For whatever reason, the history of women and psychiatry has popped up several times in the past few weeks for me. I’ve seen two separate art exhibits revolving around the theme, and then there is the new season of American Horror Story. I’ve read some commentary from folks who feel like the show shoves a feminist agenda down the throats of its viewers. Personally, I think it’s those very issues that make the show interesting. Were it not for the underlying message, the show would be flat out weird and disturbing.
Anyway, the first two episodes of AHS: Asylum reminded me of a story my mother told me when I was a teenager. When she was a teenager herself, a family member was in a bad marriage. The husband stayed out all hours, catted about and spent money while leaving the wife home with the kids, it was basically a typical if terrible dysfunctional relationship. Keep in mind that this would have been in the late 50s/early 60s, and divorce was not common. When he would finally come home, the wife would of course be enraged. His response was to threaten her by saying that, in a nutshell, she had better suck it up and deal with it, or he would have her committed.
I remember being utterly confused by this, and my mom’s explanation was something along the lines of, “Oh yeah, they could still do that back then. A husband could commit his wife for all kinds of reasons.”
Teenage me was in disbelief. I think it was the first time I ever thought about women’s rights. A little research told me that, yes, women could be institutionalized by their husbands, for being promiscuous, or because they were gay. And I learned other things too, like the fact that it wasn’t until the 1970s that legislation was passed that made it easier for women to obtain credit in their own name. It’s difficult to imagine that just a few years before I was born credit wasn’t readily available to women.
I think it’s easy to forget that the current state of modern Western woman is a relatively new thing. Let’s face it, in the grand scheme of human history, the widespread idea that women should be treated with fairness and equality is still pretty darned new. And yet we already fail to remember that women (and men, many of them fought hard for women’s rights) had to fight for things like the right to vote, or not to be discriminated against in the workplace (which sadly still happens all too often). This is a big part of why I find it frustrating when women don’t care about voting. For crying out loud, in America we haven’t even had the right to do so for a hundred years yet, so how can anyone be lackadaisical about it?
I think it’s worth noting that pretty much all of the above doesn’t only apply to women, but to minorities too. Going back to American Horror Story, if you’ve been watching this season then you know that it isn’t just women’s issues at the forefront of the show, race and disabilities are addressed as well. And individuals with disabilities are certainly yet another population of people for which the current standard is very new.
My grandmother is in her 80s, and still takes care of her eldest child, my aunt, who has Down’s syndrome. My aunt was born in 1950, at a time when it was quite common for people with Down’s, or any disability really, to be institutionalized. Despite pressure to place her child in a group home, my grandmother refused. And from what I understand, that pressure came from all sorts of people, including hospital staff. I can’t imagine having someone tell you to give up your brand new baby. Apparently, neither could she. My grandma went on to have five other children, each just a few years apart from the next. Six kids, one with special needs, and not a lot of money, makes for a tough job as a mom. That’s admirable, in my book.
I wasn’t sure where I was going with this post when I began, but I guess I’m saying that taking things for granted is a very good way to lose something.
That’s all. Now go forth and enjoy the weekend.