Walking upstairs I was thinking

When I was coming home yesterday walking up the stairs, I was thinking, someone famous once said: “every society could be judged on the basis of how it treats women”. I suddenly thought: “Every society can be judged, from how it treats ‘mad’ people.”  Then my thinking jumped and I thought: “how it creates madness”.

And my (nearly) final conclusion was: “every society can be judged, from how it creates and treats it’s mad”.

Then I thought: feminists have rightly criticized the word ‘treat’ – and the idea, which is implied, that women are not part of the society. Because the original statement implies, that the society is male and women are external to it, some kind of ‘objects’ – to which the male-society relates: men ‘treat’ women.

There is already so much wrong expressed in these words. I always hated when men said “I treat my wife/girlfriend really well”. I usually have a feeling that they are talking about a dog, who should feel privileged. – All of these thoughts and ideas swam, or rather, rocketed through my head while I was making the steps upwards.

The next thought was: ‘judged’ is the wrong expression. I asked, who am I to judge? Or who are supposed to be the judges according to the original statement? Are they not part of the society? What makes them either outsiders or superior beings, above everyone else, and independent?

I concluded quickly: instead of ‘judged’ I could say: “Every society has it’s own typical way of ‘treating’ and creating it’s women and it’s mad.” Societies create role models for women and they use various methods to force the individual women to conform to these female images. Societies also create their own concepts of ‘normality’ and ‘madness’, and they offer typical mad-roles.

Shop-window women

I started to laugh. Because at this point, I realised, it was not only self-evident, it was banal!Of course it has. It also has it’s own way of creating male roles, children-roles, cities and hierarchies, customs and memories. Nothing seemed more obvious, I thought, and felt ridiculous for thinking about the whole subject. I arrived in front of my flat, opened the door, said a loud hello to my kids, and shut my brain. 

Piroska Markus

(I wrote this piece sometimes in the 1990’s when I had three small children and I was working as a mental health social worker in Central London. We were living on the 2nd floor of a large Council building so all these thoughts went through my head during the 2 minute it took to walk up from the ground floor to our flat.)

5 thoughts on “Walking upstairs I was thinking

  1. I wonder if you need to assume that the word ‘treat’ implies that they are outside of society. ‘Treat’ starts with how we ‘treat’, regard, esteem, love, accept, feel comfortable with, allow ect. ourselves, very much from the inside rather then outside. But the real paradox is that we do all these as we been told to do so by society, the very thing that we need to shape from being inside or from feeling outside either.


  2. Dear Judit, thank you for reading and commenting. I am sure you are right that the word ‘treat’ does not have to refer to an external something. But in the context I was referring to, I believe, the statement make women appear, who are being ‘treated’ not only external to society which is seen as male, but also passive. Passive receipients of the ‘treatment’. In contrast to active shapers of history, for example. We are, of course, active shapers of history, but the history books don’t seem to recognise this. Apart from a few extra-ordinary examples, such as Cleopatra, Joan de Arc, The Pankhursts.


  3. Piri, it’s an interesting thought, or I should say an interesting thread because each of your thoughts unravels another, which is a whole other post. A musing on how the brain works perhaps.
    As for my own thoughts on this subject. Women are dangerous. Women create life which gives them powers that men can only guess at. This makes them frightening. Women are secretive about these powers, which makes them even more powerful so women must be controlled. This is why men have been taught, over the millennia to use their physical strength to play the role of the master. The few women you quoted were unafraid of revealing and using their powers in the full light of day for everyone to see. Not one of them had a natural death, including the Pankhursts whose health was ruined in prison. Women today are the first in history to have true financial independence as a result of the contraceptive pill in the sixties. This is why women today are such a force. The only danger is that, as in all major revolutions, the protesters end up emulating their oppressors and becoming them in another guise. Which is why women are rapidly becoming the new men and men the new women. Pause for thought I think.


    1. Hi Sandra, so nice to hear your interesting thoughts. What an amazing comment! We should talk more. I am not sure if the fact that women can create life is THE CAUSE of why men have been controlling women for thousands of years, but I agree with you that this is a fundamental difference between the genders which could have influenced men to try to control women. I often wonder about how – such a universally-hated institution as marridge could have become compulsory – while most men and women suffer in it, and often the children too. However, this is taking me away from the original topic. I also agree with you the women’s power is feared. It is down-played and ridiculed, whether it is the power women automatically have (through sexual attraction and through the ablity to give birth), or whether it is the power they gain through social, economic and political status. It is not ‘feminine’ to be powerful! Just about everything is twisted about our ability to give birth: menstruation is supposed to be ‘disgusting’, some women do not want to breast-feed so it does not ‘spoil’ their breasts! I did not realise what you that the women I mentioned (in a different writing) all had un-natural deaths, you are right to point it out. What do you mean those women “were afraid of revealing and using their powers in the full light of day”?


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