Archive for the ‘A Healthy Woman is a Crazy Person’ Tag


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.

INVISIBILITY   17 comments

Yes, I’ve been invisible to the blogging community since June 22, the beginning of a two-week cruise to Alaska. And I will post photos soon, but today I’d like to make some comments on invisibility, inspired by a little episode onboard ship.

Let me say upfront this is not a report of stress, or even any great emotional reaction. It is simply some of my personal experiences with the documented evidence that older women – or even, women – tend to be invisible. It begins as soon as one passes through the young blonde – or brunette – or redhead – stage.

Anyway, here’s my cruise story, and following. Doug and I always ask for a table for two in the dining room, and this time, as usual, we were recognized by the third day by the host assigning seats, so we were simply waved to table 144, a nice table for two as close as possible to the window. (That’s because all the tables by the window were for six people. One of the things to be observed is that many folks on board apparently enjoy the personal contact with strangers while eating.)

Anyway, here’s where my observations begin. One morning Doug was off on a hiking excursion, so I went alone to breakfast. “And what is your cabin number?” asked the host. “6160” I replied. Throwing his hand over his mouth, he said, apparently embarrassed, “Oh my. I didn’t recognize you.” And so I was directed to the table, and gleefully reminded him of the faux pas before every meal thereafter, a reminder to which he responded pleasantly. In other words, we had a thing going.

So, about being on the ship. One thing I have noticed there – and at other gatherings of strangers, is that folks always, as a way of making conversation, ask the men what they do – or did before they retired – for a career. As far as I can observe, I’m the only one who turns to the female partner to ask, “and how about you?” Often it turns out they have also had interesting careers. It just doesn’t occur to people to think of that. On the other hand, there are the occasions where the husband answers for her, “She’s been busy raising our family of six children.” A great career, I think, but what I find interesting is that he answers for her.

Remember, the theme of this entry is “invisibility.”

But thinking back, I realize my experience with invisibility goes back a way. (Incidentally, I think maybe things are different now with younger people.) Anyway, for more stories.

In 1980 I had the pleasure of a half-year sabbatical from SCSU. I did what I was supposed to do with it –a lot of reading on the Psychology of Women in preparation for improving my course when I would return. So, here’s my invisibility story. I was in the habit of stopping at noontime to do some exercises on the floor while listening to a New York TV station that ran the news on a banner below other programming. On this day, I heard three men’s voices deep in discussion. Then I heard a woman start to say something, to which one of the men said, “Oh, I’m sorry. We haven’t been giving you a chance to talk.” And then, I kid you not, I never heard her voice again.

And there’s the time when I was the only chairperson in a group of chairmen. (Yes, one observed that we were a committee of 21 chairmen and one chairperson.) I want to say up front these were all fine gentlemen who had, indeed, encouraged my advancement. It’s just that for both men and women of the time we were like the fish who are the last to discover the water in which we are swimming. It was a little different from the voiceless woman in the TV discussion, though, because they would politely stop when I had something to say, and then go right on where they had left off, as if I hadn’t said anything. One day I said to them “Gentlemen, I feel like if I looked in a mirror, no one would look back.” I did get their attention, and,, in response to their questioning looks, I explained what I had observed about our interactions. For a few meetings after that, it was almost embarrassing as they stopped to ask my opinion and respond to it. Yes, at first it was stilted, but before long I was comfortably incorporated into the group.

Then there’s my colleague and friend, Ragaa. We did tend to attract attention when we were out somewhere together – Ragaa with her lovely black hair, and mine still blonde. So it happened one time we were having dinner in a hotel dining room. We were there for a weekend conference. To some men at a table near us, we were not, in a sense, invisible as they were clearly hitting on us. We let them know we were discussing work. “What are two lovely ladies doing at a work conference?” they asked. That was basically the end of the cross-table conversation.

