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The Hermit, The Waif, The Witch and The Queen

misogyny, gendered stigma surrounding psychotic disorders, dissociative disorders and personality disorders

The Hermit, The Waif, The Witch and The Queen. These categories represent the stigma still present against feminine-coded mental health conditions, and show the demonisation of women – mothers in particular – still prevalent in psychiatric circles. This piece was my response to the intersection of gender and mental illness.

I created this work in response to a book named Understanding the Borderline Mother, which delineates how one can categorise women/mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder into four subtypes. I was struck by the still-prevalent stigma against certain mental health conditions which are seen as ‘frightening’ – namely psychotic disorders, dissociative disorders and personality disorders – and how this stigma affects how patients are regarded by doctors, families and society at large.

The names are so undoubtedly feminine-coded, reflecting the specifically gendered lens through which this condition is viewed. Although it is likely that the ratio of men: women with the condition is roughly 50:50, the actual statistic for diagnoses of BPD is overwhelmingly female, due to sexist assumptions about expression of emotion and trauma.

The masks were intended to represent the silencing and control of women’s emotions by the psychiatric industry, as well as stereotypes forced onto women with mental health conditions – looking in particular at the detrimental effects of pushing cruel, stigmatising 'personalities’ onto those with a condition, causing a fragile and unstable sense of self. This stigma ultimately serves to retraumatise women by branding them as 'unstable’ and 'manipulative’ towards others, instead of recognising that Borderline Personality Disorder is natural consequence of unmanageable life events.

- Carys Reilly-Whitehouse

You can see more of Carys’ work at caryswhitehouse.com and facebook.com/caryswhitehouse, and follow her on twitter @carystweed