Tuesday, September 8, 2009

One flew over the feminist's nest

Holy F. Could One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest be any more sexist? Why do I keep reading these creepy "classics"?? Okay, I get it - the book was published in 1962, and it was sooo groundbreaking in other ways (read all about it in this glowing Wikipedia review). But couldn't it just have pointed out societal problems without blaming them all on the female gender?

Well, I guess that's an overstatement - author Ken Kesey doesn't even give women that much credit. The tyrannical Nurse Ratched is simply a "high-ranking official," a wily instrument of the all-powerful Combine. What better way to keep troublemakers in check than to control them with the lesser sex, to emasculate them?

A discussion of the nurse's "therapeutic" technique on her mental patients:

Harding: "Miss Ratched may be a strict middle-aged lady, but she's not some kind of giant monster of the poultry clan, bent on sadistically pecking out our eyes. You can't believe that of her, can you?"

McMurphy: "No, buddy, not that. She ain't peckin' at your eyes. That's not what she's peckin' at."

In case you can't stretch to gather what the story's hero is getting at, Kesey elaborates via his narrator, Chief Bromden: "Harding flinches, and I see his hands begin to creep out from between his knees like white spiders from between two moss-covered tree limbs, up the limbs toward the joining of the trunk."

Still not sure what's being alluded to here? In his signature style, Kesey hits you over the head.

Harding: "Not our eyes? ... Pray, then, where is Miss Ratched pecking, my friend?"

McMurphy: "At your balls, buddy, at your everlovin' balls."

Later, Harding explaining a lobotomy: "Yes; chopping away the brain. Frontal-lobe castration. I guess if she can't cut below the belt she'll do it above the eyes."

Wikipedia claimed the novel "subtly" critiques the emasculation of men in society. I just edited that word out - and added a missing comma.

Blame for Billy Bibbit's stutter? His overbearing mother. His death? The evil nurse, of course.

Blame for the demise of Chief Bromden's father and tribe? His white mother, who gave his father her name, instead of the other way around - and a female government worker, who reminds Bromden of Nurse Ratched as he remembers her visit from his childhood.

Blame for McMurphy's troublesome sexual appetite (charged with, but never convicted of statutory rape...)? A nine-year-old girl who "drug" him to bed - his first "little whore."

Racism permeates the novel as well, but it's the characters who exhibit the characteristic, an unfortunate way of life. Sexism, on the other hand, spews out of the author - as a warranted, even admirable way to live.


CKHB said...

Jeez, talk about a show-don't-tell problem. YES. WE GET IT. HIS BALLS.

It's okay to like the movie, though, right? Right?

Amy said...

Hm, I don't know - still need to Netflix it - Nicholson will probably win me over.

Lazy Writer said...

I haven't read it. I don't think I will now. And I might be the only person in America who hasn't watched the movie.

Stephanie Faris said...

Sometimes it's hard to read books set in a different time...you realize how oppressed women really were back then. You wonder how people could think so poorly of a gender that made up so much of the population. But you also have to question the author's state of mind. Wonder what happened to give him such a hatred of women? It sounds like a little more than sexism, especially that rape thing. Sounds like some major underlying issues there...

Henry Keither said...

I'm not watching that shit. Fuck the movie and the book, and the fans that watch that shit

Anonymous said...

The book was set during the second wave of feminism. Women were trying to get the same jobs as men and be like men. They were trying to 'emasculate' them and take what made them a man (their power over women). If you notice the only women who are described kindly are the prostitutes who clearly don't have any ambition like getting a high ranking job or not depending on a man. It's pretty horrifying, luckily I read it with a female teacher who went on many rants about the sexism, so it was pretty interesting psychologically why he wrote what he wrote.

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