Safe at home

Safe at home

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Safe at home agoraphobia and the discourse on women's place
Siegel, Suzie
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[Tampa, Fla.]
University of South Florida
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Subjects / Keywords:
Agoraphobia ( lcsh )
Women revolutionaries -- History -- France -- Paris -- 19th century ( lcsh )
panic disorder
nineteenth century
Dissertations, Academic -- Women's Studies -- Masters -- USF ( lcsh )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: My thesis explores how discourse and material practices have created agoraphobia, the fear of public places. This psychological disorder predominates among women. Throughout much of Western history, women have been encouraged to stay home for their safety and for the safety of society. I argue that agoraphobic women have internalized this discourse, expressing fears of being in public or being alone without a companion to support and protect them; losing control over their minds or their bodies; and endangering or humiliating themselves. Therapeutic discourse also has created agoraphobia by naming it, categorizing the emotions and behaviors associated with it, and describing the characteristics of agoraphobics.The material practice of therapy reinforces this discourse. Meanwhile, practices such as rape and harassment reinforce the dominant discourse on womenʹs safety. I survey psychological literature, beginning with the naming of agoraphobia in 1871, to explain why the disorder is now diagnosed primarily in women. I examine nineteenth-century discourse that told women they belonged at home while men controlled the public domain. In 1871, the Paris Commune revolt epitomized the fear of women publicly out of control. I return to Paris a century later for a reading of the novel Certificate of Absence, in which Sylvia Molloy explores identity through the eyes of a woman who might be labeled agoraphobic.I ask whether homebound women are resisting or retreating from a hostile world. Instead of seeing agoraphobia only as a personal problem, people should question why so many women fear themselves and the world outside their home.My methodology includes an analysis of nineteenth-century texts as well as current media, prose, and poetry. I also support my arguments with material from professional journals and nonfiction books in different disciplines. Common to feminist research, an interdisciplinary approach was needed to situate a psychological disorder within a social context.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2001.
Includes bibliographical references.
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Statement of Responsibility:
by Suzie Siegel.

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E14-SFE0000025 ( USFLDC DOI )
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Safe at home
h [electronic resource] :
agoraphobia and the discourse on women's place /
by Suzie Siegel.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2001.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 90 pages.
ABSTRACT: My thesis explores how discourse and material practices have created agoraphobia, the fear of public places. This psychological disorder predominates among women. Throughout much of Western history, women have been encouraged to stay home for their safety and for the safety of society. I argue that agoraphobic women have internalized this discourse, expressing fears of being in public or being alone without a companion to support and protect them; losing control over their minds or their bodies; and endangering or humiliating themselves. Therapeutic discourse also has created agoraphobia by naming it, categorizing the emotions and behaviors associated with it, and describing the characteristics of agoraphobics.The material practice of therapy reinforces this discourse. Meanwhile, practices such as rape and harassment reinforce the dominant discourse on womens safety. I survey psychological literature, beginning with the naming of agoraphobia in 1871, to explain why the disorder is now diagnosed primarily in women. I examine nineteenth-century discourse that told women they belonged at home while men controlled the public domain. In 1871, the Paris Commune revolt epitomized the fear of women publicly out of control. I return to Paris a century later for a reading of the novel Certificate of Absence, in which Sylvia Molloy explores identity through the eyes of a woman who might be labeled agoraphobic.I ask whether homebound women are resisting or retreating from a hostile world. Instead of seeing agoraphobia only as a personal problem, people should question why so many women fear themselves and the world outside their home.My methodology includes an analysis of nineteenth-century texts as well as current media, prose, and poetry. I also support my arguments with material from professional journals and nonfiction books in different disciplines. Common to feminist research, an interdisciplinary approach was needed to situate a psychological disorder within a social context.
Adviser: DiPalma, Carolyn
Molloy, Sylvia,
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t En breve crcel.
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Women revolutionaries
z France
x History
y 19th century.
Dissertations, Academic
Women's Studies
panic disorder.
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USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856


Safe at Home: Agoraphobia and the Discourse on Womens Place Suzie Siegel Thesis submitted to the Faculty of the University of South Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Womens Studies Carolyn DiPalma, chair Carolyn Eichner Cheryl Hall November 8, 20001 Tampa, Florida Keywords: Feminism, France, Nineteenth Century, Panic Disorder


Acknowledgements I want to thank the professors on my thesis committee Carolyn DiPalma, Carolyn Eichner, and Cheryl Hall for their assistance on my thesis as well as their instruction when I took their classes. Jocelynn Jurkovich critiqued a paper on this subject in a departmental colloquium last year, when she was a graduate student in philosophy, and she has shown great support. My ideas also developed during conversations with my friend Donna Koehn, who has a masters degree in social work and knowledge of agoraphobia. Many others have offered insight and support. i


Table of Contents Acknowledgements i Table of Contents ii Abstract iii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two: Agoraphobia 6 Defining Agoraphobia 8 A Difference in Fears 10 The Emphasis on Avoidance 14 A Radical Revisioning 16 Chapter Three: Fears of Women in Nineteenth Century Discourse 19 Labor Separates Men and Women 20 The Universal Man Takes over Politics 22 Problems for the Public Woman 25 Commune Women and Social Disorder 28 The Role of Fear 30 Chapter Four: The Creation of Identity in Certificate of Absence 32 Identities Tied to the Home 38 Belonging and Exclusion 40 Identities on the Move 42 Chapter Five: Conclusion 45 References 50 About the Author 57 ii


Safe at Home: Agoraphobia and the Discourse on Womens Place Suzie Siegel (ABSTRACT) My thesis explores how discourse and material practices have created agoraphobia, the fear of public places. This psychological disorder predominates among women. Throughout much of Western history, women have been encouraged to stay home for their safety and for the safety of society. I argue that agoraphobic women have internalized this discourse, expressing fears of being in public or being alone without a companion to support and protect them; losing control over their minds or their bodies; and endangering or humiliating themselves. Therapeutic discourse also has created agoraphobia by naming it, categorizing the emotions and behaviors associated with it, and describing the characteristics of agoraphobics. The material practice of therapy reinforces this discourse. Meanwhile, practices such as rape and harassment reinforce the dominant discourse on womens safety. I survey psychological literature, beginning with the naming of agoraphobia in 1871, to explain why the disorder is now diagnosed primarily in women. I examine nineteenth-century discourse that told women they belonged at home while men controlled the public domain. In 1871, the Paris Commune revolt epitomized the fear of women publicly out of control. I return to Paris a century later for a reading of the novel Certificate of Absence, in which Sylvia Molloy explores identity through the eyes of a woman who might be labeled agoraphobic. I ask whether homebound women are resisting or retreating from a hostile world. Instead of seeing agoraphobia only as a personal problem, people should question why so many women fear themselves and the world outside their home. My methodology includes an analysis of nineteenth-century texts as well as current media, prose, and poetry. I also support my arguments with material from professional journals and nonfiction books in different disciplines. Common to feminist research, an interdisciplinary approach was needed to situate a psychological disorder within a social context. iii


Chapter One: Introduction For centuries, Western society bombarded women with the notion that they belonged at home. They could find safety, security, even identity there. Outside, they faced danger and judgment. Today, women who panic in public places are diagnosed as abnormal and dysfunctional. They may be. But their psychological disorder agoraphobia cannot be separated from the social order. By looking at agoraphobia in context, people can understand more, not just about the disorder, but about society, too. A disorder tells us important things about the social world of which it is a part, just as what we know of that social world informs us of the nature of the disorder. 1 With that in mind, I want to ask the questions: How did agoraphobia become a disorder primarily of women? How has the gendering of the public and private spheres helped produce women with agoraphobia? How can agoraphobic women be understood in relation to ideas on identity and the home? My interest in agoraphobia is more than academic. I suffered from it two decades ago, when I was an undergraduate. At its worst, I felt nauseated to step outside my front door, even to go to another part of my apartment complex. Although I identify with agoraphobics, I do not use we because I would not be diagnosed as one now, even though I still experience panic attacks in a few situations. I have written about agoraphobia before, but did not out myself until last year. Unlike some identities and experiences that lend authority to writing, a psychological disorder may reduce credibility. But I decided to reveal my connection because so few people speak from this standpoint. Agoraphobics have written literature about the experience, but I know of no analysis of agoraphobia written by someone who has or had it. It is not surprising that so few agoraphobics represent themselves in the marketplace of ideas, considering the ordeals of academia. Students often must walk some distance in public to reach classes and libraries, which, once again, are public places. Academic success brings more terror: the pressure to speak, and possibly teach, in front of people. My methodology has been informal and unconventional at times, which fits well with a feminist project. Feminists have delighted in subverting standard methodology. 2 Feminist researchers often have described their own experiences, recognizing that their standpoints make an important contribution and perhaps even a privileged one. 3 In my case, I may see agoraphobia from a different perspective than a researcher who has not experienced it. A traditional researcher might complain that my personal involvement makes me less objective than someone who has not been treated for agoraphobia. But many feminists argue that all researchers have a personal involvement in their topics. Many reject the concept of objectivity, at least when it is defined as the idea that researchers can stand apart from that which they study. 4 1 Kimberly Hoagwood, Poststructuralist Historicism and the Psychological Construction of Anxiety Disorders, The Journal of Psychology 127, no. 1 (January 1993), 105-118 [on-line journal without page numbers]; available from Web Luis at; accessed 6 June 2000. 2 Marjorie DeVault, Talking and Listening from Womens Standpoint: Feminist Strategies for Interviewing and Analysis, Social Problems 37, no. 1 (1990), 96. 3 Ibid., 97. 4 Shulamit Reinharz, Feminist Methods in Social Research (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 229. 1


One might say my research began twenty years ago. I recorded and analyzed my thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I had been trained in the field of journalism to take comprehensive notes, not just jot down occasional thoughts. For newspaper articles and my own edification, I have interviewed and talked informally to agoraphobics, their families, and their friends over the years. I understand that the academy makes a distinction among interviews conducted according to specific policies, journalistic interviews, and conversations. As someone who has conducted thousands of interviews as well as studied formal methods, I think it is time to question interview methods that are overly formal. Good interviews share the same features as good conversations. 5 Interviews that follow a formalized system may be less productive than ones that resemble conversations. 6 Thus, I think conversations have yielded information as valuable as any obtained in formal interviews. Another reason I chose not to do formal interviews for this thesis was because I had a wealth of texts that described the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of agoraphobics. My research for this thesis includes nineteenth-century texts as well as material from current media, prose, and poetry. These works illustrate the discourses I describe. I also support my arguments with material from professional journals and nonfiction books in different disciplines. Although much of my research is qualitative, I do interpret quantitative studies in Chapter Two. I interpret studies in Chapter Two as well as historical texts in Chapter Three through a feminist lens. Chapter Two concentrates on psychology, Chapter Three on history, and Chapter Four on philosophy and political theory. Other works come from the fields of literary criticism, anthropology, and geography. In general, the social sciences have been divided, with economists and political scientists studying the public sphere while psychologists look at private matters. 7 Feminist scholars have tried to break this public/private binary in regard to the disciplines, 8 and their research crosses disciplines. 9 It seems particularly appropriate that a feminist thesis involving the public/private split should be interdisciplinary. An interdisciplinary approach also was necessary to situate a psychological disorder within a social context, and I hope this approach will encourage dialogue among the practitioners of the different disciplines in regard to agoraphobia. I am disturbed that so much of psychology seems oblivious to social factors, both present and past, including gender. I rely heavily on feminist researchers and theorists, and I hope their ideas can inform the many researchers and writers who have given little thought to gender. Let me give an example of the failure to communicate: I searched LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe for every story in major English-language newspapers that mentioned agoraphobia, and the result was 356 articles dating to 1976. Of those articles, only 91 contained the word women. This lack of gender consciousness stands in contrast to a disorder such as anorexia, which has been heavily analyzed in regard to its 5 DeVault, 99-100. 6 Ann Oakley, Interviewing Women: A Contradiction in Terms, Doing Feminist Research, ed. Helen Roberts (London: Routledge, 1981), 30-61. 7 Linda McDowell, Gender, Identity and Place: Understanding Feminist Geographies (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 11. 8 Ibid., 93. 9 Reinharz, 10. 2


prevalence among women. The number of LEXIS-NEXIS articles that mentioned both anorexia and women in that same time period was more than 1,000. While many people who study agoraphobia seem to pay little attention to gender differences, many feminists seem unaware of agoraphobia, even when they write of homemakers, barriers to public participation, and the private/public split. They assume that women are kept out of the public realm or that women choose to stay home, but they forget or do not know that some women stay home out of fear. I hope to give these feminists enough information so that they can consider and theorize agoraphobia. In addition to concentrating on a different discipline in each core chapter, I have chosen another structural similarity: Within each of the chapters, I use one specific example to amplify more general arguments. In Chapter Two, I pay extra attention to the arguments of the book Women Who Marry Houses. In Chapter Three, I examine one case history, the Paris Commune of 1871. In Chapter Four, I do a close reading of the novel Certificate of Absence. I begin, in Chapter Two, with the discovery of agoraphobia in 1871. In the nineteenth century, most of the patients diagnosed with agoraphobia were men. Because of the restrictions on women in public places in the West, it might have seemed normal and natural for a woman to fear the world outside her home, while that same fear might have seemed pathological in men. A century later, in the early 1970s, agoraphobia was diagnosed mainly in women. By then, I claim, women who feared public places would have seemed out of step with the times. Although I describe agoraphobia as a fear of public places, there is no simple definition upon which everyone agrees. The disorder is often associated with shopping malls, for example, but agoraphobics also may fear bridges or even being home alone. I will focus on the fear, identified by most agoraphobics, of losing control over ones own body and mind (rather than the fear of losing control by being forced to relinquish personal control to a more powerful other). Most feel safe at home or with a companion. When mental health professionals note that more women suffer from agoraphobia than men, they often seek a biological cause. I look to differences in society instead. Although men seem to experience anxiety and panic in public as often as women, women have greater fears about the consequences of their feelings, especially the consequences of losing control. To some degree, I suggest, this is a rational response in a world that punishes women more than men for their public behavior. The panic that women feel has physical reactions similar to those experienced in excitement, exercise, and anger, all of which men may experience in public more than women. For many women, these bodily reactions may be disconcerting in their unfamiliarity. If a woman labels these reactions as negative, she may exacerbate them. Thus, a few symptoms associated with panic can multiply until a woman fears she is falling apart. In a world where women may be attacked when they are alone in their homes or in the streets, many seek companionship to feel safe. Although women face more danger at home than in public often from those very companions the dominant discourse has focused on the public dangers. To be safe, most women restrict their public participation. When agoraphobic women stay home or rely on a companion, they are doing what other women do, only to a much greater 3


extent. Because this behavior is coded as feminine, women can find much more acceptance than men if they choose to stay home for years, depending financially on someone else. I have argued that agoraphobia has been constructed as a disorder of women. But it also can be seen as resistance to a hostile world, as described by Robert Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow in Women Who Marry Houses. If this is the case, one would want to do more than simply send women back into the fight. To understand agoraphobia, one must examine discourses on women in regard to the home and the world outside. I assert that the fears of women have been tied to the control of women. Because studying this subject could be a monumental task, I decided that, in Chapter Three, I would concentrate on one time and place: France in the late nineteenth century. I chose France, in part, because the Paris Commune occurred in 1871, the year agoraphobia was named. The Parisian revolt also illustrates well the consequences of women participating in the public realm. Critics fixated on the women, whom they described as mad and dangerously out of control, and the female participants faced gender-specific punishment. Before the Industrial Revolution, men and women often worked at or near their home. The rise of factories contributed to the separation of public and private spheres. Using laws, unions, and harassment, many men tried to keep women from competing with them in the workforce. While the men were away working, they relied on women to tend their homes and raise their children. The dominant discourse focused on the dangers that women faced in the workplace as well as the idea of home as a haven, even though women often faced worse working conditions and personal abuse at home than in public. Although the idea that womens place was in the home was strongest among the middle class, many others adopted this ideal, even if they did not or could not follow it in their own lives. This ideal also served to define women against each other, so that the woman of the home was contrasted with the woman of the streets, reinforcing the class division. As the idea of universal rights gained ground in the nineteenth century, many men tried to exclude women, relying on the Enlightenment ideology of men as strong and rational and women as weak, irrational, and in need of control. I argue that this political ideology was reinforced with the rise of medicine, biology, psychology, and other social sciences. Women were thought to be susceptible to hysteria and unconscious impulses, which became another justification to keep them safe at home. Prostitutes, or public women, were especially linked to madness. Men who feared or desired public women kept watch for them, and this surveillance led many other women to restrict their public behavior, to protect themselves or their reputation from attack. Respectable women could not enter many public places, especially alone or at night. During the day, they took great pains to preserve their status, under the gaze of men and other women. Women were not the only ones worried about their status, I suggest. By the end of the century, many men worried about their own roles, too. As Western nations saw their populations decline and women gain rights, men tried to prove their virility, separating themselves further from women. After discussing historical discourses that tied women to the home in Chapter Three, I examine the interplay of women, home, and identity in Chapter Four. I start with Sylvia 4


