Feminist Criticism of Mental Health : Suicide Attempt in The Bell Jar(1963)
In 1950’s, when women entered the world of literature, the fact that they started to express how they felt at home offered many opportunities to get ideas about their mental states. Looking at what they wrote, it was thought that men deceiving the women. Because, although men were very kind and generous at first, when they persuaded the women to marry, they saw women as victim of householding, childcare and many other things that have spiritual difficulties in the house. Men seemed themselves superior than women to try to keep women under their control. Institiuon of marriage has seemed as the tactic of patriarchy. In addition, men wanted to marry virgin women even though they slept with women who they wanted. Men wanted to have their own women which we can consider as objectifying women.
“And I knew that in spite of all the roses and kisses and restaurant dinners a man showered on a woman before he married, what he secretly wanted when the wedding service ended was for her to flatten out underneath his feet like Mrs. Willard‟s kitchen mat” (The Bell Jar, pp.75–76)
In the book ‘‘The Bell Jar’’, society’s expectations on a young women dragged our charachter into depression. Young women were expected to be always cheerful, flexible and at the same time virgins. Knowing that what society wants contradicts their own will has driven Esther into a deep void. When she started to question her own wishes, she could not feel belonging to where she was, and this caused her to be unable to make decisions. What society imposed on her was a major obstacle to finding her own way. The depression that Esther experienced made her reluctant to life, reflected both in her thoughts and her actions. Over time, suicidal thoughts began. The suicidal ideation, which was signaled in the 13th chapter of the book, makes me think that Esther wants to live at the same time but cannot find a place for herself in such a society. This book, written by our author as autobiographical, feels as if it is her last struggle. Esther tried to get help. But although depression is treatable, the treatment of women’s depression was unsuccessful due to reasons such as the failure of healthcare professionals to consider individual differences (such as age, culture, hormone levels, temperament, gender differences) in their medication recommendations, and the inability to empathize with what women are going through. All of these can show us how the pressures that a woman experienced at that time, to be imprisoned in the house and the roles she should have can sprout depression. The woman had almost no say in her own life. And the healthcare system was also incapable of understanding it, so women felt helplesness. They wrote.
‘‘The Yellow Wallpaper’’ also showed us the depression of women. What can be seen in common in these two stories was the use of metaphor. Studies show that metaphors expressing depression often appear in the form of physical descent. Both women put the existence of their depression into words with the metaphor of “escape”. In Esther’s story, while the woman felt stuck in the bell jar and couldn’t escape, on the Yellow Wallpaper we were witnessing the same screams of escaping in Charlotte, who was trying to remove her own reflection from the wallpaper. Thanks to literature, many metaphors that women in this period used while writing, enlightened the society about the mental health of women while men see women’s mental health issues as ‘‘madness’’ rather than seeing it as a result of the pressures of society in that time.
Looking at today, although the mental health of women has become much more understandable, it is seen that there are situations where the marriage institute still puts pressure on women. On the other hand, it is really important to note that there are many stigmas regarding the mental health of men today. For instance, postpartum depression of men is not noticed by health professionals. In addition, there are expressions such as “The man should be strong, he should not cry”, which will make it difficult for men to express their mental health problems.
Today, men’s suicide rates are higher than women’s. This may be because women are more open to the idea of seeking psychological help. Although feminist studies focus on establishing a more equal mental health system over time, unfortunately there are still many points where both women’s mental health and men’s are not cared and seen in the society.
Bentley, K. J. “Women, Mental Health, and the Psychiatric Enterprise: A Review.” Health & Social Work, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2005, pp. 56–63, https://doi.org/10.1093/hsw/30.1.56. Charteris-Black, Jonathan.
“Shattering the Bell Jar: Metaphor, Gender, and Depression.” Metaphor and Symbol, vol. 27, no. 3, July 2012, pp. 199–216, https://doi.org/10.1080/10926488.2012.665796.
“Marriage and the Exploitation of Women: A Case-Study of the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.” Global Language Review, vol. IV, no. II, Dec. 2019, pp. 14–18, https://doi.org/10.31703/glr.2019(iv-ii).03