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Historic role of women. Women had different roles in the American history becoming less powerful or more independent while female roles in the domain of health care changed dramatically with the shifting roles in society.
As women gave birth to a child, they had to carry out this very function as well as women that worked as midwives though physicians had more power and authority due to their gender and education which was not available for women.
Biases and medical treatment of epidemics. Diseases were treated in accordance with the medications and means available at the time. As such, high mortality rates were typical for women in childbirth until surgeries and antibiotics came to the midwifery.
However, it is necessary to analyze the problem of biases and roles assigned to women with the help of psychiatric issues. Lisa Appignanesi takes a historical approach to analysis of the women’s role and treatment of female patients in such domain as psychiatry.
“As the discipline of psychiatry developed, diagnoses of mental illness became a means to enforce women’s adherence to certain social norms.”1 Mad women underwent operations on their genitals; these interventions were claimed to be effective for women’s mental health; as such, operations were widely practiced.
Mad and Depressed Women in America
Women and their roles. The role of male and female patients was absolutely the same in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in America unlike the role of women in medicine where they were only given the functions of midwives. “Aside from reproductive issues, women and men were diagnosed and treated similarly.”2
Steven Johnson in his book The Ghost Map (2006) mentions women only as nurses that took care of the diseased people in the period of the horrible epidemic.3
Women as patients. Satisfaction received from life can be the reason for depression if an individual receives less satisfaction than he/she was expecting. As suggested in the study by Norval D. Glenn and Charles N. Weaver, “Education allegedly can enable individuals to live richer, more interesting, more satisfying lives.”4 In addition, the researchers analyzed satisfaction levels of white and black males and females to learn what aspects in life make them happier and lack of which makes life more difficult.
As a result, women are reported to perceive the overall domains as essential while health was claimed to be the most important aspect for all categories surveyed. As such, health can be considered an integral part of human life bringing people happiness and satisfaction.
Healthcare and women. Women were not treated as good physicians or as physicians if at all until the early twentieth century. During the twentieth century, female physicians took the health care domain and became prevalent in it performing all the functions that were earlier assigned to male physicians.
Though female nursing staff and midwifery were ordinary fields for women in health care, it was a progress to get into the real treatment of patients and not to be perceived as unqualified personnel.
Progress of the problem: Psychology, surgery, and roles assigned: Mental illness has been researched for centuries while “its status as a physical illness remains unclear”5 because a person can have strong health though feel depressed due to the pressure from outside.
The problem of women’s perception was obvious because women were treated as insane every time they wanted other roles for themselves instead of being a mother and a wife.
As such, the historic progress of the issue is apparent starting from the time when depressed women – though they were called ‘mad’ – had to undertake surgical invasions when their genitals were cut down to the time when women become depressed and do not know how to cope with this problem and isolate themselves from society.
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One of the earliest examples is introduced in the book written by Judith Walzer Leavitt where the author gives account of the case that drawn a wide response and can be treated not only as scandalous but as inhuman.
An Irish woman who worked as a servant was a carrier of a disease and infected other people without knowing that she has that illness in her organism. As such, the authorities isolated her and she spent about thirty years without seeing a person.6
Gynecological operations were considered to be an effective way of treating different psychological deviations in women7 whereas male patients that were insane did not undergo surgical treatment.
As the operations were claimed to be effective, this method received a wide spread on the territory of the United States and Canada where women became even less powerful.
In the study by Andrew G. Ryder and others, patients from China tend to emphasize somatic symptoms of depression whereas Euro-Canadian individuals focus more on psychological symptoms of depression.8In contemporary society, women have more roles and duties, experiencing more pressure from outside.
Jennifer Nelson reviews the way women and health care professionals treated the health of female patients with regard to the concepts of the overall wellbeing of the community unlike the attention given to the reproductive functions only that were emphasized but were not treated in complex.9 Racial differences do not make diseases different for people of other races.