Molloys novel Certificate of Absence, whose narrator has many agoraphobic traits, including a fear of leaving her home. She needs limits and order to stave off fears of disorder and madness. She needs her own space and possessions to pull together her fragmented identity and reduce her sense of alienation and detachment. Her home, at first a refuge, becomes a prison as she understands herself better and longs to move on. I claim that many women identify with the home because of the many hours they spend there, doing chores or raising children. Some feminists, such as Simone de Beauvoir, Bonnie Honig, and Bernice Johnson Reagon, have criticized this attachment to home. The arguments include: Women give up their identity to keep house for men. Women maintain fancy homes at the expense of poorer people. Women lock their doors against those they find threatening, not realizing that they are defined against these others. Longing for home equates to longing for a world without conflict or difference, and thus, it gives a false security. Women retreat to the home to avoid political conflict. Home represents a desire for a fixed identity, for both groups and individuals. But individuals cannot sustain a fixed identity, and groups that want a fixed identity spend much time policing their boundaries. Some feminists, such as Iris Marion Young and bell hooks, value the home. Their responses include: A home gives at least some shelter to women who face attack and judgment. Some women stay home because they are unwelcome in the dominant society. Home can represent a temporary respite. Or, it can be a barricade, from which women resist and defy a hostile world. Having a space apart helps them shore up their sense of self. But this does not mean their identities are fixed, only that they have enough coherence and continuity to function. Their identities can still be fluid and mobile. Maintaining a home and its possessions can preserve memories, which form individual and cultural histories. As the appearance and contents of the home change, so do identities. In my concluding chapter, I pull together these ideas in a way that I hope will benefit agoraphobics and those who research and theorize them. 5


Chapter Two: Agoraphobia Carl Friedrich Westphal, a German physician, combined two Greek words to form the term agoraphobia (fear of public places) for a paper published in 1871 on the cases of three men in Berlin. 10 The first English summaries of his findings appeared in 1872. 11 By the mid-1880s, agoraphobia was widely accepted as a diagnosis in Europe and the United States. 12 But it did not catch widespread attention until the early 1970s, a century after its naming. Major television shows and newspapers featured it, special clinics sprang up, and new treatments were suggested. 13 The patients were no longer a handful of Berlin businessmen, however. By the 1970s, the disorder had become associated with white, middle-class housewives. In this chapter, I want to explore how agoraphobia became a womens syndrome. 14 I will look at the demographics of the diagnosis, and the fears expressed by the women diagnosed as agoraphobic as well as the many people who report on agoraphobia but gloss over the prevalence of women. When gender matters, however, the dominant thinking is that biology is to blame. Researchers have questioned whether physical defects or hormones make women more prone to the panic 15 that can lead to agoraphobia. Rejecting that approach, feminists theorize that how the world treats women and how women are taught to act in the world explain why more women than men fear the public sphere. I will conclude with the idea that agoraphobia can be subversive to patriarchy, by raising questions about women in the public sphere. Why would one expect women to have more fears than men in public? Why would women choose not to participate in public? Before the twentieth century, almost all patients diagnosed as agoraphobic were men. 16 Westphal did not speculate on why he did not diagnose agoraphobia in female patients. But I can provide that speculation, based on his clients. Whether male or female, most patients of a private doctor would have had money, unless the doctor worked in an asylum or hospital for charity cases. From his writing, I assume Westphals clientele was middle class. If middle-class women had expressed anxieties about the world outside their home, they might have seemed normal. Normal women have for centuries accepted oppression and imprisonment within their houses, making a virtue of their confinement. 17 Today, most women have a little agoraphobia, 18 10 Terry J. Knapp, Westphals Die Agoraphobie with Commentary: The Beginnings of Agoraphobia, trans. Michael T. Schumacher (Lantham, M.D.: University Press of America, 1988), 22. Agora was the name for the ancient Greek marketplace, which also included public buildings and religious temples, p. 2. 11 Ibid., 28. 12 Ibid., 33. 13 Ibid., 1. 14 Marrie H.J. Bekker, Agoraphobia and Gender: A Review, Clinical Psychology Review 16, no. 2 (1996), 129. 15 Iris G. Fodor, The Agoraphobic Syndrome: From Anxiety Neurosis to Panic Disorder, Personality and Psychopathology: Feminist Reappraisals, eds. Laura S. Brown and Mary Ballou (New York: The Guilford Press, 1992), 189. 16 Knapp, 34. 17 Robert Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow, Women Who Marry Houses: Panic and Protest in Agoraphobia (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983), 213. 18 Seidenberg and DeCrow, 47. 6


in the sense that they are more likely to fear participation in the public sphere than men do. Agoraphobia is not diagnosed in places such as Saudi Arabia, where women are discouraged from leaving the house alone. 19 Although Westphal remained silent on gender, the founder of psychoanalysis did not. Sigmund Freud thought agoraphobia arose in men who were repressing various anxieties. He was more specific in his theory on women. In 1896, he wrote that women who had agoraphobia envied or identified with prostitutes, or public women, and they were repressing the desire to have sex with the first man they met in the streets. 20 In the next chapter, I will explore in greater depth the idea that respectable women were encouraged to stay home. Agoraphobia grabbed headlines in the 1970s as second-wave feminism swelled. Feminists, most notably Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique, aired the unhappiness of homemakers and fought for womens rights in the workplace. For some feminists, agoraphobia fit well with these issues. Currently, about 5 percent of the population suffers from agoraphobia. 21 But it is diagnosed three times as often in women as in men, 22 and the rate of recurrence is nearly double for women as for men. 23 According to the World Health Organization, this gender disparity holds true across many different countries and cultures. 24 On average, the symptoms arise between ages eighteen and thirty-five, 25 and they persist nearly two decades. 26 The great majority of agoraphobics are homemakers. 27 Psychologist Iris Fodor calls agoraphobia a quintessential womens issue 28 but questions why it gets less attention than, for example, eating disorders. 29 By the 1990s, agoraphobia rarely made news anymore, and in professional journals, it became subsumed under 19 Fodor, 200. 20 Sigmund Freud, The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud to Wilhelm Fliess, 1887-1904, ed. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), 217-218. 21 Lyse Turgeon, Andr Marchand, and Gilles Dupuis, Clinical Features in Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia: A Comparison of Men and Women, Journal of Anxiety Disorders 12, no. 6 (12 November 1998), 539-553 [on-line version without page numbers]; available from Science Direct at ; accessed 13 September 2001. 22 American Psychiatric Association, Panic Disorder, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994), 397-401 [book on-line]; available from APA Web site at ; accessed 4 June 2000. 23 Kimberly A. Yonkers, Caron Zlotnick, Jenifer Allsworth, Meredith Warshaw, Tracie Shea, and Martin B. Keller, Is the Course of Panic Disorder the Same in Women and Men? The American Journal of Psychiatry 155, no. 5 (May 1998), 596-602 [on-line journal without page numbers]; available from Web Luis; accessed 11 June 2000. 24 Richard Gater, Michele Tansella, Ailsa Korten, Bea G. Tiemens, Venos G. Mavreas, and Michael O. Olatawura, Sex Differences in the Prevalence and Detection of Depressive and Anxiety Disorders in General Health Care Settings: Report from the World Health Organization Collaborative Study on Psychological Problems in General Health Care, Archives of General Psychiatry 55, no. 5 (May 1998), 405-413. 25 Knapp, 51. 26 Kathleen A. Brehony, Women and Agoraphobia: A Case for the Etiological Significance of the Feminine Sex-Role Stereotype, The Stereotyping of Women: Its Effects on Mental Health, eds. Violet Franks and Esther D. Rothblum (New York: Springer Publishing Co., 1983), 114. 27 Bekker, 143. 28 Fodor, 189. 29 Ibid., 200. 7


more fashionable diagnoses, such as panic disorder. One reason that agoraphobia has always received less attention than other disorders is that women who suffer from it are unlikely to speak out; even those who have recovered may still dislike drawing any attention to themselves. Agoraphobics often must depend on others, and that may prove distasteful in cultures that enshrine independence. Philosopher Iris Marion Young notes that people who are dependent get marginalized. 30 Conservatives who celebrate homemakers and liberals who champion women in the workplace may both dislike talk of women who stay home out of fear. Agoraphobia has been associated with white, middle-class homemakers, and their complaints may seem pass these days, a relic of second-wave feminism. Although agoraphobics often are described as white and middle-class, research indicates that the symptoms may be just as prevalent, if not more so, in poor women, women of other ethnic backgrounds, 31 and women in other countries and cultures, as documented by the World Health Organization. 32 But these women may lack money for therapy. Or they may doubt its efficacy, for cultural or historical reasons. Or they may have difficulty getting to a therapists office, especially because agoraphobics may have fears about transportation or need someone to accompany them. Or they may live in a place less likely to be surveyed by professionals. Defining Agoraphobia Shopping malls and grocery stores are often the examples cited of public places that agoraphobics fear. The original definition of agoraphobia (when the patients were male) was the fear of an assembly of people or a place to meet, that is, a fear of spaces open to the public, 33 which had more of a political connotation. The latest definition (when the majority of patients are women) from the American Psychiatric Association is: The fear of being alone in any place or situation from which it seems escape would be difficult or help unavailable should the need arise. 34 Agoraphobia is not a fear of social interaction, as in social phobia, a condition that has been in the news lately. 30 Iris Marion Young, Intersecting Voices: Dilemmas of Gender, Political Philosophy, and Policy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 125. 31 Steven Friedman, Cheryl M. Paradis, and Marjorie L. Hatch, Issues of Misdiagnosis in Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. Anxiety Disorders in African Americans, ed. Steven Friedman (New York: Springer Publishing Co., 1994), 128-133. The authors note that few studies have been done on African Americans with agoraphobia, but those that have been done indicate that African Americans seemed just as likely to experience panic disorder as whites. Other studies found blacks had more phobias than whites, but they are less likely to seek psychiatric help. Sandy Rovner, Anxiety and the Inner City, The Washington Post, 11 May 1984 [on-line newspaper article]; available from LEXIS-NEXIS Academic Universe at; accessed 13 September 2001. This reports research that more poor black women may suffer from agoraphobia than white women. Gater et al., referenced above, notes agoraphobia in cultures outside the United States. 32 Gater et al. 33 Knapp, 1. 34 American Psychiatric Association, Lets Talk Facts About Phobias, a Web site of the American Psychiatric Association; available from; accessed 14 September 2001. 8


The current understanding of how the disorder progresses is close to the original understanding. The Harvard Guide to Womens Health describes how fear can lead to agoraphobia. A person has a panic attack, which the guide defines as an unexpected and unexplained episode of intense fear. This may lead to a phobia, or irrational fear, and the woman who suffers from it may begin to avoid situations or places associated with that fear. The phobias may multiply until the agoraphobic is afraid to leave her house. 35 Agoraphobics who continue to venture into fearful situations may continue to feel panic. Westphal did not think patients had a fear of public places per se, but rather, they feared the anxiety or panic they felt in those places. 36 In other words, a person may feel panic when she drives across the Sunshine Skyway bridge even though she thinks it is safe. She cannot explain why she feels panic, but it is so unpleasant that she stops driving over the bridge. She does not actually fear the bridge, but the feeling that arises in her. Because of this, some have called agoraphobia a fear of fear. 37 Agoraphobics often worry about being crazy or out of control in public. 38 Many talk about the shame this would bring. Ann Seagrave, who created a program for agoraphobics with Faison Covington, describes her first panic attack: I felt totally out of control of myself and my body; I ended up becoming hysterical. We [agoraphobics] stay on the alert for fear that the very next reaction will be the one that causes us to make fools of ourselves, go totally crazy or drop dead. 39 While researching a newspaper article, I interviewed a woman that I identified only as Joyce (she wanted anonymity) who said: You worry about everything. You think, Im losing my mind. It got to the point where I was afraid to go into unfamiliar areas. 40 Writer Nancy Mairs describes the panic that led to her agoraphobia: I felt suddenly as though I couldnt breathe; I was chilled to the bone yet clammy with sweat; I couldnt swallow; I thought I would throw up. This last sensation was the worst, since I have a horror of vomiting. Id experienced such symptoms before, I think, but that night they came together in a nexus of panic so engulfing, so crippling, that my life congealed around the fear that they would recur. And they did. Unpredictably. Then predictably. I could no longer go to restaurants or theatres. If anyone but George [her husband] were around, I could not eat. I could not stay in the supermarket long enough to buy a weeks worth of groceries. I quit my job. I stopped leaving my apartment building, then my apartment. Finally I stayed crouched in one corner of my livingroom couch, my thoughts reverberating inside my skull as though it were an iron bell, their ringing so loud that, terrified, I would call George at work and beg him to come home. 41 35 The Harvard Guide to Womens Health, eds. Karen J. Carlson, Stephanie A. Eisenstat, and Terra Ziporyn (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 458. 36 Knapp, 52. 37 Seidenberg and DeCrow, 139. 38 American Psychological Association, Panic Disorder, APA HelpCenter, a Web site of the American Psychological Association; available from; accessed 4 June 2000. 39 Ann Seagrave and Faison Covington, Free from Fears: New Hope for Anxiety, Panic, and Agoraphobia (New York: Poseidon Press, 1987), 16. 40 Suzie Siegel, Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself, The Tampa Tribune, 27 August 1992, BayLife 1 [on-line newspaper article without page numbers]; available only from Tampa Tribune computers; accessed 5 June 2000. 41 Nancy Mairs, On Keeping Women In/Out, Plain Text (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1986), 98. 9


