Madness in Popular Culture: The “Insanity” of Women
Dr. Laura Colmenero-Chilberg
Throughout history women have been diagnosed, treated, committed to institutions (or burned at the stake) for symptoms of what their society identified as insanity. From the wild bacchanalia of the Maenads in Ancient Greece, to the delicate insanity of Ophelia, to the mad heroines of classic Victorian literature, to contemporary images found in television series like Penny Dreadful and movies like Kill Bill, women suffering from mental instability has been a favorite topic of popular culture. Why? Is there really a tie between gender and insanity, a “female malady,” or is there something else going on?
The social construct of women as “deviant” has a long history. It can be seen in the world’s major religions and spiritual traditions, which often view women as “uncontrollable.” In the last two centuries in particular, we have seen a very strong connection between the concept of femininity and the cultural construction of madness. In this course we will focus on the historical and cultural factors and behaviors that have been associated with madness in women as it is reflected in popular culture. By examining the representations of insanity in popular culture, we can examine changing ideas about gender, social class and family structures, and the effect these factors have on what we consider to be “sane.”