SILENCING THE SELF: Depression and Women by Dana Crowley Jack

SILENCING THE SELF: Depression and Women

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In an enlightening but limited study, Jack (Psychology/Western Washington Univ.) focuses on the psychosocial factors behind female depression. Referring to classical theorists (Bowlby, Freud, Winnicott, etc.) as well as to contemporary mentors (Heilbrum, Gilligan, Bernard, etc.) and important cultural observers (Rich, Dinnerstein, Olsen, etc.), she presents a formulation based on the centrality of relationships in women's lives. Contending that interpersonal intimacy, not separation, is ""the profound organizer of female experience,"" Jack rejects the standard mental-health definition of depression, with its assumptions of male dominance, and looks for new, specifically female norms using depressed women as guides (and trusting their reliability as witnesses). She uncovers several common themes in their lives with men--patterns of self-censorship and anger resulting in the absence of intimacy--and examines their cultural sources: how women learn to shape their behavior to fit an imagined male ideal, say, or how mothers pass along submissive behaviors to daughters. Much of this is valuable to understanding some depressions, and the many examples of women who stifle impulses and their authentic selves, and who undermine the integrity of their relationships with men, offer strong validation. Jack can even turn unlikely material like the story of Rumpelstiltskin into relevant testimony. But her sample is slight (twelve DSM-III diagnosed women seen several times during a two-year period) and doesn't reflect a full range of depression onsets. Moreover, although she refers to the presence of biological factors in the opening chapter, they play no part in the argument that follows. Jack also neglects other instances of depression--including those following illness or a loved one's death, and depression in males--that would have been useful for contrast. Even so, look for this as a complement to often-cited books already on the shelves and expect readers to respond to the unadorned anecdotes, forceful prose style, and steady flow of insights into the dynamics of female depression.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press