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Sexy But Psycho: How the Patriarchy Uses Women’s Trauma Against Them

Sexy But Psycho: How the Patriarchy Uses Women’s Trauma Against Them PDF

Author: Dr Jessica Taylor

Publisher: Constable


Publish Date: March 10, 2022

ISBN-10: 1472135490

Pages: 370

File Type: EPub, PDF

Language: English

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Book Preface

This book has been burning away inside my brain for years.

Getting it all out, writing it down, and sharing it with the

world is a mixture of relief and fear.

Relief because, I know as those years have passed, I’ve

noticed more and more professionals have come to question

the pathologisation and labelling of women and girls, which

has been reassuring, to know that I’m not alone.

Fear, because alongside a growing critical movement, there is

a growing pro-disorder movement which has been deliberately

constructed to encourage and support the diagnosis and

pathologisation of women and girls. Every single time I’ve

tried to speak out about it, I’ve been ridiculed, harassed,

silenced and threatened. A woman questioning systemic

pathologisation is like a red rag to a bull for so many people.

This book won’t make for comfortable reading for anyone, though. But the question I am going to pose is:

Why are we deliberately pathologising, sectioning, labelling

and medicating women and girls around the world?

It is now commonplace for women and girls who report rape,

abuse, distress, or trauma of some sort to be quickly diagnosed

with a range of psychiatric disorders, medicated and then

discredited. This practice is not specific to the UK, and women

from all over the world write to me every day to ask me for

help. The emails are heartbreakingly similar – so similar that

they could have been written by the same woman over and

over again.

They are the types of stories and experiences I am going to

share with you in this book, and explain how women and girls

are being convinced that they are mentally ill – and why this is

so intrinsically linked to objectification, sexualisation and


I have several reasons for writing this book, and causing the

debate that will no doubt follow. I have been both the woman

who is pathologised, and the professional working with

women who are pathologised. The only position I have never

taken up is of the professional who pathologises women and

girls. This is something I will be eternally grateful for,

although I am unsure as to why I was never sucked into the

misogynistic culture of my fields and my studies.

Throughout my education at school and university – and

throughout my socialisation as a woman in the world – I have

been sold the same lies and misinformation about women’s

mental health as everyone else has. But for some reason, I

wasn’t buying it.

Maybe it was because of an incident in 2009.

It was a sunny, early morning on the day two police officers

knocked at my front door. They had woken me up with a

phone call thirty minutes earlier, to tell me that they were coming over and needed to speak to me. I had been waiting

months for this day.

The day we finally got the court date for the trial of the man

who had raped, abused and terrified me for five years.

As a teenager, I had become pregnant by him twice. The first

time had resulted in a miscarriage after he pushed me down a

flight of stairs. The second time (only a couple of months

later) resulted in me having a baby when I was seventeen years

old. The case had been horrendous, and I had been ignored for

months at a time. Every time I tried to get in touch with my

police officer, he told me that they were just waiting for the

trial date to be set. I found out later that he had written on my

notes that I was a ‘tattle tale’.

A ‘tattle tale’ for ringing the police when I was being beaten

up, threatened and abused.

A ‘tattle tale’ on the day he kicked my front door in and said

he was going to kill me.

A ‘tattle tale’ for ringing 999 as I lay on the floor with a

dislocated shoulder and torn neck, frantically clinging on to

my baby as I was thrown across a dining table.

I had been waiting for fourteen months for a trial date, and I

was often treated like a nuisance by the officers in the case.

Throughout those long and frightening months of waiting, I

had been stalked, harassed, threatened, beaten up, my social

media had been hacked and I lived in fear of my life every

single day. I moved forty miles away from where I grew up, in

an effort to stay safe and undetected. I had a one-year-old child

from the rapist and I was trying to protect my child with

everything I had as an eighteen-year-old woman, which wasn’t

much more than sheer determination.

