Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Women’s Studies

Major Professor

Carolyn DiPalma

Co-Major Professor

Carolyn Eichner

Committee Member

Cheryl Hall


Feminism, France, Nineteenth Century, Panic Disorder


My thesis explores how discourse and material practices have created agoraphobia, the fear of public places. This psychological disorder predominates among women. Throughout much of Western history, women have been encouraged to stay home for their safety and for the safety of society. I argue that agoraphobic women have internalized this discourse, expressing fears of being in public or being alone without a companion to support and protect them; losing control over their minds or their bodies; and endangering or humiliating themselves. Therapeutic discourse also has created agoraphobia by naming it, categorizing the emotions and behaviors associated with it, and describing the characteristics of agoraphobics. The material practice of therapy reinforces this discourse. Meanwhile, practices such as rape and harassment reinforce the dominant discourse on women’s safety.

I survey psychological literature, beginning with the naming of agoraphobia in 1871, to explain why the disorder is now diagnosed primarily in women. I examine nineteenth-century discourse that told women they belonged at home while men controlled the public domain. In 1871, the Paris Commune revolt epitomized the fear of women publicly out of control. I return to Paris a century later for a reading of the novel

Certificate of Absence, in which Sylvia Molloy explores identity through the eyes of a woman who might be labeled agoraphobic. I ask whether homebound women are resisting or retreating from a hostile world. Instead of seeing agoraphobia only as a personal problem, people should question why so many women fear themselves and the world outside their home.

My methodology includes an analysis of nineteenth-century texts as well as current media, prose, and poetry. I also support my arguments with material from professional journals and nonfiction books in different disciplines. Common to feminist research, an interdisciplinary approach was needed to situate a psychological disorder within a social context.