Bitch in Heat: Psychology’s Pathologisation of Female Sexuality

In: Transgressive Womanhood: Investigating Vamps, Witches, Whores, Serial Killers and Monsters
Author: Bethany Morris

Throughout history, Western society has disciplined female sexuality using strategies from confinement to persecution. Contemporary approaches, for example, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV-TR (2004), pathologise female sexuality through use of medical diagnosis and labelling. The present study uses Foucauldian discourse analysis to deconstruct the films Fatal Attraction (1987), and Black Snake Moan (2006), as well as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR. The use of film demonstrates Foucault’s notion of dissemination, in which knowledge produced by disciplines are taken as ‘truth’ and this truth is then dispersed through various mediums, film being an example relevant for contemporary Western society. Results suggests that excess sexuality and emotion are represented as unsuitable for ‘normal’ women, leading to an assumption of psychological disorder. The use of this discourse in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR (2004), in the criteria for Histrionic and Borderline Personality Disorders, allows psychiatry and psychology to police and discipline female sexuality so that women who do not conform to traditional notions of femininity can be controlled via a diagnosis. These notions are then taken up and represented in popular films, so that the excessively sexual woman is further exaggerated and construed as ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’ The ideas put forth by psychiatry and by such films, then become intertwined and are difficult to separate. The result is then a society that works along with psychiatry to identify and stigmatise the ‘bad’ sexual woman.


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