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The pathologicalisation of women

(47 Posts)
ChristinedePizan Wed 08-Jun-11 19:35:59

Okay, that's not entirely a real word but I wanted to start a thread about understanding why women are so undermined, and the historical roots behind it. My thoughts were that we could all chuck stuff in and so build a virtual library showcasing the ways in which women have been undermined and pathologised over the last hundred or so years.

First up is Cesare Lombroso, a noted criminologist who was highly respected. He died in 1909 but his ideas were given a huge amount of credibility long after his death. This is what he had to say about women:

"Women have many traits in common with children; that their moral sense is deficient; that they are revengeful, jealous, and inclined to vengeances of a refined cruelty. In ordinary cases, these defects are neutralised by piety, maternity, want of passion, sexual coldness, by weakness and an undeveloped intelligence. But when a morbid activity of the psychical centres intensifies bad qualities of women, and induces them to seek relief in evil deeds; when piety and maternal sentiments are wanting, and in their place are strong passions and intensely erotic tendencies, much muscular strength and a superior intelligence for the conception and eecution of evil, it is clear that the innocuous semi-criminal present in the normal woman must be transformed into a born criminal more terrible than any man."

So in summary, clever, unmarried, childless women are pretty much the epitome of evil.

SybilBeddows Wed 08-Jun-11 19:37:06

shock @ that quote.

I don't know anything about this but will read with interest. Great idea for a thread.

LeninGrad Wed 08-Jun-11 19:44:51

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

TheCrackFox Wed 08-Jun-11 19:51:32

I think a lot of this has its roots in mainstream religion. To gain power you have to control people and one of the easiest ways of doing this is to divide and conquer. If you can divide a family - fathers v daughters, mothers v sons, etc, etc then it is easy to manipulate and control them. Therefore turning women into 2nd class citizens and men as the head of the family divides a family/community's power and hands it over to religion.

I am probably not explaining myself very well.

meditrina Wed 08-Jun-11 19:54:12

Cesare Lombroso was far more famous for his work on "The Theory of the Criminal Man", on the heritability of criminality, and on physical characteristics which indicated a criminal - none of which are given credence today.

HerBeX Wed 08-Jun-11 19:59:40

Jsut because they're not given credence anymore, doesn't mean they're not still exerting a malignant influence. Nobody rates Freud's nonsensical theories anymore, but his ideas are still common currency.

Wasn't the original pathologising Adam and Eve? That bitch screwed it up for the whole human race, tempting Adam (poor love, can't expect him to be responsible for his own actions) and getting us thrown out of Eden...

ChristinedePizan Wed 08-Jun-11 20:01:48

meditrina - I know that none of his theories are given any credence today. But I would argue that he leaves a legacy in terms of criminal characteristics - the weak chin, narrow eyes, mean mouth etc are still part of the currency of describing felons. And so who knows how much of his theories about women still persist and underpin society's perceptions of female criminals. Myra Hindley has gained a much greater degree of notoriety than Ian Brady because she is a woman.

The point of this thread was to examine historical perspectives on women which is really valid as a subject.

AyeRobot Wed 08-Jun-11 20:08:18

History of Women has some great newspaper clippings and historical commentary. I am still wading my way through all the info since I found it the other day.

From that site:

"Men's treatment of women through the ages has been succinctly summed up by Professor R. Howard Bloch:

The ritual denunciation of women constitutes something on the order of a cultural constant, reaching back to the Old Testament as well as to Ancient Greece and extending through the fifteenth century. Found in Roman tradition, it dominates ecclesiastical writing, letters, sermons, theological tracts, discussions and compilations of canon law; scientific works, as part and parcel of biological, gynaecological, and medical knowledge; and philosophy. The discourse of misogyny runs like a rich vein throughout the breadth of medieval literature."

"'Nature herself has decreed that woman ... should be at the mercy of man's judgement.'Rousseau (1712-1778)

'Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.' Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)"

Conflugenglugen Wed 08-Jun-11 20:13:51

How about the hypothesis that it starts with the notion of woman as mother? That at least forms the basis of the madonna-whore phenomenon.

meditrina Wed 08-Jun-11 20:45:56

I'm hoping someone might come up with a more recent and more credible expounder of the OP's point, as Lombroso's 100 year old and discredited views really cannot carry any weight. And I do not think that criminals are described in those terms (even in stereotypes) now. The allied "science" science of phrenology is merely risible now.

I like the idea of Myra Hindley as a start point though - it came not that long after TVs had become widespread in the 1950s, so she was perhaps the first face broadcast in that way.

