Author Archives: emimarr

Marriage, Analysis Four: Gender According to Kesey

While reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest I was struck by the novel’s overall messages about gender, and as I am a Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major I decided to conduct an analysis of the novel from a feminist perspective. In my research I found a number of sources to support my theory that the novel is very much a product of its time in its reinforcement of traditional gender roles.

The year 1962, in which the novel was released, was during the very beginnings of Second Wave feminism. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique – widely credited with sparking the movement – was yet to be published. As such, women at this time remained ‘limited in almost every respect’ (Tavaana). Those who did not conform to societal expectations faced consequences such as mockery and ostracisation. Ken Kesey may have been projecting his own traditional views of gender in his portrayal of Nurse Ratched. The Nurse subverts gender roles by being in a position of power, but this is represented in a negative light due to her abuse of authority. The implication is that women must not be granted influence within society. In the novel’s climactic scene, McMurphy tears open Nurse Ratched’s shirt, revealing her breasts and thereby undermining her authority. The Nurse is unable to maintain her control after it is ‘exposed’ that she is in fact a woman, which elucidates the sexism of the era.

If Nurse Ratched is the overbearing matriarchal authority, McMurphy is the embodiment of patriarchal values sent to restore the ‘natural order’ and thus hailed as a hero. The reader is encouraged to feel empathetic towards McMurphy, despite the fact that he is a rapist. McMurphy uses his brand of aggressive masculinity to influence the other men of the ward to rebel. They consistently refer to the Nurse’s apparently ‘masculine’ appearance and attitudes, calling her ‘a bitch and a buzzard and a ball-cutter’ (Kesey 54). Kesey depicts McMurphy’s hypermasculinity as a positive influence that enables the other characters to break free from Ratched’s rule and assert their dominance as men. Part of this revolt involves the objectification of women, illustrated when McMurphy hires prostitutes Candy and Sandy to entertain the men. These women are the embodiment of female subservience and ‘[dedication] to pleasuring men’ (CliffsNotes). The men’s interaction with the prostitutes enforces that sexual drive is a natural aspect of masculinity. McMurphy’s characterisation and his influence on the other patients promotes aggression as a desired and appropriate expression of masculinity.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest conveys popular ideas of the early 1960s era in regards to gender. Nurse Ratched is depicted negatively in her nonconforming appearance and personality, while McMurphy is a promoter of supposed ‘positive’ masculinity. McMurphy’s attempts to overthrow Nurse Ratched can be read as a message about the ‘rightful’ place of masculinity within society.

Citations

CliffsNotes 2016, Critical Essays: The Role of Women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Available from: https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/o/one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest/critical-essays/the-role-of-women-in-one-flew-over-the-cuckoos-nest. [29 October 2016].

Kesey, K 1962, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Viking Press, New York.

Tavaana 2016, The 1960s-70s American Feminist Movement: Breaking Down Barriers for Women. Available from: https://tavaana.org/en/content/1960s-70s-american-feminist-movement-breaking-down-barriers-women. [29 October 2016].

 

Marriage, Analysis Three

‘The criterion for classifying behaviour as normal or abnormal was the challenges it created to the individual child, not whether it strayed from an idealised template of psychological health’ – Steve Silberman

The methods used by Hans Asperger and others in studying ‘gifted, sensitive children’ (Silberman 2015) differed greatly from other approaches of the time; they catered to the childrens’ needs and sought to understand them, rather than force them to adhere to societal standards of education. The focus on individual children is something I feel may have been lost in today’s society, where institutions ‘cater to the neuro-‘typical’ or ‘normal’ majority’ (Monique 2015).

