Too many victims of domestic abuse know from experience that when women are labeled as “crazy”, they are in danger of losing everything that matters to them.
Their children. Their reputation. Their career. Family, friends.
With one vague, misogynistic little word, men have way too much control over women’s lives.
Men need to stop calling us crazy.
Kate Moore, best selling author of The Radium Girls and The Woman They Could Not Silence, is on the BTR Podcast to take a deep dive into the significance of just how seriously a patiarchal society takes a man’s allegations of a woman’s alleged “craziness”. Read the full transcript below and listen to the free BTR podcast for more.
When Women Speak Up About Abuse & Control
No matter what day and age, when women speak up about abusive and controlling systems and/or relationships, every effort is made to silence us.
For Elizabeth Packard and the women she deemed “sisters” who were literally shipped off to insane asylums in the 1800’s because men called them crazy:
“They’re sent away by husbands or by fathers, you know, these are women who simply have defied domestic control. You know, they’re causing too much trouble. They’re just being themselves, frankly, and that’s enough to get them dispatched.”Kate Moore, author of The Woman They Could Not Silence
Modern Efforts To Control Women Who Speak Up
For women today, being sent away is much more rare (though not unheard of). However, more often, women who speak up against abuse and control experience:
- Rape, violence, and torture
- Harassment, sexual abuse, and hostility in the workplace
- Isolation from friends and family
- Shunning from religious and faith communities
- Slander and libel
- Cyber bullying
- Litigation abuse, including losing their children
- Financial abuse and extortion
The “Two Sides” Travesty
In Elizabeth Packard’s day, there weren’t two sides to the story – there was only the man’s side. This is obviously problematic and needs no explanation.
Now, however, the “two sides” travesty is that modern society is holding tightly to the concept that when a man calls a woman crazy, this is his “perspective”, and his perspective deserves respect and empathy and understanding.
“Our community is made up of women who are experiencing abuse in their relationships. They are being called crazy. They’re being called all kinds of things like gold diggers; they’re being accused of wanting to ruin their families; crazy stuff that is just not at all true. And particularly, they are suffering from emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse. Most innocent bystanders, they do not see an abusive man calling her crazy as abuse. They just perceive it as ‘his side of the story.'”Anne Blythe, founder of Betrayal Trauma Recovery
Abusers Call Women Crazy To Control Us
This whole “two sides to every story” and “honor each perspective” mentality is dangerous.
Calling a woman crazy in modern, western civilization is probably not going to put a woman into an insane asylum, but she may end up losing custody of her children. She may lose her job. She may lose her family and friends.
There are serious ramifications to the word “crazy”.
Rather than buying into the “two sides” concept, these innocent bystanders can choose to see the significant historical control that the word “crazy” has had over women. And believe the women. Believe victims.
BTR Is Here For You
If you’ve been called crazy, you’re not alone. In our BTR group sessions, most women have experienced the isolation, fear, and anger that comes with men, therapists, clergy, and court systems calling us crazy to avoid accountability.
This kind of trauma needs to be processed and validated. We’re here for you. Join us today.
Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
I have Kate Moore on today’s episode. Kate Moore is the New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling author of The Radium Girls, which won the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Best history. It was voted U.S. Librarians’ favorite nonfiction book of 2017 and was named the notable nonfiction book of 2018 by the American Library Association. A British writer based in London, Kate writes across a variety of genres and has had multiple titles on the Sunday Times bestseller list. Her latest book is The Woman They Could Not Silence.
Kate: Thank you so much for having me.
Anne: It is such an honor to have you. Thank you so much for all of your hard work like bringing these issues to light for women all over the world. It’s really important and I appreciate your work.
Kate Moore on the BTR Podcast
Kate: It’s my honor to do it, and I have to say thank you for the work that you do. I know simply from reading about you online how much what you’re doing is helping people, and having worked myself with survivors of domestic violence and abusive relationships, I know how important it is to have that support network. So, thank you for inspiring people and supporting them as well through these difficult times.
Anne: It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort to stop abuse.
Kate: It needs to be across the side really, but you know every little bit helps. You guys are doing an awesome job, so thank you.
Anne: For those in our audience who may not be familiar with your book, without revealing too much, can you please provide us with a synopsis of your book The Woman They Could Not Silence?
“The Woman They Could Not Silence”
Kate: Of course. So, it is my honor to introduce your listeners to The Woman They Could Not Silence. Her name was Elizabeth Packard, but I wouldn’t be surprised if none of your listeners have heard her name before because as often happens to feisty women who stand up for themselves. History has chosen to commemorate instead those men who tried but failed to silence her. And Elizabeth’s story and voice have been lost in time. Her stories are on the cusp of the American Civil War in June 1816. It starts with Elizabeth, a 43-year-old housewife, and mother of six lying in bed in her marital home. It starts with a simple question. What would happen if your husband could commit you to an insane asylum just because you disagreed with him?
