Call Me Crazy
A Note on the Medium
I originally chose to do a podcast because I love listening to podcasts myself, but I quickly realized that the medium would allow me to interact with the ideas I discussed in ways I would not have been able to in a paper. For example, the podcast form allowed me to directly discuss clips from songs and television shows, which I think was important to understanding the point I was making about the word “crazy.” This medium also allowed me to take a step back and explore the history of gender and mental illness in ways that would not be proper in a traditional philosophy paper. I was not stuck to a traditional argument form either, so, instead of starting with a thesis in the beginning, I was able to build up to my main argument in the last section about sexism and oppression. Working on this podcast also made me realize how difficult it is making everything come together and stay engaging over such a long period of time. I want to give major props to my favorite podcast hosts — their job is quite difficult.
All music comes from Soundzabound (copyright-free music):
• Intro: Moonlight Sonata
• During explanation of etymology: Quartet for Strings and Clarinet, Mozart
• Outro: Air on the G String, Bach
“Call Me Crazy” Script
[Moonlight Sonata plays in the background]
Crazy. It’s a simple word — just two syllables. But it can mean so many different things. In modern terms, something can be “crazy good,” meaning “incredibly good.” It can also maintain its original definition of insanity. But, when you take gender into account and look at how women are deemed “crazy”, you see that “crazy” takes on even more meanings, meanings that can lead to harmful effects and are rooted in a long history linking women and mental illness. So, with that cheery introduction, welcome to “Call Me Crazy,” a one-time only, limited edition podcast, where I, Anna Miller, your host, will take a deep dive into the term “crazy,” how it’s gendered, and how gender interacts with mental illness. To give you a taste of what is to come, “Call Me Crazy” is divided into two main sections. In the first section, I will explore how the term “crazy” is used in the popular lexicon, particularly in how it’s used to refer to women. Then, I will look at examples of “crazy” usage in popular culture and media and analyze those examples in terms of feminist theory. In my second section, I will first give a brief history of women and mental illness, look at how gender factors into mental illness, and then analyze how both the use of “crazy” to refer to women and how gender factors into mental illness contributes to sexism and the oppression of women. Now that you’re in the know, let’s get started, shall we?
[Moonlight sonata fades out]
“Crazy,” in the popular lexicon, as I mentioned before, is so ubiquitous and is used in so many different ways. Today, I am going to split its different meanings into three main categories. The first category is the only one where gender isn’t as much of a factor. These are the quote-unquote “normal” meanings, like that was a “crazy” weekend. “Crazy” can also maintain its dictionary definition, referring to mentally ill people, meaning insane. The second two categories are where gender comes into play. The second category is what I call the “dismissal faction.” Falling under this faction are calling women who are angry “crazy bitches” and calling women who express emotion “crazy.” There is also the “crazy ex-girlfriend” trope, used, often by men, to completely dismiss the woman they used to date. The third category is perhaps the most interesting, and I wasn’t even consciously aware of it before researching for this podcast. This is the faction of meanings related to a woman’s sexuality. From a very young age, young girls are called “boy crazy.” I, for one, was definitely called “boy crazy” as a pre-teen/teen. Clark Kent from Smallville…those were the days. Anyway, adult women who want to have sex and lots of it are deemed “crazy.” Just think about Isla Fischer’s character in The Wedding Crashers; she was “crazy” because she wanted to have sex all the time (Conger and Ervin). The last example from this faction is how old, single women are called “crazy old ladies” or “crazy bag ladies,” or, if they have cats, “crazy cat ladies.”
I think it’s important to analyze all of these different usages of “crazy” in popular culture and media because they reflect how we as a society view the term “crazy” and how it relates to women. In terms of what I called “the dismissal faction,” (you know, “crazy bitch”), I ran a google Ngram search with the terms “crazy women” and “crazy woman.” I want to give a quick shout out to the awesome, and now deceased, Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast and their episode “Crazy Women” for the idea to do this (Conger and Ervin)! Anyway, for those of you who do not know what a Ngram search is, basically what it does is analyze the usage of the term you are looking for in all of the books and articles google has (which is a lot) since the year 1800. So, when I searched these terms, something interesting happened. The terms went in and out of favor until the early 1960s, when, all of the sudden, their usage skyrocketed. And we all know what was happening then — the start of the second wave feminism movement. This is just a correlation, I know, but I think it’s interesting to think about how just as white women were starting to fight for their rights, the use of “crazy” to refer to women spiked, likely to dismiss these new “non-feminine” behaviors. Another example of the dismissal faction is the new television show “crazy ex-girlfriend.” [Play crazy-girlfriend Season 1 theme music].
