A HEALTHY WOMAN IS A CRAZY PERSON   14 comments

Bumper stickers and T-shirts hailed the message in the New Haven CT area, from the 1970s well into the 80s and 90s. It was the theme of my talks around town, based largely on my teaching the psychology of women at Southern Connecticut State University, and elaborated by experience with clients, and even my own life.

Women seemed to know immediately what it meant. Men “got” it when I explained it.

I’ll tell you where the title came from, and what I want to do with it now, but first I want to tell you why I’m inspired to write about it at this point. Recently a nurse blogged about e-bola, evoking many responses. I’ll bet the total has reached into the hundreds. Here it’s not my purpose to respond to the content of the blog. What caught my attention was the stubborn assumption that the nurse in question is a female. Even after he identified himself as a man, people continued to refer to “her” and “she” in their responses. That’s when I was struck with the way stereotypes hang on.

 I believe it was in the early 80s that one of my advisees came to me in really heavy stress. He wanted to go into the relatively new and very powerful nursing program being developed at SCSU.  The problem was his family was practically threatening to disown him if he did that. Oh no, that would mark him as too feminine. I think he courageously chose to defy the norms and I’ll bet he’s a great nurse. But the stereotype still exists, without the stigma, I think.

 So why am I writing about it now? In general, I want to remind myself and others how a little patience – and activism – will see positive changes in cycles of twenty or so years. And of what some people went through to get us there.

I think I don’t have to add the “now.” It’s pretty obvious – at least, that’s my take on it. But these are reminders.

Just a little more commentary about that period of time.

 My daughter, age thirteen in 1973, was moving on from Drs. Lacamera and Wessel, two absolutely wonderful [male] pediatricians who had cared for her and my son. She wanted a referral to a female physician but none were available to her. Residencies were basically denied to women at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

 In the late 1970s, my women clients were longing for female physicians, and some were becoming available to them.

Let me go back a little farther, to the late 50s when my husband and I moved to the New Haven area to follow his job. I had completed all but the dissertation for my Ph.D.  Warren Bennis, one of my Boston University professors had given me a referral to a colleague at Yale who seemed like a good potential for a job for me. I solicited and got an interview with him. It went pretty well, I thought – possibly a position as a research assistant. But my parents brought me up with this hefty superego that led me to tell him at the end that I did think I might be pregnant. I left with the message he would get in touch with me.

Some time passed and I called. “Oh, the secretarial job has been filled,” I was told. Interestingly in light of the waters of the time, I blamed myself for having told him of the possible pregnancy. I have a different take on it now as I look back.

A former student at SCSU, teaching at a school in Hamden, CT in the 70s, was much smarter than I. She concealed her pregnancy as long as possible, knowing she would have to leave the job as soon as she “showed.”

Oh yes, more stories from “ancient” times before I explain the title. In 1958 I was blessed with a mentor. I didn’t know at the time that he was a “mentor.” That word wasn’t yet in intentional vogue. He was just a psychology department chair who respected me and my potential. He agreed to hire me to teach a couple of evening classes. (That way I could be a full time wife and mother during the day.) But before the deal was completed, he had to introduce me to the college president. “I’d like to plan for a full time evening faculty member,” he told Dr Buley, “and Mona would be the candidate of my choice.” The president opined that he didn’t approve of hiring married women whose first obligation was to their husbands. He would allow my teaching a couple of evening courses since Dr. Trinkau enthusiastically recommended it, but that was as far as he was willing to go.

I want to rush to say that Dr. Buley did turn out to be much more tolerant as a couple of years went by and I was hired to teach days. In fact, he was very willing to support Dr. Trinkaus in his desire to promote me. Truth be told, I am very grateful to both those men for saving my sanity.

Oh – another story? Once I was fully employed as a faculty teaching mostly days, I was warmly welcomed and supported by the entire Psychology department. Actually, I was not the only female on staff. The others at that time were single.

But there was one man in another department at the college who was a part of our lunchtime gathering in the faculty lounge. He castigated me for working outside the home once I was married. His wife, a very talented concert level musician, was perfectly happy, he said, to share her talent with the church. Unfortunately for him, she decided some years later to follow her talent and divorce ensued.

 I hope these don’t come through as poor me stories, because I am extremely grateful for the wonderful support I received all through my career. I just want to set the stage for “A Healthy Woman is a Crazy Person.”