Joyce calmed herself in public by imagining a safe haven, a cottage in a peaceful glen. Most agoraphobics have a place they consider safe, almost always their home. But home may be any place they claim as their own space, from a dormitory room to a mansion. It may be the only place where they feel in control. 42 The feeling of safety and control may extend to the homes of friends or relatives or their car. For agoraphobics, home may represent both prison and protection. Yet they often fear being trapped in public places; they want to be able to escape from the situation if they begin to lose control. 43 Many have one or more people with whom they feel safe, even if these people are not understanding or supportive. 44 In other words, they may go to the grocery store with a disapproving husband, but not alone. Some agoraphobics cannot even stay home alone because they fear how they may react. We are constantly confronted with what we fear most: our own minds and bodies. 45 These fears have led psychologist Janice Yoder to describe agoraphobia as a fear of solitary and anonymous situations. 46 Mental health professionals consider emotions and stress to be important factors in anxiety disorders and phobias, while biology is considered the basis for panic. Researchers explore biological differences among people to see why some people are more likely to have panic attacks than other people. Panic can be measured by such symptoms as sweaty palms, dizziness, nausea, and a pounding heart. The Harvard Guide to Womens Health lists agoraphobia under all three categories: anxiety, phobias, and panic. But the dominant view is that agoraphobia is a subcategory of panic disorder; that is how the American Psychiatric Association lists it. In other words, a person who has panic disorder also can develop agoraphobia as a result of their feelings of panic. This categorization emphasizes the biological causes of agoraphobia, 47 with researchers rarely examining womens social and cultural experiences. 48 One might say the thinking on causation has gone full circle, because Westphal also was interested in the biological roots of agoraphobia. But Westphal did not see agoraphobia as a gendered disorder of men even though his patients were male. In his patients, Westphal examined gender-neutral causes, such as vertigo. Today, when gender is noted, the focus seems to be: What biological differences make women more prone to agoraphobia? 49 Blaming biology is reminiscent of the construction of hysteria as a condition of women in the 1800s, 50 which I will discuss in the next chapter. Once again, women are presumed to be more emotional than men by nature. 42 Fodor, 201. 43 Ibid., 196. 44 Seagrave and Covington, 20-21. 45 Ibid., 55. 46 Janice D. Yoder, Women and Gender: Transforming Psychology (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1999), 277. 47 Fodor, 178. 48 Ibid., 187. 49 A good example is Lesley Mcdowell, Feel the Fear, The Scotsman (Edinburgh), 5 May 2001 [on-line newspaper article]; available from LEXIS-NEXIS; accessed 13 September 2001. Scientist Helen Saul speculates on hormonal differences that may aggravate agoraphobia. 50 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume 1: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 104. 10


A Difference in Fears I do not mean to imply that everyone researching agoraphobia today is focusing on biological differences between men and women. Many continue to ignore the gender disparity or write it off as a mystery. Ann Seagrave and Faison Covington, for example, never mention that there are different gendered expectations of men and women, even though their examples even their own lives indicate that. But some researchers, most notably feminists, have looked at social context. In examining the gender disparity, one of the first questions asked is: Is it possible that men experience the symptoms of agoraphobia at the same rate as women but are less likely to be diagnosed with it? Some people think that men do not want to admit to irrational fears, panic, or a fear of leaving the house, lest they appear weak. 51 But men have been forthcoming about anxiety and panic 52 and other phobias. 53 Some think men cover their anxiety by getting drunk or losing their temper. 54 Agoraphobic men are more likely to drink alcohol, 55 but women find other ways to deal with anxiety, such as taking tranquilizers. 56 Thus, men do not seem to have a monopoly on masking anxiety. Although men and women may both experience anxiety in public, their thoughts differ on the consequences. According to a study by psychologists Norman Schmidt and Margaret Koselka, women worried more that they would experience panic, this would have negative consequences physically or socially, and they would be less likely to cope with what happened. A typical statement was: I may become completely hysterical. 57 The greatest gender difference arose when patients were asked about losing control. Women greatly feared it; men did not. 58 In general, men better understood the physical reactions to stress, while women were more likely to catastrophize, 59 to think that their panic would lead to some sort of catastrophe. Let me explain the terms used: Anxiety has the common definition of a state of unease, discomfort, and worry. Panic, as I have noted earlier, is an intense reaction with strong physical symptoms. Someone who is anxious may go one step further and feel panic, but a person can have anxiety without panic and a person can experience panic without being anxious beforehand. Losing control is not a clinical term; it is a fear often expressed by agoraphobics, who define it in individual ways. For one woman, losing control may mean crying and screaming. For another, it may mean vomiting. This would be her perception, not necessarily the 51 Norman B. Schmidt and Margaret Koselka, Gender Differences in Patients with Panic Disorder: Evaluating Cognitive Mediation of Phobic Avoidance, Cognitive Therapy and Research 24, no. 5 (2000), 544. 52 Ibid., 545. 53 Bekker, 130. 54 Nancy Kassam-Adams and Ann Booker Loper, Feminist Analysis of the Reasons Behind Anxiety Disorders and Why They Are More Prevalent in Women, Iris A Journal About Women 31 (1994), 29-34 [on-line journal without page numbers]; available from Web Luis; accessed 7 June 2000. 55 Turgeon et al. 56 Bekker, 131. 57 Schmidt and Koselka, 540-542. 58 Ibid., 543. 59 Ibid., 546. 11


perception of people around her. Agoraphobics may never actually behave in this manner, but they fear it nonetheless. Fear has the common definition; it is considered a phobia when it is irrational. I want to suggest the fears held by agoraphobic women are rational, at least in a larger context. It is not surprising that many women are preoccupied with controling themselves, since society has done so much to control women. 60 They do face greater consequences for losing control in public than do men. Because losing control is not measurable in the same way as, say, cardiac arrest, control becomes a matter of perception. A woman may think she has lost control even when others do not perceive her that way. Conversely, others may perceive a woman as being out of control even though she does not. Women have faced such penalties when they were perceived to be out of control that it behooves them to appear in control, even when they are angry or panicked, even when their hearts are racing and their thoughts are jumbled. Women are expected to lose control in certain circumstances, such as the death of a child, but their actions only reinforce the belief that women are emotional. Men are not supposed to act hysterical or cry like a woman in any circumstance because it lowers their status to that of a weak woman. Depending on variables such as class and ethnicity, men may have the option of anger, while women often have no acceptable way of losing control. To put it another way, men can reinforce their masculinity (and their higher status) with some emotional displays. Women either reinscribe their femininity (and their lower status) or they are considered to be acting like a man, and thus, unnatural. I will discuss this at greater length in the next chapter, but in the meantime, think of all the movies in which men lose control and do something heroic, from telling off their boss to slaughtering evildoers. Think of a college campus, in which a young man can get drunk, vomit on his date, have sex with a stranger, and come away with a reputation as a bon vivant. A woman who does the same may be scorned as a drunken slut, or worse: Men may target her as easy prey. Think of the workplace, in which powerful men can lose control with few repercussions, while women who do the same are considered bitchy or hysterical. Gendered words like slut, bitch, and hysterical illustrate how language condemns women out of control. Not only do men face fewer consequences for losing control, but they also may be more familiar with the feeling. Panic is a rush of adrenaline, similar to that felt during excitement, exercise, and anger. 61 People who understand their bodys reactions to adrenaline do not fear those reactions, and thus, do not develop agoraphobia. 62 Men may be more likely to understand what happens when adrenaline kicks in, since they generally get more encouragement in childhood to explore the outside world, 63 and they often play and exercise harder. In sports and military training, for example, they learn how to use the adrenaline rush. A woman who does not understand her reactions may find reassurance in a companion who can help her, if her body or mind seems to fail her. Among agoraphobics, women are more 60 Seidenberg and DeCrow, 115. 61 Seagrave and Covington, 16. 62 Ibid., 17. 63 Bekker, 141. 12


likely than men to avoid fearful situations when they are alone. 64 Another reason for this gender difference is the societal discourse about a woman alone. In many situations from jogging in the evening to going out on the town women are urged not to go by themselves, lest they encounter trouble. Well-to-do women of the nineteenth century had to have chaperones in order to leave the home. Some say agoraphobia replaces these codes of conduct, with women needing a companion to keep them in check. 65 Because agoraphobic women fear the reactions of their own minds and bodies, they also may panic when they are home alone, when no one is home to help them. But then, women are warned about the dangers of living alone, and they do get attacked in their homes. In fact, agoraphobic women are more likely to have been sexually abused than agoraphobic men or women who are not agoraphobic. 66 Thus, it makes sense that they experience panic when alone in places where they consider themselves vulnerable. 67 For women in general, public spaces have been a landscape of fear. 68 Although they face greater danger in the home, the media focus on public crimes. 69 For example, marital rape rarely gets prosecuted or discussed. In surveys, women have been more than five times more worried about safety in public than have men. Because women can be attacked in different places and times, many have at least some unease whenever they are in public. 70 Many restrict their activities, such as not going to certain places, not going alone, or not going at night. 71 Thus, the prevalence of rape and harassment teaches most women to modify their behavior in public. The fear of rape acts to control all women. Women guard themselves and their female children from the ever-present threat, confining their activities to those that reduce vulnerability. The woman who locks her door at night, who is fearful of the dark, who cannot go into the street, may be deemed neurotic, or agoraphobic. But in a society where a woman who walks abroad is deemed to be fair game because she is providing sexual stimulus to a man, can we blame her? Perhaps it is misogyny she is a victim of, not agoraphobia. 72 Although agoraphobics, like other women, may fear attack, I do not mean to imply that that fear constitutes agoraphobia. As I have explained earlier, agoraphobics fear the panic they feel and the possible consequences of that in certain situations. But sexual abuse can contribute to agoraphobia. People abused as children may learn to hide their feelings, and they may feel shame. 73 They may panic at the thought of losing control and blurting out their 64 Schmidt and Koselka, 543. 65 Bekker, 134. 66 Murray B. Stein, John R. Walker, Geri Anderson, Andrea L. Hazen, Colin A. Ross, Gloria Eldridge, and David R. Forde, Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse in Patients with Anxiety Disorders and in a Community Sample, The American Journal of Psychiatry 153, no. 2 (February 1996), 275-277. 67 Turgeon et al. 68 Rachel H. Pain, Space, Sexual Violence and Social Control, Progress in Human Geography 15 (1991), 415. 69 Ibid., 423. 70 Ibid., 416. 71 Ibid., 420. 72 Jane M. Ussher, Womens Madness: Misogyny or Mental Illness? (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992), 32. 73 Seagrave and Covington, 25. 13


feelings in front of people who may consider them shameful, dirty, or crazy. During abuse, victims lose control over what is happening to their body. This may contribute to later fears of losing control. During abuse, they may learn to dissociate from bodily and emotional reactions. Later it may be frightening to feel these reactions under different circumstances. Abuse, or the fear of it, also can add to a persons general anxiety. Panic attacks are often described as unexpected and unexplained. But that is true only if a therapist ignores the anxiety in a patients life. 74 Agoraphobic women are more likely than agoraphobic men to suffer from stressful lives. 75 In general, research has tied fear and anxiety to feelings of powerlessness. Since many more women than men feel powerless, it is not surprising that women feel more fear and anxiety than men. 76 The more anxiety that people have, the more they may feel as if they will go crazy or lose it, just the sort of fears that keep agoraphobics indoors. The Emphasis on Avoidance Staying home is one factor that often sets men and women apart. To study this difference, Schmidt and Koselka surveyed patients with panic disorder. Some simply had panic; in others, the panic had led to agoraphobia. When the researchers looked at panic disorder without agoraphobia, they found about as many men as women suffered from it. But when panic disorder was combined with agoraphobia, there were two or three times more women patients. The proportion of women increased as the agoraphobia worsened. 77 Thus, agoraphobia is not just more prevalent among women than men, but more severe. 78 To put it another way: Men suffer from feelings of panic at the same rate as women. But many more women will choose to stay home to avoid that panic, and women make up nearly all of the worst cases of agoraphobia. In the past, agoraphobics have been defined by their avoidance of the places they fear. But the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Fourth Edition has changed the diagnosis of agoraphobia to include people who endure their anxiety, either alone or with the aid of a companion. 79 This diagnosis would apply to many more men, obscuring the difference between the men who feel anxiety in public and the women who stay home for 20 years. Why are women more likely to avoid places they fear? Some researchers argue that women are taught to avoid fearful situations, while men are taught to confront them. Agoraphobics score lower on tests for masculine behavior, such as confronting situations and being assertive. 80 In fact, the characteristics often attributed to agoraphobics sound like descriptions of femininity: Patients fear being aggressive. They avoid danger. They are dependent, helpless, emotional, excitable, and house-oriented. They need security and 74 Seidenberg and DeCrow, 132-133. 75 Turgeon et al. 76 Pain, 424; Kassam-Adams and Loper. 77 Schmidt and Koselka, 533-534. 78 Turgeon et al. 79 Schmidt and Koselka, 547. 80 Turgeon et al. 14


protection. 81 As a therapist, Fodor has seen more agoraphobia in women whose families have traditional beliefs about femininity. 82 Considering the messages that women receive, psychologist Kathleen Brehony suggests it is surprising more are not agoraphobic. 83 Other researchers challenge the idea that women, because of their socialization, are less likely to confront their fears. Schmidt and Koselka used the Courage Scale to survey patients. Although they acknowledge the need for more study, they found no difference in courage or the willingness to confront fearsome situations between men and women who suffer panic attacks. 84 Instead, the gender difference seemed to result from the greater fears and worries of the women. To recap what I have discussed: Men and women get diagnosed with panic disorder at the same rate. The Schmidt and Koselka study indicates that men and women have the same rates of courage. I agree with them that the difference seems to be that female patients have more fears and anxieties. As a result of these greater fears and worries, women may choose to stay home more often than men. Even in a society with mixed messages about homemakers, women who stay home receive much more approval and face much less scrutiny than do men who stay home. Although men feel more pressure to leave their home to work, psychologist Marrie Bekker argues that women who stay home are still expected to leave on various errands. 85 Nevertheless, homemakers have more flexibility in what they can avoid. They do not need to spend eight hours away from home, and they may find ways to make forays acceptable, such as shopping with friends. As a result, homemaking gives many agoraphobic women an acceptable way to avoid that which they fear in public. Agoraphobia often strikes young women after marriage or motherhood. 86 Women who must do all the housework and childcare may feel overwhelmed. But they do not have to be assertive; they may just stop being capable of chores outside the home. 87 Women who have been independent and held outside employment may feel reassured to adopt the more traditional role of homemaker, a role with which they are familiar. 88 In the past, some therapists urged agoraphobic women to become better wives, mothers and homemakers, 89 and these messages may linger among women who have been agoraphobic for years. Husbands tend to be satisfied with agoraphobic wives, as long as the couple believes in traditional gender roles. The men may enjoy feeling strong and rational, in relation to wives beset with irrational fears. 90 This fits the 81 Fodor, 193. 82 Ibid., 191. 83 Brehony, 124. 84 Schmidt and Koselka, 547. 85 Bekker, 131. 86 Fodor, 177-178. 87 Kassam-Adams and Loper. 88 Ibid. 89 Siegel. 90 Kassam-Adams and Loper. 15


concept of the patriarchal marriage, in which a woman accepts limits on her freedom to serve the needs of her husband and children, and, in return, her husband protects and supports her. 91 Mairs became agoraphobic after she traded writing for marriage and motherhood. 92 Seagrave and Covington describe a number of women who tried to conform to notions of traditional femininity, only to become housebound by their anxieties. They also talk about how agoraphobia can benefit a womans husband. Seagrave gave up work outside the home when she married. Her husband benefited from her agoraphobia in that he took control of everything and she and their children worshiped him. 93 Covington describes herself as meek and dependent, qualities that charmed her husband. When she started to recover from agoraphobia, she became more independent and assertive, and her husband worried that he would lose control of her. 94 Agoraphobics are often described as very dependent. 95 That may be, in part, because professionals devalue work done in the home. It is possible that the breadwinner depends a great deal on an agoraphobic woman to keep house and raise the children. Although agoraphobia may make them more dependent on others, it is important to underscore that some women, such as Seagrave, exhibited independent traits beforehand. Martha Cadden, a former agoraphobic who started a treatment center in Largo, Florida, saw many women who tried to take care of others, not just themselves. They were the classic good girls, trained to put others first. She was one, as was Joyce, the woman I interviewed. Joyce had spent 17 years at one of the nations largest banks, working her way from a clerk to a vice president, before agoraphobia forced her to take early retirement. The oldest of six children, she had taken charge of her siblings after the death of her mother. 96 With so much responsibility, these women fear the consequences if they lose control. But this can make them vulnerable to the panic attacks that can lead to agoraphobia. A Radical Revisioning Most mental health professionals discuss agoraphobia in terms of avoidance. Robert Seidenberg, a psychiatrist, and Karen DeCrow, a former president of the National Organization for Women, offer a radical alternative. They see agoraphobia as resistance: Agoraphobics may well be the most completely uncompromising feminists of our time. They will not be placated or bribed by small favors or grants of limited access. Sensing that they are not welcome in the outside world, they have come to terms with their own sense of pride by not setting foot on land that is deemed alien and hostile. 97 We perceive agoraphobia as a very personalized sit-in strike. 98 91 Eva Feder Kittay, Loves Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency (New York: Routledge, 1999), 41. 92 Mairs, 101. 93 Seagrave and Covington, 72. 94 Ibid., 76. 95 Harvard Guide to Womens Health, 458. 96 Siegel. 97 Seidenberg and DeCrow, 7. 98 Ibid., 35. 16


