Taking Mental Health Seriously: Unveiling Society’s Cruelty

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Cultural Norms and Deviant Behavior: Daphne’s Early Experiences

Our culture has a preconceived idea of what normal behavior looks like. Most members of our society frown upon deviant behavior, which is why Daphne experienced so much criticism throughout her teenage years. Daphne Scholinski spent a large portion of her high school life locked away in various mental institutions. These institutions were supposed to restore Daphne back into the average society by abolishing her abnormal behavior. She never had an actual mental illness, but the rest of society believed she needed treatment so that she would act like a typical girl.

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The Last Time I Wore a Dress proves to readers that society has a cruel way of dealing with deviant behavior, which can be shown through Daphne’s experience in the mental institution setting.

Gender Norms and Societal Expectations

First of all, we live in a society that is highly afraid of deviation. Dr. Madison questions Daphne and expresses concern when he discovers that Daphne is not sexually active. Daphne can sense that “He was starting in on the gender thing again” (Scholinski 151). The doctors automatically pin Daphne with a gender identity disorder due to the fact that she is different compared to other teenage girls. This challenges the binary of gender identity disorders because, according to doctors, a female must be sexually active to be a normal girl in society. Whether or not Daphne is sexually active does not depend on the rest of the teenage girls in today’s world, but it depends on herself. If Daphne does not want to be sexually active, she does not have to be. Our culture believes that no one should stray from the norm, so when deviant behavior is detected, it must be eliminated.

The Emotional Appeal of “The Last Time I Wore a Dress”

Throughout The Last Time, I Wore a Dress, there are multiple instances where the text appeals to pathos or the reader’s emotions. When Daphne, Cindy, and Rochelle ran away from the Wilson Center and asked the warehouse employee to call the police, “the guy stepped back” (Scholinski 158). He could tell they were from the mental institution, leading him to believe that they were not normal people. Anyone placed in this type of situation would be offended by the rude behavior displayed by the employee. This section of text really pulls at readers’ emotions by bringing the book to a personal level. It is easy to relate to this situation because most people have experienced negative feedback on their own deviant behavior. This type of criticism causes most people to eliminate their own differences in order to fit in better with the rest of society.

Gender Identity and the Impact of Mental Institutions

Many individuals believe that taking a person who exhibits deviant behavior and placing them in a mental institution will benefit the person, but that is not always the case. In fact, mental institutions can do just the opposite, especially to individuals who aren’t actually mentally ill. Ultimately, the doctors at the various mental institutions concluded with a gender identity disorder for Daphne. Daphne doesn’t really identify herself as male or female. She just happens to deviate away from the female gender. Gender identity has absolutely nothing to do with science but instead with whom the individual feels comfortable identifying. Daphne was comfortable being who she was, but once she was placed in a mental hospital, she began to question her identity. Was it wrong for Daphne to be herself? According to the psychiatrists and the rest of society, Daphne was not normal and needed to be corrected. Daphne faced many problems throughout her difficult childhood, but her gender identity was not one that needed work. Mental institutions left Daphne with traumatic memories that continued to impact her mental health throughout her life. In the last sentence of The Last Time I Wore a Dress, Daphne states, “I think I’m finding peace, but I’m not” (Scholinski 200). This proves that Daphne’s mental institution lifestyle has had a lasting negative impact on her, showing the “normal” people in society that mental institutions should not be used to change who a person is.

Societal Cruelty: From Jim Crow Laws to Present Times

Forcing deviant individuals into mental hospitals can do more harm than good. This is similar to how the white community thought enforcing Jim Crow Laws would be beneficial when, in reality, the laws led our society to corruption. When violence heightened in the late 1950s, Rosa Parks “knew that harassment and economic intimidation were not the outer limits of white terror” (McGuire 146). During this time period, white people would go to any measure in order to prove their supremacy over African Americans. Since many acts committed by whites against African Americans were incredibly violent, Jim Crow Laws were put into effect. This made these heinous actions seem more acceptable for white people to display their dominance over the black community. This is comparable to The Last Time I Wore a Dress because the “normal” people in society consider themselves superior to those individuals who act differently. In reality, everyone commits to some form of deviance in one way or another. Failure to accept others’ differences based on society’s view of “normal” can damage individuals even further.

