Women & Insanity

There are billions of people on this planet. Each person is made with specific strings of chromosomes exclusive only to them. Although everyone is unique, there are still divisions that arrange groups of people into categories that represent them. Humans are separated by terms of race, ethnicity, culture, class, and even borders. Though there is not always a guarantee for what someone might become or what they might be born into, most people fall into one of two genders. The world is made up mainly of males and females, yet society still manages to form injudicious and stereotypical assumptions about such large groups of the population. Being either gender will determine the fate of the person and how they might be treated by the society. As these assumptions for each gender increase, so do the social guidelines and expectations.

There is often no in-between when we think of the expectations of women in media and writing. They are either presented as angels or monsters. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar discuss this exact illustration in their book, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-century Literary Imagination. A woman who does not play the typical role of an angel, mother, or wife is often seen playing the extreme role of a psychotic, crazy, and heartless woman instead. Fictional women are seen as crazy by the whole of society and more often due to the involvement of men. The male ego plays a major role in the way women are treated and seen. Women who act like angels cannot hurt the ego but women who are like monsters can. Gilbert and Gubar’s feminist theory over this situation, emphasizes the harm being done to the womanly image by authorial male authors.

Women are held as the weaker sex; this surmise develops from the real-life suppositions of society. Throughout the centuries, men have been understood as superior, mentally and physically. They are often in control and primarily responsible for the outpouring of writing and media being shown. As a result of this, women on and off the screen are rendered as fragile, hysterical, insane, and delusional in media, literature, and society. Meanwhile, men are portrayed as sane, rational, reasonable, and charming. This could also be due to the small degree in which women are represented in the media and the immeasurable influence the media has on society. Only a small fraction of women is being presented and not the whole of the female population; therefore, it becomes easier for society to group them based on what is being shown to an audience.

Film and literature either acknowledge or support the agenda of women being represented as crazy. This representation negatively impacts the way society sees and treats women. Insane women in media and literature could be one definite cause for the suffering of real women. Countless women are not being taken seriously in their relationships, human rights, and careers because of the negative presumptions created about them. By dismissing them as crazy for their justifiable claims, real women lose their dignity, identity, and self-assurance. There are novels and theories like “The Yellow Wallpaper” and in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, which support the idea of women taking back their control. Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Mary Wollstonecraft are some of the few authors that could help other women regain their courage to reject this agenda. 

            There is already a clear double standard when it comes to men and women in society. Both genders are raised differently and with individual expectations. The influence brought on by the media only emphasizes and broadens these expectations further. Serial killers in movies and tv shows are often presented as charming and redeemable characters, meanwhile women in the same position are perceived as psychotic and are disliked by the audience. The media purposely does this to maintain the “crazy” in women and the “charm” in men alive. Charming fictional characters have the ability of fooling their female counterparts and the audience simultaneously. The double standard can be seen happening in society as well. Society does not approach men with the same negative connotations as women, even when they are doing the exact same thing.

Just like there is a reason for all things, there is a reason for insanity to be the most frequently used ploy to represent women in media and literature. Crazy women are all over the media but what matters most of all, is the context and reasoning behind their spiral into insanity. Many times, we are given reason such as the intervention of a manipulative man or sudden tragedy to rationalize their insanity. Other times, even obvious reasoning can make them seem even crazier or it is set up to be misunderstood by the audience. Ultimately, these misunderstandings can become misleading to the author or director’s original purpose. The misunderstanding can also be either issued by the creators themselves or by tabloids republishing the work. Most misconstrued writing is linked to media intervention by showing only what they want society to see.