Anne: You know that question is strangely relevant today. Not that men are committing their abuse victims to an insane asylum, but they are committing them, metaphorically, to other people thinking that they’re crazy, right? So, this concept is extremely relevant today to abuse victims. How did you come across Elizabeth? Now in America, we would say Packard, but is she British?
Kate: She is American.
Anne: And you say it, Picard?
Kate: Packard I say, yeah.
Anne: Packard, okay cool. How did you come across Elizabeth’s story?
“Whenever Women Have Used Our Voices, They Think We’re Crazy”
Kate: So how I came across Elizabeth’s story is a little bit topsy turvy because I decided what I wanted to write about first before I even knew her name. So, I was inspired to write The Woman They Could Not Silence because of the Me-Too Movement, and you probably remember how incredible that fall was when everywhere women were speaking up against abuse and harassment. And crucially, we were being listened to and believed. And that got me thinking, well, why has it taken so long? Because it’s not like the fall of 2017 was the first time that people had spoken out about these things. It was just the first time that we were taken seriously, and that got me thinking that for centuries whenever women have used our voices, they think we’re crazy. And as you say that is something that resonates with your audience so much because you know gaslighting, being told you’re mad, this is going on in relationships every single day. And it happens also, I think, on a sort of political stage as well. You know, you only have to look at Nancy Pelosi or you know, any sort of public female political figures. She will be called crazy because she’s speaking up, using her voice.
“She Finds Her Voice, And She Used it to Change The World”
So, I decided what I wanted to write about was the way that women have been silenced through our mental health, and so I went looking for a woman to whom that happened, and that’s how I found Elizabeth’s story. And what’s amazing about Elizabeth’s story is not only that she survived this experience of being dispatched to an asylum, even though she’s sane, what’s incredible about it is that through that crucible of suffering actually, she becomes the woman they could not silence. She finds her voice and she used it to change the world.
Anne: I’m getting chills, like, seriously.
Kate: She is a seriously impressive person. I think for me, she is the most inspiring and resilient woman I’ve ever encountered. Because everyone told her that she was mad. Her husband, her doctor, her community, but Elizabeth knew she was not. All she said, you know, a sort of famous quote of hers is “I, though a woman, have just as good a right to my opinion as my husband has for his.” But just because she believed that, because she asserted herself and she asserted, you know, what she believed in, that in terms of defiance of the age was enough to have her sent away to an insane asylum.
Anne: That is just, I don’t know, I’m really feeling a lot of emotion right now. Not just for her but for all of the women throughout time who we stand on their shoulders, right. Like for Elizabeth, the work that she did just for standing up for herself, she’s stood up for all of us.
“She Meets These Women, And She Calls Them Sisters”
Kate: Yes, completely. And I think she really is, even though she herself was exceptional, I think she is kind of in every woman as well. And I think she sort of saw herself in that way as well. When she meets the other women in the asylum to whom the same thing has happened, you know, they’re sent away by husbands or by fathers, you know, these are women who simply have defied domestic control. You know, they’re causing too much trouble. They’re just being themselves, frankly, and that’s enough to get them dispatched.
She meets these women, and she calls them sisters. And what’s remarkable about Elizabeth as well is countless times in her story, she could have saved herself, she could have gotten out early, she could have done enough just to help her own situation, but she determined that she wasn’t going anywhere. She was here to make a difference, and she was going to take every single woman with her as she fights for freedom and independence and that fight continues even outside the brick walls of an insane asylum because she goes on to become a political force. And she has made the world better for all of us, you know, not just the sisters that she personally met, but every sister in America, every sister across the world. Elizabeth spearheaded a campaign to make things better for us all.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
Anne: I am going to take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So, it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it, it’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.
And now back to our conversation.
Anne: This book, which I’m sure now everyone is like how do I get my hands on it? You can go to our books page. Our links take you right to Amazon so I’m sure you can find it on Amazon, or you can go to Kate’s website.
Is it Abuse When He Calls You Crazy?
Our community is made up of women who are experiencing abuse in their relationships. They are being called crazy. They’re being called all kinds of things like gold diggers sometimes or that they want to ruin their families or crazy stuff that is just not at all true. And particularly they are suffering from emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse. Most innocent bystanders, they do not see an abusive man calling her crazy as abuse. They just perceive it as “his side of the story.” So, in terms of Elizabeth’s experience, how might they relate to Elizabeth in this way?
