Woman in the asylum

More than the male body in the asylum, the image of the female body in the asylum has taken a very specific place in American arts. It is more than just Sylvia Plath or Charlotte Perkins Gilman but is widespread in film. One does not have to go far into film history to find examples: Gothika; Girl, Interrupted; Changeling; and Sucker Punch are some recent examples. Even when the film does not place the woman as the protagonist, we are struck by the appearance of the woman within the asylum. For example, Nurse Ratched appears as the unstable and rather evilly insane character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In fact, the male subjects/inmates seem quite normal in the face of her over-the-top character. The odd fact is, the woman in the insane asylum is normalized and at the same time is sympathetically often placed as the person who yearns escape the most. How do we interpret  this phenomena?

In the above music video, New Zealand artist, Kimbra appears to subvert the woman in the asylum by posing to be a threat to the people who control the space; exemplified most strongly by the male psychiatrist. Yet the very words of the song reveal something quite contrary, that her mind is “exotic and erratic at a drop of a dime.” So again, we are placed to view her captivity as both wrong and right at the same time. That is, the place of the woman inside and out of the asylum is tentative. Somehow everything is tentative with the “insane woman,” that her psychological state is not quite balanced. Although this is simply one example, there seems to be no doubt that this has farther implications in how–men in particular–place women as “not all there”–as some kind of un-understandable Other.

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