Imagine living in a society where women are treated unequally and had a label because of their gender. According to Tavaana.
org, women were legally subject to their husbands via “head and master laws,” and they had no legal right to any of their husband’s earnings or property. Women were also limited to jobs as a teacher, nurse, or secretary while other professional jobs were reserved for men. Even if women had jobs, they were often paid lower than men. If a woman were to express her thoughts, she would be labeled as “mad” and her thoughts would be disregarded.
Charlotte Perkins-Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Frida Kahlo’s artwork, and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted, all had characters that experienced this unethical phenomenon. Gilman, Kahlo, and Kaysen reveal that women were treated unequally and had the label of madness because they had limited freedom and were nonconformists. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilman shows how the wife has no sense of freedom because she is restricted by her husband/society. John, the husband, asserts his dominance towards the narrator by showing that he is a doctor. John says, “I am a doctor, dear, and I know. You are gaining flesh and color, your appetite is better, I feel really much easier about you” (652). Gilman uses the word “doctor” to indicate that John is belittling the narrator in the relationship.
Since John is a doctor, he must be right and the narrator must be wrong because doctors are highly educated while the narrator is not educated due to society’s restriction on women’s education. This shows that the narrator has no control of her life and feels trapped because others make decisions for her. However, John is not the narrator so he should not be able to dictate how she should feel. This shows that the narrator has lost her freedom because John only cares about his own feelings and not hers.
The narrator’s freedom is also restrained because of her confinement in the house. The narrator writes, “He said that after the wall-paper was changed it would be the heavy bedstead, and then the barred windows, and then that gate at the head of the stairs, and so on” (649). The narrator’s description of the room with the words -heavy bedstead, barred windows, and the gate – show the imprisonment of her life because those words symbolize the environment of a prison. Barred windows, heavy bedstead, and gates are usually placed in prisons so that inmates can’t escape. Denotatively, we can see that the narrator is restricted to her room by these objects. Connotatively, we can see that the narrator is restricted from society as a whole. As a result of this confinement, the narrator begins writing so that she could express her true feelings/thoughts.
Furthermore, the narrator is being judged in society for expressing her thoughts. In “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Gilman shows how the wife is labeled as mad because she attempts to contradict the status quo of obeying authoritative figures in society. In her journal, the narrator disagrees with the prescribed treatment to her illness. The narrator writes, “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?” (648). The narrator speaks of “But what is one to do,” indicating that the narrator is hopeless in this society, which is symbolized by her husband, because the husband tries to control her life. The narrator is prescribed the rest cure by both, her husband and brother who are physicians, but she believes it’s causing more harm to her than help, which is ironic because physicians are supposed to cure the patient instead of harming them. In this case, she thinks that writing in her diary will cure her illness because it allows her to express herself and it will lead her to a faster recovery.
This shows the narrator’s attempt to contradict the status quo because normally, a patient would listen to the physician’s advice because physicians have the expertise to prescribe the correct treatment to an illness. This also shows the narrator’s label of mad because she is standing up to her husband by expressing her own thoughts and disobeying him, which at the time was unacceptable in society’s eyes. According to Biography.com, the author, Gilman, suffered from depression after giving birth to her daughter in 1886. She was prescribed a rest cure treatment which made her have a nervous breakdown. She ignored the “cure’ and her condition gradually improved. In addition, Kaysen also experiences a sense of captivity in her life.In Girl, Interrupted, Kaysen discusses how women had no freedom because they received unequal treatment in society.
Back in the day, women were often unemployed and males were dominant figures in society. Business owners were often males while women were responsible for domestic duties. If a women were to be in the work force, they would be treated harshly and underpaid. In Kaysen’s journal, she faces sexism in the work force.
She writes, “Typists are not permitted to smoke” (131). Kaysen uses the word “typists” to refer to all the women working at the Harvard billing office. This shows a lack of freedom experienced by women because all supervisors were men and they were allowed to smoke while typists, who were all women, were not able to.
Smoking served as a way for Kaysen to focus on the job so that she can avoid making mistakes yet she is denied the opportunity to smoke which shows sexism since women were always denied opportunities in life while men had more access to them. Kaysen is also expected to follow a strict dress code at the Harvard billing office. Kaysen writes, “This put me in a pickle, as I had only miniskirts, and I had as yet no paycheck” (132). In this case, the supervisor is unfair towards Kaysen because he tells her that she can’t wear miniskirts which showed sexist acts since women had to follow a stricter dress code than men. Not only do women face sexist acts in the work force but women were often underpaid which is apparent in this quote because she only had “miniskirts” and did not have a paycheck, showing that miniskirts were probably all that women could afford at the time. This drives Kaysen insane and makes her ponder about her decisions to become a writer so that she could express her thoughts.
