Womens Health

The Superwoman Disease

Women have long been told that their bodies are inferior from a biological standpoint and therefore require medication for PMS, postpartum depression, and menopausal temperament though a leading researcher in the field says that the real problem is that women are pressured to be Superwoman.

Jane Ussher, a professor of Women's Health Psychology at the University of Western Sydney has been studying the subject for 2 decades. She says that women are being manipulated by medical traditions that posit a woman's unhappiness as part and parcel of her biological condition.

Repressed Rage

"I would argue that PMS and PND (postnatal depression) are essentially a form of repressed rage women feel rather than a medical illness. Our research has shown that their distress often stems from women trying to do too much for everyone—except themselves," says Ussher.

Ussher feels that tags like PMS, PND, and menopause have turned into catchall categories designed to attribute a woman's dissatisfaction to their reproductive physiology. This legitimizes the practice of medicating women for unhappiness at certain junctures of their reproductive and post-reproductive years. But Ussher says that women are unhappy because of the realities of their lives, rather than as a result of biomedical issues.

Soul-Searching Interviews

Professor Ussher has just published a book on the topic she calls, "Managing the Monstrous Feminine: regulating the reproductive body." The book looks at issues such as PMS, postpartum depression and the experience of women in midlife. Ussher's book comes after long, soul-searching interviews with both American and British women. Her argument revolves around the idea expressed by these women who all spoke of feeling compelled to be a 'good wife, mother and emotional nurturer of others'. 

But Ussher says that women carry out these ideas to the detriment of their self-identity and expression. It's a form of censorship, the censorship of self. Women feel forced to cope with everything that is thrown their way: their relationships with their partners, their kids, their relatives, housework, and jobs, all without complaint. The result of this self-created pressure is distress. They only decide to deal with the stress when their symptoms become overt. At that point, they are told by medical professionals that their pain is due to one of "three diagnostic tags": PMS, PND, or menopause.

Meanwhile, Ussher says that while menopause has become known as a medical condition which requires medication in the form of hormone replacement therapy, the idea that menopausal women suffer from psychological upheaval is a misconception. She says that the rate of depression in women falls with age. Only 7% of women aged 45-54 suffer from depression. This suggests, so Ussher claims, that the idea of menopause as the cause of emotional turmoil and depression is nothing more than a myth.

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