A part of a book.
Chapter: chapter ou part
Madness: a "female malady"? : women and psychiatric institutionalisation in France
Title of the book
Vulnerability, social inequality and health
Address of publication
Bourdelais Patrice, Chircop John
Since Phyllis Chesler and Elaine Showalter's classic accounts, the field of 'gender studies' in the history of psychiatry has become a classic one, particularly in Britain and the United States. For many authors working from a gender perspective, asylums appear as patriarchal establishments that have been used to cast aside all of those women who have questioned male domination-both the unsound and broken women as much as the rebellious ones. As up until the middle of the 20th century, psychiatrists mostly comprised men who generally believed in the inferiority of the female psyche, it has been assumed that they were more inclined to estimate that ladies with 'abnormal' behaviour had to be confined. Moreover, in a world dominated by patriarchal bourgeois ideals, it has also been considered that women had more of a tendency towards 'breakdown' when they could not conform to the 'feminine role'. These two factors would thus explain why more women than men have been psychiatrically labeled-madness being a 'female malady' in essence, a social construction typical of these modern societies in which women are alienated. In stern contrast with these American and British historiographies, almost no historical research on the relationships between gender and madness has been conducted in France. Was insanity a 'female malady' in that country as well? This is what this article aims to examine, seeking to assess the part played by sexual differences on the construction of 'mental vulnerability' in France. It especially focuses on one aspect: that of statistics. Specifically, I analyse the ratio of women and men who were locked up in France during the 'great age' of the asylum (from 1838 to 1939). In so doing, I point to the existence of a discrepancy between the 19th century, a period where French women and men were almost equally 'insane', and the 20th century, where women were significantly more numerous than men to be sent to psychiatric facilities-a finding that leads to reconsider the links between gender and psychiatric confinement.
history, psychiatry, confinement, gender, women, statistics, discrimination, asylums, France, 19th century
Last modification date