The research by Isis H. Settles, Carlos David Navarrete, and Sabrina J. Pagano identified that the way African American women perceive themselves and the way they believe others perceive them affect their psychological health and may be the reason for depression; “…others’ opinions of African American women’s racial group do affect their level of depression.”10
Lottie L. Joiner interviewed Terrie Williams to tell her story of struggling with clinical depression in the twenty-first century, which means that modern women face some problems as well as did women in the eighteenth century though the roles shifted and now women have to look strong and independent.11
Sometimes women were patients while then they had to serve as nurses and in early twentieth century as physicians. The environment and the way people treat the disease make some deviations “conflating the person with the sociocultural meanings surrounding the illness.”12
As such, psychologically ill women can be treated as outcasts of the society because they were perceived negatively through the history. In case of ‘Typhoid’ Mary, the answer is simple to the dilemma of preventing the disease or taking appropriate measures because the person who should be isolated is a woman.
The traditions of the time affected all domains including public health making women ill by their nature and deprived of any rights. As a result, to be a woman meant to be mentally ill as female genitals were claimed to be the reason for mental abnormalities.
Borst, Charlotte G. and Kathleen W. Jones. “As Patients and Healers: The History of Women and Medicine.” OAH Magazine of History (September 2005): 23-26.
Glenn, Norval D. and Charles N. Weaver. “Education’s Effects on Psychological well-Being.” Public Open Quarterly 45 (1981): 22-39.
Johnson, Steven. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2006.
Joiner, Lottie L. “Silent Pain.” The Crisis (Summer 2008): 24-28.
Kanost, Laura.“Re-Placing the Madwoman.” Frontiers 31, no. 3 (2010): 103-115.
Leavitt, Judith Walzer. Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1996.
Mitchinson, Wendy. “Gynecological Operations on Insane Women: London, Ontario, 1895-1901.” Journal of Social History 15, no. 3 (1982): 467-484.
Nelson, Jennifer. “”Hold your head up and stick out your chin”: Community Health and Women’s Health in Mound Bayou, Mississippi.” NWSA Journal 17, no. 1 (2005): 99-118.
Ryder, Andrew G. and others, “The Cultural Shaping of Depression: Somatic Symptoms in China, Psychological Symptoms in North America?” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 117, no. 2 (2008) 300–313.
Settles, Isis H., Carlos David Navarrete and Sabrina J. Pagano. “Racial Identity and Depression Among African American Women.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 16, no. 2 (2010): 248–255.
Zucconi, Laura M. Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors. By Lisa Appignanesi. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2008: 492-494.
1 Laura M. Zucconi, Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors. By Lisa Appignanesi. New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 2008: 492-494.
2 Charlotte G. Borst and Kathleen W. Jones, “As Patients and Healers: The History of Women and Medicine,” OAH Magazine of History, September 2005: 23.
3 Steven Johnson, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2006).
4 Norval D. Glenn and Charles N. Weaver, “Education’s Effects on Psychological well-Being,” Public Open Quarterly 45 (1981): 23.
5 Kim Hewitt, “Women and Madness: Teaching Mental Illness as a Disability,” Radical History Review 94 (Winter 2006): 155.
6 Judith Walzer Leavitt, Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1996).
7 Wendy Mitchinson, “Gynecological Operations on Insane Women: London, Ontario, 1895-1901,” Journal of Social History 15, no. 3 (1982): 467-484.
8 Andrew G. Ryder and others, “The Cultural Shaping of Depression: Somatic Symptoms in China, Psychological Symptoms in North America?” Journal of Abnormal Psychology 117, no. 2 (2008) 300–313.
9 Jennifer Nelson, “”Hold your head up and stick out your chin”: Community Health and Women’s Health in Mound Bayou, Mississippi,” NWSA Journal 17, no. 1 (2005): 99-118.
10 Isis H. Settles, Carlos David Navarrete and Sabrina J. Pagano, “Racial Identity and Depression Among African American Women,” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology 16, no. 2 (2010): 254.
11 Lottie L. Joiner, “Silent Pain,” The Crisis Summer (2008): 24-28.
12 Laura Kanost, “Re-Placing the Madwoman,” Frontiers 31, no. 3 (2010): 104.