, Volume 24, Issue 1-2, pp 79-103

Selling Sanity Through Gender: The Psychodynamics of Psychotropic Advertising

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Abstract

This paper provides a brief visual history of the ways women patients, and specifically women patients whose marital status is identified in conjunction with their “illness,” have been constructed as abnormal in the images of advertisements designed to promote psychotropic medications to an audience of psychiatrists. The advertisements I discuss come from the two largest circulation American psychiatric journals, The American Journal of Psychiatry and Archives of General Psychiatry, between the years 1964 and 2001. I use the ads to focus on two concomitant narratives. On one hand, I show how the advertisements situate the rise of “wonder drugs” in the context of an era described as the “golden age of psychopharmacology,” during which time drug treatments helped revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety, depression, and other outpatient mental illnesses in the United States. On the other hand, the advertisements also illustrate the ways in which these new scientific treatments could not function free of the culture in which they were given meaning. In the space between drug and wonder drug, or between medication and metaphor, the images thus hint at the ways psychotropic treatments became imbricated with the same gendered assumptions at play in an American popular culture intimately concerned with connecting “normal” and “heteronormal” when it came to defining the role of women in “civilization.”