With a name like ‘Madwomen in the Attic’ and a mission as complex as MITA’s mission, there are inevitably a lot of questions that we, as an organization, are asked. We have been asked a lot of important questions since the group’s inception by members and ally-members, alike. This FAQ page is our attempt to offer guidance and clarity in response to such questions. If you have an additional question that you would like addressed on the MITA FAQ page, please email us at email@example.com and submit your question for our consideration.
Frequently Asked Questions about MITA & The MITA Mission:
Why do you call yourselves ‘Madwomen’? Isn’t that a pejorative term?
The group refers to itself as Madwomen in the Attic for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that the name refers to the title (The Madwoman in the Attic) of an important work of feminist literary criticism by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. The title is inspired specifically by a character named Bertha Mason whose victimization was masked behind her patriarchally imposed status as a ‘madwoman’ in Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre. There are other literary madwomen and treatments of madness by which the name of our organization was inspired, including Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper. Our title is also inspired by literary figures who were labeled as ‘mad’ during or after their lifetimes, such as Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. ‘Madwoman,’ or its plural ‘Madwomen’ has, indeed, been used as a pejorative term to refer in a demeaning way to a woman, or women, deemed to be on the spectrum of insanity. It has also been used to demean women who have disobeyed patriarchal authority or traditional gender roles. For this reason, we call ourselves madwomen– women who rise up against the system of patriarchy. Our organization has chosen to reclaim and redefine the term “madwoman” in order to turn a source of patriarchal harm against women into a source of empowerment.
The MITA definition of ‘Madwoman’: A woman stark raving mad at the system.
This definition is specific enough to point to feminist criticism of patriarchal imperialism, white supremacy, and colonialism, and it is flexible and ambiguous enough to allow each member to define for themself what it means to be Mad and what constitutes ‘the system.’ For our co-founders, ‘the system’ refers to the patriarchal colonialist practice of psychiatry and ‘stark raving mad’ refers to righteous feminist rage against injustice, including but not limited to institutional injustice.
Why isn’t the organization for madmen and madwomen?
The organization is for people of all gender identities, but its mission and name is gender-specific because it recognizes and gives specific recognition to the patriarchal enforcement of normalcy on certain marginalized bodies, especially women’s and gender non-conforming people’s bodies. The history of patriarchal psychiatry is part of colonization, and its practices today reflect that: those in power in psychiatric facilities, as doctors, were traditionally white and male and the construction of medicalized illness is a patriarchal construction– the large majority of those who were victimized by the most severe early practices of the psychiatric industry were women and, subsequently at the middle of the 20th Century, people of color. We, as a grassroots feminist organization, recognize that the patriarchal, colonialist, and imperialist roots of psychiatry and society’s constructions of madness. Both our society and the practice of psychiatry reflect these roots today. Disobedient women- and gender-non-conforming people have long been called “mad” and been mistreated by systems and institutions that rely on white supremacy and the use of force for social control.
We honor the legacy of feminist and queer disobedience, and we honor the women and gender-non-conforming people who were victimized in decades and centuries past by standing with them in solidarity, calling ourselves ‘madwomen’. We welcome the support of cisgender men and honor the narratives of psychiatric victims/survivors who are cis men, but the organization centers marginalized people, including women, trans people of all genders, and gender-non-conforming and non-binary people who have been affected by the mental health system or targeted, tortured, and harmed by colonizing mental health institutions.
If I am a trans man, can I be a member of MITA?
Yes, members of MITA include people of marginalized genders, including women, non-binary and gender-non-conforming people, and trans people of all genders.
Note: Our monthly meetings are not open to cisgender men but MITA ally-membership is open to cisgender men and we hold many events that are open to the public.
Can I be a member if I have never been labeled as mentally ill, harmed by the psychiatric system, or have only had positive experiences with it?
Absolutely. We welcome and encourage ally-members to be active participants of the organization and to contribute to our advocacy and educational projects and efforts. We are grateful for the support of anyone who supports the MITA mission through ally-membership. We recognize that people have different experiences and perspectives based on those experiences. Our organization is here to promote feminist literacy, specifically with feminist literacy about mental health and madness, and we are interested in empowering and raising up the voices of an underrepresented group of women who have been affected, especially affected negatively, by the stigma and discrimination attached to mental health labels, as well as by the mental health industry.
Can you attend a monthly meeting if you are a man?
Our general Mad Monday monthly meetings are for MITA members of marginalized genders, including women, non-binary and gender-non-conforming people, and trans people of all genders. We will let our entire membership base know if there are special meetings and events at which cis men ally-members are invited to attend. Ally-members, regardless of gender, are always encouraged to offer their support outside of meetings.
Is MITA only for people who live in Western New York?