“[Backup singers]: She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend!
[Rebecca, speaking]: What? No, I’m not.
[Backup singers]: She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend!
[Rebecca, speaking]; That’s a sexist term!
[Backup singers]: She’s the crazy ex-girlfriend!
[Rebecca, speaking]: Can you guys just stop singing for a second?
[Backup singers]: She’s so broken inside!” (Bloom).
Crazy Ex-girlfriend an excellent, critically-acclaimed show that really tries to subvert the trope, but it’s telling how much of part of our societal consciousness the term “crazy ex-girlfriend” is that there is even a show made about it. A television show called “Crazy Ex-Boyfriend” would never happen — it sounds wrong saying those words together, somehow.
As for the “women and sexuality” faction of crazy usage, I had no shortage of examples to choose from. The first comes from a lovely song that I used to sing along to on the radio when I was a freshman in high school, called “Crazy Bitch” by Buckcherry. [Play clip from chorus of “Crazy Bitch”].
You’re a crazy bitch
But you fuck so good, I’m on top of it
When I dream, I’m doing you all night
Scratches all down my back to keep me right on” (Buckcherry).
This song has an element of the dismissal faction, obviously (see “crazy bitch”), but the lyrics imply that there is something enticing about “crazy women,” i.e. they are good in bed. Along the same lines is this clip from the hit television show How I Met Your Mother, in which a character named Barney explains his “hot-crazy diagonal”:
“Let me illustrate: a girl is allowed to be crazy, as long as she is equally hot. Thus, if she is this crazy, she has to be this hot. If she’s this crazy, she has to be this hot. You want the girl to be above this line, also known as the Vicki Mendoza diagonal, this girl I dated. She played jump rope with that line. She’d shave her head, then lose 10 pounds. She’d stab me with a fork, then get a boob job. I should give her a call” (“How I Met Everyone Else”).
As you can see, err hear, from this clip, Vicki Mendoza, a “crazy woman,” is enticing to Barney. We’ll talk about why this is when we look at feminist theory in a little bit. Relating to this clip is an even more disgusting viral YouTube video by a man named Dana Mclendon. The video features a man espousing his own crazy-hot matrix. He says that no woman is below a 4-crazy and that any woman who is less than a 5-hot is a “no-go.” There is then the “fun zone” (5–7 hot, below 8-crazy), the “dating zone” (above 7-hot, 6–8 crazy), and “the wife zone” (above 7-hot, 5–6-crazy). Mclendon then says that women at above 8-hot and below 5-crazy are “unicorns,” because they do not exist. All women are crazy, we know that. Anyway, he ends with saying that if you meet a woman above an 8-hot and below 4-crazy, she’s a “tranny” (“you’re talking to a man,” he says) (“Hot Crazy Matrix: A Man’s Guide to Women”). This is not a random fluke; this man was brought on to Fox and Friends to talk about his “brilliant” matrix. As this example and the How I Met Your Mother clip show, “crazy” is intimately wrapped up in what men want from women sexually; it’s also related to Claudia Card’s “patriarchy as protection racket” metaphor, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. But before I talk about feminist theory, which I know is what you’ve all been waiting for, I want to discuss this New York Times article called “Men Are Crazy For Women Who Are, Too” by Rick Marin. This article tries to answer the million dollar question: “why do men love crazy women?” Marin’s answer: it’s the intrigue and the mysteriousness. But, and here’s the catch, men only want “crazy” women for sex. A man is quoted in the article saying, “I’ve always been attracted to crazy women, but I didn’t marry one” (Marin).
This is example a perfect transition to an analysis of these examples via feminist theories! Marriage to a man, as many of you know, is the ultimate goal for a woman under patriarchy. And, as demonstrated by this quote from the New York Times article, women called “crazy,” especially when it’s because of sexually promiscuity, are in danger of not being marriageable. This directly relates to Claudia Card’s theory that patriarchy functions as a “protection racket.” Card says,
“A protection racket creates and maintains danger in order to sell protection against it. The dangers patriarchy creates and maintains for uncooperative females are the danger of becoming public property (whores — the danger of rape) and the danger of becoming invisible, socially dead (lesbians — the danger of being monstrous), with, as Cheshire Calhoun aptly puts it, no legitimate access to public or private space” (Card 208).