Seeing agoraphobia as protest follows feminist thinking on other psychological disorders diagnosed primarily in women. Psychologist Jane Ussher says feminists have equated madness with oppression. As women are powerless, they cannot express their discontent in any way other than madness, hysteria or anorexia. 99 Resistance points to the failure of the system. 100 It raises questions of why so many women refuse to participate in the public sphere. Seidenberg and DeCrow compare agoraphobic women to communities that isolate themselves. They note that some ethnic groups remain in enclaves, for fear of hostile people in other neighborhoods. In occupied countries, some people comply with the regime but remain separatists at home. They remain alienated from the larger society around them. The retreatist separation of despair is the mode of the agoraphobic. 101 I relish Seidenberg and DeCrows analysis and want to explore their ideas, with caveats. For example, they fail to make important distinctions between the intent and the result. Women do not choose agoraphobia to flout society. But their agoraphobia may serve as subversion, nonetheless. It can lead people to look at ways the public sphere remains hostile to women. Agoraphobia allows some women to pursue their interests apart from the world, Seidenberg and DeCrow say. They cite Emily Dickinson, who might not have had the opportunity to write if she had married and raised a family. 102 But she makes a strange example, since so many agoraphobics do marry and have children. It is not clear whether Dickinson would have been diagnosed as agoraphobic today. But it is clear that some people express the desire to stay home while others express a desire to leave the home, but fear the consequences. Society has helped shape their fears, desires, and options. Nevertheless, I want to draw a distinction between a woman who says, I need to stay home and write and one who says, I fear that I will have a heart attack if I step outside my door. Women often are relieved to be diagnosed as agoraphobic. If they are ill, they can be cured. 103 It is harder to try to change ones life or the world in which one lives. 104 But that is what Seidenberg and DeCrow expect. They recommend therapy that will help a woman understand her life within the limits of a patriarchal world. They compare drug and behavior therapies to strike-breaking, 105 because these therapies deal only with the symptoms, not the causes of agoraphobia. What firefighter rushes to destroy the alarm system or smoke detector? 106 They question if agoraphobics are disturbed or disturbing. 107 In other words, professionals would rather drug women or change their behavior than see that behavior as a rational response to the world. I agree, but it is nave to think that once people understand their 99 Ussher, 90. 100 Trinh T. Minh-ha, Write Your Body and The Body in Theory, Feminist Theory and the Body, eds. Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick (New York: Routledge, 1999), 262. 101 Seidenberg and DeCrow, 177. 102 Ibid., 53. 103 Ibid., 15. 104 Ibid., 32. 105 Ibid., 33. 106 Ibid., 171. 107 Ibid., 130. 17


problems, the problems will disappear. Many women may want and need therapies to get them out of the house, while they work on bigger issues. Writing in the early 1980s, when fewer women held positions of power, Seidenberg and DeCrow thought mental health professionals would help women enter the public sphere only to do errands associated with their gender, such as shopping. They could not imagine a therapist treating a woman who feared a Wall Street office or a library. 108 But that has not been the case, as evidenced by the fact that the former banker I interviewed received treatment in hopes that she could return to her office and I received treatment to enter libraries, classrooms, and other public areas of a college campus. Women who are not homemakers also develop agoraphobia and receive treatment. Seidenberg and DeCrow think women will stop being agoraphobic when society values their work outside the home and removes barriers, 109 but they do not give details on what they mean by this or how it will be accomplished. Removing barriers is easier said than done. Like Seidenberg and DeCrow, Young also criticizes the unrelenting focus on the individual in therapy. She uses the ideas of philosopher Michel Foucault in relation to drug addicts, 110 but her analysis works with agoraphobics as well. Their situation is one of dependence, vulnerability, and need, and therapists may respond with paternalism. 111 Patients may be encouraged to dissect their life, behavior, and needs in the clinical language of the therapists. The normalizing language of therapy defines her history and the particular attributes of her situation as a case, that is, as a particular instance of generalized concepts of norm and deviance, health and disorder, self-fulfillment and self-destruction. Treatment is designed to change behaviors so that the patient fits the norm. 112 But this does not address the political nature of the patients situation or what political action can be taken. Seeing people only as individuals obscures oppression. 113 As an alternative, Young suggests consciousness-raising talk in which individuals can see themselves in society and discuss collective political action. 114 Ussher would retain therapy, but continually interrogate it. She suggests that therapists listen to the women. 115 I like her suggestion and Youngs, but I am concerned that agoraphobics may talk in the way they have been trained. In other words, it may be hard for them to break from the societal discourse in which they have come to understand themselves and their situation. In the next chapter, I will discuss that discourse. 108 Ibid., 26-27, 30. 109 Ibid., 6. 110 Young, 87. 111 Ibid., 85. 112 Ibid., 86. 113 Ibid., 17. 114 Ibid., 90-91. 115 Ussher, 306. 18


Chapter Three: Fears of Women in Nineteenth Century Discourse Women entered the public sphere with a vengeance in the Paris Commune of 1871 and they paid for it. Not only did the female participants in this revolt experience worse treatment than men, but their participation also became a cautionary tale of the social disorder that arises when women want an active role in the world outside their home. In this chapter, I explore the nineteenth century discourse on women in the home and women in public, with the Commune as an example. I look at work, politics, science, health, and social changes in the nineteenth century. Throughout much of the written history of the West, women were supposed to tend the home, while men held the political and economic power. As the philosopher Xenophon said in ancient Greece: The gods created the woman for the indoors functions, the man for all the others. 116 This was an ideal, of course. Poor, enslaved, and lower-class women often worked outside the home, and that work might have been seen as a positive among their peers, but it also served to define them against higher-class women. Lower-class women often were expected to do the chores inside their own homes, too. In the West, the nineteenth century saw a strengthening of the gendered separation of the private and public spheres. By the dawn of the twentieth century, however, much of this ideology had been thrown into question. My particular concern is the role fear played in controlling women. Men feared what would happen if women no longer tended the home or if women could no longer be controlled. Women, too, feared a loss of control, the ruination of the home, and the risks of the public world. I do not mean that fear ruled their lives. Imagine it instead as a shiny ribbon that ran through their lives, like the ribbons in the hair of the women condemned for their role in the Commune. 117 I focus on France in the late nineteenth century for three reasons. First, I chose the Commune as my historical example because it occurred in the year that agoraphobia was discovered. But to talk about the Commune, I need to discuss other discourses of that place and time period. Second, I want to focus on one country because it would not be feasible to explore the historical discourse throughout the West. For example, all the Western nations experienced industrialization, but they did so at different times and in different ways. Third, the discourse and events of modern France have had a great impact in the West. As historian Joan Landes puts it: French developments are everywhere discussed as paradigmatic of the specifically political determination of modern society. 118 I will mention developments elsewhere that echo the experience in France, or place it in a larger context. When I write without mention of France, I mean to indicate trends throughout the West, even though I will be using French sources for the most part. I will mention France specifically when speaking of statistics, laws, etc., that were peculiar to that nation. 116 Fodor, 177. 117 Gay L. Gullickson, Unruly Women of Paris: Images of the Commune (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 206. 118 Joan B. Landes, Women and the Public Sphere in the Age of the French Revolution (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988), 8. 19


Depending on the place and time, the separation of the private and public realms might not have involved much physical separation for men and women. These days, people speak of home and work as if that separation were natural. 119 In the past, however, many people worked in or near where they lived. The family might have lived on its farm in the countryside or above the cobblers shop in town, for example. A woman might have brewed beer in her house or taken in laundry. Both husband and wife might have worked hard to maintain family farms and home businesses. There also was little separation in politics, at times. Under monarchy, men and women might have attended a public function, such as an execution, but the average man had few political functions to attend on his own. Although elite men held most political and economic power, women in their same class had more access to this power than would a lower-class man. Labor Separates Men and Women As the trades organized, men cut women out of the competition. The Industrial Revolution solidified the gender segregation, with men predominating in the factories of the 1800s. 120 In France, large-scale industrialization began to grow in the 1850s, and work increasingly referred to something performed for money outside the home. 121 A divide widened between women who stayed home and men who went to work. Many women did do work, such as sewing or knitting, in their homes for money, but they were still expected to do household chores. As men worked long hours outside the home, they depended even more on women to keep house and raise children, 122 whatever other work the women did. Work outside the home became associated with masculinity, and men felt they had a right to such work. 123 But the male claim to jobs did not keep women away. Philosopher Jane Roland Martin describes women as immigrants in the workplace, given that our country of origin is the private home. 124 By 1866, women made up 30 percent of the industrial labor force in France. 125 Men feared competition from women, who were sometimes hired because they were considered more docile and because they could be paid less than men. This might occur when the work became mechanized and thus was no longer a skilled craft. Even socialist men argued against women in the workplace. 126 The International Workingmens Association, composed mainly of English, French, and Swiss artisans, passed a resolution in 1866 that womens place was in the home. 127 In the latter part of the nineteenth century, middle-class men felt increasing competition as 119 McDowell, 123. 120 Ibid., 77. 121 Elinor A. Accampo, Gender, Social Policy, and the Formation of the Third Republic, Gender and the Politics of Social Reform in France, 1870-1914, eds. Elinor A. Accampo, Rachel G. Fuchs, and Mary Lynn Stewart (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 4. 122 Accampo, 13. 123 An example of the construction of work as a masculine right can be found in Alfred Naquet, Collectivism and the Socialism of the Liberal School, trans. William Heaford (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1891), 55. 124 Jane Roland Martin, Coming of Age in Academe: Rekindling Womens Hopes and Reforming the Academy (New York: Routledge, 2000), 95. 125 Marilyn Boxer, Socialism Faces Feminism in France: 1879-1913 (Riverside: University of California, 1975), 76. 126 Boxer, 76. 127 Marilyn Boxer and Jean Quataert, Women in Industrializing, Liberalizing, and Imperializing Europe, Connecting Spheres: European Women in a Globalizing World, 1500 to Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 141. 20


well. 128 Some men did more than pass resolutions; they harassed women. Business owners and supervisors forced themselves sexually on women, out of romantic notions or to make the women compensate for poor work. 129 Working conditions could be worse at home than in the factories. 130 But men concentrated on the physical and psychological toll taken on women in the workplace. Philanthropists urged women to stay home. 131 This was the typical thinking: By entering a workshop, a woman undertook an unnatural, unfeminine role, effectively destroying her innately fragile constitution. Physically and emotionally undone, she fell prey to the ultimate feminine disorder: hysteria. 132 The public sphere was perceived as less caring than the home. 133 Some men who felt alienated from their labor longed for a refuge, where they could imagine themselves in an earlier, simpler, more natural time. 134 Religious movements gave the home an aura of spirituality and virtue. 135 Home also was seen as a site of nurturing, with women doing the nurturing. The home became an idealized centre for emotional life, where feelings that might be disguised elsewhere were allowed full rein. 136 Jules Michelet, a nineteenth-century historian, described womens duty to provide a home away from the weariness of worldly things, the world of work. 137 Jenny P. dHericourt, a writer who challenged Michelet and other misogynists of her day, retorted that sequestration gave a husband more power over his wife than if she were allowed more rights in public. 138 Home did not provide the same haven for women as it did for men. As I have mentioned, women often did hard and dangerous work there, sometimes for money, sometimes not. Under the Napoleonic Code, husbands could take their money, and beat or rape them, with few repercussions. For much of the nineteenth century, divorce was not an option, and even when it was, divorcing or prosecuting a husband with more money and power was quite a gamble. Although women were (and still are) more likely to be harmed in their home by an intimate than by a stranger on the street, this was rarely discussed until recent years. Instead, writing focused on the dangers and the subsequent fear and anxiety facing women in the public sphere. 139 To 128 Edward Berenson, The Trial of Madame Caillaux (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 112. 129 Alain Corbin, Women for Hire: Prostitution and Sexuality in France after 1850, Alan Sheridan, trans. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990), 137. 130 Tessie P. Liu, What Price a Weavers Dignity? Gender and Class in Modern Europe, eds. Laura L. Frader and Sonya O. Rose. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 75. 131 McDowell, 77. 132 Carolyn J. Eichner, To Assure the Reign of Work and Justice,: The Union des Femmes and the Paris Commune of 1871, Osterreichische Zeitschrift fur Geschichtswissenschaften 9, no. 4 (1998), 535. 133 Kittay, 139. 134 Berenson, 110. 135 McDowell, 77-78. 136 Ibid., 75. 137 Jules Michelet, Love, J.W. Palmer, trans. [1860], in Women, the Family, and Freedom: The Debate in Documents, Volume One, 1750-1880, eds. Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1983), 339. 138 Jenny P. dHericourt, A Womans Philosophy of Woman, or Woman Affranchised: An Answer to Michelet, Proudhon, Girardin, Legouve, Comte, and Other Modern Innovators [1864], in Women, the Family, and Freedom, eds. Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen, 343. 139 McDowell, 148-151. 21


write or speak about abuse inside the home would have diminished the cult of domesticity and indicted men. Writers and speakers were mostly men, and it often suited their purposes to warn women of the dangers outside. Like their male counterparts, women who worked in factories and workshops sometimes idealized the home, 140 especially if they had never done domestic production. 141 Even if they had done grueling work at home, they might still accept the rhetoric that they, their family, and society would be better off if they could stay home. Although this began as a bourgeois value, working-class families felt pressure to conform by the late nineteenth century. Indeed the leisure of its women, even more than the occupation of its men, served to validate a familys claim to middle-class standing. Increasingly the desire for respectability made work outside the home unacceptable for working-class women as well. 142 By the turn of the century, the idea that woman should stay home had little connection with reality. More and more women worked outside the home, whether or not they liked or approved of it. Even conservative women who had the money to stay home spent much of their time doing charity work, such as organizing schools and feeding the poor. 143 Many entered the political realm as well. They attended worker congresses, joined socialist organizations, and founded feminist groups from the mid-1870s. 144 The term fminisme was coined in France and was in wide use there by the 1890s, as well as spreading to many other countries around the world. 145 The Universal Man Takes Over Politics Although patriarchal, Frances Old Regime allowed women to participate in public. Most men and women were excluded from power, but some elite women assumed powerful roles that had nothing to do with domesticity, similar to their male counterparts. 146 After the Revolution, republican men talked of individual rights applied universally. They either had to include women or explain why women differed from men. They chose the latter route. 147 Republican men ended up devaluing womens contribution to public life to a degree rarely matched in earlier periods. 148 In general, women had fewer rights after the Revolution than before. For a while, it was even a crime for them to appear in public. 149 Next came the Napoleonic Code, with various laws to remove women from the public sphere. 150 140 Charles Sowerwine, Sisters or Citizens? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 10. 141 Ibid., 12. 142 Boxer and Quataert, 145. 143 Berenson, 92. 144 Accampo, 6. 145 Karen Offen, Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 14, no. 11 (1988), 126-127. 146 Landes, 17. 147 Ibid., 105. 148 Ibid., 203. 149 Berenson, 106. 150 Berenson, 107. 22


