If the abusive people in your life have, at one time or another, called you crazy, you’re not alone.
Labelling a woman as crazy is a powerful tool that men have had in their arsenal for centuries. And it’s a little confusing: when a woman is clearly sane and healthy, why in the world would someone lie and say that she’s crazy, unstable, and even dangerous?
Kate Moore is on the podcast again with Anne, discussing how things haven’t really changed all that much since Elizabeth Packard’s era. Listen to the BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
They Say We’re Crazy to Silence Us
In Elizabeth Packard’s day, being outspoken was literally a symptom of insanity:
Any educated or assertive woman was seen as liable to go mad, even a woman who simply read. I sort of found the records of the insane asylum of the era and a cause of madness in that time was reading novels. So, any woman who’s using her brain, who’s using her tongue, was seen at risk of madness and was liable to be sent away just as Elizabeth was. So absolutely, her strength was the reason that her husband wanted to dispatch her to the asylum.Kate Moore, author of The Woman They Could Not Silence
Gaslighting an entire society into believing that women who think and share their ideas are actually unstable and mentally ill is a very effective tool in keeping women very quiet.
They Say We’re Crazy to Avoid Accountability
Rather than own up to their own abusive or harmful behaviors, men can simply use the justice system against women by convincing those in power that the victim is crazy (and it’s not very hard to convince others that women are crazy, since the odds are stacked against us):
I’ve had readers contact me saying how haunting they found Elizabeth’s story because similar things have happened to them. For example, your police are called because of a domestic violence incident. They don’t help the woman, they talked to her husband, and they say if she’s causing you trouble, we can make arrangements to have her taken away to the mental hospital. This was from 2017, a reader emailed me about that situation. I personally have interviewed people from the 1980s, for example, where an abusive husband got his wife sent away to a mental institution for several months, his word against hers, and they believed him because she was sent away.Kate Moore, author of The Woman They Could Not Silence
They Say We’re Crazy Because it Keeps Them in Power
Kate talks about how cooperation with the people in power was the only way for a woman to be considered sane.
This is just another way of saying that as long as we allow misogynistic, patriarchal systems and people to control us, we have a degree of security. Oh goodie, they won’t throw us in an insane asylum.
They say we’re crazy because ultimately it’s what keeps men in power. Anne wholeheartedly advocates for women to boldly stand in their truth and speak up for justice, refusing to comply with abusive systems and relationships.
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At BTR, we know the incredible frustration that comes from being called crazy, and being convinced that you’re crazy. There’s nothing quite like it.
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Anne: Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery, this is Anne.
We’re continuing the conversation with Kate Moore, author of The Woman They Could Not Silence. This book is available on our books page. You’ll see it there under Spotting and Stopping emotional abuse. You’ll also see all of our other curated books there. If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, go listen to that first, and then join us here today. Kate and I were talking about coverture, which encompass the laws back in the 1800s that women were not entitled to their own wages or their own children, and they could be put in a mental institution by their husband for any reason whatsoever.
After we talked about that, we went on to talk about how Elizabeth was so strong, and I wanted to talk about stereotypes that abuse victims are like waif women who can’t speak up for themselves and have a hard time processing things. At Betrayal Trauma Recovery, we’ve seen that victims come in all shapes and sizes and all of our personalities are different. So many of us are strong and brave, and that’s how Elizabeth was. So, we’re going to start the conversation by talking about these stereotypes, and how people have a hard time wrapping their heads around how strong women can be abused. So, we’re just going to jump right in.
The “Abused Woman” Stereotype
Anne: Abused women look a certain way. Maybe they don’t have a voice or they’re quiet or they’re subservient or something like that. And I actually feel like women who are confident and self-assured and who are honest, are even more abused at times, but they don’t look like an abuse victim to people because they think well, she’s like, telling everyone she’s abused. She’s telling people her husband had an affair. She’s going to the PTA meetings. She’s running for city council, like how could she be abused?
And I’m wondering if one of the reasons why Elizabeth was so horrifically abused was because she was outspoken, was because she had this heart of justice, and because she spoke up, she got not necessarily more abuse than other women of her time, but I don’t want women to think like oh, if I spoke up more or if I was a certain way I wouldn’t get abused. Because in some cases, I think those of us who stick it to the man, if I’m going to use that term, we almost get more abused and more vilified and more told that we’re bad or evil or that you know, we won’t stay in our lane. And to me just hearing briefly about her today from you, it kind of feels like that’s why. Would you say that her strength was one of the things that her husband found so threatening and one of the reasons why he abused her so severely?
