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Illness and Power: Women's Mental Disorders and the Battle between the Sexes

Brant Wenegrat
Copyright Date: 1995
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 226
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg4gb
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  • Book Info
    Illness and Power
    Book Description:

    Since ancient times, physicians have believed that women are especially vulnerable to certain mental illnesses. Contemporary research confirms that women are indeed more susceptible than men to anxiety, depression, multiple personality, and eating disorders, and several forms of what used to be called hysteria. Why are these disorders more prevalent in women? Brant Wenegrat convincingly asserts that women's excess risk stems from a lack of social power. He reviews women's social power from an evolutionary and cross-cultural perspective and places mental disorders in the context of evolution and societal organization. In this comprehensive look at mental disorders commonly associated with women, Brant Wenegrat convincingly asserts that women's excess risk stems from a lack of social power.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9493-7
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction: Explaining Women’s Disorders
    (pp. 1-12)

    Since ancient times, physicians have believed that women are especially vulnerable to certain mental illnesses. Modern-day research studies confirm that women are more susceptible than men to anxiety, depression, multiple personality, eating disorders, and several forms of what used to be called hysteria.¹ Women’s excess risk of these disorders is real; it cannot be accounted for by use of different diagnostic criteria in men and women, by greater willingness of women to admit psychological symptoms, or by help-seeking behavior by women patients. This study tries to explain why these disorders are more common in women.

    The thesis of this book...

  5. 2 Depression and Anxiety: Responses to Lack of Power
    (pp. 13-46)

    Women are at excess risk for both depression and anxiety disorders. In this chapter, I will argue that these excess risks result from women’s relative lack of social power, which is defined here as the ability to provide for one’s own needs and security and the needs and security of loved ones, to stand up for oneself in conflicts with others, and to make life decisions based on one’s own desires. Several important theories of depression and anxiety, discussed below, directly or indirectly attribute these disorders to factors akin to perceived lack of social power. With one exception, these theories...

  6. 3 Women’s Mental Disorders as Illness Roles
    (pp. 47-77)

    Individuals who lack social power, as I have defined it, cannot provide for their needs and security or the needs and security of loved ones, or make life decisions based on their own desires. Individuals who believe they lack social power must find ways of getting by in life. Insofar as they believe that direct efforts will fail, they may have to fall back on strategems that serve their needs indirectly. Indirect strategems may work by enlisting support of more powerful others and/or by disguising their ultimate goals. In the following pages, I argue that some women’s mental disorders are...

  7. 4 Two Modern-Day Epidemics
    (pp. 78-109)

    In the previous chapter, I applied social-role concepts to certain disorders of women that were common in nineteenth-century Europe and America. Analysis of these disorders as illness roles explains why they might have been more common in those who lacked social power. In fact, case histories of women who suffered from these disorders, or who suffer from still extant variants of these disorders, point toward lack of power, usually in combination with overwhelming exigencies of life, as an etiological factor.

    In this chapter, I will discuss two disorders with nineteen-thcentury roots that have gone on to become more common than...

  8. 5 An Evolutionary, Cross-Cultural View of Women’s Social Power
    (pp. 110-135)

    In the previous chapters, I argued that mental disorders that are more common in women are caused in part by lack of social power. Hence, women’s relative lack of social power may be responsible for their greater risks. Consistent with this hypothesis, the women most at risk appear to be those most handicapped, often economically but also for other reasons, or those who have less security, such as mothers of young children.

    Insofar as this argument is correct, clinicians who treat women should be familiar with contemporary, culture-specific social factors—such as job segregation or divorce and child-support laws—affecting...

  9. 6 Conclusion
    (pp. 136-162)

    In chapters 2 through 4, I presented evidence that lack of social power is a contributing factor in depression, in some anxiety disorders, and in a variety of illnesses that can be understood in terms of social roles. Social power was defined as the ability to provide for one’s needs and security and the needs and security of loved ones and to make life decisions based on one’s own interests. Insofar as lack of social power increases the risk for these disorders, women’s relative powerlessness might account for their increased risk of falling ill. In chapter 5,1 discussed women’s lack...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 163-206)
  11. Index
    (pp. 207-218)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-219)