Although Michaels disparagingly described the Heilpadagogik Station’s methods as ‘more of an art than a science’ (Silberman 2015), it was because of this that they aided the childrens’ growth. The emphasis on a variety of learning activities from music to literature to athletics (Silberman 2015) demonstrated a willingness to help children learn. It was obvious to me during my mainstream public education that no such accommodations were made for those who were neurodiverse. Rigid teaching methods, standardised testing, and an insistence that work be done ‘the right way’ prevailed. Knowledge and levels of intelligence were deduced by pitting students against their peers. This style of education made little effort to adapt to those who learned in different ways.

It can be argued that neurodiverse people have no requirement for mainstream education as they can receive ‘special’ education. While I agree that special needs schools provide the resources to foster alternative learning, they also further the distinction between neurotypicality and neurodiversity. Many neurotypical individuals pass through their childhood and adolescence (and maybe even their adulthood) while only interacting with other neurotypicals. They are socialised to view those who are neurodiverse as ‘other’, and this leads to the creation of an environment where neurodiverse people are shunned and ‘pigeon-holed according to [their] labels’ (Monique 2015). They are viewed not for their individual talents, but for their failure to meet neurotypical norms. Asperger first described autism spectrum disorder as something that is ‘not at all rare’ (Silberman 2015), and his account has proved accurate with the increasing rate of autism diagnoses; a large proportion of the population is now considered ‘other’, which raises questions of what defines neurodiversity. If ever-increasing numbers of people are excluded from mainstream society due to this label, then perhaps there is an issue with the label itself.

While society has progressed from labelling people as ‘normal or abnormal’ (Silberman 2015), there still exists a great deal of separation between neurodiverse and neurotypical people. This is enforced by rigid methods of education geared towards neurotypicality, as well as the social stigmas surrounding neurodiversity. In order to move towards Lazar’s vision of ‘a more humane society…[founded on] mutual respect and appreciation’ (Silberman 2015), changes must be made to the institutions which regulate the public. Education in particular must become more flexible to best serve the needs of every child rather than most children.

Citations

Monique 2015, The Problem With Being Neurodiverse. Available from: http://needtosay.weebly.com/blog/the-problem-with-being-neurodiverse. [9 October 2016].

Silberman, S 2015, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Avery, New York.

Marriage, Analysis Two

Last week’s class discussion touched on the drawbacks of looking to history to find autistic representation. This is especially true with fictional characters. While reading ‘A Study in Scarlet’, it seemed apparent that in the eagerness to find autistic individuals in fiction, Sherlock Holmes has been mislabelled. Although he does exhibit some symptoms of autism, he behaves neurotypically in many other ways.

There is some validity to the argument that Sherlock Holmes is on the autism spectrum; he has been represented in many adaptations throughout history, and in some of these is he ‘more autistic’ than in others (one notable example is Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance in BBC’s Sherlock). Nevertheless, the original Sherlock Holmes created by Arthur Conan Doyle is not characterised as autistic. This thought prompted me to do a little sleuthing of my own. After reviewing the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for ASD, I concluded that Doyle’s version of Sherlock Holmes does display some behaviours consistent with the autism spectrum, which are ‘absence of interest in peers’ and ‘highly restricted, fixated interests’ (American Psychiatric Association 2013). Yet these two isolated symptoms do not signify that he has ASD. In fact, ‘A Study in Scarlet’ yields more evidence that Holmes is not autistic than evidence that he is.

Rather than displaying ‘a lack of facial expressions and nonverbal communication’ (American Psychiatric Association 2013), Sherlock is lively and animated, ‘looking as delighted as a child with a new toy’ (Doyle 1887). His antisocial behaviour towards Lestrade and Gregson can be interpreted as a reflection of his dislike for them rather than a signifier of ASD. When interacting with Watson, Holmes has no trouble in carrying a ‘normal back-and-forth conversation’ or ‘sharing…interests’ (American Psychiatric Association 2013). The two form a fast friendship, whereas many people with autism have difficulty in establishing new relationships. Though Holmes does have a daily routine (waking early, eating breakfast, and meeting with clients), it is not adhered to so intensely as to classify it as a ritual; he shows no distress at changing this routine when an investigation arises. The symptoms of autism are absent in the majority of Sherlock’s behaviours, thus forming my opinion that this character is not on the spectrum.

