For millennia, women’s emotions and women’s fears have been regarded as abnormal and erratic, at least where “normal” has been defined by men, who do not share the cyclical nature of women’s physiology and psychology. The menstrual cycle, and its attendant emotional changes, has been treated as disease—pathological—and cited throughout the centuries as proof that women are ill suited for higher education, athletics, civic engagement, and serious careers.
So when middle-class women in mid-20th-century America felt restricted and stressed by society’s expectations, was it any wonder that the era of the problem that had no name became the era of the “mother’s little helper”? Doctors so freely prescribed the powerful sedative Valium to housewives that it became iconic enough to warrant its own popular rock song:
Mother needs something to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill, there’s a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper…
I get it. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I came across the "mommy needs a cocktail" meme, and found it hilarious. Unwinding with a glass of wine after an intense day of parenting is not always wrong, but for many women, pills and drinks—are the main way they reduce stress, anxiety, or impatience.
In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, psychiatrist Julie Holland notes that 1 in 4 American women takes a psychiatric medication, compared with 1 in 7 men. Holland is a psychiatrist, so she knows how drugs can help in many situations. But she worries that a “medicated normal” might be “at odds with a woman’s dynamic biology; ...1
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