feminist author and activist Chesler (The Death of Feminism) here updates her classic on female psychology. A new introduction is followed by a restatement of her earlier work with updated commentary. In a text richly textured with classical and research references, she revisits her original study of psychiatric bias and oppression, including sex between patient and clinician, and reviews how the feminist landscape has changed since the 1970s. Chesler continues to assert that the male-dominated mental health system is sexist and shows how the [mis]diagnosis of madness has been applied to individuals who reject the stereotypical female role (e.g. Sylvia Plath, Zelda Fitzgerald) and to illnesses that reflect the acting out of the socially devalued female role (e.g., depression, sexual dysfunction). Though concluding that her original arguments have been largely supported, she proposes a new feminist psychology that is more nuanced than might be expected. Filled with cogent insights and applications to contemporary issues (e.g., biological psychiatry, eating disorders), the book embodies enough revision to make it relevant while still retaining the power of the original. With an extensive bibliography; recommended for a new generation of public library users and for all women's studies and mental health collections.—Antoinette Brinkman, MLS, Evansville, IL

" A Stunning Book...absolutely fascinating." - Los Angeles Times

"Dr. Chesler casts her clear-eyed vision over the field of psychiatry/psychology and unveils the sexism that underlines the history and the practice of the art. Who knows how much untold damage has been caused by those who understand little about women as a sex, and could care less, as long as they establish their careers? Incorporating the mythology of women as metaphor, Chesler also paints a picture of how we, as women, have paid the price for patriachal privilege. I read this book 20 years ago, and I just read it again. It was an enjoyable this time as it was then, maybe even more so, with the deeper understanding I have now about the roots of feminism." - Amazon Customer Review, (Rating: 5 out of 5)

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