Now, there’s a lot going on here, but first I’ll focus on the danger aspect of the protection racket. First of all, women who like sex (faction 3 of “crazy” usage) are in danger of being sexually objectified, as they are “mysterious.” Calling a woman “crazy” reduces them to being just crazy. They no longer have to be considered a full person, and thus face the danger of the “whore” in this passage: sexual assault. Just think of the How I Met Your Mother example and the “Crazy Bitch” song; those men are only thinking of the women they speak of as sexual objects. In order to be safe, the “crazy” women must buy into the protection racket and act as patriarchy expects: docile and not liking sex too much. But women face another danger if they do not like sex enough or do not want to do it with men (i.e. the outlaw, per Card). These women will not be marriageable either and are also in danger of sexual assault if men decide they wish to punish them for their aberrant femininity. In “crazy” terms, these are the “crazy cat ladies” of the world or those women under 4-crazy in the YouTube video I described earlier. Another important aspect of this passage from Card is that women are denied access to “public or private spaces.” Calling women “crazy” denies them access to these spaces because it makes them feel that they do not belong. The term “crazy” under patriarchy functions as a dismissal tactic and tries to show women that they are simply “crazy” for wanting to access spaces that do not align with patriarchal expectations. Just think about the Ngram search again — “crazy women” was used more and more as more and more women tried to enter spaces that weren’t previously theirs.
Another important way to think about the phenomenon of calling women “crazy” comes from Sandra Bartky’s essay “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power.” In this essay, Bartky argues that there are disciplinary practices of femininity and that women are policed by patriarchy if they do not comply with these practices. I would argue that calling women “crazy” is yet another way such practices of femininity are enforced. As I just described, “crazy” women face danger, so in order to stay “safe” in the patriarchy’s terms, a woman must comply to certain standards if they do not want to be called crazy. Another important aspect of Bartky’s theory is that there exists the false impression that “the production of femininity is either entirely voluntary or natural” (Bartky 37). People think femininity is voluntary and natural because its practices, first of all, become unconscious after years of subliminal cultural messaging, and secondly, because there are such strict cultural consequences if woman disobey that hardly anyone does disobey, making such practices of femininity seem even more natural. For example, if a woman is taught to shave her armpits from a young age, she will come to think it a “natural” part of being a woman. And she knows that people will judge her if she doesn’t, so she shaves her armpits even if she leads an incredibly busy life and doesn’t really have time. Therefore, under Bartky’s theory, women become their own disciplinarians (Bartky 36). An example of this from my life is how I was talking to my friend about this project and then we changed the subject to a guy she liked. In the midst of that conversation, she caught herself calling herself “crazy” because of something she did, and we both had a good laugh over the irony of it. Anyway, the important thing is that women internalize being called “crazy,” which connects to another important aspect of Bartky’s argument: patriarchy shapes our very subjectivities (Bartky 39). It shapes how we think, how we interact with the world, how we interact with our bodies. This idea will be very important later on when I discuss sexism and oppression.
Now that we’ve discussed the term “crazy” and analyzed it via feminist theory, we’re on to the second part of the podcast where we will talk about how gender factors into mental illness and how all of this is part of sexism and oppression. First, let’s take a trip to the past to see why “crazy” and womanhood are so intimately connected. [Cue Quartet for Strings and Clarinet]. First, let’s look at the etymology of “crazy” and some words related to it. The term “crazy” originated in the 1570s and originally meant “diseased and sickly.” Only later did it become more of slur referring to those who suffered from mental health issues (“Crazy (adj.)”). The next two terms — lunacy and hysteria — are especially intriguing. Lunacy was “originally in reference to intermittent periods of insanity, such as were believed to be triggered by the moon’s cycle,” a.k.a the menstrual cycle (“Lunacy (n.)”). Hysteria comes from the Latin word “hystericus,” meaning “of the womb” (“Hysteria (n.)”). The Greeks used to the think that women had wombs that would wander around their bodies and drive them to madness if not impregnated. Hysteria became known as an illness that mostly women got, especially around the nineteenth century. It was characterized by fainting, insomnia, sexual desire, and general emotional distress (Tasca 113). It was a way of pathologizing female sexuality, so much so that the common cure for hysteria was physicians helping their female patients achieve orgasm (Maines 4). Not only was it a way to police sexuality, hysteria was also a way to police aberrant female behavior, like being angry or out-spoken, which is similar to how the word “crazy” functions today. Though the illness “hysteria” was purged from the DSM in the mid-20th century, the ideas connecting female sexuality, behavior, and insanity are obviously still alive today. [Quartet for Strings and Clarinet fades out].