No, Madwoman in the Attic is for any person, anywhere, who supports literacy, advocacy, social justice, and equality related to madness, mental health, and psychiatric disabilities. We have members who reside outside of NY and outside of the borders of the United States.
What are Mad Mondays?
Mad Mondays are the Mondays on which Madwomen in the Attic publishes the work of its monthly featured writer.
Is MITA a religious organization because it sometimes meets at area churches?
Madwomen in the Attic is not a religious organization and is in no way affiliated with a religion. We, at times, have held meetings at area churches because they support our mission and because, in faithful service and kindness toward their communities, they have generously offered us a safer space free of charge. We have members from a variety of religious backgrounds, as well as members who identify as atheists or secular humanists or spiritualists. As an organization, we support religious equality: the right to individuals to belong or not-belong to organized religions, and the right of individuals to freedom of belief.
I’m too ashamed and scared to come to a MITA meeting; what should I do?
First, you should know that it’s perfectly understandable and okay to be unsure or nervous about attending a MITA meeting. The stigma attached to what is labeled “mental illness” affects us all negatively, and, for that reason, many will not be able to find the courage to show up at our meetings. We also know that each of us carries different burdens and experiences, and that going to a meeting can be a real challenge. You can be part of our group from a distance or you can reach out to us for some extra support.
If you want to come but feel too scared to do so, consider reaching out to us beforehand via email so we can talk together and try to work something out, or perhaps ease some of your worries and address specific concerns. We are here for you. This means that we hold you up, just as we hold up all who show up at our meetings in an empowering light, regardless of differences, beliefs, or histories. Sometimes we just need to know we’re not alone. That’s what MITA is here to provide– a space with people who show up to offer support to women, trans people of all genders, and gender non-conforming people who may feel like they need it or like they have nowhere else to go.
Is what happens at a MITA meeting a form of counseling, or therapy?
People define therapy in different ways. MITA’s founding members are educators and professionals, but we are not mental health professionals. We do not hold degrees in counseling or psychology, and we do not believe in labeling others against their wishes. Those who attend MITA meetings have the choice of labeling themselves or choosing not to do so. Some members, including the founders, feel that what happens at a MITA meeting is form of alternative feminist/narrative therapy, but we do not use the term therapy in any kind of official sense. We are not an accredited organization. As a literacy community organization, our founders do have credentialized backgrounds in literary education and literacy education. We believe that literacy can be therapeutic, but we are not affiliated within the fields that credentialize the practice of therapy.
How can I be a supportive MITA ally?
Follow and read our posts, read what our members write and publish, offer input, and be ready to answer the calls for advocacy and literacy support. Most of all, being an ally to MITA and to people affected by mental health labels and systems, involves speaking out against social injustice and making the world a safer, better, more accepting place for people who suffer from or are labeled as having mental illnesses. Speak out with us. Speak out against injustice. And stand with us. We work to develop empathy and to listen to one another.
What are ‘Featured Writers’?
At our in-person meetings, we showcase the written or artistic work of our featured writers. Our featured writers’ work is incorporated into our in-person meetings– we read the work or part of it aloud and discuss it, respectfully and supportively at our meeting. The goal is to feature women, trans people of all genders, and gender-non-conforming people as writers on our website in an effort to create a Mad archive and to build communication among writers who are mad at systems of oppression through art.
Should I write for MITA? If I do, does it mean I have written for a literary publication? Am I good enough for this? Am I too good for this?
MITA promotes and encourages literacy for all people, especially women, trans people of all gender, and non-binary, gender fluid, and gender-non-conforming people. Literacy is something that is developed through communication and education. Not everyone comes to the writing table with the same abilities or styles, just as not everyone comes to the writing table with the same educational and personal backgrounds. We consider ourselves more of a literacy publication than a literary publication, but much of the writing on our website is of a literary nature, given that one of the co-founders is a professional writer and writing consultant, with a background in literary studies, and also given that both co-founders have backgrounds in the humanities. We did not create the Featured Writer Project in order to showcase the work of professional writers; we created our FW Project to showcase the diverse written voices and perspectives of women, trans people of all genders, and gender non-conforming or non-binary people people across ALL divides-– and that includes writing ability level. We also created it to provide a space for ideas to gather around issues within and outside of the mental healthcare system. We will work with any writer who wishes to contribute their voice or art to our MITA conversation in order to strengthen the stylistic aspects of their piece(s), if they so wish, but this is not a requirement. First and foremost, our goal is to give folx in our community a safer space to express their voice, to promote literacy, and to practice literacy skills. If we feel that a contributing writer’s work could use our support, we may offer it but we will never enforce it, and it will never be used as a reason to reject a writer or their piece. The exclusion of a writer’s piece will only occur if its content antithetical to MITA’s mission to promote equality, does not in any way relate to our mission, or is derogatory or threatening toward an individual or group of individuals. We welcome writing from anyone who desires to write for MITA and supports the mission. If men would like to submit work on the MITA site, they are welcome to do so in one of our other website sections.
