Maya Poran Speaks on Gender and Mental Health

Photo by Hope Patti

On Wednesday, the Active Minds Association on campus held a discussion in the Adler Theater with Maya Poran, social psychologist and associate professor of psychology and women and gender studies at Ramapo, in honor of Women’s HERstory Month. Professor Poran addressed her long-term studies about the historic roots of women in society and society’s effect on women’s mental health to a small crowd with passion and enthusiasm.

Poran started her lecture by sharing her experience studying history, admitting she did not always find history intriguing and was never very good at learning historical events and remembering their details. This did not deter her from delving further into her focus, learning that society’s expectations of women came from a particular time in the past and has not changed significantly today.

Her theories are based on the attitudes toward women in the Victorian era, where women were considered inherently abnormal because of their gender. Stereotypes of women in the Victorian era, as listed by Poran in her talk, included women being passive and quiet, naturally dependent and inferior to men. Women were expected to be mothers and nurturers.

“I didn’t know there are things that are expected of me just because I am a woman, and now I question my expectations as a woman and a college student,” said freshman Jailene Mendez.

The stereotypes that pressured women in the past are pervasive in our society today.

“These expectations became psychological abuse for women,” said Poran.

Women are also criticized for both defying stereotypes and fitting into them. This “double bind,” as Poran describes it, is the reason why women, specifically, are prone to internalizing disorders.

Poran sums up this “double bind” theory by saying, “Women are being made crazy by the people who define them as crazy.”

While women receive more diagnoses today, many mental health issues still go undiagnosed. Women are often more exposed to sexual violence, human trafficking and rape and sexual violence are used as tools for war and terrorism. Through education, feminist awareness and activism, Poran continues to promote this subject matter. Her hope is that “learning about this becomes galvanizing.”