Now, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in Europe, women were also placed in insane asylums in rates that outnumbered men by a lot (Showalter 6). Explanatory comma here — I am discussing the European history of women and mental illness specifically because the practices I describe here are where a lot of United States psychiatric treatments comes from, which is the area from which I am talking about “crazy.” Anyway, sometimes women were placed in asylums or locked away (think “The Yellow Wallpaper”) simply due to their husbands or fathers not liking their behavior. All of this led scholar Elaine Showalter to call madness “the female malady” (Showalter). I would argue that relationship between women and mental illness as described here and up through at least the turn of the last century reflects three of Iris Young’s five faces of oppression: marginalization because women were locked away, powerlessness because they had no hope of escaping such asylums, and violence because of the sheer horror of the conditions they faced in these asylums (98, 99, 101). These injustices led feminist scholars beginning in the 1980s to see the madwoman as a feminist hero, one who is not really mentally ill but simply breaking away from societal norms. This criticism all began with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s breakaway hit The Madwoman in the Attic, a book that analyzed the mad woman in the attic of Jane Eyre, Bertha, as a progressive feminist heroine. However, I do not agree with their analysis at all because mental illness is a real and debilitating phenomenon. Though women did face unjust imprisonment in asylums in the nineteenth century, this does not mean that mental illness isn’t real or that none of the women at that time were mentally ill. This is actually why I am making this section about gender and mental illness such a big aspect of my podcast — I could honestly talk for hours just about the word crazy. But I also think it’s important to talk about gender and mental illness because calling women “crazy” and the patriarchal pressures women face can contribute to mental illness, which I’ll discuss further in a little bit. But first: how does gender really factor into mental illness today?
According to the World Health Organization, “Overall rates of psychiatric disorders are almost identical for men and women, but striking gender differences are found in the patterns of mental illness” (“Gender and Women’s Mental Health”). Unipolar depression is twice as commonly diagnosed is women and other anxiety disorders are more common in women than men. Women are also far more likely to be prescribed mood-altering pills than men (“Gender and Women’s Mental Health”). Additionally, women face mental health issues that are a direct effect of patriarchy, such as eating disorders, which is an extreme consequence of pressures espoused on women to have certain types of bodies. Women also face mental health issues such as PTSD and depression as a result of sexual assault, which is only multiplied by how they feel they cannot be report, which is due to, you guessed it: patriarchy! To bring “crazy” back into this, calling women “crazy” can be a form of gas-lighting and can be perhaps only increase their risk for mental health issues. For those of you who don’t know, “gas-lighting” comes from a 1944 film called “Gaslight” in a which a man alters the gaslights in his house and whenever his wife asks him about it, he says that there’s nothing wrong or different. Eventually this drives her insane (Conger and Ervin). Calling women crazy can be a form of gas-lighting because it can make them start to believe that their feelings and/or actions are not real or genuine, which can lead to a disconnect of the self that can potentially contribute to mental illness. We’ll discuss this in a little while in terms of Bartky’s theory of psychological oppression. But first, let’s return to some “madwoman in the attic”-type criticism that occurs today. Some feminist scholars still think that “psychiatry acts as a method of socially controlling women and medicalizes the happiness of their everyday lives” (Wright and Owen 149). To reiterate: We. Are. Not. Taking. This. Approach. It would seem like the logical step from how I discussed the word “crazy” as a disciplinary tactic of patriarchy, but mental illness does not function in the same way. But that does not mean that calling women crazy and the gendered nature of mental illness isn’t sexist and oppressive. It is. And here’s why.