There are many reasons to write for MITA. If you are a professional writer, you will strengthen our capacity to reach a wider audience and your writing will set an example for other writers– your message will reach an audience of members who most likely need your support. If you are not a professional writer but have something to say, you will have a chance to do so without judgment and with a supportive and diverse readership. If you need to vent about injustices or sing a silly song of self-love or bemoan the traumas you’ve endured, you can do all that and more. If you want to try to write, and you have never done it before, you can do so in the company of a loving family of readers. If you know you have something important to say that you cannot say anywhere else, here is a good, safer space in which you can do so as yourself or anonymously. If you are a talented writer, you can uplift and challenge budding, novice writers. If you are an educator, you can educate in a new way or on a new issue. This is YOUR safe writing space. It belongs to you, and to us. To reiterate, we are not a competitive peer-reviewed literary journal in the sense that we are not a gating or gated entity— we believe in community and in the equality of all writers, regardless of their differences. We celebrate difference and struggle to loosen hierarchical divides. We do not filter our submissions for quality. While we believe there is a place for this, according to the tastes of a particular literary journal; as a literacy web publication, Madwomen in the Attic’s first goal is to create a platform for stories to be told that would not otherwise be told. We embrace differences across the board, including differences in ability, and we are committed to honoring our philosophical belief in RADICAL EQUALITY with this web publication. So, what does this mean? It means that our readers will be granted the opportunity to read a truly and radically diverse and egalitarian body of work from women who have something to say about cognition, writing, social justice, feminism, and life. If you believe in equality and celebrate difference, and if you have the desire to write for us, we welcome you. We write and read together, in the midst of our beautiful differences.
Does MITA pay its writers?
Madwomen in the Attic is not funded, sponsored, or financially supported by any source outside of the financial contributions (donations and labor) of its co-founders. The group is a labor of love that relies 100% on the unpaid labor of its co-founders. Thus, MITA cannot and does not provide financial compensation to writers for their contributions to our projects or sites. We are a purely grassroots volunteer organization. Neither of our co-founders receives any financial compensation for anything related to the group. We pay for our website and for materials for our meetings through out of our own pockets. While we cannot offer financial payment for writing, what we do offer is a communal space, writing and advocacy opportunities, and fellowship.
I prefer to use non-traditional pronouns. Will this be a problem at meetings? What is MITA’s general policy on gender identity and pronouns?
We all learn pronoun-use behaviors at an early age. The associations we learn between pronouns and aesthetic characteristics are deeply ingrained in our psyches and are largely automatic. Our learned language habits and uses are designed to last us a lifetime so they are difficult to break. But sometimes we need to break our long-held language uses in order to grow in support of one another, as humanity evolves. This can be difficult because it requires slowing down our cognitive and speech patterns in order to dismantle, or unlearn, associations we have formed. Pronouns are names, and they are part of our naming tradition. Each of us wants to be addressed by the name s/he prefers and the attached pronouns s/he prefer, unless we do not have a preference. Pronouns, however, differ from names in that (1) there are such a limited number of them in use thus far and (2) we are taught to associate an array of certain features with, in most cases, one of two classifications of pronouns (she/her or he/him). Unlearning pronoun use is far more difficult than learning pronoun use, and this is the reason why it is challenging for us, culturally, to step outside of the traditional binaristic uses of gender-based pronouns. What defines or constitutes “gender” is debatable and theoretical, in some cases ineffable and in some respects extremely tangible, and pronoun use is a byproduct of this.
Madwomen in the Attic is an organization that aims to offer support specifically to people of marginalized genders. As an organization, we honor each person’s right to exercise freedom of choice, and this includes gender identity and pronoun choice. MITA welcomes warmly people of marginalized genders who want to be members of our organization. As part of our effort to promote inclusion and mental health literacy, we are concurrently interested in serving as supporters and allies to all of our members, and one way of doing this is by dedicating ourselves to the development of identity/pronoun literacy.
In an effort to honor the identities and chosen pronouns of our members, we will offer pronoun name-tags to our members at monthly meetings. This will be available to us at any time, to help us slow down when we speak to one another, to provide us with a visual linguistic cue, and to remind us of the preferred pronouns of each individual whenever we feel it is beneficial.
Our MITA meeting pronoun policy is this: that each attending member try their best to honor the preferred pronouns of the other members and that, in turn, all attending members recognize that unlearning former linguistic associations and learning new linguistic associations is a challenging endeavor that requires room for earnest mistake-making and time.