Sheets of newspaper cover a portion of the floor of our house in Manila, and on top of those thin pieces of paper sits a white candle, a box of matches, a metal spoon, and a metal basin filled with water. The doors are locked. We’re huddled around the basin, and the room plunges into silence. Rest assured, this is not some scene from a B-rated supernatural horror movie. This is just what happens whenever anyone in my family gets sick. We call an albularyo—Tagalog for witch doctor or folk healer—to come and conduct either tawas or hilot depending on the degree of illness. All my life, I’ve never really understood nor tried to understand why my mom rarely sends us for check-ups, opting instead for tawas, hilot, and the occasional pharmaceutical drugs we self-medicate ourselves with. That is, until I took an Introduction to Anthropology course, where I encountered the term “structural violence” and the whole world of medical anthropology.
I chose to go flat. But I almost wasn’t allowed to. This is largely due to the unacknowledged psychological tension that underlies deeply gendered illnesses: that it is possible to have one’s gender or sex taken away by disease or disability; literally eaten by cancer and its aftermath. The sick person is then framed as one who has been robbed of the “natural” trappings of motherhood, wife-dom, and feminine sexuality. The aesthetics of breast cancer therefore remained fixated on a loss of idealized womanhood.
When I asked my research participants what they felt had caused theirs or their patient’s schizophrenia, it was often put down to one thing or another, rather than one thing and another:
"It was because of this one bad acid tab”
“It was hereditary”
“It was the trauma”
... But when it came to the solution, it tended to be a multitude of things.
In this public lecture, Gabrielle Carey and Julia Brown hope to achieve at least two things. First, to humanise and reduce fear around the condition of schizophrenia (a heavily neglected social issue in Australia). Second, to show how two disciplines (literature and anthropology) can complement each other in the name of better communicating lived experiences of difficult subject matter.