Madwomen in the Attic (MITA) is a grassroots feminist support group for women-identified individuals who have been victimized, traumatized, harmed, shamed, or otherwise affected negatively by the psychiatric industry at large; psychiatric centers; medical professionals such as physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists; the pharmaceutical industry; individuals and organizations that misuse mental health treatment as a form of social control, policing, or bullying into submission; and/or the stigma attached to the language and labels perpetuated by the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The group is for any woman who is MAD at the system– those who wish to offer their support, expertise, and knowledge are welcome to join as allies and advocates.
MITA was conceived in the hostile and corrupt environment of a “modern” incarceratory psychiatric ward, but its roots are scholarly and grounded in the fields of disability and feminist studies, which offer an alternative way of looking at mental health by focusing on the way in which patriarchal normativity, racism, homophobia and heteronormativity, transphobia, and ableism have given birth to systems of corporate and institutionalized oppression. MITA is part of what is called the “Mad Pride” movement and its theoretical mother is Virginia Woolf.
The name of the group, “madwomen in the attic,” comes from the title of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s feminist examination of Victorian literature, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. The phrase references a character named Bertha Mason from Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel Jane Eyre. Bertha is a victim to both patriarchal and racist ideologies. She is considered to be violently ill, is described in bestial, degrading, and dehumanizing terms throughout the novel, and is kept in an attic secretly and inhumanely for years by her abusive husband, Mr. Rochester, until she perishes by throwing herself out of the attic window after setting fire to his house/her prison. Her tragic liberation from the attic is an act of liberation born of desperation and degradation.
Women’s literature is a place of empowerment and refuge because it allows women to speak about themselves from their own perspectives, without having to prescribe to a mainstream patriarchal narrative. Narrative medicine is an up and coming field of alternative medicine, and MITA is one example of an informal, fringe/non-mainstream community mental health organizational effort to dismantle the current system.
For centuries, women and members of other marginalized communities have been victimized by corporate-minded, white-male-run institutions built on extreme power imbalances. Those deemed mentally ill have been, historically, regarded as and treated as having little rights in the eyes of the law, and this phenomenon is still alive today. This is compounded by other issues, such as sexuality, gender-identity, ethnicity, and race. Often, women are degraded or dehumanized by systems that aim to pathologize them and that obfuscate the patriarchal oppression and imperialism that hides behind the term “treatment.”
The group is a safe space for women to connect with one another and develop support networks tailored to their own needs and levels of comfort. Its aim is to empower women who have not had control over their narratives by giving them a place to shape and control them. Each member of the group is in charge of what labels she uses to describe herself and her experiences, and, as such, this is a label-others-free zone.
MITA is an educational space in which women can share resources with one another and support one another in wellness and coping efforts, as well as in efforts to offer safe, non-judgmental immediate assistance to women in crisis situations. It is also a place for the dissemination of information relating to women’s mental health. One goal is for members of the group to make available credible, often non-mainstream, humanistic, and women-supportive information that might potentially empower women to know their rights and advocate for themselves in a system that is foundationally rigged against them. Socioeconomic and other kinds of social injustices compound psychiatric industry inequities, sometimes leading to extreme experiences of isolation, victimization, and powerlessness. These are things that MITA aims to combat. The group strongly encourages women locally, nationally, and internationally to network and work in their own lives and social circles for change: to advocate for one another, to refer one another to supportive resources, and to engage in grassroots political efforts to advocate for survivors. MITA offers unconditional acceptance and support to women and girls in the forms of story-sharing and grassroots organizing for the betterment of women globally.
Any information gathered from the group by its co-founders or the site’s administrator will be used anonymously, unless otherwise permitted, and strictly for the empowerment of women and the fight against oppression.
Contact MITA at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on Facebook at Madwomen in the Attic.