“Psychiatry of the Era Declared That Outspoken and Assertive Women Were Insane’
Kate: It definitely is why he abused her so severely. Absolutely her outspokenness actually was her downfall. That was why she was sent away, and it might seem shocking to listeners today, but actually, psychiatry of the era declared that outspoken and assertive women were insane. That was medical science of the time, backed up the husband in saying that you know this strong-willed and this outspoken woman, where she must be mad. That was what the medical textbooks of the era said. Women who have plenty of nerve were literally textbook examples of female insanity.
Any educated or assertive woman was seen as liable to go mad, even a woman who simply read. I sort of found the records of the insane asylum of the era and a cause of madness in that time was reading novels. So, any woman who’s using her brain, who’s using her tongue, was seen at risk of madness and was liable to be sent away just as Elizabeth was. So absolutely, her strength was the reason that her husband wanted to dispatch her to the asylum.
Anne: Well, and this generational trauma that women feel, genetically or over time, it makes me want to pause and just point out that the abuse has worked. Like women say today are like, I’m not going to say that because I’ll get angry, or, I can’t do that because people won’t like me or they’re not going to think I’m okay.
How Society Has Silenced Women
I prefer not to swear on this podcast because I know so many victims have been sworn at and I don’t want to trigger anyone, so I’m going to use the word witch, but you know what I’m saying. They’ll call a woman like, she’s such a witch. She’s so, you know, whatever. So other women are like, well, I don’t want to be perceived as this difficult, pushy, aggressive woman. The overall societal layering of abuse over generations of time has even now these repercussions where women think I can’t say what I think or I can’t do what I think is right because people will not perceive me as a nice person or as cooperative, right. And I want to be perceived as kind and cooperative.
Kate: It’s so interesting that you use the word cooperative there because my research didn’t just look at the 1860s. I also researched into the 20th and 21st centuries as well, and a line that really stood out to me was from patients in a mental hospital. And she said, if you’re uncooperative, you’re crazy. That was the thing, and that is experienced both in the 20th century and in the 19th century in Elizabeth’s world. The only way they could get out of the asylum was to cooperate, was to paste on the smiles, was to think sweetly, was to not talk about the stuff that was making them angry, stuff that was making them sad.
“If You’re Uncooperative, You’re Crazy”
They have to be the sort of cutout dolls, and that line from this woman in the mental hospital in the 20th century, if you’re uncooperative, you’re crazy, that to me just sums up really the whole situation. If you’re not toeing the line, whether that is within a relationship or whether it’s in society, then you’re crazy. And needless to say, I just think it’s so interesting you use that word because that is what’s coming up from people who have experienced these things. That’s how they summarized it.
Anne: But it is real-time happening now. I would say even with women who aren’t being “abused” per se by their spouse, but maybe in the workplace or maybe in their church or you know, something where they feel like I can’t really be myself or say what I want to say. I have to say it in a certain way. There are so many of these restraints so that you’re not perceived as this difficult, witchy, jerk, and the bar is just so different for women than it is for men. I love the saying with abuse which makes everybody nervous, but, I will not comply. And when you don’t comply, when you start setting boundaries, in whatever setting that is, that’s when the abuse escalates. But the abuse looks like she’s crazy, she’s uncooperative, she won’t work with us, she’s so stubborn, those types of things. And nobody perceives throwing her under the bus because she has a different opinion as being abuse, they just see it as a point of view. Today. Because today no one’s being thrown-in in the same; well, maybe they are. Maybe some of them are?
Elizabeth Packard’s Story is Still Happening
Kate: Well actually, I was going to say I’ve had readers contact me saying how haunting they found Elizabeth’s story because similar things have happened to them. For example, your police are called because of a domestic violence incident. They don’t help the woman, they talked to her husband, and they say if she’s causing you trouble, we can make arrangements to have her taken away to the mental hospital. This was from 2017, a reader emailed me about that situation. I personally have interviewed people from the 1980s, for example, where an abusive husband got his wife sent away to a mental institution for several months, his word against hers, and they believed him because she was sent away. So, we think of it as history but actually, just from those few anecdotes that I have encountered personally, I think sometimes these things are still happening.
Anne: Well, the most recent like widely publicized case, I would say was Gabby Petito, where you got a film of the police talking to her boyfriend who is abusing her and the boyfriend is calm and collected and saying oh, she’s just upset. You know, explaining away her behavior by like uh, she’s just a little crazy, essentially. And the police being like, oh, yeah, we get that. Just separate for the night or whatever, and then she ends up being murdered. So, I think that would be the most widely publicized recent case that we have seen of this exact same thing. Where she was called insane, or at least not all there, or upset or emotional or whatever we want to call it.
Hysteria, Hysterical, Madness
Kate: Hysterical. That’s the other one, hysterical.
Anne: Oh, yes! Hysterical.
