Judi Chamberlin: Mad Pride and the Fight Against Institutionalizing Women

By s.e. smith: For Complete Post, Click Here…

It’s Women’s History Month, which makes it an excellent time to talk about the fact that women’s history and disability history overlap significantly; notable women from Harriet Tubman to Helen Keller have been disabled trailblazers for social justice, including women’s rights. To do so, however, they had to fight not just sexism and racism, but disablism: Their disabilities were used against them to dismiss their activism, including by historians talking about their work. Using disability status to suppress women and their work is an ancient trend. This includes not just physical disabilities but also psychiatric ones — mental illness has been weaponized to institutionalize outspoken women, undermine women’s fight for equality, and justify the mistreatment of women across cultures and eras.

Numerous women in history have pushed back on the use of psychiatric diagnoses like depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder to marginalize women, a practice that has its roots in terminology like “hysteria.” One woman, Judi Chamberlin, didn’t just fight for the civil rights of mentally ill women — she questioned the entire framework of how we talk about mental health conditions as an integral member of the Mad Pride movement. She felt strongly that mental health conditions were more complex than simple medical issues. Chamberlin argued that society contributes to the experience of mental health and that societal stresses can be used to medicalize people. Thus, natural emotions in response to life experiences like the death of a loved one could be twisted into evidence of pathology, for example.

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