In many ways, republicanism mirrored older Christian views on women. The Church had spent centuries teaching that women needed to be controlled, lest their weak and animal-like natures lead them to wickedness. They might harm or even kill people, destroy crops, or cause other mischief. The rampant persecutions of women for witchcraft in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries may be viewed as an expression of a male-dominated societys intolerance of uncontrolled women. 151 The idea of women as more sexual, emotional, manipulative, and devious persisted into the Enlightenment, becoming part of philosophy and science. Men were considered strong, rational, civilized, and in control. Women were weak, emotional, closer to nature, and in need of men to control them. As dHericourt put it, woman is seen as a perpetual invalid always wounded. 152 Historian Edward Berenson gives his view of women at the turn of the century: As long as women remained insulated from worldly stimulation they were subdued, sweet, and loving. But because their nervous systems were so fragile, so vulnerable to the least upset, their serenity readily gave way to waves of passion that took charge of them, body and soul. A woman could be sweet and composed one moment; depressed, anxious, even violent another. 153 Whether for biological or psychological reasons, women were regularly described as hypersensitive, nervous, volatile, irrational, and lacking in self-control. 154 In the ideology of republicanism, women were supposed to control their passions, presenting themselves as modest and chaste. They were to remain virgins until married, but marriage and children were expected. Women who stayed single and celibate invited scorn. But motherhood, with its implication of sexuality and the physicality of birth and breastfeeding, was dangerous because it involved a loss of bodily control. 155 Domesticity was the solution to the problem of the unruly woman. 156 Keeping women home would protect both them and society. Think of it as a controlled burn: Women could have passion and lose control, but only under male supervision. Even after the turn of the century, in 1914, a real woman was supposed to stay home. She did not make a spectacle of herself. 157 The writings of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the late eighteenth century contributed greatly to this cult of domesticity. He wrote in Emile: The genuine mother of a family is no woman of the world; she is almost as much of a recluse as the nun in the convent. 158 Although he saw much weakness in women, their sexuality terrified him. If women 151 Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen, Women, the Family, and Freedom, 3. 152 dHericourt, 342. 153 Berenson, 98. 154 Ibid., 100. 155 Accampo, 12. 156 Gullickson, 217. 157 Berenson, 92. 158 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, trans. Barbara Foxley and Grace Roosevelt [1762], available at the Web site of Columbia Universitys Institute for Learning Technologies at Pedagogies/ Rousseau/ em_eng_bk5.html; accessed 30 September 2001; 1358. 23


did not feel shame and timidity, if they gave free rein to their desires, the human race would perish. 159 If women had sexual freedom, they would tyrannize and eventually destroy men. 160 In the mid-nineteenth century, philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon lashed out at women as physically, intellectually, and morally inferior. Women who defended themselves against such claims were impure and rendered insane by sin. 161 Writer Juliette Lambert [Adam] responded to him, conceding an element of moral corruption and disorder in women. But she said it was worsened, not helped, by obliging women to shut themselves up in the family. 162 At the turn of the century, anarchist Louise Michel, who fought in the Commune, also challenged Proudhon. If a woman is not duped, if she has courage, if she becomes educated, men will consider her pathological. 163 Michel acknowledged that women do not always act in commendable ways, but their misbehavior arises from their situation, not their natures. Concerning Proudhons assertion that women could be either homemakers or prostitutes, controlled by the home or the brothel, Michel responded that men had made women dangerous by giving them little education or rights. 164 In my discussion of political ideology, the reader may have noticed some references to psychology and biology. The rise of medicine, biology, psychology, and other social sciences in the late nineteenth century provided evidence for philosophers and politicians who wrote on the need to control women. Behaviors associated with men and women became innate characteristics. 165 Madness became associated with womanhood, with hysteria as the catchall diagnosis for female maladies. 166 The diagnosis of hysteria was used to force women to become more passive. Being vocal in public was often enough to be considered hysterical. For example, women who worked for womens rights were labeled as hysterics. 167 To cure hysteria, doctors often recommended that women marry and bear children, or spend more time tending the ones they had. In other words, they were to be confined to the home. 168 In the past, there was talk of people possessed by demons or overcome by emotions. At the turn of the century, the concept of the unconscious arose to explain how almost anyone could commit the most heinous crime against her or his will. 169 The unconscious was seen as so 159 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, book 5, ed. Michel Launay [1762], in Women, the Family, and Freedom, eds. Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen, 44. 160 Rousseau, Emile, 1762, 45. 161 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, De la Justice dans la Revolution et dans lEglise, [1858], in Women, the Family, and Freedom, eds. Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen, 326. 162 Juliette Lambert [Adam], Idees Anti-Proudhoniennes sur lAmour, la Femme, et le Mariage [1861], in Women, the Family, and Freedom, eds. Susan Groag Bell and Karen M. Offen, 332. 163 Louise Michel, The Memoirs of Louise Michel, the Red Virgin, trans. and ed. Bullitt Lowry and Elizabeth Ellington Gunter (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1981), 139. 164 Michel, 142. 165 Boxer and Quataert, 150. 166 Ussher, 64-65. 167 Eileen Janes Yeo, Radical Femininity: Womens Self-Representation in the Public Sphere (New York: Manchester University Press, 1998), 5. 168 Janet Beizer, Ventriloquized Bodies: Narratives of Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century France (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994), 51. 169 Berenson, 20. 24


powerful that it could seize control of the individual, at least for a short time. 170 Women were seen as weaker and more susceptible to these unconscious impulses than were men. Adding to the danger was the growth of the cities, and psychologists warned that the urban stimuli were creating a population of emotional time bombs. Poverty and the frustration of factory jobs were thought to add stress to the lower classes. 171 This discourse was constructed in tandem with the idea of home as a haven. According to theories tempered by colonialism, the more civilized a society became, the greater became its division of labor. The evolution of the public and private spheres and their division by gender were seen as a mark of civilization. This was not just the evolution of the society, but it was considered to be biological evolution as well. Women became suited for the home, and men for economics and politics, as humanity advanced biologically. 172 Problems for the Public Woman The interest in biology fed fears about the most public women prostitutes. Historian Alain Corbin writes of the venereal anxiety and hygienic terror of the late nineteenth century, inspired in part by the prevalence of syphilis, then incurable. 173 Just as syphilis could lead to madness, many people thought that prostitution and licentiousness could drive women crazy. The links between prostitution, madness, and hysteria were a fundamental theme in contemporary writing on prostitution. 174 Seeing prostitution as a necessary evil, officials devised ways to regulate it. Alex Parent-Duchatelet, a pioneering French regulationist of the first part of the century, wanted to inspire a permanent terror in prostitutes. They would always be under surveillance, and could be imprisoned or hospitalized whenever they got out of line. 175 If arrested, a woman might have to spend the night in a police station and submit to a gynecological examination, which many women considered an assault on their modesty, if not actually rape. 176 In addition to law enforcement and health care workers, prostitutes also were watched by pimps, brothel owners, and clients, although for different reasons. Many poor women who had other trades had to occasionally seek money for sex, the fifth quarter of the day, in order to survive. These working women, along with women who did not follow sexual mores, independent women, women who performed in public, and even traditional women caught in the wrong place at the wrong time might be labeled as prostitutes. In many French towns, a woman caught with a man who would not answer for her was registered as 170 Ibid., 30. 171 Ibid., 31. 172 Joan Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996), 96-97. 173 Corbin, 251. 174 Ibid., 298. 175 Ibid., 13. 176 Ibid., 31-32, 88. 25


a prostitute. 177 After all, a public man was a citizen, while a public woman was a prostitute. 178 Some women were (and still are) tricked into sexual slavery, and newspapers warned that young virgins were being snatched up and sold in foreign countries as part of the white slave trade. 179 These stories contributed to the idea that women faced dangers in the outside world, especially without a male protector. Women were not the only victims of crime, of course. Men faced many dangers in public, and one could argue that they were much more likely to come to harm in public than in private, unlike women. But men had no choice. They were supposed to operate in the public arena, and there were few ways to escape it. Men claimed public spaces, especially at night, and women were not welcome, unless they were there to serve men. Many women had to venture onto the streets at night, including those who worked late shifts. But they risked their reputation as well as physical attack. If they dared to go alone into a public establishment, such as a bar or restaurant, they might be seen as a prostitute. Much of social life was closed to unescorted women. 180 It is important to draw the link between reputation and rape. Women who did not conform or keep to their place were constructed as wicked or fallen, subjected to abuse or vulnerable to physical danger, forcing them to reconsider their decision to participate in the public sphere. 181 Rape was rarely prosecuted because it was believed that a truly moral woman could prevent it. A woman who said she was raped might be blamed for inciting the mans action, and she would certainly establish her loss of virginity. 182 As historian Eileen Yeo writes in the first line of her book: Public space has been dangerous territory for women. 183 Women could go out alone during the day, but those with money were careful in their dress, to ensure respectability and status. In Victorian England, Cambridge students wore gloves and hats to differentiate themselves from women of loose morals. 184 Respectable men expressed outrage at flamboyant prostitutes seeking bourgeois clients on the grand boulevards of Paris. The fiction of the period provides rich testimony to what was a veritable phobia and a repressed desire for contact. 185 The boulevards, built in the 1850s and 1860s, led to woman as spectacle. 186 Strolling the boulevards, eyeing women, was a popular pastime for men. 187 By the 1870s, however, most bourgeois and upper-class women did not venture out even in open carriages. Many felt insecure of their social standing, and they were afraid of meeting women who might complicate their husbands business or politics. 188 177 Ibid., 32. 178 Yeo, 1. 179 Corbin, 277. 180 Boxer and Quataert, 146. 181 McDowell, 149. 182 Ibid., 151. 183 Yeo, 1. 184 McDowell, 154. 185 Corbin, 205. 186 Ibid., 205. 187 Albert Dresden Vandam, My Paris Note-book (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1894), 141-142. 188 Ibid., 143. 26


By the late nineteenth century, people were no longer locked into what had amounted to castes, with no hope of change. There were more working-class people who aspired to the middle class. I already have mentioned that many working-class families adopted the bourgeois idea that women should stay home, even if they could not manage that themselves. After the Paris Commune, there was social confusion, with aristocrats and royalists hanging on to prestige while republicans boasted of high government positions and the bourgeoisie struggled to rise in the ranks. Mary King Waddington noted how women of different social standing spoke angrily of each other. 189 An American, she had married a delegate to the French National Assembly in Paris in 1874. She commented on how the French bourgeois women lived cramped lives, with little knowledge of the outside world. They feared making mistakes in public. Unlike men, they were scrutinized for every detail of their dress and manners. 190 Although feminists talk of the male gaze, it is important to underscore: Women were watching and judging each other as well. A woman of higher class was defined in opposition to a lower-class woman, and women preserved their status by showing disdain for women below them. 191 Women were not the only ones worried about their roles. In the 1880s, many bourgeois men questioned, if not their own masculinity, then the manliness of their contemporaries. They adopted an aggressively masculine lifestyle. 192 Many turned to duels to protect their honor and prove their manhood. 193 Some expressed distaste, or at least a lack of interest, in the lives of women. They frequented male-only clubs, meetings, political chambers, etc. The gender gulf grew so wide that some men and women had little idea how the others lived. 194 Women had less informal influence on politics because they were so seldom around the men in power. 195 Virility was celebrated, in response to the declining population. 196 Birthrates were falling faster in France than in other European countries or the United States. 197 France had been the first European country to experience a decline in births, beginning in the late eighteenth century, but it did not become a public issue until the defeat by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. 198 Men were needed to fill the ranks of the army, lest France lose again. In addition to declining births, depopulation was tied to feminism and degeneracy, such as alcoholism, 189 Mary King Waddington, My First Years as a Frenchwoman 1876-1879 (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1914), 188, 246. 190 Ibid., 185-186. 191 Boxer and Quataert, 154. 192 Judith F. Stone, The Republican Brotherhood: Gender and Ideology, Gender and the Politics of Social Reform in France, 1870-1914, eds. Elinor A. Accampo, Rachel G. Fuchs, and Mary Lynn Stewart, 46. 193 Berenson, 207. 194 Stone, 46. 195 Vandam, 156. 196 Stone, 39. 197 Rachel Fuchs, France in a Comparative Perspective, Gender and the Politics of Social Reform in France, 1870-1914, eds. Elinor A. Accampo, Rachel G. Fuchs, and Mary Lynn Stewart, 158. 198 Karen Offen, Feminism, Antifeminism, and National Family Politics in Early Third Republic France, Connecting Spheres: European Women in a Globalizing World, 1500 to the Present, Marilyn Boxer and Jean Quataert, 207. 27


disease, and crime. 199 These fears continued the drumbeat for women to stay home and raise children in France, as well as in other Western countries. Lack of political control also contributed to the crisis of masculinity in France. While other European countries grew in power and stability, France struggled between monarchy and republican governance. It lost a war, and in the same year, the bourgeoisie lost control of their capital during the Commune. The depression of the 1880s led to fears of another revolution. 200 Commune Women and Social Disorder In 1871, the Commune became a turning point for womens participation in the public arena. In the Franco-Prussian war, Napoleon III was captured, but many Parisian workers had their hopes for a republican government dashed when the new leaders proved conservative. Prussian troops laid siege to Paris for five months, and Parisians joined the National Guard to defend their city. Instead of being rescued by the French army, however, Paris was surrendered to the Prussians by the French government in Versailles. On March 18, when the French army tried to remove cannons from Paris, the National Guard and other Parisians fought back. Paris set up its own government, the Commune, and was besieged by the French army. The radicals who ran the Commune started rewriting laws, giving more rights to workers, including women. The Commune held out for ten weeks, until the army entered the city and killed up to thirty thousand people. 201 Women played critical roles from the first day of the Commune. 202 They organized parades, demonstrations, and a citywide union. They entered skirmishes, sometimes as combatants but more often to provide food, water, and medical care. They fought on the barricades, and they spoke to political clubs, which had taken over churches. 203 Although the Commune often is seen as a rebellion of the working class, its critics became fixated on the female participants, who were generally described as lower class. Bourgeois journalists, essayists, and historians were drawn to the fierce, beautiful female warriors of the Commune and were convinced that they were man-hating, independent, dangerous, and mad. 204 One example is historian Maxime du Camps four-volume Les Convulsions de Paris, which first appeared in 1878. Sometimes he explicitly compared the Commune to a woman; other times, his language implied the feminine. Crazed, animalistic, and sexual women dominated his account. 205 These were women who had stepped out of their place, and thus, threatened social order. 206 A year later, Jules Simon wrote his account, juxtaposing the women who wanted peace, the guardians of their homes, with those who wanted war. The warlike women were more frightening than men and incited the bloodbath when the army retook 199 Fuchs, 176. 200 Ibid., 177. 201 Gullickson, 2, 14-16. 202 Kathleen Jones and Francoise Verges, Aux Citoyenne!: Women, Politics, and the Paris Commune of 1871, History of European Ideas 13, no. 6 (1991), 712. 203 Jones and Verges, 717. 204 Gullickson, 87. 205 Beizer, 209. 206 Ibid., 210. 28


the city, asserted Simon, who had served as education minister under the Versailles government. 207 Writing at the turn of the century, historian Elizabeth Latimer underscored the psychological disorder that led to social disorder. She said four of the female participants were sent to an insane asylum, but doctors declared that nearly every woman who fought in the streets for the Commune was more or less insane. 208 A precedent had been set with the women, dubbed tricoteuses (knitters), who participated in the Terror. They were depicted as knitting during the most radical and bloodiest events of the French Revolution. They came to represent revolution to those who feared it. Similarly, the petroleuses, the women accused of setting fires during the Commune, became its most hated symbol. Men led the Revolution, as they did the Commune, and the combatants were overwhelmingly male. But to critics of both revolts, women represented disorder. 209 The petroleuse was outside the bounds of rational control, a control women were incapable of exercising. 210 She was the unruly, sexually dangerous woman, the perpetrator of irrational violence. The Commune itself was depicted as an incendiary woman whose raging passion threatened to burn up the systems of property and government that were the bases of social order. 211 Rumors about petroleuses cost hundreds of women their lives, according to historian Prosper Lissagaray, who supported the Commune. Every woman badly dressed, or carrying a milk-can, a pail, an empty bottle, was pointed out as a petroleuse, her clothes torn to tatters, she was pushed against the nearest wall, and killed with revolver-shots. 212 The men who joined the Commune were punished for particular acts or for their politics, but women were penalized just for speaking or acting in public. In the fighting and in prison afterward, some were raped, stripped, or humiliated in ways that men were not. 213 To say that these women represented disorder itself is hardly a metaphoric statement when one considers the punishment that hundreds of women received for having transgressed the gender boundary. 214 The womens trials and punishments sent the message: Stay home or die. 215 The Gazette des Tribuneaux, which covered the court-martial of Louise Michel, noted: Her temperament is as excitable as it was during the first days of her captivity. 216 In similar statements, the court clerk reinforced the idea that women were more emotional than men, and that could have disastrous consequences in the public realm, leading to the deaths of others. He made Michel sound fearsome and suggested she wanted to strike fear in others. 217 207 Jules Simon, The Government of M. Thiers, From 8th February, 1871, to 24th May, 1873, Volume 1 (New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1879), 462-466. 208 Elizabeth Wormeley Latimer, France in the Nineteenth Century 1830-1890 (Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co., 1892), 359. 209 Gullickson, 69. 210 Scott, 103. 211 Ibid., 101. 212 Prosper Lissagaray, History of the Commune of 1871, trans. Eleanor Marx Aveling (London: Reeves and Turner, 1886), 348. 213 Gullickson, 180-181. 214 Jones and Verges, 714. 215 Ibid. 216 Michel, 81. 217 Ibid., 85. 29


