Robert Menzies, Brenda A. LeFrançois, and Geoffrey Reaume, “Introducing Mad Studies”
(the Editors’ Introduction to Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies)

“Mad Studies… incorporates all that is critical of psychiatry from a radical socially progressive foundation in which the medical model is dispensed with as biologically reductionist whilst alternative forms of helping people experiencing mental anguish are based on humanitarian, holistic perspectives where people are not reduced to symptoms but understood within the social and economic context of the society in which they live.”

Robert Menzies, Brenda A. LeFrançois, and Geoffrey Reaume, “introduction” (2)
The cover of Mad Matters

Like Mad Pride, Mad Studies originated in Canada, particularly with the 2013 publication of the book, Mad Matters: A Critical Reader in Canadian Mad Studies. Mad Matters was edited by three Canadian university professors, Robert Menzies, Brenda A. LeFrançois, and Geoffrey Reaume. The first assigned reading for this module is the editors’ introduction to this important volume.

Find the Robert Menzies, Brenda A. LeFrançois, and Geoffrey Reaume reading here.

PhebeAnn M. Wolframe,
“The Madwoman in the Academy”

“…as with white people and white privilege and men and male privilege, sane people are taught not to recognize sane privilege.”

PhebeAnn Wolframe, “The Madwoman in the Academy”
PhebeAnn M. Wolframe

In “The Mad Woman in the Academy,” PhebeAnn Wolframe makes a strong argument for including discussions of both ableism and sanism in academic discussions of oppression, particularly in the context of Women’s and Gender Studies courses. As a graduate of Women’s and Gender Studies herself, she recalls that in courses where sexism, heterosexism, racism, and poverty were discussed, ableism was given short shrift and sanism was not discussed at all. Wolframe was thus left without a vocabulary to describe her own experiences of psychiatric oppression until she was a graduate student and learned about the anti-psychiatry and mad movements.

Four white people with knapsacks

An important contribution made by Wolframe’s article is the introduction of the concept of sane privilege. She draws upon Peggy McIntosh’s image of social privileges as something we carry around with us in an “invisible knapsack.” That is, while the ways people are disadvantaged tend to be conspicuous to them, it is easy not to think about the ways in which we are privileged or for these to be invisible to us. White people, for instance, don’t need to think about race all the time because it is working in their advantage. When they are discriminated for (when they are not stopped by the police for no reason, for instance) they don’t even notice, whereas when a person of colour is discriminated against (they are stopped by the police for no reason), they do of course notice. Similarly men and straight people are less likely to notice how they are being discriminated for because of their male and straight privilege, while women and queer people are more likely to be aware of how they are being discriminated against on the basis of their gender and sexuality. Likewise, Wolframe argues, people who are perceived as sane do not notice all of the ways in which they are benefiting from sane privilege, while those who are stigmatized as “crazy” are well aware of how sanism works.

A graphic illustrating Peggy McIntosh’s idea of “the invisible knapsack” in which we carry around our various privileges, such as white privilege, class privilege, or male privilege

While we are now used to thinking about white privilege, class privilege, and male privilege, few people consider the privilege of being perceived as sane. In the representation of the invisible knapsack above, for instance, physical and learning abilities are included as states of invisible privilege, but sane privilege has been overlooked. As Wolframe shows, however, we can enumerate a list of ways in which those who are perceived as sane experience social privileges in comparison to those deemed “mentally ill” or “crazy.” These include:

  • not being perceived as dangerous or violent
  • seeing positive cultural representations of oneself
  • not being advised to under-achieve
  • not being asked by employers about their medical history
  • not having to be wary of expressing emotions lest people consider it a symptom
  • not having one’s religious or spiritual beliefs, drug use, and eating practices (dieting, veganism) interpreted as symptoms
  • not having one’s choice of partners, sexuality, relationship style (e.g. non-monogamy), and gender expression interpreted as symptoms
  • being able to speak about one’s political beliefs and experiences of oppression without these being seen as paranoia/symptoms
  • one’s appearance not being interpreted as a symptom (e.g. unkemptness
  • not being ostracized by neighbours
  • not having one’s ability to have children, to have a pet, or to care for a sick friend be questioned

In the reading below, Wolframe elaborates on these and other aspects of sane privilege.

Find the PhebeAnn M. Wolframe reading here.