Kate: Which of course, has its roots in hysteria, hysterectomies, it’s all tied together etymologically linking women and madness.
Anne: It is maddening.
Kate: It is. That was my draft title for the book actually, Maddening, because the situation is maddening for Elizabeth, but as I say, what’s inspiring about her is the way that she manages to rise above it and fight back. You know, talk about what we were just talking about, I do want to share with your listeners another quote from Elizabeth, she herself was a brilliant writer. She kept this secret journal in the asylum, which I’ve been able to draw on for writing The Women They Could Not Silence and she really, therefore, has become the woman they could not silence because we hear her words through the years. Elizabeth said, “Women are made to fly and soar, not to creep and crawl as the haters of our sex want us to.” And I think as you say, we do try and switch ourselves into boxes sometimes, but if we can, we need to gather ourselves and fly and soar as Elizabeth Packard managed to do, and I hope people will really find her story inspirational.
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 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.
Okay, now back to our conversation.
“A Battering Ram in a Bonnet”
Anne: We’ve talked about how her experience is so relevant today. So, a century and a half later, let’s pretend like Elizabeth shows up. She’s able to see what’s going on now in 2022. Like, if she could give us some kind of motivational speech or if she could point out something to us that maybe we’re not even aware of. What do you think she would say to us?
Kate: Well, I think she’d be disappointed that things haven’t changed enough from her time. I think, you know, she writes about wanting a female president and things like that. We’re still not there yet in terms of society being more equal, but what I think she would do actually is straighten her shoulders. I think she’d pick up her skirts and she would go into battle. She’d go into battle for all of us. She was that kind of person, and a review in Australia actually just compared her. They described her as a battering ram in a bonnet, and that was Elizabeth Packard. So, I don’t know exactly what direct advice she would have, and in fact, Elizabeth was actually really the kind of person who wouldn’t impart advice. She would lead by example. So, she would go into battle for us, I think she would choose whichever battle she thought was the one that was the most relevant and she would dedicate herself to making sure that wrongs were overturned, and justice was done for everyone. That’s the kind of woman that she was.
“I’m Stubborn for Truth. I’m Stubborn for Justice.”
Anne: That you said that makes me feel really good. I have a nickname in high school, and it was the battle-axe.
Kate: Love it.
Anne: And I loved it. I found it to be very endearing, and I want other women to feel that same way. Like if someone says you’re too stubborn or you’re you know, whatever. Like instead of being like no, I’m not, let me get back in my box. Be like, of course, I am. I’m stubborn for truth. I’m stubborn for justice. Just like Elizabeth did. You don’t have to back away from that like, yeah, I’m crazy because this is an insane situation, and anyone in this situation might be crazy because it’s insane and it’s not right.
Kate: Yeah, exactly. And that brings to mind you know, some of the stuff that was said to Elizabeth. She was told, you know, the fact that she eventually hated her husband for putting her in the asylum, which was cited as evidence of her madness because a wife is supposed to be loving and caring. The fact that she was angry with her husband, that was cited as evidence of her madness because a natural wife, you know, a healthy wife, a well wife wouldn’t behave in that way. And as you say, how do you respond to that, you know, anger-inspiring, insane situation? But these are the kinds of things Elizabeth was up against.
Anne: That sounds really relevant to wives who decided to go down the pornography addiction or sex addiction recovery route with their spouses are often told that. Like, this isn’t about you, and so your anger isn’t going to serve him kind of a thing. Which is really interesting that a whole sort of industry is abusive to women, but they don’t perceive that as abuse. They just think they’re helping her make sure that she can keep her marriage together, something like that. I think Elizabeth would probably like faint or something when she saw that going on.
Elizabeth Defied Odds – You Can Too
Kate: I just want to say thank you for this opportunity, really. I’m such an advocate for Elizabeth Packard’s story. I hope that any of your listeners who read her story, I think they’ll be shocked by it. I think they’ll be shocked by what happens to her, by the fact that medical science, the law, everything was stacked against her. But the inspiration of how she defied the odds, the inspiration of how she finds herself in the midst of this darkness and this oppression, I hope that shines a light for everybody. I just want to finish actually by sharing with you another quotation from Elizabeth. I know I keep talking about her and what she said, but I think putting her voice front and center is what it’s all about. And she said, “I will not hide my light under a bushel. I will set it upon a candlestick, that it may give light to others.” And I hope anyone who reads her story in The Woman They Could Not Silence, I hope it lights your life. Thank you.
Anne: Kate, thank you so much for your work. Again, you can find her book on our books page. You can find it on Amazon, and you can find it on her website, kate-moore.com. Thank you again, Kate, for all of your hard work on behalf of women everywhere.
Kate: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thank you for this opportunity.
Anne: If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. Until next week, stay safe out there.