Men guarded and humiliated the female prisoners at the Satory encampment. For example, even if a woman had a spare pair of underwear, she might have no privacy to change. 218 At Fort Boyard, women had to perform their ablutions under the eyes of male guards. One young woman fainted every time she was forced to undress. 219 At the Grenier dAbondance of the Western Railway, 800 women slept on straw, without being able to change clothes for weeks. The guards often struck them, especially on the breasts. The governor in charge led bourgeois women to see the petroleuses. 220 Was he pleasing the women of his class? Or was he showing them, perhaps not intentionally, what could happen if they got out of line? Men may have felt they had license to harass the female prisoners, in part, because the women often were portrayed as prostitutes. 221 Le Figaro asserted that most were prostitutes, 222 and Latimer called them women of the worst character. 223 Trying to defend the honor of the prisoners, Lissagaray said prostitutes were mixed with them to spy on them, but that all the prisoners were inspected, as if they were prostitutes. The women cried about being sullied by these unclean hands. 224 The Role of Fear Although not planned as such, the Commune became a fight over the representation of women, picking up the themes of the nineteenth century. The century was fertile with fear. Note especially that fears of women losing control often were undefined fears, with no actual behaviors committed. Other people had different definitions of what it meant for a woman to lose control. It could be anything from crying hysterically to fighting in the Commune. Let me recap fears faced by women who ventured into unfamiliar territory, although, once again, I do not mean to imply that all of these fears were realized or were common. In the workplace, women faced sexual harassment, including forced sex. They might incur the wrath of male colleagues or their own husbands who thought they should stay home. They might hurt the status of their families or emasculate their husbands. In the streets, or in public establishments frequented by men, they might get ridiculed, or even attacked if they were caught alone at the wrong time. They might be seduced, ruining their chance of a decent marriage. If they were at all attractive, they would feel the gaze of the men who made watching women a sport. They would feel the eyes of other women negotiating the changing social climate. They might be mistaken for a lower class, or even a prostitute, leading to great humiliation. They might be forced into prostitution. They might be captured and sold into sexual slavery. They might attempt to speak in public or take other public action, only to humiliate themselves in front of more experienced women or, more likely, the men who made up 218 Ibid., 78. 219 Lissagaray, 410. 220 Ibid., 411. 221 Corbin, 21. 222 Lissagaray, 397. 223 Latimer, 359. 224 Lissagaray, 412. 30


the great majority of audiences. If they participated in political conflicts, they could expect harsher punishment than men. Some women feared their own actions. They might destroy their families or their nation by working. Their weak constitutions might fail them at work, or they might turn into manly monsters, unattractive to men. Their irrational, passionate, disorderly natures might get out of control. Or their unconscious might seize control of their actions. They might inspire horrible acts in men, from rape to revolution. Men feared women in the public sphere for all these reasons and more. Women who did wrong or were hurt raised questions about why their men had not controlled or protected them. Women who won jobs or rights made some men question whether their masculinity was eroding. Without women at home, men might watch their households fall apart, and their nation lose power. Much historical analysis has focused on the maternalism of the nineteenth century. But it was not enough to praise women who stayed home with their children. Fear kept many out of the world of men. The more that men and women wrote and talked about their fears, the more the fears became embedded in the dominant discourse, lingering to this day. The naming of agoraphobia in 1871 fit with the growing interest in psychology in the late nineteenth century. Considering how the public sphere had been gendered as male, it is not surprising that men diagnosed other men as pathological if they feared public participation. As women gained more access to the world outside their home, they encountered conflicting messages. Fears of losing control expressed by agoraphobic women today seem to echo a discourse that sounded throughout the nineteenth century. The discourse on women in the home continues to influence their sense of themselves. In the next chapter, I will discuss identity and resistance in relation to the home. Just as women fought behind the barricades in Paris, it is possible to imagine women resisting a hostile world from inside their homes today. 31


Chapter Four: The Creation of Identity in Certificate of Absence For many women, home defines them. They may take their identity from the work they do there. They may turn their home into an extension of their selves. They may fill their home with possessions that represent them and their life. They may shun the world, or feel shunned, defining themselves in opposition. They may escape the travails of the world, or at least take a break at home, while they figure themselves out. At home, they may feel free to be themselves. But the identity they create also can prove stifling. They may feel confined at home, their life limited. They may feel they had little or no choice but to stay home. In this chapter, I will explore ideas on home and identity, beginning with a close reading of Sylvia Molloys Certificate of Absence. I read its fictional narrator as agoraphobic because she has many of the characteristics, most notably a fear of leaving her home. Molloy does not call her agoraphobic, however, nor have I seen any critics use the term. Certificate usually is described as a lesbian novel because its narrator writes of her relationships with two female lovers, even though the word lesbian is never used. Molloy, a lesbian literary critic, novelist, and scholar born in Buenos Aires, has said the novel includes autobiographical details. 225 The novel was first published in 1981, and the setting seems to be contemporary. Much of the action occurs within the narrators mind, as she writes within a rented room. One might say the setting is an interior space within an interior space. The narrator, who never names herself, met her lover Vera in this room, when Vera rented it. The narrator later sleeps here with Renata, one of Veras former lovers. The room is tiny, dark, and unattractive. Such a place might indicate poverty, but there is no other indication of that. The narrator and her friends seem to come from an educated class with the money to travel. She writes, but readers do not know whether she sells her work, and no other job is mentioned. Economics do not trap her in this room. Nor does she have a partner, children, parents, or any one else who might confine her to this space. Readers know that she has traveled between two cities, and that she grew up elsewhere. Only near the end of the novel do they find out that she grew up in Buenos Aires, and that the other two cities are Paris and Buffalo, N.Y. 226 Readers may imagine the room differently, once they discover it is in Paris, which has connotations of romance and sophistication. The narrators descriptions of herself sound similar to those of agoraphobics. Her problems remind me especially of Seagrave and Covington, even though those two seem worlds apart from the sophisticated narrator. She longs to feel at home in physical places, as well as with herself and others. Instead, she feels detached and alienated. She seeks shelter and protection, limits and order. She struggles with her sense of self. She tries to pull together possessions, including her memories, into a coherent whole. But she finds that stability stifling, and needs to move on. Only at the end does she begin to know herself. 227 225 Elena M. Martnez, Lesbian Voices from Latin America: Breaking Ground (New York: Garland Publishing, 1996), 164. 226 Sylvia Molloy, Certificate of Absence, trans. Daniel Balderston (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989), 116. 227 Molloy, 119. 32


I will begin with the concept of shelter. She recognizes that people can shelter others; she has found shelter in the body of Renata, 228 and believes Renatas new lover offers Renata shelter after leaving this room for good. 229 But the narrator does not find shelter in her own body. She is ill protected by her ineffectual skin. 230 Agoraphobics, who are uncomfortable with themselves, often seek companions for reassurance. Like other agoraphobics, the narrator also seeks shelter in places she can call her own. She should feel stifled but does not 231 in the small room. She has taken refuge 232 in the precarious shelter of these four walls. 233 Other rooms have felt like coffins, 234 but not this one, at least not at first. Perhaps it is because she is writing her life in this room. At the beginning, Molloy quotes Virginia Woolf. As Woolf advised in another essay, A Room of Ones Own, the narrator needs her room in order to write. As a child, she also needed to be alone in small, enclosed spaces. She felt at peace, studying in her parents dressing room, when she could close the doors. 235 She imagined turning the bathroom into a home where she would live undisturbed, and she envisioned her bed being enclosed in a little house of its own, secluded and private. 236 Her longing to feel safe in bed was challenged by her fathers practice of leaving the bedroom door half-open. She feared something scary might sneak in or someone might spy on her. 237 When she closed the door, her father would open it. Every morning, he kissed her and rearranged her bedding. She thought he was intruding, taking advantage of her, taking control away from her. But she also felt complicit, and she fantasized that they would have more dialogue, both of them sure of their limits and their bodies. 238 She wants to control her own self and set limits for others, even ones whom she loves. The narrator uses the half-open door as a metaphor for her current situation. Writing about her childhood has opened up a dangerous gap in her tale. Not an opening that would allow her to leave this room, but a crack through which threatening traces of the past may find their way in, are already finding their way in. She wants to go out 239 to escape thoughts of the past. Walls, closed doors, and enclosed spaces set limits for her as well as limiting the intrusion of others. This is consistent with an agoraphobics desire for control and escape from others. On the first page, the narrator equates her room in Paris with limits: 228 Ibid., 96. 229 Ibid., 89. 230 Ibid., 5. 231 Ibid., 6. 232 Ibid., 11. 233 Ibid., 36. 234 Ibid., 7. 235 Ibid., 117. 236 Ibid., 7. 237 Ibid., 55. 238 Ibid., 52-53. 239 Ibid., 55. 33


Shut up in this room everything seems easier because she can piece things together. By writing, she would like to find out what lies beyond these four walls; or perhaps she would like to find out what lies within them, in this closed space where she has chosen to write. She is often attracted to limits and emptiness. 240 Part One, Chapter Six begins with one word: limits, what she craves. 241 Renata lacks limits, 242 but that seems remedied, in part, by their conversations within the confines of these four walls. 243 The narrator talks of them getting reacquainted within these walls, 244 as if the walls could define, contain, and regulate a relationship that seems out of the narrators control. Later, she learns to force limits: her own, those of her audience, and of the people she loves, even the limits of what she writes. 245 Let me return to the narrators attraction to emptiness, mentioned in the excerpted quote in the previous paragraph. Renata presents herself as empty, 246 and when the narrator meets Vera for the last time in the room, she sees Veras emptiness. 247 Does the narrator welcome the openness, the vulnerability? Perhaps. More clearly, however, she views emptiness as a chance to claim ownership. An empty person can be filled with ideas, emotions, and stories that connect her to another, just as a home can be filled with possessions to claim the space. To ensure safety, agoraphobics claim spaces and companions. The narrator talks about claiming space on the first page, when she says she has made the room her own by surrounding herself with books and lamps. They protect her, marking off a space that she has always called her own without fully taking possession of it. 248 She wants to fill it with herself in order to make it her own at last. 249 Her possessions are like masks, from within, to free her from herself; from without, to protect her from others. 250 This seems especially apt for an agoraphobic who fears her self and others. The narrator also fills the room to disguise Renatas absence. 251 She leaves her room briefly each day, but often returns quickly, thinking she forgot something. She feels part of her had been left behind and she needs to be in possession of her self. 252 In this line, the link between physical objects, such as misplaced keys, and their owner seems particularly strong. The possessions symbolize their owner. The narrator dreams of her own childhood home, a house that has to be emptied before a new family takes possession. 253 Similarly, when she leaves the room in Paris, she wants to leave few traces of herself. 254 240 Ibid., 3. 241 Ibid., 51. 242 Ibid., 15. 243 Ibid., 37. 244 Ibid., 38. 245 Ibid., 80. 246 Ibid., 34. 247 Ibid., 98. 248 Ibid., 3. 249 Ibid., 7. 250 Ibid., 3. 251 Ibid., 14. 252 Ibid., 51. 253 Ibid., 56. 254 Ibid., 123. 34


In addition to metonymic possessions, experiences can tie a place to a person. To look at it another way, a home can contain or frame experiences. The narrator has chosen to rent the room in Paris to resurrect memories that she wishes to analyze. She wants to relive experiences by living where they occurred. 255 When she and Renata were lovers, they created a space within these four walls that was only theirs. 256 To imagine Vera in Buffalo, the narrator must free her of these four walls in Paris. 257 Ownership does not come easily to the narrator. In the quote from the first page, mentioned above, she talks about how she has never fully taken possession of any space. After a fight with Renata, she looks around the room at details that do not seem to belong to anyone, not even the bodies of the two women. 258 She perceived a dark space, where things were not clearly defined from the outset and were never summed up, and told herself that one day she would try to describe that space. 259 Later, she says the walls marked off a space that was not hers. 260 Her feelings for her home and possessions parallel those for her body. She struggles with alienation and detachment, taking the mind/body split of the Enlightenment to extremes. She treats body parts, such as her hands, as possessions or sentient entities. She seems to view her body as housing her mind or her self, even though she does not necessarily feel at home there. As a child, she had trouble swallowing, and she had no sense of her body. She felt disconnected from it, and she felt no pleasure, pain, or sickness. 261 As an adult, she feels uneasy in her skin, as in a tentative frame that does not fully give her shape. 262 She lacks a stable self. 263 Agoraphobics often feel detachment and are unaware of normal bodily reactions. 264 We see absolutely no connection between our minds and our bodies, and try to deny that our bodies even exist in any important way. 265 Like the novels narrator, Seagrave also had trouble swallowing. 266 The narrator changes near the end of the novel when she gets sick and pays attention to her body. She wants to settle in that flesh completely, as one finally settles in a place that seems forbidden but to which one had every right. 267 She feels stable for the first time. She feels not only that this is her body, but that it is her self. 268 For much of the book, she sees everything in fragments, including her self. If she cannot bring the pieces of her self together, she feels as if she will slip into madness. 269 Renata, too, 255 Ibid., 6. 256 Ibid., 90. 257 Ibid., 29. 258 Ibid., 39-40. 259 Ibid., 40. 260 Ibid., 48. 261 Ibid., 18-19. 262 Ibid., 5. 263 Ibid., 9. 264 Seagrave and Covington, 28. 265 Ibid., 32. 266 Ibid., 34. 267 Molloy, 82. 268 Ibid. 269 Ibid., 16. 35


