Crazy Women and Hysterical Mothers: The Gendered Use of Mental-Health Labels in Custody Disputes
Canadian Journal of Family Law, Vol 31, No 1, 57-103, 2018
48 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2020
Date Written: 2018
This research studies the use of gendered mental-health labels, such as “crazy,” “hysterical,” “insane,” and “emotionally unstable,” in Canadian custody cases decided between 2000 and 2016.
Building on Judith Mosoff’s work on gender and mental health stigma in custody proceedings, it maps how these “pop-psychology” labels impact custody litigation. This investigation reveals that mental-health labels serve to discredit the mother, attack her parenting abilities, and distract from her allegations of violence by the father.
The article also explores fathers’, mental health experts’, and judges’ roles in framing the mother’s credibility and parental capacity with regard to her alleged mental instability. It observes how the unjustified use of mental-health labels can backfire against the father, and how mothers can link out-of-court mental-health insults to legal arguments supporting their claim for custody.
Although producing varied consequences, mental-health labels often reinforce gender biases and myths regarding domestic violence.
Keywords: Family Law, Gender, Violence Against Women, Canada, Mental Health, Stereotypes, Ableism, Sexism, Psychology, Gender Bias
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