Is it not - in part at least - the flip side of females (at a UK population level) being generally being more law-abiding and for less violent?

ChristinedePizan Wed 08-Jun-11 20:47:01

Yep, that's true conflugen. Is it worth going back that far? Not sure but I'm ready to be persuaded.

What I have found really interesting is that it is quite hard to find evidence of this stuff. I only know about Lombroso because a friend mentioned him but it was quite difficult to find any links to what he said or what his theories were. I shall check out that site AyeRobot, thanks for the link

dittany Wed 08-Jun-11 22:21:31

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Prolesworth Wed 08-Jun-11 22:29:21

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dittany Wed 08-Jun-11 22:33:48

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Prolesworth Wed 08-Jun-11 22:36:58

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MillyR Wed 08-Jun-11 22:41:32

What disturbs me about it happening such a short time ago is that it would only take us another blink of an eye for the gains we have made to be taken back off us again. It does worry me that in some areas, we seem to be losing ground, not gaining it.

dittany Wed 08-Jun-11 22:44:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Asinine Wed 08-Jun-11 22:47:42

It's not historical, but I abhor the term 'treatment' when used in the 'beauty industry'. It does imply there is something wrong with a woman who does not want to undergo depilation for example.

queenbathsheba Wed 08-Jun-11 23:06:02

I think a more recent way in which men have sought to "pathologise" women can be seen in the field of mental health.

I know Freuds work doesn't carry much weight but his ideas that certain behaviours judged to be female are in some way abnormal prevail. The idea that men suffer from anti-social personality (go to prison) and women are 3x more likley to have BPD (hospitalised) point to the fact that within the law and psychiatric system there is an inequality (in rates of diagnosis/ conditions that relate to gender stereotypical behavior, treatment and outcome) and a reluctance to part with the prevailing ideas around gender specific behaviour. Women are more likely to be locked up for indeterminate duration than men because they are more likley to diagnosed with a mental illness following arrest.

There are huge inequalities and it seems to me that psychiatry has spent years justifying it's exsistance as a profession by mainly subjugating women.

Penthesileia Wed 08-Jun-11 23:11:08

Gosh, dittany. your Aristotle quotation is Aristotle being rather moderate! wink After all, he does suggest the rule of man over woman is constitutional. You should have quoted from On the generation of animals and all that "woman as deficient male" stuff.

Important because Aristotelian thought was central to medieval theology (Aquinas, etc.) and so immensely influential.

Re: Darwin, I find it so paradoxical and twisted that someone can write something like that about women, and at the same time be the devoted father of a favourite girl-child whose death shattered him. How do people reconcile their prejudices with their lived and loving realities?

No-one has yet mentioned hysteria, and its long history in Western thought. The ultimate pathologising of the female body.

queenbathsheba Wed 08-Jun-11 23:13:13

Couple of links about gender in mental health and the fact that the Psychiatric community have hitorically placed far too much emphasis on women's reproduction/mothering as a cause for higher rates of illness. When they now know that social factors such as domestic violence/ lower social status contribute far more to ill health.

Penthesileia Wed 08-Jun-11 23:27:09

Thanks for those links, queen.

Of course, the flip-side of those figures is that, while medical professionals perhaps over-diagnose and medicate depression, etc., in women, they correspondingly under-diagnose in men, the unspoken rule being, I suppose, that men cannot suffer such a "feminine", "weak" illness.

MooncupGoddess Wed 08-Jun-11 23:28:46

Yes Penthe, didn't Aristotle describe women as a 'naturally occuring deformation of men'? In fact reading this in my teens brought about perhaps my first attack of feminist outrage.

There is a brilliant section in Kate Millett's Sexual Politics about Freud's attitude to women, and particularly about how he sees them as permanently embittered and weakened by penis envy: 'she acknowledges the fact of her castration, the consequent superiority of the male and her own inferiority, but she also rebels against these unpleasant facts.' hmm

Prolesworth Wed 08-Jun-11 23:30:38

Message withdrawn

queenbathsheba Wed 08-Jun-11 23:40:20

Freud didn't realise that we all started out female grin maybe if he had he might have drawn the conclussion that men suffered from regret at having mutated into [insert word of choice] although I doubt it.

It's interesting about the "hysteria" because all behaviour thought of as female is pathologised and quantified as abnormal and yet if women exhibit behaviour that is thought male gender specific, violence or aggression, acting out, anti-social behaviour or criminal acts that is deemed to prove that the women is acting abnormally and therefore insane.

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