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Until just recently, society authorized that the women role was in the kitchen or staying at home attending to kids while performing domestic chores, while the role of men was at work. In this regard men were accorded power and authority, while women in contrast, were expected to be subservient and humble. In the novel "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," Kessey invalidate the stereotypical gender roles to describe the chaotic and at times, tragically comic world of the institutions of the mentally handicapped. In this book the women are the real wielders of power who are able to considerably influence the patients on the institution, as can be seen in the characters of Vera Harding, Nurse Ratched, and Mrs. Bibbit.
In one of the instances in this novel (One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest), Vera Harding is reported saying that all the men in the entire world are "victims of a matriarchy. (Kessey 45" Harding is better remembered in the novel for the manipulation that he has over her husband, a domination that can only be compared with that of Mrs. Bibbit. Dale description of Vera is a voluptuous and pretty female. This makes him feel insufficient with her figure and her audacious comments on his effeminacy, which is better signified by his, unmanageable hands. He is said to be very embarrassed by his beautiful hand ostensible because men are not supposed to have beautiful hands. In Bromden words "he got hand that are so white and dainty I think they are carved each other out of soap.....it bothers him that he's got pretty hands (Kessey, 23)." This combined with the terror that is visited on him by his wife together with the accusations of weaknesses and homosexuality forces Dale to remain in a mental hospital voluntarily. It is evident that Vera Harding exploits her husband's insecurities on his homosexuality together with her assets to manipulate and also belittle him (Dale).
It is no doubt that the one and only main female influence can be found in the Big Nurse, who is depicted as a manipulating and controlling woman who is always striving to have things run not only smoothly but most important, her way. Nurse Ratched, whose power and influence is expressed in frankly sexual terms regardless of her concerted and futile attempts to deny her sexuality, preserves her authority on the ward primarily by suppressing the laugher of the patients. The men in her ward employ sexual epithets in referring to her, and after the initial group therapy session on the patient, Randal Patrick McMuphy use the words "ball-cutter" in referring to her. Looked at carefully, we can say Kessey is trying to depict McMuphy as a powerless person essentially for her inability to use sexual violence in dealing in women. Chief Bromden, the schizophrenic narrator of the story is heard saying how a mistake was made in putting "those womanly breast on what otherwise would have been a perfect work, and you can see how bitter she is about it (Kessey, 11)." From the novel it is no doubt that Nurse Ratched has an influence over those who are supposed to be her superiors as can be demonstrated by her treatment of the likes of Dr. Spivey. Nurse Ratched futile effort at concealing her sexuality can be seen throughout the novel. By using a combination of carefully, manipulative strategies and programs, Nurse Ratched succeeds in weakening the male patients principally through destroying their self esteem.
However, with only one major encounter with women' influence in Big Nurse in the entire book, we can conclude a number of several other traits of women that are exhibited by the few other that are featured in the book. Candy and Sandy are some of the women in the novel who unlike the Big Nurse treat the mental patients with a lot of kindness. That behavior, however, reinforces the idea that inherently they are not women in the larger context but the creation of men ideals. To put it bluntly, they are both prostitutes who are ready and willing to succumb to the desires of man for the appropriate price, hence the silence against men even when they (men) are outrightly in the wrong and requiring a bit of castigation, even punishment. In fact they are more helpless in dealing with men than in dealing with other female patients, this is better demonstrated in an instant where Candy is harassed by men in the ward without any interference of any patients, after which she becomes not only nothing but also helpless. Other women in this novel are not as weak and submissive as the two (Sandy and Candy).
Mrs. Bibbit on the other side gain power and influence essentially by preventing her son from becoming a functioning adult, something that can be in one way or the other blamed for his suicide. Initially, Mrs. Bibbit does not seem to appreciate the fact that her son Billy is mature to a point where he can now function in the society, it is only a matter of time before we realizes that this is a smokescreen for her own self-administration. The moment his son tell her that he is mature enough to accomplish things like going to college, while still reminding her that he is now thirty-one years old, the point at which she replies "sweetheart, do I look like the mother of a middle-aged man?" (Kessey, 247). And when Mrs. Bibbit seem like she can not longer continues keeping her son young and innocent, Nurse Ratched is ready to assist in doing exactly that. One of the main strategies that Nurse Ratched uses to keep control of her patients is the use of outside influence, which is a strategy that also finds favor with Mrs. Bibbit, as can be seen in Billy case where Nurse Ratched get involved in manipulating him (Billy).
Mrs. Bibbit's total power over his son is better captured where Nurse Ratched finds him in the act with a prostitute, at which point she threats to tell his mother of the incident. It is from this threat of his mother's disappointment and displeasure that lead him to commit suicide. Billy who is reported to have been a brave son who was not afraid of anything cannot imagine the thought of his mother getting offended with him for committing such a grave action. Billy stammering when addressing both his mother and Nurse Ratched can only be attributed to their domineering which obstructs him from operating well.
The characters in Mrs. Bibbit, Vera Harding, and Nurse Ratched symbolize the hierarchy in that particular ward which the novel is set and in extension the entire society. On a larger scale, these ladies illustrate the idea that women share the greatest blame for the flaw in the society. Some section in the novel shows clues of gender equality that other part of the novel seems to ignore. However, this novel clearly exemplifies a reversal of the traditional gender roles, and serves as a steady reminder of the attitude biases that are still prevalent in the modern society.