Wednesday, October 13

Confessions with Theresa

Freedom

I watched SUCKER PUNCH tonight. Well, technically, it was a double feature of THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS and then SUCKER PUNCH. Surprisingly, Lana and Lilly Wachowski’s sequel to the pop culture sensation THE MATRIX and Zack Snyder’s divisive commentary on femininity and action-fantasy compose an interesting double feature.   

Most of the female film fans I know do not love SUCKER PUNCH. With good reason. If there ever was a film to glorify sexualization of women, SUCKER PUNCH is up there. Yet, I have a soft spot for it thanks to the music, the fantastical scenes and the women who come together to help one another even if - SPOILER ALERT – they don’t all make it out alive.

To me, SUCKER PUNCH is about women’s freedom and the freedom to be open around mental illness.

Here’s my true confession and it’s not that I love SUCKER PUNCH. 

I come from a line of women who lived with mental illness. My grandma, Nana, was a sweet, Southern woman. She hugged everyone no matter who you were and it wasn’t just a quick, warm hug. It was a long, tight bear hug. She loved her husband, kids and grandkids more than anything in the world.

Yet she underwent electroshock therapy for depression.

I didn’t even know this fact until my freshman year of college. It was a few months after we lost my grandpa that I found out.

I remember going over on an early December day to help decorate for Christmas and Nana’s hair wasn't done. Her hair was always done by the same hairstylist every week. And it just sat there; flat and messy. And so did she in her recliner next to Bopper’s. 

I didn’t know how to respond. So, I kept decorating. And I told Nana everything was going to be okay. It was Christmas, after all. 

That was the only year I helped with decorating after Bopper’s passing. Not long after, I found out Nana had a history of severe depression, severe enough that she underwent electroshock therapy. I didn’t know how to take that news. I still don’t.

At 18, I was diagnosed with acute depression/anxiety disorder and have been on meds ever since. I never knew my family history. It was just assumed around female/teen issues. I filled out a multi-choice questionnaire to determine the diagnosis that put me on anti-anxiety pills. I still take them to this day. 

The day I was diagnosed, I felt frustrated, unheard, scared, vulnerable, disappointed at being brushed off and very, VERY, small.

Was the diagnosis/process wrong? Yes and no. There are days I’m grateful to be on my pills and to be engaged with my wellness app, Calm, to help me get through stressful times. But I think we’re still too quick to diagnose, especially with women. 

As a society, we push women to think, act and feel in very specific ways. 

In its own way, SUCKER PUNCH shows how easy it is for men to control the narrative of a woman’s story if they act up, don’t fit into society’s norms, and want to be free to live their life.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Babydoll is framed for killing her younger sister, who was actually murdered by their abusive stepfather in an effort to collect the inheritance their mother had left to the two girls. She is then deemed as mentally unstable by her stepfather and institutionalized. 

When he drops her off, he bribes asylum orderly Blue Jones to forge the signature of the asylum’s psychiatrist, Vera Gorski, to have Babydoll lobotomized so she cannot inform authorities of the truth. 


In parallel, a comprehensive survey of U.S. psychiatric facilities between 1949 and 1951 found that most patients lobotomized by doctors were women.1 This was during a time when women were expected to be calm, cooperative and attentive to domestic affairs. The surgery claimed to render female patients docile and compliant.

Dr. Walter Freeman (the doctor who popularized the psychosurgery) and surgeon James Watts did a case study of six patients with psychiatric symptoms. They credited the surgery for alleviating patients’ symptoms: “insomnia, nervous tension, apprehension and anxiety.”

One patient was fearful of aging but after her lobotomy claimed she could now “grow old gracefully” and care for her home. As a side effect, she complained of a lack of spontaneity, but her husband praised the changes her surgery had wrought, declaring her “more normal than she had ever been.”2

By 1951, almost 20,000 lobotomies had been performed in the United States.3 Nearly 60% of lobotomy patients were women.4

Luckily, lobotomies are mostly rejected today as an inhumane form of treatment. 

But are we listening to women’s needs, educating them and allowing them to make the best decisions for their mental health and bodies?

Not even close in the U.S.

Are the women in SUCKER PUNCH sexualized? Yes. But the story between the margins of the action-packed, high-concept film is freedom. Freedom to do what we want as women; to be deemed functioning adults who can make a difference in society, even if our emotions can get the better of us. 

We want to fly, make mistakes, and be free from the chains that can hold us back. We want freedom, of our health, our rights, our emotions, we want our choices to mean something without judgement and control. We want to own the story of our lives as women. We don’t want it to be a fantasy anymore, we just want to exist how we are. 


Citations:

1. Kramer M. The 1951 survey of the use of psychosurgery. In: Mettler Fa, Overholser W, Proceedings of the Third Research Conference on Psychosurgery. Public Health Service Publication 221. Washington (DC): Government Printing Office; 1954:162. 

2. Freeman W, Watts JW. Prefrontal lobotomy in the treatment of mental disorders. South Med J 1937;30: 23–31.

3. Levinson, Hugh. "The strange and curious history of lobotomy." BBC News. BBC.

4. El-Hai, Jack. "Race and Gender in the Selection of Patients for Lobotomy." Wonders & Marvels. Retrieved 12 August 2017.


No comments:

Post a Comment