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The role of psychiatry in the social control of women


The thesis critically considers the high rate of womens' involvement with psychiatry (as evidenced in the epidemiological record) and indicates how psychiatry operates, through medical ideology, to contain domestic crises considered as female power struggles in the realm of the personal.
Psychiatry, which has developed historically and operates currently through clinical, medical ideology is subjected to a critique which argues that 'mental illness' can be understood as a label (with its corresponding social position as 'sick role') which contains struggles within the ideological.
Women are constructed in economic discourse and practice as domestic labour, supported and reinforced through the ideologies of domesticity and femininity, and located in the realms of the 'personal' and 'private'. They are constrained within the uneven power relation of the marriage, a relation articulated through the 'deferential dialectic'. In this situation of dependency any direct form of struggle within the 'personal' is curtailed and response is restricted to forms of internal withdrawal.
Art analysis of womens' depression indicates its critical relation to their material conditions of existence and can be understood as a form of passive resistance which precip­itates a domestic crisis. Psychiatry operates to provide a frame of reference through which this 'internal withdrawal' and domestic crisis is interpreted as the woman's mental illness which simultaneously locates the problem within the patient/woman and forecloses upon alternative 'readings'. The 'sick role' confers some legitimation for the failure to perform domestic labour but is ultimately self-sabotaging as it preserves the existing power relations.
An alternative exposition of power struggles within the personal is considered through a variety of womens' writings to indicate the possibility of a radical critique of the personal one which proclaims and exposes the political and social nature of the personal.

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