On Women and Mental Illness

I registered for a module this semester called ‘Gender and Society in the 19th Century Novel’ because it’s a topic that I’m deeply interested in. This module is one of my favourites this semester and I truly enjoy my lecturer’s teaching methods. The first novel we discussed was Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which is a pretty sinister yet great novel if you ask me. Our lecturer briefly talked about women and mental illness. He told us how women who wanted to educate themselves rather than be good housewives and mothers were often diagnosed as mentally ill and locked away. I was (kind of) aware of this before going to university and I learnt more about it when we covered psychoanalysis as a literary theory in my first year at St Mary’s. I think that’s when my interest began to develop into something more serious. I wouldn’t call myself a feminist per se but I believe in gender equality and the more I think about how women used to be treated the bigger grows my interest in finding out more about it. I’m a bit afraid that many women, especially the younger generations in the Western civilization, are forgetting about this. Actually, I have no idea where this fear comes from or if it’s justified but it is there.

A couple of days ago I found this article on Yahoo Voices called Beyond the Wallpaper: Women’s Mental Illness in the Nineteenth Century by a user called KendraL. I wouldn’t call it an academic piece since it’s on Yahoo but it is informative and seems accurate. It’s well-written and easy to understand too. It discusses the inferiority of women in the 19th century by taking examples from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper. I had never heard of this piece before but it’s definitely on my to-read list now and I’ll see if I can find it in a library. The article illustrates how fragile women were made in such a society and how important it was for a woman to be able to negotiate with the patriarchy they had to deal with in order to have a happy and carefree life. If you couldn’t do that you were put away or locked away until you actually went crazy and/or committed suicide. I feel so much more respect now for the people who fought against this and ultimately made it possible for women to vote (in this part of the world at least) and attain a certain sense of freedom and choice. I wouldn’t be who and where I am today if it wasn’t for people like that so I hope more young women and men see that and keep it in mind.

For the time being, I will keep educating myself on this and many other topics without having to fear being locked away in a mental institution. I shall take advantage of this and learn as much as I can and want to. Hopefully, I will be able to give it back to people and teach them about these things in one way or other.