It’s based on research published in 1970 by Inge Broverman.

In a nutshell, she demonstrated that therapists as well as others reflected the waters of the time by describing healthy men and adults in the same terms, and women as the opposite.

“The results indicated that participants believed that a healthy adult and a healthy male shared virtually all the same characteristics. A healthy female, however, was thought to possess different qualities. The adults and males were said to share a “competence cluster” of traits such as confidence and independence, while women had a “warmth-expressiveness cluster” that described kindness and concern for others. This put women in a situation where, if they demonstrated those traits considered healthy for a woman, they were simultaneously classified as an unhealthy, psychologically immature adult.”

 What wasn’t emphasized at the time was that men who were warm and expressive were also condemned as “unhealthy.” Consider the student who wanted to be a nurse.

I hasten to attribute this quote to the following citation

There are at least two things that stand out about this, both of which had the potential for getting me in trouble when I did these talks.

First: Healthy (read “good”) women were perceived as being the opposite of men Therefore, whenever I said something positive about women it was perceived as a putdown of men.  At least in the circles where I travel now I think that bleak dichotomy has loosened. But then, it was common for both men and women to think less of themselves if that oppositeness wasn’t maintained. Hence the reaction of the family who wanted the student to refrain from becoming a nurse.

Second: Since so many of our institutions were built on that assumption, I was perceived as a radical working to destroy marriage, jobs, and you name it. Sometimes it was scary.

But, I repeat, I want to emphasize the wonderful changes that have occurred over time. Both men and women have been set free of the stereotypes – at least younger men. I could cite some public figures who are still trapped in the 50s, but then I’d be getting into areas where I have opinions but no authority.

Enough already! I don’t want to bore you away from my site. I’ll get back tomorrow, I hope, with some examples that may intrigue you, tickle you, surprise you, perhaps  even cause a few giggles, possibly warm your hear, and make you feel better about things.

14 responses to “A HEALTHY WOMAN IS A CRAZY PERSON

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  1. Judging from a piece I heard on NPR this afternoon, many of these struggles are happening now for women who elect “STEM” curricula. And a part of the problem seems to be that women often do not stay within their well earned positions because they, too, are in conflict about their roles as mothers vs. the responsibilities of high level tech jobs. And I was proud to have one of the bumper stickers and welcomed the responses I received – primarily from women.

  2. Thanks for the hesitation and for the affirmation! (Also, you got the first uncorrected version. I’ve cleaned it up since – i.e. strange things intruded that I have removed.)

  3. Whew, times have changed for the better for women. I enjoyed reading about your experiences–though it had to have been incredibly difficult at the time. I’m looking forward to your next post.

  4. well, A+ or 20/20(French grade system!) for your article, Miss Mona… look forward to reading examples that may intrigue, tickle, surprise, perhaps even cause a few giggles… 🙂

  5. When you mentioned 1973 and me, I immediately wondered where you were going. So much was going on in 1973. Women had just been legally granted the right to both sit and stand at the bar in Connecticut, the Vietnam war ended, and abortion rights were won with Roe vs Wade. An interesting time that seemed so normal to me.

    • Thanks for this, Lisa. Really important points. At that time, if I’m not mistaken, you were busy being a thirteen-year-old girl, a tough task in any historical period. Or were you more aware than I gave/give you credit for?

      You certainly did live in historical times, right from the day of your birth in 1960!

  6. Interesting. The stereotypes still hold, though we’ve come far. This remains true: “What wasn’t emphasized at the time was that men who were warm and expressive were also condemned as “unhealthy.” Consider the student who wanted to be a nurse.”

    Thanks for the thoughtful rewind on your experiences.

    Mona, do you think you can enlarge the font of your text a bit? Kinda hard to read. If it’s a new blog I stumbled on and the text is small, I move on.

    Xxx
    Diana

  7. You were there when it was happening and the story of male primacy, taken for granted before you and others challenged it, was the order the day. I remember Mary Louise Briscoe, editor of Up Against the Wall, Mother and professor of English at the Wisconsin State University (now UW-Wisconsin) when I was campus minister there. But that was some years after your pioneering work. I was 1971. Mary Louise was viewed by the university administration as as “an uppity woman”who didn’t know her place. Thanks for the history.

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