But it was at that time, or maybe later, that I talked to Ragaa about the research observation that women are basically ignored in conversation. She was really, I think, annoyed with me for being so “sensitive” until one day in Spring she came into my office spilling anger. As a member of the masters degree committee, she had just been at an orals exam for a graduating candidate. “Three times I made the suggestion (she told me what it was) and three times people ignored it.” Then Mark came in and made the same suggestion. “Great idea” people responded, “and made sure it was incorporated into the final thesis.”

One final story, and then I hope you’ll have your comments and observations to add.

This one has to do with “A Healthy Woman is a Crazy Person,” the theme of the talks I did around town. They were so popular that people displayed the phrase on bumper stickers. My colleague Bob and I decided it would be a good marketing idea to sell T-shirts with those words on them. So, I made an appointment with a lawyer to learn what we needed to do to accomplish our goals. Bob and I arrived on time and the secretary called Bob by name into his office. (Of course, the invitation was intended for both of us.) Bob sat to my right as we both faced the lawyer with his long yellow pad across the table. I gave him the information about what we wanted to do and he took copious notes. Then he looked at Bob to explain what needed to be done and – I swear this is the truth – never looked at me again except to shake hands on departure. If you ever meet Bob and talk to him, he will validate the story.

And so it has gone. Today I’m not so sure I want people to notice me anyway. Well, that’s not true. I’d love to have folks seeing me at book signings when “Figs & Pomegranates & Special Cheeses” hits the market.



I’m thinking of reviving this topic which at one point was a hit in Connecticut — bumper stickers, T-shirts, and all.

Now I’m looking for reactions. I’m going to leave this post up for a while, hoping lots of you will respond telling me what it means to you. That will help me know whether I should revive it, and if so what can I expect it will mean to you.

In other words, I’m looking for advice.


When it comes to the big things, I don’t make decisions. I’ve found that I give myself clues to my direction by watching what I do. For example, when I buy a car (every 12 years or so) I don’t decide, “Oh, it’s time to get a new car,” Well, that’s not quite true, when I traded in my Starion in 2002 it was because it needed expensive repair for the first time in its some 16 years. But when I bought the Starion I realized that I’d been looking at automobile ads with special interest for some time. “Aha!” I said to me, “there must be a reason why you’re doing this. I guess it’s time to buy a new car.”

And then there’s moving, as in leaving Connecticut for Minnesota. Oh, I had done a lot of spadework – even bought a house here and rented it under control of a leasing agent. But it was 2:00 a.m. one April morning that I said to myself, “OK. I’m moving in November or December.” I started telling my clients that I’d be leaving. That’s when I learned that things can move pretty fast with a deadline. I also told potential clients my plan, offering to give them a referral if they wanted longer-term work. Only one person asked for a referral. One potential client even said, “Good. I hate psychologists anyway.” We did get things done in a hurry. On her way out of our last session she thanked me for being the only therapist who ever helped because “You tell it like it is.” (If you know me personally and want to ask in private, I’ll tell you how that worked.)

Then there was the move out of that first Minnesota home. Partly it was my own behavior, and partly it was the snow and ice that clogged my garage door at the bottom of the steep driveway. “Wouldn’t it be fun,” I thought, “just to see what’s available around here.” Smart real estate agent. She knew better than I did what I wanted. In no time at all I had made a deposit on my current home and sold my ice collector. I love it here.

But here’s my question. What am I telling myself now? In the past three days I’ve stuffed my recycling bin with the contents of twenty business-size three-ring notebooks and purchased $32.00 worth of shredding. Gone are my teaching notes and materials for the workshops I used to do on “Forgiveness,” “A Healthy Woman is a Crazy Person,” and “Stress.” Am I subconsciously planning to move? I don’t think so. Am I accepting that I’m retired enough that I can spend my time hanging out with good books and traveling? It’s a possibility. Am I clearing a path for more devotion to writing? It could be. Is some new career creeping up on me? Maybe.

As soon as I know the answer, I’ll let you know, whether you ask for it or not.

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