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La Donna é Mobile: Constructing the irrational woman

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This article explores the ways in which disorders that have historically been attributed to women, and that pathologise the feminine as irrational, form an intertwined genealogy; that is, they affect and contribute to the histories of one another. In linking the 'hystories' of hysteria and agoraphobia, it is argued that the image of the hysterical woman as unstable and deviant is traced within the experiences of interview subjects diagnosed with panic disorder with agoraphobia (PDA). Because of this, it is argued that panic disorder with agoraphobia can be understood as a fear of the hysterical image, that is, the hysterical woman. The fear of the hysterical woman is a fear of being perceived by others as excessively feminine, out of control, and slipping into madness; therefore it is also a fear that one's experiences will not be taken seriously and that one is 'acting up'. This fear is described by the women interviewed as a fear of alienation and abandonment; of losing control in front of others; of becoming a spectacle and being gazed at; and of being perceived as hyperfeminine, for which they are disciplined and punished. The fear of the hysterical woman is also a fear that implies that madness or deviance is rendered visible on and through the body. Thus, PDA can be situated within a 'logic of visibility' that has bifurcated men and women's bodies, spheres and spaces from one another.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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