Society & the Mental Health of Women

The gender roles placed on women are far more harmful than they seem.  Women are expected to have communal traits whereas men are expected to be agentic.  Communal traits are things that maintain strong relationships like being nurturing or compassionate, and polite.  Men are generally expected to be assertive and competitive (White, pg 58).  When these gender roles are violated society tends to discriminate.  In the work place, when a woman is especially assertive she is often referred to as a bitch or masculine because others believe she is “not very feminine” but if a man were to do the same he would simply be seen as a go-getter (White, pg 59).

This is a Western society norm, and it obviously puts women at a serious disadvantage professionally, because in order for her to achieve success as defined by society she must maintain relationships and not sacrifice them for advances in her career.  As a result, women hold lower positions, don’t get paid as much as men, and don’t get as many promotions.  This prejudice is the core cause to mental health problems for women, as well as an inherent trait of western society.

At every level of education, it has been proven that women make less than men (Judith, 52).  Women are less likely to ask for raises because they don’t like to self-promote, and they also don’t want to create any animosity between her and her supervisor which would violate her role as a woman.  As a result of these professional setbacks women tend to be in lower economic classes.  Anyone with financial problems is at a higher risk for depression, but women have lower paying jobs, so they are more liable (Judith, 52).  Poverty definitely plays a big part in the development of depression, among other disorders.  Not having enough money to eat is severe stress and not having enough money to feed your children is twice as bad.

One major problem in society that is mentally affecting our women is this culture of thinness.  There is an immense amount of pressure placed on women to be attractive and thin through the media and the stick-thin models regularly gracing magazine covers.  As a result, women are more likely to develop eating disorders.  Anorexia, an eating disorder that involves drastic fasting, and Bulimia, which consists of binge eating followed by any compensatory behavior, are virtually nonexistent in men (White, pg 62).

Both of these disorders lead to serious health problems but anorexia ultimately leads to death by starvation.  It is thought that these disorders are caused by a perceived lack of control in their lives; which is balanced by these women having complete control over their looks.  Discrimination against unattractive or overweight women is an unspoken prejudice.  This epidemic of attaining physical perfection is actually an unnecessary and harmful setback for women.

Women are more likely to seek therapy (Judith, 52).  There is an over-diagnosis of women and an under-diagnosis of men.  General discrimination towards women is that communal traits aren’t as valued as physical strength, which can lead to depression.  House work creates sense of never having leisure time, it provides no emotional reward and an isolation factor.  Emphasis on physical appearance, body image eating disorders, lack of control over appearance leads to depression.  Gender roles, since women are expected to be communal their relationships can lead to depression because there is more pressure on them to have good relationships, so when the relationships are unsuccessful, they tend to blame themselves.

In the text book Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Gender, author Jacuelyn W. White discusses the cultural differences between men and women.  She argues that men and women live in entirely two separate worlds and likens the contrasting relationship between they have to that of a difference between two culture.  The requirements society places on this underlying female culture is the core cause of violence against women, such as rape sexual harassment and physical abuse (White, pg 58).  Western society designates women into an objectified position.

They are seen as objects of sexual obsession, and a reward of male agentic interaction, but they are not seen as equal within male culture.  Oddly enough, within female culture, mainstream success is based on beauty, politeness and being conductors of societal interaction.  This is often the reason why the common saying is made that, if women ruled the world, war would no longer exist.

In her book, Women’s Lives, Judeth Bridges analyzes dysfunctional female mental health.  She points out that girls and women account for 95 percent of cases of anorexia nervosa (Judith, 52).  One to four percent of all female adolescents and young adults suffer from the disorder (Judith, 52). Women are two to three times more likely to experience depression over their lifetime.  Women are also more likely to attempt suicide. Anorexia nervosa, and Bulimia are diseases, but they can both be seen as the direct result of personality disorders formed by women in reaction to societal confines.  The influences these societal confines have on the mental health of women is undeniable, but these societal prejudices are also being combated through contemporary film.