Kate: I think Elizabeth’s story will resonate so much, and I actually want to share a quote with you from Elizabeth herself because I think she grasped exactly that situation that you’re describing. And I think she almost sort of anticipated some of the laws that we’re finally seeing today. In the UK, for example, there’s now a law about coercive control, for example. Elizabeth wrote, and this is back in the 1860s, she said: “When a woman is brought before our man courts and our man juries and has no bruises or wounds or marks of violence upon her person to show as a ground of her complaint, it is hard for them to realize she has any cause for an appeal to them for protection, while at the same time her whole physical system may be writhing in agony from spirit wrongs.” Elizabeth understood that it wasn’t necessarily about being physically abused. A man trying to crush your spirit, a man trying to dismiss what you’re thinking and feeling, that in itself is enough to make you writhe in agony. And she appreciated that because this was an invisible abuse that most people didn’t credit it and they didn’t give it the time of day and the attention it deserved and the protection that women deserve from these abusers. She was anticipating all of that in the 1860s.
Anne: Did Elizabeth ever go through a period where she wondered if she was crazy? Where she thought maybe it is me, maybe I am crazy?
The Power of Standing In Your Own Truth
Kate: I think remarkably, she didn’t actually, and actually her strength of spirit, that sort of confidence in herself and her self-belief is actually what gets her through. Absolutely everybody telling her the rest. What I will say though, is that being shut up in an insane asylum and she’s moved to the worst wards because, you know, she calls out the doctor on his sexist, abusive regime, and therefore she’s moved from quite a pleasant ward to a ward as they would describe it at the time as full of maniacs. She is locked up with no promise of relief, you know, no hope of ever getting out, ever seeing her children again. And there are moments she writes where she comes very near the precipice of madness. Not because she was mad originally, but simply because it’s so hard for anyone to endure that continued abuse and endure that lack of hope without it affecting your mental health. So, she did wobble at times on her journey, but I think ultimately, the faith in herself and in God is partly what gets her through that.
What I will say is that she does go on a journey, and something that really resonated with me is she talks about at the start of the book feeling small, feeling that nothing she said was hardly worth saying or hearing. And I know I’ve been that woman, and to see Elizabeth grow from that position to someone who eventually becomes a political campaigner, someone who takes on her husband, takes on her doctor, takes on the world, and has confidence in herself and in her voice. That journey is just so inspirational for me.
Be Your Authentic Self: That’s The Best Way To Create Change
Anne: That sounds so exciting. One of the things that I often tell victims because when they’re in the thick of it, they think, oh, well, I want to help other victims right, and all of us do. And so, they want to, for example, maybe be a therapist or maybe be a coach. I want to encourage everyone to take a deep breath and think about when you were eight or nine. What did you want to be? Did you want to be an attorney? Did you want to be a doctor? Did you want to be a florist? I don’t know what the thing is that you wanted, but like where are your real dreams? And that we don’t all have to be a therapist per se in order to help victims. We can both be our full selves. If her interests were in politics, for example, we can express ourselves in a way that is really natural for us, while still helping victims. Like you could help victims as a florist, or you could help victims as a horse trainer. You know, I don’t know what the thing is, but I always just want the victims to know that the world is such a big and amazing place, and this will always be part of your story and you can advocate for women in anything that you do. And then there are particular people like Elizabeth, maybe like me, maybe like you who have made our life mission to directly advocate through politics or through a podcast or other ways. But I just want victims to know that like you don’t have to run for office, or you don’t have to be a therapist or something in order to affect the world, and the best way that you can make the world a more peaceful place is getting yourself to safety.
“I Fear Them No More”
Kate: Yeah, absolutely. And then I think that advice about trying to center again on who you are and what you’re passionate about is so important because I think often when people have been in those abusive relationships, you know, they are worn down by the abuse. Their very person is called out so much, is questioned so much that you start to question yourself, and actually to try and recenter it on who you are and what’s important to you is a really important thing to do. And I think actually, that’s something that Elizabeth Packard, you know, does experience as well. She has to sort of go back to basics, you know, the experience of being locked up in that insane asylum for years, it forces her to confront who she is and what matters. And actually, for her, ultimately, she decides that this thing that is the worst thing that could happen to her is actually the best thing that could happen to her because she says “the worst that my enemies can do, they have done, and I fear them no more. I am now free to be true and honest. No opposition can overcome me.” And it’s like she has to hit rock bottom, but from that, she can then rise like a phoenix to become the woman that she was always destined to be.
Anne: That is so inspiring. And I want to tell all of our listeners that that is your destiny too. That you have your own mission in life, whatever that is, and you can rise from the ashes and live a life of peace and wonder. In Elizabeth’s case, it just sounds like the most amazing journey and also adventure that she was on.
“It’s A Chapter That You Can Write Yourself, And Make Yourself The Heroine Of That Story”
Kate: Yes, yes. I think it was ultimately, and it’s one of those strange things, isn’t it? You know, if none of this horrific stuff ever happened to her, she would have continued in her home being a homemaker, being a mother, being a wife. And actually, because of these horrifying circumstances that she finds herself in, it actually leads her to, as you say this completely different public life where she travels from coast to coast across America, you know, changing laws as she goes, changing minds, changing hearts, inspiring women, inspiring men to help women. And none of that would have happened had her husband not tried to silence her. So good can come from the bad I guess is the thing. That, you know, there is another chapter that comes after it and it’s a chapter that you can write yourself and make yourself the heroine of that story and the heroine of whatever journey it is that you’re going to go on.