Sherlock Holmes may be a popular example of autistic representation due to the way in which he is portrayed in adaptations of the series. It is important to note that while these versions of the character may be on the autism spectrum, Sherlock as envisioned by Arthur Conan Doyle displays very few symptoms of ASD. His methods of interaction and patterns of behaviour are rather neurotypical. Though he is ‘eccentric’ (Doyle 1887) in his interests, this does not equate to him having autism.

Citations

American Psychiatric Association 2013, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5, American Psychiatric Publishing.

Conan Doyle, A 1887, A Study in Scarlet. Available from: https://sherlock-holm.es/stories/pdf/a4/1-sided/stud.pdf. [20 September 2016].

Marriage, Analysis 1: Money on Their Minds, or Doing It for the Love?

‘The love story [between the brothers] is only as good as its obstacle – and it’s a much greater obstacle if the guy’s autistic’ – Ron Bass

‘By putting one autistic person on the screen, the filmmakers had made innumerable others visible – to their loved ones, to their neighbours…and to themselves’ – Steve Silberman

As we watched Rain Man in our first class, it was the Chapter 9 reading of NeuroTribes which most intrigued me. For this analysis I have chosen two quotes that represent my mixed emotions about this film: the former, which indicates exploitation of autistic individuals for cinematic appeal; and the latter, which describes the positive impact of Rain Man for those same individuals.

On several occasions while reading this chapter, I couldn’t help but feel that the depiction of autism in the film was motivated by selfish agendas. Barry Morrow’s original script portrayed Raymond as intellectually disabled, and the decision to make him autistic seemed motivated by money rather than genuine compassion or a desire to raise awareness about autism. I was quite appalled with Barry Levinson’s insistence that the film end with Raymond returning to Walbrook Institute, as that would be more ‘dramatically satisfying’ (Silberman 2015) for audiences. Even more discouraging was the callousness with which Raymond’s character was treated. He served as a mere prop to foster Charlie’s character growth, and thus began a long tradition of autistic individuals ‘whose narrative function is to inspire those around them to be better people’ (Felperin 2011). In addition to exploiting autism, Rain Man greatly impacted peoples’ perceptions of the disorder through creating inaccurate stereotypes. Though I’m not proud to admit it, I also believed these stereotypes; I assumed that Raymond was the ‘norm’ among autistic individuals. As a result, I was very surprised to read about Peter Guthrie, who – like many autistic people – lives independently and performs day-to-day activities without too much difficulty. Rain Man underestimated those with autism while simultaneously taking advantage of them, and this has resulted in widespread misinformation.

However, Rain Man is also reported to have been a significant breakthrough in regards to awareness and acknowledgement of autism. The film’s success ‘made autism recognisable and familiar’ (Silberman 2015). Parents of autistic children now had a point of reference when explaining the disorder to others; wider society became more empathetic towards neurodivergent identities; autistic people themselves could feel that they were more accepted. There was widespread media coverage of the disorder, as well as a growing public interest. In many ways, Rain Man was essential in bolstering the autism rights movement and creating a sense of pride among the autistic community. Due to these positive effects, I find it difficult to take a definitive stance on whether the film’s influence was good or bad.

Chapter 9 of NeuroTribes highlighted the importance of Rain Man in the history of autism while also revealing its negative impacts. Although I can understand the necessity of this film, I believe that one must look outside of the mainstream to find more realistic portrayals of autism (some examples of such portrayals are listed here). In order to be authentic, these depictions must be the result of genuine interest in the matter rather than an interest in profitability.

Citations

Felperin, L 2011, Autism on film: can cinema get it right? Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2011/apr/04/autism-best-film-portraits. [10 September 2016].

Silberman, S 2015, NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, Avery, New York.