First, let’s talk how everything we’ve discussed so far contributes to sexism. So, because we’re approaching this from a philosophical standpoint, let’s start with the definition of sexism. Though Ann Cudd and Leslie Jones don’t say they give a definition of sexism necessarily, the characterization they give in their article entitled “sexism” shows the difference between sexism and oppression. They say that sexism comes into play through systematic structures, often unseen by its beneficiaries. It is
“A pervasive, but often subtle, force that maintains the oppression of women, and that is at work through institutional structures, in interpersonal interactions and the attitudes that are expressed in them, and in the cognitive, linguistic, and emotional processes of individual minds” (Cudd and Jones 76).
Key words to focus on here are “linguistic,” “subtle,” and “institutional.” We spent the first part of this podcast talking about the word “crazy” and how it linguistically functions to maintain the oppression of women by policing behavior and enforcing the ways women supposedly ought to act. “Crazy” also functions as a way to dismiss women and write them off as “whores” or “outlaws,” per Card’s protection racket, which increases their risk for sexual assault. Calling women “crazy” is also a way of policing female sexuality, which I would argue is pervasive and harmful. We would never call men crazy for liking sex. Now, in terms of the gendered nature of mental illness, it’s less obvious as to why it’s sexist, but I think that will become more clear when I discuss that in terms of psychological oppression in a little while. Cudd and Jones also say, as I mentioned, that sexism maintains oppression. “Crazy,” then, is a sexist term because it enforces patriarchal structures that oppress women, which again, I’ll discuss in a minute.
So now, oppression! The section you all have really been waiting for. We’re going to approach this through two different kinds/definitions of oppression. The first is the definition we discussed in class, which is “oppression refers to harms done to a social group caused by systematic restrictions on freedom that benefit another group” (Frye). Let’s dissect this, shall we? So, “harm”…I would say it is a harm to call a woman “crazy” because it diminishes her freedom in that she’s not allowed to do the types of actions that would get her to be called “crazy.” It’s also a harm because of its effects on mental illness, but I’ll get to that in a second (trust me!). Calling women crazy also benefits another social group (i.e. men) because it allows them to sexually objectify women and dismiss actions that don’t agree with their ideal of what a woman should be. But, like I’ve said several times, calling women “crazy”/the gendered nature of mental illness can be explained in really interesting ways through Sandra Bartky’s idea of “psychological oppression.” To be psychologically oppressed, she says, “is to be weighed down in your mind; it is to have a harsh dominion exercised over your self-esteem” (Bartky 25). She says that this is because women and other oppressed groups are told outright that they are equal with privileged groups, but also face more subtle/subconscious messages that they are inferior (like how women are “crazy”). This, Bartky argues, contributes to a mystification/alienation from self and personhood because they face completely contradictory ideas as to whether you are a person; this creates, she says, the “truncated self” (32). I think this idea really ties together what we’ve been talking about with the use of “crazy” to refer to women and also explains some of the gendered nature of mental illness. So, the way I see it is that all of these functions of patriarchy (calling women “crazy” as part of the protection racket and disciplinary femininity, sexual assault and victim-blaming, formed subjectivities) lead to this truncated self/mystification from self that Bartky describes here. This, in turn, can contribute to mental illness, though there are so many other factors at play too. Functions of the patriarchy, like sexual assault, can have more direct effects on women’s mental health. But I think it all comes from the same oppressive, patriarchal system that teaches women the contradictory lesson that they both are and aren’t persons (de Beauvoir). News flash patriarchy: we are persons. And we will keep fighting until you consider as full-functioning people.
[Air on the G String fades in]. I think that’s an excellent note to end on — we just saw how just the word “crazy” is part of a much larger system that contributes to the oppression of women. It’s a little complicated, I know, but that’s the nature of these issues. Anyway, if you got anything from this podcast, anything at all, I hope you think twice about calling someone, particularly someone who identifies as a woman, “crazy.” Words have power and to diminish someone to “crazy” is to Other them, to take away their personhood. There are also millions of people across the world suffering from debilitating forms of mental illness. A woman who wants sex is not “crazy”; to say so is to diminish others’ very real experiences with mental illness.
Okay, I’ll take a couple steps off my pedestal to close the show. I want to thank you so much, dear listeners, for listening to “Call Me Crazy” and for taking this journey with me into the complex world of gender, pop culture, linguistics, and mental illness. [Air on the G String Ends].
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