The questions of what defines mental illness and what language should be used to define it are the subject of much debate in the mental health professions. Within this debate lies the question of how the diagnosis of mental illness relates to gender, and more specifically why it is that women are frequently assumed to be more prone to mental disorder than men.
In Men, Women and Madness, Joan Busfield examines the complex gendered landscape of mental disorder, explaining how the very idea of mental disorder has been used to set the boundaries of rationality and reason within society, and that societally- held notions about gender have very much permeated its category constructions. Central to Busfield's argument are two claims: that mental disorder--a category whose boundaries are contested--is best understood as a territory that marks disturbances of reason and rationality; and that gender (along with other social characteristics) permeates categories of mental disorder.
Busfield argues that there is no evidence either of a greater biological vulnerability of women than men to mental disorder, or that women have had to cope with more stressful events in their lives than men. Instead, Busfield suggests that cultural factors, in particular power, are the locus of the differences in mental disorder between men and women.