Madwomen In The Attic (MITA) is a grassroots feminist mental health and madness literacy and advocacy organization that aims to provide support for women and gender-non-conforming people who have been affected by the mental health industry or the stigma and discrimination attached to psychiatric diagnosis. Our mission is to connect women and gender-non-conforming people “from attic to attic” across many locations but we also operate at the local level. Our organization operates in the Buffalo (NY) area, on the traditional territory of the Seneca Nation of the Haudenosaunee / Six Nations Confederacy, and this is where we hold meetings and events.
MITA aims to provide support and literacy resources and opportunities to those affected by stigma and discrimination attached to mental illness diagnoses or by the mental health industry, and to provide social justice literacy advocacy opportunities to members in the community who wish to increase and protect the public and institutional recognition of human rights for those affected by social differences, mental illness diagnostic labels, or the mental healthcare system.
MITA is not affiliated with any institution or organized religion; its formation was established in the work of Virginia Woolf and in feminist and disability theory.
MITA aims to offer support to people who identify as mad and to psychiatric survivors and consumers, as well as to to those who have been victimized, traumatized, harmed, shamed, or otherwise affected negatively by discrimination, or the psychiatric industry at large, including but not limited to 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.
Madwomen in the Attic considers itself part of the Network Against Coercive Psychiatry and the revolutionary Mad Pride Movement to end the use of forced “psychiatric treatment” as a means of medicalized social control. MITA is part of a larger effort to depaternalize and change psychiatry, recognizing its entanglement with colonization and in support of decolonization efforts. Our mission is to organize in order to fight against the violations of human rights that George Orwell warned of in his novel “1984,” in which mental health professionals serve as a “Big Brother” arm of the colonial state, maintaining social normativity and imparting the enforcement of conformity.
The group is for any woman or gender non-conforming person who is MAD at society, colonialist systems, or the colonialist mental healthcare system– and 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, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, homophobia and heteronormativity, transphobia, and ableism have produced systems of corporate and institutionalized oppression. MITA is part of what is called the “Mad Pride” movement and one of its theoretical mothers 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.
Literature is a place of empowerment and refuge because it allows folx 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 under colonial white supremacy and patriarchy. Those deemed mentally ill have been, historically, mistreated by societies and regarded as and treated as having little rights in the eyes of the law, and this phenomenon is still alive today. Often, women and gender-non-conforming people are degraded or dehumanized by systems that aim to pathologize them and that obfuscate the colonialist patriarchal oppression that hides behind the term “treatment.”
The group tries to be a safer space for women and gender-non-conforming folx to connect with one another and develop support networks tailored to their own needs and levels of comfort. Its aim is to empower those who have not had control over their narratives by giving them a place to shape and control them and by building mad community. Each member of the group is in charge of what labels they use to describe themself and their experiences.
MITA is also an educational space in which women and gender non-conforming folx can learn together and share resources with one another and support one another in wellness and coping efforts, as well as in efforts to offer safe, non-judgmental support. It is also a place for the dissemination of information relating to feminist mental healthcare. One goal is for members of the group to make available credible, often non-mainstream, humanistic, and feminist information that might potentially empower people 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 and gender non-conforming people 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 and people with psychiatric disabilities. MITA offers support to women and gender-non-conforming folx in the forms of story-sharing and grassroots organizing.
Any information gathered from the group by its co-founders or the site’s administrator will be used anonymously, unless otherwise permitted via written consent, and strictly for the empowerment of women and gender non-conforming people and the fight against oppression.
Contact MITA at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us on Facebook at Madwomen in the Attic.