Monday, February 18, 2008 Femininity as mental illness

Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 17/02/2008

Melanie McGrath reviews Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present by Lisa Appignanesi

'She's mad, she is,' my 10-year-old neighbour recently announced of his 14-year-old sister, who was cheerfully carving her name on a streetlamp. 'You don't wanna talk to her, she's flipped.'

'Yeah,' said the girl, adding a swirly 'c' and a loveheart above the 'i' in her name, 'I'm, like, totally mental, me.' Her brother nodded sagely. 'She so bad, she the Princess of Crazy.'

It's an odd sort of world, isn't it, where being mad, as in flipped, as in the Princess of Crazy, can admiringly describe a sibling engaged in the routine defacement of street furniture, whereas being really mad, as in psychotic, say, is a description even most scrofulous Xbox-zombie would be leery of visiting upon his teenage sister.

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