Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Inequalities within the Health System

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman is known as an innovative socialist author of many different short stories, and poems in American Literature. Charlotte Perkins Gilman is mostly well-known for her semi-autobiographical short story of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. In this short story, Gilman spotlights a main character that has been recently diagnosed with a “nervous disorder”, that was often found prevalent in women during this time period.

When analyzing a short story it is important to understand the correct context the author was writing in. For instance what gave them inspiration? There are many similarities between the main character and Gilman, hence this short story being semi-autobiographical. Gilman, like the narrator has been diagnosed with a “nervous disorder” and are both given the rest cure as a treatment. In the story, the narrator’s doctor is also her husband John, and can be interrupted as a villain because of his oppresses ways. Gilman was able to find inspiration for her character John by using her own experiences with her neurologist S. Weir Mitchell. Because Mitchell was well-known for his specialization in women’s “nervous disorders”, Gilman found it important to show the wrongs of this treatment for women.

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The rest cure was a treatment designed to relive women from their troubled thoughts. Women were often told to only rest. They were permitted to write or read or even have visitors. They were told not to leave the bed and were often given bigger portions and a diet of only milk. As the narrator describes her experience with the rest cure, she slowly starts to go insane from the effects of isolation. She often describes the wallpaper in various stages of her cognitive disturbance:

“The color is repellant, almost revolting; a shouldering unclean yellow, strangely faded by the slow-turning sun” (266).

 

“I really have discovered something at last. Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out.

The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind and sometimes only one and she crawls around fast. And her crawling shakes it all over” (272).

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By using these examples in the story, we are able to understand that being in isolation is not an accurate wait to treat a nervous disorder. It will only induce more symptoms that pertain to a nervous disorder.  As quoted by Charlotte Perkins Gilman on the topic of rest cure and treating women:

“It is not that women are really smaller-minded, weaker-minded, more timid and vacillating, but that whosoever, man or woman, lives always in a small, dark place, is always guarded, protected, directed and restrained, will become inevitably narrowed and weakened by it.”

 

This quote helps us to understand the inequalities in the health field when treating women and how inaccurate the rest cure is at treating a nervous disorder. The rest cure was a way to make women feel inadequate from suffering from a very common and well-known disorder today called postpartum depression. This disorder is more common in women because the disorder often appears after a woman gives birth. This is what Gilman’s character had. Because this disorder was exclusive to women, male doctors saw this disorder as a way to repress women from daily activities and having power over their own health and body. Without realizing it doctors often made the women go crazy because of their treatments. Inequalities in the health system were evident because of the patriarchal hierarchy within the medical field.

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