Anne: Yeah, I feel like that now in my own personal journey from recovering from abuse. I feel like my life has become this amazing adventure, and I feel an immense sense of gratitude for what I’ve been through. I also want to acknowledge that many of our listeners are in this place where they can’t even fathom sunlight again. There is just a tunnel with no light at the end of it, and it feels almost offensive when people say I’m so grateful because I’ve been there. Or it’s like why would I be grateful? This is the most awful, horrible, horrific thing. And I do think with time, with healing, with boundaries, with skills, you come out of that. But also, abuse, the purpose of it is that darkness. It is to keep you feeling that way, of keeping you feeling hopeless, keeping you feeling like you can’t move forward, or you can’t get out. And so, to have examples like Elizabeth, especially from the 1800s, is so inspiring.
Elizabeth Packard Changed The World
You talked about some of the laws that Elizabeth had an influence over and some of the work that she did here in America. For American women today, or women all over, besides her story and being inspired by her story. Do any of us have a direct benefit that we didn’t even realize we had from Elizabeth’s lifework?
Kate: Definitely. She was born in Massachusetts, and the story takes place in Illinois because they moved west at some point during their marriage, but she was born and grew up in Massachusetts. I think many people don’t realize how unjust laws used to be for wives, and we see even today that society has rules, meaning that women are on the backfoot and are not the people with power, but it used to be that there was a law known as coverture, which was inherited from England in the 1100s and it was in operation in America at the time Elizabeth was sent to the asylum. And essentially coverture meant that wives had no legal identity of their own. They were mere shadows of their spouses legally. So, they had no right to their own earnings. They had no right to the custody of their own children. They had no right even to their very living.
“If You’re Tied to a Man Financially, It Can Seem Almost Impossible to Break Away”
So, her husband sending her away to the asylum was not just enabled by the medical science of the day that said that assertive women were mad, it was enabled by the law of the land as well because the law said that our husband could send his wife to an asylum by request, and specifically without the evidence of insanity that was required in other cases. So, some of the laws that Elizabeth tackled unchanged, were to change that situation so that safeguards were put in place, so those sane wives could not be sent away by their husbands. She also tackled things such as a woman’s right to her own earnings, because as you know, many of your listeners will know financial independence can give independence full stop. If you’re tied to a man financially, it can seem almost impossible to break away. And so, Elizabeth was tackling those injustices. She wanted to make sure that women could not be sent away by their husbands. She wanted to ensure that women could stand on their own two feet and that they could have custody of their children. Elizabeth suffered terribly when it came to looking after her six children because being sent away to the asylum, she had no care of them for the years that she was there. And then even when she came out and there was a landmark legal trial, which actually, spoiler alert, declared her sane, even then she could still not care for her children because her husband essentially kidnapped them and took them to a different state. And that was legal because Elizabeth as the wife had no right to the custody of her children.
“A Wife, By Law, Could Not Become The Guardian Of Her Children”
So, some of the laws that also she campaigned to change and did change were about the custody of children so that mothers were given the same rights as men. That they could actually be guardians for their own children. You know, initially, when she started campaigning, a wife by law could not become the guardian of her children. So, these are the kinds of laws that she was tackling. We may think, oh, well, it was the 1800s, you know, that is a very different time then. Actually, my research showed that sort of hangovers from these 19th-century laws stretched way into the sort of present-day and more recent history. So, for example, did you know that it wasn’t until 1974 that American women could get a credit card independently? Before then, a man had to cosign any credit application.
Anne: What? Sorry, I just have to pause there and be like, what?!
Anne: I was born in 1977, so this was three years before I’m born. Thank goodness someone liberated us from that.
Kate: Yeah. So, I mean, I’ve given very sort of specific concrete examples there, but that’s the kind of campaign Elizabeth embarked on, and as you say as well as the sort of concrete laws that she changed in the law books. We have her as a shining example now of a woman who was oppressed and was abused and was gaslighted and was told that she was crazy. And she’s a woman who managed somehow against all the odds, to rise above that, and to fight for what she believed in and to fight for her freedom and the freedom of others.
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Anne: Kate and I are going to pause this conversation here. I am in love with Elizabeth and so grateful for all of the amazing women that have come before us and have made the world a better place for us. We’re going to continue talking about her next week, so stay tuned.
If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.
This was so beautiful and inspiring! I found myself quite emotional as I was able to see parts of my own current situation in her story. Thank you for Kate and Anne for reaching and lifting us! I wanted to keep listening.