The topic of “representation” in media is incredibly apt at the moment. With Netflix producing 13 Reason’s Why, the President of the United States trying – multiple times – to take privileges away from transgender, female, and/or LGBTQ+ people, and the #BLACKLIVESMATTER campaign, there are so many levels of representation that need to be addressed.
I got to thinking about this while studying for my English Literature exam. One of the questions on the exam will ask me to compare two texts from different periods in which we studied, and for half of that question I have chosen The Yellow-Wallpaper.
If you have been reading my blog for a while – and keeping up with my monthly “reading” posts – you will know that The Yellow Wall-paper is one of my favourite texts of all time, and that I was able to study it for a short period of time during my second semester. My lecture on the text was given by one of my favourite lecturers in the Literature department, and she talked a lot about the circumstances that lead Gilman to write her famous short story.
A large part of the story actually has to do with the very real medical treatment invented by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell – the “rest cure”. Mitchell came up with this prescription for women who were feeling quite anxious and, sometimes, depressive. In this treatment, women were told to spend as much time in bed as possible, be with their children almost all the time they were awake, and lead an extremely domestic lifestyle. For Gilman – who was prescribed this for her melancholy and nervousness – the treatment only lasted a few months before she felt she was going insane. She had been told never to pick up pen or paintbrush again, and thus to completely abandon her work.
After coming out of the “rest cure” Gilman furiously went back to work, and very quickly wrote The Yellow Wall-paper in order to give representation to women around the world suffering from this form of “treatment”. Even more, however, Gilman often said that she sent a copy to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell in order to show him was his prescription was doing to people, but never received a response.
More than just being interesting – although the literature geek inside of me is utterly fascinated with this story – Gilman’s story reminded me so much of what literature and people in media are trying to do today, although, now, it is on a much larger scale. What Gilman was trying to do for suffering women who felt trapped within their own domesticity, we also see television shows, books, films, and even Instagram pages trying to do for multiple causes right now.
This is an interesting and, to some extent, horrifying period in history for most of us. If you are anything other than a middle-to-upper class white male, you are in a period of suffering. Point blank, no ifs, ands, or buts. And although I am just a small blogger here trying to extract bits of literature that I can fit into my life today, as well as society, I am also here to say that I see your struggle and for so many of you out there, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what you have to go through, and I’m sorry that I will never know how you feel.
BUT, you are not going unnoticed.
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