According to TheAnarchistLibrary.org, women’s oppression lies in the division of society into classes and since they were given the worst work, with no job security, the bosses created super-cheap workforce which they could hire or fire anytime. Women were paid low wages because men were considered the “bread makers” in the family. This explains the sexist acts in the Harvard billing office because it shows that women were made to be used and abused.
In Kaysen’s journal, she expresses how her stay at McLean’s hospital took away her freedom because she had no privacy. Kaysen writes, “Click, swish, Checks, swish, click” (55). Kaysen uses the words “click” and “checks” to signify how the nurses would check up on patients every five, ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes. The lullabies of these clicks and checks also symbolized that these women are practically living in a confined jail because it shows how they had no time to savor their lives since they were always on constant checkups.
Moreover, Kaysen also reveals that women had a label of mad. In Girl, Interrupted, Kaysen describes how she is labeled as mad because she does not conform to societal norms. In a conversation with her parents, she refuses to pursue higher education which gives her a label as mad since women should pursue higher education so that they can support themselves financially. Kaysen writes, “And the college business: My parents wanted me to go, and I didn’t go” (157). Kaysen is contradicting the status quo and she is talking about how she didn’t go to college because she already has what she wanted.
She was the first person in school to not go to college which is an astonishing fact, showing that she is a nonconformist. According to eNotes.com, Kaysen grew up in a privileged and academic environment but that did not bring her happiness. She worked many jobs and never finished college. Eventually, she became an editor and writer which made her more happy. In a discussion with a social worker, she finds out that the social worker does not support her decision to become a writer. The social worker says, “That’s a nice hobby, but how are you going to earn a living?” (133).
This further supports that Kaysen is deviant from social norms because even though she acknowledges that being a writer is an unstable career, she still continues to pursue it. The social worker insisted that Kaysen should become a dental hygienist because it is “clean work” but does not understand Kaysen’s passion for writing. Kaysen sees success in a different perspective compared to society which gives her this label as mad. Similarly, Kahlo also feels that women experienced unequal treatment in society. In Kahlo’s artwork, “The Wounded Deer”, Kahlo implies that women have no freedom since they cannot control the fate of their lives. In the painting, Kahlo’s head is on the deer and the deer’s body is stabbed with a bunch of arrows. The arrows symbolize society’s confinement towards women because the arrows are trying to bring the deer down instead of allowing the deer to freely move on with it’s life.
This painting also shows that Kahlo is conveying her incapability to control her future and she is sad that she cannot change her life. According to FridaKahlo.org, Kahlo had surgery on her spine in 1946. She wanted the operation to free her from the pain she felt but it failed.
This disappointment made her suffer with depression, showing that in life, you cannot always get what you want, thus resembling the limited freedom of women. Lastly, Kahlo reveals that women/artists were often labeled as mad for expressing their true feelings. In Kahlo’s artwork, “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale”, Kahlo is labeled as mad for painting an artwork that was not expected by Clare Boothe Luce. According to FridaKahlo.org, Dorothy Hale was an American actress and Ziegfeld showgirl who committed suicide because of her financial troubles. She committed suicide by jumping from the top of an apartment suite in New York. This prompted Dorothy’s close friend, Clare Boothe Luce, to reach out to Kahlo so that she could paint a portrait of Dorothy. Clare assumed that Kahlo was going to paint a normal portrait but instead receives a detailed portrait of Dorothy committing suicide.
This almost prompts Clare to destroy the painting but Clare is convinced by others to keep this painting. This shows that artists were labeled as mad because they truly express themselves by painting out their thoughts while others try to censor it. According to FridaKahlo.org, during the time of this painting, Kahlo suffered depression and had suicidal thoughts because of the separation with Diego, her husband. This painting is a reflection of Kahlo’s feelings towards women who separated from their loved one. Ultimately, Charlotte Perkins-Gilman, Frida Kahlo, and Susanna Kaysen all reveal that women were treated unequally due to the lack of freedom they have and they were labeled as mad because they deviate from societal norms. Gilman’s, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, showed that the narrator had no freedom because she had no say in her own well-being and she was labeled as mad for not listening to her husband. Kahlo’s artwork “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” was condemned as a label of mad for portraying the true details of the suicide while her other artwork, “The Wounded Deer”, depicted a deer with many arrows stabbed in it to show that women have no freedom since they are not allowed to control the future of their lives.
Lastly, Girl, Interrupted, by Susanna Kaysen shows that women no freedom since they have rules they must comply to in the working environment and artists have the label of madness because they don’t conform to society. Overall, I believe that women should be treated with utmost respect in today’s society since women were treated unequally in the past and suffered hardships because of the labels they had. Without women, we would not be given the life that we have today.