Personal Reflections on Mental Health and Society

It is difficult to live within a culture that relies so much on conformity due to the fact that even a hint of deviance can be feared by the rest of society. It is nearly impossible to be yourself without receiving some form of negative criticism. Being in a mental institution places a label on an individual, and that label can haunt them for the rest of their lives. In The Last Time, I Wore a Dress, Daphne goes through a traumatic experience when society places her in a mental institution. Gender Identity Disorder is not a mental illness but a way for Daphne to define who she is to the rest of society. An academic article analyzed by a group of researchers called “off our backs” states what bothered Daphne the most as it states, ‘Scholinski sums up her experience by writing, ‘I still wonder why I wasn’t treated for my depression, why no one noticed I’d been sexually abused” (2003). She goes on to describe how it felt to believe that all they cared about was whether she acted as a ‘lady.’ The Last Time I Wore a Dress is used as a tool to prove to readers that throughout her experience with society’s fear of deviance, Daphne was able to discover just how cruel society could be. This proves that society has a cruel way of dealing with deviant behavior, which is shown through Daphne’s experience in the mental institution setting. Even though her experience dragged her down and brought her a lifetime of traumatization, it also built her up by showing her that her gender identity was not a mental illness but a defining part of who she was.

Concluding Remarks: The Pressing Need for Change

The time period that Daphne lived in was completely different from now, but mental health is still being looked at the same way, and growing up, I sort of had a distorted view of mental health because of the way my father raised me. My mother always complained about my sister suffering from mental health, but I couldn’t fathom mental health as a real thing until I got to high school and saw friends suffer from depression and anxiety to the point that they didn’t want to continue living, even though they had such bright futures in store. Mental health is completely overlooked and treated like a disease or something so repulsive that you shouldn’t talk about it with anyone. It? was especially tough for men to talk about because men are supposed to be leaders and strong and independent and have everything together, but thousands of men and women are crippled by anxiety, depression, and other leading mental illnesses. The article ¨Under Addressed and Overlooked: The mental health issue¨ showed a really astounding fact, stating ¨40 million adults and over 17 million children cope with mental illness on a daily basis(Under Addressed and Overlooked: the mental health Issue, Eric Allen Conner)¨. People need to start treating mental illness as if it were an actual medical injury. There is physical and mental illness, and in some cases, mental illness can be way more serious but invisible to the human eye at first glance, and that’s why it needs to be taken more seriously.

Overall mental, we can see how Mental health needs to be taken more seriously. We need to stop denying that it is becoming a problem and accept that it is. We need to get the people who are suffering the help they need, and maybe even horrible crimes throughout this nation can be prevented. One in four Americans suffer from mental illness, and it is the leading cause of dilapidated health on a global scale(McGreal, Scott A. Troubled Souls: Spirituality as a Mental Health Hazard.) More awareness needs to be shown.

Works Cited

  1. Scholinski, Daphne. “The Last Time I Wore a Dress.” Riverhead Books, 1998.
  2. McGuire, Danielle L. “At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power.” Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.
  3. Connolly, Peter. “A Certain Kind of Wisdom: The Role of Philosophy in the ‘Treatment’ of Mental Illness.” Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, vol. 11 no. 3, 2004, p. 219-232.
  4. Foucault, Michel. “Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason.” Vintage, 1988.
  5. Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). “Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 62(6), 617–627.
  6. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review,
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Taking Mental Health Seriously: Unveiling Society's Cruelty. (2023, Jun 15). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/taking-mental-health-seriously-unveiling-societys-cruelty/