"THE COST OF COMPETENCE: Why Inequality Causes Depression, Eating Disorders, and Illness in Women" by Brett & Deborah Perlick Silverstein

"THE COST OF COMPETENCE: Why Inequality Causes Depression, Eating Disorders, and Illness in Women"

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A dull examination of the idea that a certain set of symptoms commonly afflicts ambitious, talented young women growing up in societies that value males over females. Authors Silverstein (Psychology/CCNY; Fed Up, not reviewed) and Perlick (Psychology/Cornell Medical College) assert that they find evidence of this syndrome -- which they dub ""anxious somatic depression"" -- in medical writings going back to the fourth century B.C.; in recent writings of anthropologists, psychologists, and psychiatrists; and in the biographies, correspondence, and diaries of some 40 prominent women (e.g., Queen Elizabeth I, Charlotte Bront‰, Indira Gandhi). In addition, they distributed questionnaires and psychological tests to some 2,000 young women whose responses confirmed their findings. They cite evidence that women seeking to achieve in areas traditionally reserved for men pay a heavy price: depression, anxiety, disordered eating, headaches, and other somatic and psychological symptoms. These first appear in adolescent girls who chafe under the societal limits placed on them as females and who are ambivalent toward their femininity, especially those growing up in a period of great change in women's roles and those with traditional mothers. In other times, the disorder was recognized as hysteria or neurasthenia, but today, the authors assert, it frequently goes undetected by physicians and therapists. Silverstein and Perlick's aim is to make the syndrome known so that it will be recognized and treated. Preventing it, they note, would require changing society so that women's ambitions are given equal opportunity and their roles equal respect. Although the authors have consigned some of their research data and discussions of methodology to appendixes in an attempt to make their writing accessible to the general reader, the effort largely fails. Professional colleagues may persevere, but the stilted, redundant prose may well discourage those less dedicated.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1995
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.