The heroine in cinema has come a long way since the origin of film.  It can be argued that this is a directly relative to societal changes.  The performing arts have evolved from not allowing blacks, or women to perform, to having minorities in lead roles where they play everyman/woman characters.  From the villainously empowering days of the Femme fatale, to the current science fiction roles in which women save the world without any male assistance, the female in cinema is on the verge of equal empowerment.

This is most true of those female celebrities who have established themselves as capable to play a broad range of roles.  Actresses like Angelina Jolie, Demi Moor and Sigourney Weaver play everything from action adventure heroines to pregnant mothers.  These women have contributed to the tradition of changing societal expectations of women through film.  One of the key films that plays on the cultural differences between men and women, while at the same time honestly depicts them is the film The Terminator, directed by James Cameron.

The Terminator launched the career of, at the time, professional body builder and current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; but more importantly, it is the quintessential science-fiction film. A young woman, by the name of Sarah Connor is hunted down by a cybernetic killer, who has traveled back in time from the year 2029.  In the future war between the Robots and humans, it is prophesied that Sarah Connor will give birth to the man who will save the human race.

Thus, through her carrying out her motherly duty she becomes the hero of the film.  The twist on societal norms resides in the fact that Sarah Connor is also heralded as a great military hero in the future. These are ideals very common of the feminist empowerment movement.  Sarah maintains her social status as a female, while at the same time, she embodies all of the agentic qualities necessary to be a heroic soldier.  Though Connor is a soldier, she is also a woman who needs love, and by nature she feels the urge to love and mother a child.  In the beginning of the film, Sarah Connor is sensitive and weak.

As the film progresses, her character becomes more confident and assertive.  The scene where Reese, her protector and love interest, teaches her how to make a pipe bomb from household products is an example of her learning the competitive tactics of men, and the point of her initial crossover into the role of the great soldier she is destined to become.  Connor in essence is presented as the last hope for the human race.  It is the triangular relationship between the Terminator, Connor and Reese that makes the most significant statement with regards to the contrast between male and female culture.

Reese initially is sent back to protect Sarah Connor. Unbeknownst to either of them, he will eventually become the biological father of the baby he is sent to protect.  Reese is still a mortal, and continuously reminded of this fact when confronting the Terminator.  Sarah Connor is mortal, but she is also a great war hero fulfilling a prophecy. Sarah Connor’s character is empowered in this film and Reese is actually effeminized; by this, I mean that Reese is actually the weaker of the two.

In the greatest measure of manliness against the ultimate destroying machine, Connor manages to surpass this benchmark; and in the end, she is the one who kills the Terminator. Whereas Reese, her supposed male protector, dies and fails where Sarah succeeds.  In the end, the only purpose he served was to produce offspring.  The man and the woman switch roles in this way, and an ironic yet empowering message is relayed to the audience.  Through film, the ideal that men and women are equal becomes more than just a neglected notion.

In sum, societal expectations can be identified as the core cause to mental health problems in most women.  This can be seen in their inclination towards eating disorders, depression, and suicide attempts.  Though some of these ideals are being combated, women are still dying trying to fit into size zeros; they are forming social anxiety disorders that result in the increase of plastic surgery, excessively more expensive fashionable retail, and overall unrealistic expectations applied to women.  Advancements in mental health for women starts with adjustments to the prevalent ideals inherent in western society.

Work Cited

Belton, John. American Cinema/American Culture. New York: The Corporation for

Public Broadcasting and New York Center for Visual History, 1994.

Bridges, Judith, and Claire A. Etaugh. Women’s Lives. Boston, MA: Pearson Education,

Inc., 2006. 51-53.

Russ, Joanna. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies ; Vol. 4, No. 2 (Summer, 1979), p.


Sociology of motherhood.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 9 Jan 2007, 11:29 UTC.

Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 23 Apr 2007


White, Jacquelyn W. Taking Sides. 3rd ed. Vol. 1. Dubuque: McGraw-Hills Company,

2007. 1-396.


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