consists only of fragments. 270 The narrator knows her own voice only through writing, and she wants to use that voice to link the fragments of her life. 271 Both voice and skin (i.e., her body) give shape to these fragments, 272 but as mentioned above, her skin seems ineffectual until the end. Then, the narrator says she has tried to pull together her shattered and lost face by writing of herself in others, in her dreams, and in her childhood. 273 Uniting fragments is not enough, however. For the narrator, they must be put in order. She craves order. 274 Whenever the narrator feels sick, she tidies her home, for fear that she will die and people will discover her disorderliness. 275 When she and Renata are lovers, she verbally attacks Renata at night in the room, creating a forbidden space that separates them, but then she restores order each morning. While Renata goes out each day, the narrator stays home, trying to order her life. 276 She eventually finds a place for all the emotions she experienced with Renata, as if emotions were physical possessions that could be put away on shelves. She tries to find a place for Vera, with enough distance to protect herself. 277 In Veras home in Buffalo, the couch is askew, and the narrator wants to bring order to the home, and presumably, their relationship. 278 She thinks her own apartment in Buffalo mirrors the city, in its disorder and decay. 279 Agoraphobics often think they must impose rules upon themselves, and yet those rules can become overwhelming. 280 The narrator creates order to stave off madness, or the appearance of madness. She learned as a girl to control the foundering feeling, to deny anything that could carry her over into disorder, excess, madness. 281 Madness haunted her as a child, most notably in the figure of her uncle Arthur, who may have died mad. When her father exhibits panic, she fears this is a sign of impending madness. 282 As an adult, she dreams of her dead father struggling with a huge headless woman who embodies madness. 283 Agoraphobics often have childhood encounters with crazy people. Seagrave and Covington write: The fear of insanity haunted both of us as children and we each grew up believing that losing ones mind was a fate worse than death. The fear of going crazy, being institutionalized and ostracized from society seems more ominous for agoraphobics than for less inner-directed individuals. 284 The narrator rented the room in Paris after living in hotels. She wanted more permanent quarters, 285 but not permanence. The room is a place of transit for transitory loves. 286 The 270 Ibid., 92. 271 Ibid., 23. 272 Ibid., 21. 273 Ibid., 102. 274 Ibid., 10. 275 Ibid., 77. 276 Ibid., 40. 277 Ibid., 27. 278 Ibid., 32. 279 Ibid., 30. 280 Seagrave and Covington, 30. 281 Molloy, 16. 282 Ibid., 15. 283 Ibid., 118. 284 Seagrave and Covington, 29. 285 Molloy, 6. 36


original Spanish title of the novel, En Breve Crcel, which might be translated as brief imprisonment, reinforces the idea that her time in this room will be short. The Spanish title also suggests imprisonment. I have discussed above how the narrator found refuge in her room, but she also will increasingly talk of it in negative terms. It is often described as a place from which she wants to escape, but cannot. This is typical of agoraphobia, as I described in my second chapter. Early in the novel, the narrator acknowledges that entering the room involves risk, just as leaving it will. 287 She calls the room a place of penance, in which she will exorcise the past. 288 She also refers to it as a theater, where she is watched. Besides, she herself feels that she cannot leave. 289 The fear of being watched also harks back to her childhood fear of the half-open bedroom door. She imagines the rented room becoming more like a cell, with a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling and bars all around. 290 She regrets her decision to rent this room, laden with memories. 291 The room has a large window, and she occasionally watches the action outside. 292 Despite her fears and compulsions, she likes this outside world. She feels different when she closes the door and leaves these four walls behind. But she does not go out, cannot go out. 293 Note the image of the closed door. As a child, she longed to close her bedroom door, to shut out others. As an adult, she wants to close the door on her inner world, but cannot overcome her fears of the outside. At the end, she starts going out more, as if she were rehearsing her departure. But she goes out at night, when there are fewer people to see her. The narrator notes that the city is empty at night, and she feels she can possess it more easily; and as I have discussed before, possessing space has never come easily to her. This refers back to her urge to make space her own and her dislike of being watched, common feelings for someone with agoraphobia. She also has grown tired of holding on to memories, again equated with things. She is driven only by the desire to leave these four walls that now hold so many things. In her room, she analyzes, but not in the street: There she acts on impulse. 294 It is not enough to leave her room. She talks of destroying it, as if that were the only way to escape the thoughts that torment her. She talks so that these four walls would crumble. 295 She discusses her writing as her refuge and prison. The four walls that collapsed yesterday have today formed again around her as she waits and remembers. She seldom leaves the house. 296 Later she spells out why she came to this room to come to terms with her identity, her desires, and her past. She wants to decipher what she was and still is, wants to break out of these four walls where she has shamelessly projected her yearning and where she has ruthlessly buried her 286 Ibid., 3. 287 Ibid., 7. 288 Ibid., 12-13. 289 Ibid., 97. 290 Ibid., 98. 291 Ibid., 105. 292 Ibid., 48. 293 Ibid., 52. 294 Ibid., 122. 295 Ibid., 44. 296 Ibid., 51. 37


memories. 297 She recognizes the desire to crumble and have this room with everything in it crumble with her, to destroy herself so as to achieve further destruction. She fears this path is mistaken, but does not know what else to do. 298 Others question her seclusion. After she cuts her arms, perhaps in a suicide attempt, someone came to take her away from this room, 299 implying that it is not healthy for her to remain alone, dwelling on difficult memories. Later, a friend invites her to his country home, which seems a safe way of breaking out of her seclusion. 300 Like a cat, she cautiously explores the new territory. 301 She decides it would have been safer to stay home, 302 even though she now finds her room stifling, 303 a description she denied earlier. 304 The visit leads to a dinner with Vera. To attend, the narrator has had to tear herself from her room. 305 Later, Renata teases the narrator, imagining her shut in a house surrounded by high walls and guarded by fierce dogs and [arranging] for her groceries to be left on the doorstep. 306 That sounds like an agoraphobics dream house. As the novel comes to a close, she prepares to leave, still not knowing where she has been or where she is going. 307 She says the room has fulfilled its purpose. 308 It is now useless. 309 Similarly, she knows she will not return to her childhood home in her writing. 310 At the end, she is in the airport, a place of transit, just as she once described her room. She is alone and frightened, but she has her writing and can find herself in it. 311 She is prepared to do without a place or a person to define herself. The ambiguity of Certificate allows it to be read in different ways. To me, however, the narrator writes in order to make sense of her self and her life. She secludes herself to make writing easier and to feel safe during a difficult time. As her understanding grows, so does her desire to return to the world. She learns how to do more than deconstruct; she can find herself in her writing. Identities Tied to the Home From my reading of the novel, I want to move into a discussion of women, home, and identity, with help from Iris Marion Young. Agoraphobic women are informally identified by their fear of leaving home. As I discussed at the end of Chapter Two, women may get labeled in 297 Ibid., 94. 298 Ibid., 122. 299 Ibid., 44. 300 Ibid., 61. 301 Ibid., 62. 302 Ibid., 61. 303 Ibid., 67. 304 Ibid., 6. 305 Ibid., 68. 306 Ibid., 81. 307 Ibid., 117. 308 Ibid., 94. 309 Ibid., 123. 310 Ibid., 112. 311 Ibid., 125. 38


therapy or name themselves agoraphobic, based on writing such as this thesis. But it is not surprising that many other women identify with the home, considering so many women spend so much time there. As in the past, women continue to do most of the household chores or hire other women to do the work for them. 312 Few tasks are more like the torture of Sisyphus than housework, with its endless repetition, wrote philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. 313 Many women embrace a group identity as homemakers or housewives, proud of their tie to the home. Beauvoir said the housewife eliminates disorder but creates nothing, not even her own individuality. She gives up her identity to create one for the man of the house. 314 She ensures the continuity of the home, seeing to it that the doors are locked. But she is allowed no direct influence upon the future nor upon the world. 315 Feminists of the second wave talked of home as a cage, trap, prison, or site of fear and abuse. 316 In addition to the drudgery of housework, they pointed out how violence in the home has been kept quiet, because of the division of the public and private spheres. In other words, what happens in the home is often considered a private matter. The feminists quarrel was with the patriarchal home, however, not the concept of home itself. Women did not lose their identities if they had ways to establish it other than housework. Some feminists wrote of their own homes as shelter and security. 317 In fact, the womens movement founded safe houses, where victims of domestic violence could go, reminiscent of the safe houses for runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. In Certificate, the narrators room serves as a safe house. It is her writing and fears that require her to stay home for long hours, not chores. But she recognizes that this shelter, like a safe house, is temporary. Postcolonial feminists also have questioned the conventional home. They criticize the construction of comfortable homes at the expense of other people. This can be meant literally: To build, furnish, and maintain homes, well-off people take the labor, land, and resources of poorer people. Thus, building a home or longing for a lost one can be seen as imperialist. 318 In a metaphorical sense, people also may construct homes at the expense of those they exclude. Political theorist Bonnie Honig says home provides a false sense of safety, obtained by privilege. Women may feel safe from less-privileged people who seem dangerous. 319 But homes do not have to be reserved only for the privileged. One can imagine a world in which everyone has a home. It is possible to feel at home, or to long for a home, that is no more than a rented room, as in Certificate. I agree with Honig that homes can provide a false sense of security. Certainly, women get beaten, raped, and robbed there. But Honig seems to forget gender in her discussion of class. Women may want to lock their doors, not against those with less privilege, but those with more: The men who might attack them. Other groups have experienced attacks and seek safety in their homes. For example, feminist theorist bell hooks 312 United Nations, The Worlds Women 1995: Trends and Statistics (New York: United Nations Publications, 1995), 106. 313 Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Vintage Books, 1974), 504. 314 Ibid., 504. 315 Ibid., 480. 316 McDowell, 88. 317 Ibid., 72. 318 Young, 135. 319 Bonnie Honig, Difference, Dilemmas, and the Politics of Home, Social Research 61, no. 3 (Fall 1994), 586. 39


describes her terror as a child, walking through a white neighborhood to reach her grandmothers home. 320 That home could not shelter hooks from all racial strife, of course, but a little shelter is better than none. Attacks also may come from groups that are not dominant, as in conflicts between African and Korean Americans. Not all attacks are physical. People may want to shut out those who might judge them. For the thin-skinned, a house can be an extra skin, carapace or second layer of clothes that can hide and protect. 321 Or, as poet Anne Sexton said: Some women marry houses. Its another kind of skin. 322 Think of the novels narrator, who needed shelter, having found none in her own skin. Belonging and Exclusion Some people stay at home, not to exclude others, but because others have excluded them. Literary critic Elena Martnez sees the rented room in Certificate as central to a theme of cultural and emotional exile, symbolizing the narrators marginality and exclusion from a repressive society. To be inside can be in the realm of the unspeakable, invisible. 323 The narrators growing sense of being trapped reinforces the idea that she has been forced into exile by her sexuality, Martnez says. 324 Martnez sees the small room as a metaphor for the closet, 325 and the fact that the narrator rents, not owns, it shows her dispossession. 326 But I question whether the author intended the narrators exile to stem only from her sexuality. In the novel, other lesbians own homes, in which they feel comfortable. There is no indication that the narrator hides her sexuality, which is the usual meaning of in the closet, nor does her interest in women seem to trouble her or others. I agree that people may feel exiled by their sexuality, but this novel implies multiple issues, as opposed to one answer. Politics and/or her writing may have forced the narrator to leave Buenos Aires, for example. Her fears that people will judge her crazy or her inability to draw boundaries between her self and others also may contribute to her exile. People may have multiple reasons for feeling that they do not belong in society. Being outside society can give people space to establish their identity. 327 Whether or not the narrator of Certificate felt forced from society or chose to remove herself, she needed to create a space for herself. 328 Honig has a different perspective, perhaps because she focuses on the privileged while Martnez writes of the dispossessed. Honig says people cannot retreat from those they exclude as other. A person is defined by others. Clinging to the idea of home may require the repression of differences, even within the persons own self. Honig wants to 320 bell hooks, Homeplace: A Site of Resistance, Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1990), 41. 321 Janet Carsten and Stephen Hugh-Jones, eds., About the House: Levi Strauss and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 2. 322 Anne Sexton, Housewife, All My Pretty Ones (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), 48. 323 Martnez, 36. 324 Ibid., 50. 325 Ibid., 47. 326 Ibid., 51. 327 Ibid., 36. 328 Ibid., 50. 40


give up on a dream of a place called home, a place free of conflict and struggle, a place an identity, a private realm, a form of life, a group vision unmarked or unriven by difference and untouched by the power brought to bear upon it by the identities that strive to ground themselves in its place. 329 Her critique applies to people of privilege, who have more freedom to forget about difference and conflict than do people with less power. Philosopher Morwenna Griffiths offers a way to understand both sides of this argument: Individuals create their own identity, but they do so in connection with the communities they accept or reject, and the communities in which they belong or from which they feel excluded. Identity remains in flux, as individuals and communities change. 330 Thus, people may need space to understand their identity, but they cannot reach that understanding apart from their ideas of others in society. A lesbian, such as the novels narrator, may need space apart from heterosexist society to define herself, but that does not mean she can forget that heterosexuals exist. If lesbian is part of her identity, she is defining herself as part of one group (lesbians) and in contrast to another (heterosexuals). The danger, as defined by Honig, would come when heterosexuals separate themselves from others, whom they render invisible. These issues the safety of the home, the exclusion of others, the creation of identity have a bearing on organized political activities. Honig calls dreaming of home a form of nostalgia. It signifies either withdrawal from conflict or an attempt at order, both of which are impossible. 331 She wants resistance and agency that resist the seductions of home. 332 But home does not have to be a permanent escape; it can be a temporary respite for people gathering strength for the next fight. 333 Home also can be a site of political resistance; 334 it can be an act of defiance to set up a household that does not conform to the dominant culture. It also can be an act of resistance when people, such as agoraphobics, refuse to participate in a world where they are not welcome, as I mentioned in Chapter Two. Historian Bernice Johnson Reagon uses home as a metaphor for the restrictions of identity politics, specifically a sisterhood that bounds what it means to be a woman. In difficult times, people may feel the need for a nurturing and separate space. In this space, they can understand themselves and their desires for the world. 335 But problems occur in deciding who can enter and who to bar. There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. Give it up. 336 329 Honig, 579. 330 Morwenna Griffiths, Feminisms and the Self: The Web of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1995), 93. 331 Honig, 586. 332 Ibid., 579. 333 Young, 161. 334 hooks, 42. 335 Bernice Johnson Reagon, Coalition Politics: Turning the Century, Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology, ed. Barbara Smith (New York: Kitchen Table, 1983), 358. 336 Ibid., 357. 41