The police officer in my case was stood at the door with a

woman I had never seen before. I assumed it was good news

and we were finally going to trial. They sat on the little faux leather two-seater and the male officer quickly said what he

had come to say:

The case had been dropped. The bail conditions had been


At that time, they were two of the most terrifying things I had

heard come out of someone’s mouth for a long time. Not only

had the entire case of thirteen charges been dropped, but they

had removed all bail conditions that were barely protecting me

as it was.

I, of course, burst into tears.

The officers then did something rather peculiar, and something

that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

They reached into their bag and pulled out a leaflet on mental

disorders and medication. A purple trifold leaflet about

personality disorders and bipolar disorder. The woman whom

I’d never met smiled pitifully at me, and started to explain

gently to me that the police thought I was mentally ill, and

would benefit from medication.

I was a feisty, inquisitive eighteen-year-old and I instantly

challenged them on why and how they thought I was mentally

ill, especially as one of them hadn’t seen me for fourteen

months, and the other hadn’t seen me before in her whole life.

They explained that they felt I had become ‘obsessed’ with the

trial and the case, and that I was ringing the police too often to

report harassment and death threats from the perpetrator. They

said that they had apparently met the perpetrator every month

as part of his bail conditions and he ‘seemed a good guy’, and

that it was clearly me with the issues.

I told them that I had kept all the forty-seven text messages

detailing the death threats, and that I had managed to record

some voicemails he had left me. I told them about the men he

had sent to my house to attack me, and the way I had hidden

under the table with my baby when they came banging on all

of the windows and doors to get in.

They suggested that maybe those things didn’t happen, and I

needed help. They wouldn’t look at the text messages or listen

to the voice-mails. They had lost interest in me, and had

started to regard me as a mentally ill teenage girl.

It was one of those moments in life when you question

whether you are awake, and whether any of this is really

happening to you.

I had gone from desperately waiting for a trial date to being

told that there would be no trial, and that instead, the police

(whom I had met only two or three times) felt that I was

mentally ill.

I stood up, still crying, and calmly told them to get out. I said

no other words. I pointed at my front door, and glared at them


I never did go to a doctor, or get medication, or get a

diagnosis. I threw the leaflet in the bin. I instead used music, I

read books, I learned about abuse and trauma, I accessed

anonymous counselling helplines and vital women’s services. I

wrote journals and poetry, and tried to process what had

happened to me.

I consider myself exceptionally lucky not to have been

dragged down a medical route with my trauma, and every time

I get a letter or email from a woman who has been through

this, I realise how easy it would have been for that to have

happened to me, too.

I won’t pretend that I didn’t struggle to do all of that on my

own. I did. I developed physiological responses to trauma

which took me years to figure out. I had panic attacks that

would cause me to collapse sometimes up to eight times per

day. I was often in hospital. No one knew what was ‘wrong’

with me and I was often treated as some kind of attention seeker, or a hysterical woman who kept pretending to faint in

the middle of Poundland, or whilst she was making

ReadyBrek for her toddler.

It took me several years to understand that trauma presents

itself physically, and not just psychologically. I was probably

twenty-five years old by the time I had everything under

control. The panic attacks were few and far between by then; I

would have a few per year. The nightmares had stopped. I had

read an enormous amount of literature on understanding my

body and my brain.

I had been working in forensic services and women’s services

since I was nineteen years old and I had started to notice that

my experience of being pathologised, ignored, minimised and

reframed as mentally ill or exaggerating physical illnesses was

very common indeed.

The first job I had was in magistrates’ courts at nineteen, and

every week, I watched women and girls give evidence in

domestic abuse trials against men who assaulted, abused and

controlled them. You could almost script the trials, sometimes.

The questioning of the women and girls was always along the

same lines. A lot of victim blaming and character assassination

and then the final blow, comments or accusations about her

mental health, sometimes with old medical records,

counselling records or lists of medication.