Identities on the Move Postmodernists argue that you cannot always be you, either. People cannot draw borders for the self. They cannot expect security, stability, or unity, even in their personal identity. 337 Some postmodernists see the concept of home as a longing for such a fixed identity. 338 An example is Marcia Stephenson, a professor of Spanish and womens studies, who says the narrator of Certificate desires a stable, unified self, but cannot sustain it. The narrator continues to pull apart fragments of her life and reconfigure them to form a provisional identity. 339 Thus, the struggle for unity and regulation takes the form of refuge and prison. 340 Although I agree with Stephensons analysis, I would underscore the suffering associated with this search for self, as I think Molloy does in the novel. Jane Flax, a feminist psychotherapist as well as theorist, chastises postmodernists who cast aside the notion of a cohesive self without understanding the anguish of people who have little sense of themselves. People need a core self with continuity and coherence, allowing them to establish boundaries between themselves and others, reality and illusion. Flax can critique concepts such as reality philosophically, but says people need to function with some boundaries. 341 She sees patients who lack a core identity and the fragmentation of experiences seems like a terrifying slide into psychosis. She helps them reconcile with their self-estrangement. 342 This sounds like the novels narrator, who seeks limits and order out of fear of madness, and who comes to feel at home in her body and her self at the end. Political theorist Kathy Ferguson understands that people who have suffered may want secure residence in a stable subjectivity, a home. But maintaining a cohesive self that never changes requires the imposition of limits and order. Emotions and experiences that do not fit must be discarded. 343 To resolve this problem, she suggests a mobile subjectivity, which has continuities and stabilities but flows among different locations. 344 Mobile subjectivity seems fitting for the novels narrator, who has lived in diverse cities, who has held different perspectives, and who is on the move as the novel ends. People who have traveled distances whether geographical, temporal, or psychological need a solid common place to house their memories, Molloy says. The most frequent form of that common place of memory is of course the most obvious the family home. It becomes a shelter for memory. 345 Remembering becomes an act of possession, but for the dispossessed 337 Young, 158. 338 Ibid., 148. 339 Marcia Stephenson, Lesbian Trajectories in Sylvia Molloys En Breve Crcel, MLN (Modern Language Notes) 112, no. 2 (1997) [on-line journal of the Johns Hopkins University Press], 253; available from Web Luis; accessed 6 June 2001. 340 Ibid., 256-257. 341 Jane Flax, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990), 210. 342 Ibid., 218-219. 343 Kathy Ferguson, The Man Question: Visions of Subjectivity in Feminist Theory (Berkeley, Los Angeles, and Oxford: University of California Press, 1993), 165. 344 Ibid., 166. 345 Sylvia Molloy, At Face Value: Autobiographical Writing in Spanish America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 169. 42


the sanctuaries of memory are tenuous. 346 In Certificate, the narrator can be seen as dispossessed. She feels distance, detachment, and alienation from the subjects of her writing: her childhood and her romantic relationships. These memories are sheltered, to use Molloys words, in her family home and the rented room. The narrator often feels as if she possesses nothing and no one, not even her own body. To repeat Molloys quote from above: Her sanctuaries of memory are tenuous. As a child, the narrator imagined herself secure in small places not really her own. As an adult, she takes refuge in a place of transit, a room she does not own. The narrator uses possessions to claim space. For Young, filling a home with possessions that a person maintains is not merely the drudgery of housework, as Beauvoir described, nor is it necessarily the imperial acquisition or nostalgia that Honig decries. Instead, Young links possessions to memory, as Molloy does. Traditionally, women have preserved family and individual histories, in part, by preserving the artifacts of the home. 347 At home, hooks says, people can affirm and preserve their identity against a hegemonic culture. She talks of black women preserving black culture inside the home, creating a safe space where black people can affirm each other and heal. 348 Preservation entails remembrance, which differs from nostalgia. Where nostalgia can be constructed as a longing flight from the ambiguities and disappointments of everyday life, remembrance faces the open negativity of the future by knitting a steady confidence in who one is from the pains and joys of the past retained in the things among which one dwells. 349 Home materializes identity because home contains the things that support bodily habits and personal narrative. 350 Identity is a process as people acquire new things, rearrange or throw out the old, and tell and remember stories. Thus, identity is not fixed, merely anchored by home in a continuity of time. 351 House, body and mind are in continuous interaction, the physical structure, furnishing, social conventions and mental images of the house at once enabling, moulding, informing and constraining the activities and ideas which unfold within its bounds. If people construct houses and make them in their own image, so also do they use these houses and house-images to construct themselves as individuals and as groups. 352 Because both body and house constitute the most intimate everyday environment and often serve as analogies for each other, it may sometimes seem unclear which is serving as metaphor for which house for body or body for house. 353 Young says all people should have some space they can call their own, in which they feel physically safe, have privacy, and can safeguard the things that embody their lives. 354 346 Ibid., 170. 347 Young, 151. 348 hooks, 42. 349 Young, 154. 350 Ibid., 149. 351 Ibid., 151. 352 Carsten and Hugh-Jones, 2-3. 353 Ibid., 43. 354 Young, 161-164. 43


For agoraphobics, the discussion of home and identity raises questions: Have they lost their identity, are they sheltering it, or are they recreating it? Are they accumulating wealth, indulging in nostalgia, or preserving memories in their homes? Are they excluding others or have they been excluded? Do they want to escape conflict, are they resting before returning to the fight, or are they making a stand where they live? Do they want an identity that does not change or a location from which to change? Agoraphobics will have different answers, but by asking these questions, I hope to challenge agoraphobics to see their actions within a political framework. 44


Chapter Five: Conclusion The question of how society has created agoraphobia in women has been threaded throughout this thesis. Intertwined with this idea of social construction has been the role of agency in agoraphobia. I discuss these two ideas more specifically in this chapter, using some examples from my life, before laying out my desires for the future. When I say society has created agoraphobia, I refer to discourse as well as actions. In this sentence, some would lop off actions, arguing that people understand actions only through language, and thus, it is sufficient to say that discourse creates agoraphobia. I see the logic of that argument, but I talk about actions (material practices) because I want to remind readers that it is not just that the dominant discourse has told women their place is in the home. Men also have beaten women for staying out too late, they have raped women caught alone, they have refused to hire women or paid them less than men, they have harassed women in the workplace, they have looked down upon the women of the streets, they have ridiculed women who did not know their place, they have shut them out of politics, and so on. My argument parallels philosopher Donna Haraways idea of a material-semiotic actor who lives in the tension between the semiotic and the material. Haraway understands the power of discourse, but does not want to give up talk of material practices or agency. 355 Because of material consequences, most women learn to restrict their activities when they are alone and/or in the public sphere. Agoraphobic women represent the extreme end of the continuum they have learned the lesson too well. Their actions have been shaped by the actions and material practices of men and male-centered discourse. Theres nothing like the symptoms of agoraphobia for keeping a woman in her place. Let me tell you. Nothing. 356 Agoraphobic women are unlikely to say they stay home for fear of being beaten, raped, harassed, and so on. But as I argued in Chapter Two, these possible actions create a climate of anxiety that can be disastrous for women who are more prone to panic than others. As a child, for example, I was molested at a public swimming pool. As a young adult, when I feared public places, I never panicked over the possibility of rape, but I have always restricted my activities to lessen its possibility. Being on guard has become a part of my life, hardly worth comment since most of my female friends restrict their lives similarly. But I cannot imagine that these everyday fears do not contribute to my general anxiety or my fears of losing control. Taking a rape defense class, as suggested by the commentator on a previous paper on agoraphobia, lessened my overall anxiety, at least for a while. I support teaching women to defend themselves, enforcing laws against discrimination, providing greater economic security, preventing and prosecuting harassment and rape, and other means to make the public realm less hostile to women. But these responses are doomed to fall short because the private and public spheres have been constructed around gender. Even if tolerated and protected, women will remain outsiders in the world outside their homes. It is perhaps less clear than at any time in the past that women can simply occupy a domain so 355 Donna Haraway, The Biopolitics of Postmodern Bodies: Determinations of Self in Immune System Discourse, Feminist Theory and the Body, eds. Janet Price and Margrit Shildrick (New York: Routledge, 1999), 208. 356 Mairs, 103. 45


thoroughly grounded in their non-residence. 357 Therefore, I argue there must be a radical revisioning of what the private and the public entail. Central to that revisioning will be a change in discourse. I have discussed how women have been told that their place is at home, that home is a haven, that the streets are dangerous, that their bodies are weak, that they are emotional and irrational creatures who could lose control at any time, that their madness can endanger themselves and others, that they must be careful not to humiliate themselves or damage their reputation, that they must be attractive to men but not too attractive, and that it is risky for them to be alone. In Chapter Three, I noted how these messages strengthened in the nineteenth century in Western society, but anyone who doubts they still exist should listen to agoraphobic women, who echo these messages today. They have internalized these messages; they repeat them to themselves. Therapists no longer diagnose women as hysterical, but many women diagnose themselves that way. Male leaders rarely talk of the need to control women, but many women are desperate to control themselves. Societal discourse has created fears they now claim as their own. It has told them how to think about themselves. It has become part of their identity. Where do male agoraphobics fit into my theorizing? I suggested reasons for the gender disparity in Chapter Two. In regard to discourse, however, societal messages are complex and, at times, contradictory. Like women, men also can be influenced by messages that home is a haven, that the outside world is dangerous, that people cannot control their unconscious impulses, and that they might lose status if they humiliate themselves. I claim that men do not develop agoraphobia as often as women or with as much severity, however, because women get hit harder with these messages, women face harsher consequences for transgressions in the public sphere, and men receive more criticism if they stay home for long periods. The discourse must change, and it appears to be in the process, but I expect remnants to remain long after I am gone. Think of how long the association between women and witchcraft has persisted, centuries after the last woman was executed for it in the West. These days, I would argue that many women accept a gendered division of the public and private spheres, even though they suffer for it. Other women benefit, however. These women may have little work to do or they may prefer work in the home, for instance. They may enjoy high status, as constructed against lower-class women. I would assert that men also have reasons not to change the discourse. As society now stands, men face less scrutiny in public than do women, men have less competition for jobs, they can serve as escorts and protectors to women who might otherwise not need them, and they can find women to maintain their homes and raise their children. Some men do want change. They may want to help women they love, for example, or they do not want to be breadwinners or protectors. But men who fight the dominant discourse can expect attack, just as women can. The members of dominant groups stay dominant by maintaining or colluding in structures of fear and violence. They, themselves, are kept in line, too, by the fear that such structures will be turned on them. 358 I do not discount the possibility that biology plays a role in agoraphobia. Some people may be more prone to anxiety and panic than others. But anxiety and panic are themselves 357 Landes, 206. 358 Griffiths, 142. 46


constructed by language. Some people may be more likely to associate certain physiological reactions with panic than with excitement, anger, or arousal. As a roller coaster makes its ascent, two people have pounding hearts and butterflies in their stomachs, but one feels thrilled, eagerly awaiting the plunge, while the other panics, desperate to get off the ride. As I argued in Chapter Two, women have less experience with these bodily reactions in public places than do men, and many women have greater fears that they will lose control in situations like this. When agoraphobics talk of losing control, becoming hysterical, or feeling humiliated, they rely on concepts constructed by their culture that they then interpret. A woman may think it would be unbearably humiliating to vomit on a roller coaster, although it is not inherently so. Additionally, I claim there is another way that discourse has created agoraphobia: through the psychological categorization of emotions and behaviors. Anxiety and panic were used in general discourse before the mental health field appropriated them as clinical terms. But one might argue that agoraphobia did not exist until it was named in 1871. There were people who feared public places before then, but they were described in different ways. Foucault has theorized how discourses on madness have created subjects. 359 I would apply his ideas to agoraphobia. Psychological writing did not just name the disorder; it also describes agoraphobics. Thus, the diagnosis defines people. They become agoraphobics. Therapy takes the process a step further. What patients say in therapy, and what therapists say to them, builds identity over time. What they learn about agoraphobia blends with other aspects of their identity, from where they were born to what they watch on television. In Chapter Four, I discussed identity in regard to social construction. As with all definitions, people who are diagnosed as agoraphobic are defined in relation to others. They are compared to people who share similar fears and behaviors and they are contrasted with people who do not. To put it another way, they may be abnormal in comparison to people who are not agoraphobic, but may be normative in the community of agoraphobics. As with many groups, the rules of inclusion change and can prove confusing. The symptoms associated with agoraphobia are diverse enough that mental health professionals have difficulty crafting an all-encompassing definition. That raises the question: What if agoraphobia was abolished? Getting rid of an ill-fitting category that defines so many women in terms of individual pathology might seem like a good idea. But I would rather have an ill-fitting category, a category that people must continue to question, than to be invisible. Group identities have political utility. In this thesis, for example, I have found agoraphobic to be useful shorthand, as I have tried to redefine what it means to be an agoraphobic woman. In Certificate of Absence, the authors refusal to categorize her narrator raises questions about categories. But readers and critics seem to question only the categories with which they are familiar, such as Latin American writers and lesbians. The agoraphobic aspects are reduced to metaphor, if they are mentioned at all in literary criticism. I want to be seen as more than a metaphor. 359 See The History of Sexuality and Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Vintage Books, 1995). 47


Agoraphobics risk invisibility because they participate so little in the public sphere. Because they have such a strong fear of humiliation, they also are unlikely to volunteer their symptoms. As Nancy Mairs explains: For years I not only had no label for my disease, but I assumed that I alone experienced it. No one ever spoke of symptoms like mine. But then, I never mentioned my own symptoms. Pierced by shame at my own weakness, I denied them, disguised them, compensated for them until most of my energy was spent on subterfuge. To this day, if I have to refuse or cancel an activity because I am having an agoraphobic attack, I will make up some excuse rather than admit that I am gasping and sweating and shitting in terror of having to live in the world. 360 Agoraphobics get so little attention now that I wonder what would happen if they no longer had a name. Would they disappear behind closed doors? People can be visible, but misrepresented, especially when others control the means of representation. The women of the Paris Commune wrote and spoke publicly, for example, but the victors depictions of the women dominated accounts for many decades. Agoraphobics who do not seek treatment may still have representations foisted upon them, such as lazy or crazy. Misdiagnosis is another form of misrepresentation. In the mid-1960s, when Mairs developed agoraphobia, many mental health professionals were unfamiliar with it. She endured anti-psychotic drugs and electro-convulsive therapy in a mental institution. After she was diagnosed as agoraphobic, she received treatment better tailored to her problems. 361 Even when given the correct diagnosis, agoraphobics can feel misrepresented. When I was diagnosed in the late 1970s, agoraphobics were almost always depicted as dependent, a representation I resisted. Too much of the discourse on agoraphobia has been produced by people who have not experienced it. I call for more agoraphobics to represent themselves in writing, as Mairs does, and in discussions, including group therapy and consciousness raising. I urge them to discuss, not just individual problems, but societal issues and political action. They should ask why they, and not society, get diagnosed as pathological. They must challenge discourses from earlier eras on the need to control women and to shelter them from the outside world, as Mairs does. They can rewrite their lives, as the narrator in Certificate does. At the end of Chapter Four, I suggested questions that agoraphobics can ask themselves, in relation to the home. I wanted to encourage them to examine their actions in a political context. I can answer these questions for myself: I have tried to shelter and recreate my identity, using home as a location from which to change. I have used possessions to preserve memories. I have felt excluded, and I have rested at home in between battles. I can assume much of the same for Molloy and Mairs. 360 Mairs, 102-103. 361 Ibid., 101-102. 48


The answers will vary for other agoraphobics, but I fear most are not political, and they do not want to think of identity or agency, which can be painful subjects for people who live circumscribed lives. Nevertheless, they may still be preserving their memories, histories, and cultures. Some will recreate their identities over time, but they may not realize it until they have enough perspective for reflection. Retreating to the home may keep some alive for a later fight, as it did with Mairs, who developed a feminist consciousness when she was older. Some may do nothing but survive, but the survival of oppressed people can be resistance enough. Resistance does not seem to be a popular concept among therapists. For example, Seagrave and Covington stress acceptance, urging people to stop resisting recovery. 362 The goal of most therapy is to get the woman out of the home so that she can participate in the public sphere. She has to change so that she can bear society; society does not have to change. Although some mental health professionals study and desire social change, the majority emphasize the individual. Even those who want social change may be constrained financially. Whoever is paying the bills an insurance company, the government, an employer, or the patient may want the patient to become functional as soon as possible. Why worry about issues that seem beyond the patients control? Feminist therapists who criticize therapy, such as Flax 363 and Ussher, 364 would retain it for those who want it, as would I. I also agree with Young 365 that all people should have a place in which they feel safe. I want women to have safe passage through the public sphere. But I want more than this. I want agoraphobics to turn the tables on those who call them troubled. I want agoraphobics to trouble the rest of society. Their existence should raise questions about how the private and the public can be redefined so that no one has to seek a safe house in a hostile land. I want women to stop fearing themselves. It is time for more women to lose control. 362 Seagrave and Covington, 96. 363 Flax, 218-219. 364 Ussher, 306. 365 Young, 160-164. 49


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Suzie Siegel Suzie Siegel has her bachelors of journalism degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia. She was a writer and editor at newspapers in Little Rock, New Orleans, and Tampa for more than 18 years. 57


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