I was present for the case of a sixteen-year-old girl who had

been badly beaten up by a twenty-two-year-old man. He had

broken into her house after they had split up. He pinned her to

the floor and headbutted her eleven times in the face. This was

not the first time he had beaten or raped her, but it was the first

time that the girl had ever told anyone.

As she stood in the courtroom, being watched by him and his

family, the defence barrister started talking about her ‘history

of mental illness’. She looked confused. I put my head in my


Not this again.

The defence barrister asked the girl if she had ever had help

from mental health services as a child. She hesitated, clearly

not understanding what a ‘mental health service’ was. The

defence barrister proceeded to explain to her that they had

evidence that she had accessed mental health services at

twelve years old when her dad left. He said that she had

developed an eating disorder and started to cut her arms and


She stared at him, but agreed that this was true. He then used

this to argue that his client was in fact innocent, because she

probably headbutted a wall or caused all of the injuries to

herself, as she ‘clearly had mental health issues’.

Her jaw dropped. Her eyes filled up with tears. She turned

bright red. She couldn’t answer his questions.

I sat there, willing the magistrates to intervene. But nothing


Instead, the defence barrister continued to push her and upset

her about her dad leaving, her eating habits and the self-harm.

None of this had anything to do with what this man had done

to her four years later.

I watched as a sixteen-year-old girl was painted as a mentally

ill teenager who had caused significant injuries to her own

head because four years ago, she had attended two sessions at

CAMHS because of self-harm when her dad left.

It was clearly, and obviously, total bollocks. Everyone in that

room knew it was bollocks.

And yet, I went on to see this process repeated hundreds of

times, in hundreds of different cases. Like Groundhog Day.

She’s unreliable. She self-harms. She’s autistic. She’s

manipulative. She’s bipolar. She’s secretive. She’s borderline.

She’s crazy. She’s malicious. She’s obsessive. She’s

promiscuous. She’s delusional.

In some cases, there were no historical mental health records

to use, so instead, defence teams sought to suggest or imply

undiagnosed mental health issues or psychiatric diagnoses. In

many cases, defence teams in criminal courts, or solicitors in

family courts, requested psychiatric assessments of women

and girls in order to discredit them.

No matter what field I worked in after that, the story was

always the same. I worked in rape centres, counselling

services, child trafficking services and victim services. Women

and girls were being pathologised everywhere.

A new day, a new woman or girl was positioned as a crazy,

jealous, psychotic, paranoid, delusional ex with a vendetta and

a personality disorder.

It was soul-destroying. It still is.

Only this week, I spoke to a woman who was diagnosed with a

delusional disorder because she reported to social care that her

child keeps saying she is being sexually abused. Instead of

taking the disclosures seriously, professionals have suggested

that Mum is delusional and is making these disclosures up.

The woman even recorded her four-yearold daughter talking

about the sexual abuse, to prove that she wasn’t delusional, but

when she showed it to them, professionals changed their

approach and instead told her that she could have coached her

daughter to say those things, because she was delusional.

The issue with being perceived as delusional is that everything

you do or say can be put down to delusions.

Say you were abused by your husband? Delusional. Report

that your ex tried to break into the house last night? Imagining

it. Compiled proof that you’re being stalked online by a guy

from uni? Obsessive. Reported your ex for rape? Malicious.

Prove that your kid is saying that they have been sexually

abused? Coached them.


With thanks



1 Mental illness: the myths we live by

2 Sexism, homophobia and racism in psychiatry

3 A history of perfect women and crazy women

4 Reframing women’s trauma as mental illness

5 Using psychiatry against women and girls subjected to

male violence

6 Pathologising women and girls in the courtroom

7 Ignoring and minimising women’s health issues

8 Professionals who refuse to pathologise

9 Sexualising ‘crazy’ women and sectioning sexually non-

conformist women

10 Lifelong trauma reframed as incurable madness

11 Curing a sick system

Final thoughts



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