In order to fully recognize why women are represented in such an irrational manner, there needs to be proof of this phenomenon happening. Evidence of this can be found within three different platforms of media and from three different periods in time. They range from an 1890s short story, a critically acclaimed 1940s film, to a modern 2010s television series. Not all the women on these platforms are purposely written as insane for malevolent reasons. Some are depicted as crazy to prove a point over the wrongfulness in the way they are treated by society. There are plenty of women in film, television, and literature being casted and written as crazy for varying reasons. Women such as the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Paula in Gaslight, and Love and Candace in You. They are all either victims of double standards, male authority, or stereotypical labels. By using a feminist lens and other phycological readings, media and literary actions can either be justified or condemned for tainting the image of women.

There is a word used when someone manipulates another person’s sanity. The word is “Gaslighting” and it originates from the 1944 film, Gaslight. This film is directed by George Cukor; it shows the way a man can easily manipulate a woman for his own benefit. Jane Caro is a social commenter, writer, and lecturer. She published her book, Unbreakable: Women Share Stories of Resilience and Hope, to help women cope with tragic life events. She says, “Loss makes you scared. It’s only once you have lost that you truly understand that you can lose again” (37). the protagonist, Paula,experiences major loss when her aunt is murdered while she is in the house. Her aunt acted as a mother for years after her real mother died. The loss causes her to fear ever returning to her childhood home again, until she meets and marries a new man. Paula believes he gives her strength to face her fears, although he will be the one causing them.

After Paula meets this man who has easily charmed her into marrying him, they plan to move in together and start their married lives. The only setback is her husband, Gregory Anton, wishes they move into the London townhouse her aunt was murdered in. The townhouse has been vacant ever since the tragedy, although Paula was set to inherit it. Paula has not seen the it in years but still cannot escape the conspiracies and gossip around the murder. Paula has been traumatized ever since she witnesses the murder and develops anxieties of coming near the house. These anxieties make her seem paranoid and delusional at times, but they are just normal reactions to childhood trauma. Caro also uses her own personal experiences to explain what loss can do to a woman’s mental health. She says, “For me, loss made me overly fearful to the point where I developed a series of debilitating phobias” (37). In order to get his way, Gregory persuades her to move her aunt’s belongings into the attic so they can move in and forget about her aunt. As a result, Paula begins to grow phobias that develop from her fear of the past and are brought on further by her husband.

Paula’s original psychological issues coping with paranoia and anxiety are justifiable and not enough to label her insane. She is rationally afraid of a killer who murdered her aunt and has never been caught. It is not long after her and Gregory move into the townhouse, that he begins carrying out his scheme. He uses her fears to push her further into insanity. This is when she is truly made to become insane by him. Oftentimes, the feeling of insanity can occur as a result of gaslighting. Robin Stern, a licensed psychoanalysis, says, “Gaslighting…is a type of emotional manipulation in which a gaslighter tries to convince you that you’re misremembering, misunderstanding, or misinterpreting your own behavior or motivations… (19). Every time Paula catches Gregory acting suspicious or guilty of anything, he accuses her of being too paranoid. This leads him to purposely replace and rearrange items of their home to cause her further confusion and counteract his own actions.

Men have always been understood as figures of power and intelligence over women. They are assigned protectors while women are caregivers. Films emphasize this further by giving men a spotlight to picture their authority. This is seen with Gregory, when he convinces Paula that she is ill, and she believes him. He is easily able to control her through his lies and pandering. Paula becomes more vulnerable to his accusations as her mental health spirals. Gregory uses his authority to make himself seem like the sane and reasonable one. He makes her believe she is losing things and forgetting her actions. Paula begins to hear noises in the attic while he is gone and witnesses mysterious occurrences happen on their own. He isolates her from the world because he claims she is too ill for guests or to even leave the house. Being isolated is another reason Paula is feeling insane and slipping mentally. This isolation has them playing the role of prisoner and guard, putting Gregory in the higher role of power over her emotions and free will.

Rula Quawas is known for her academic advocacy in woman’s advancement at the University of Jordan. Her Journal is essential to understanding the roles of men and women and what lies within their spaces. She says, “It was believed that while the world outside the home, with its highly competitive character, brutal environment and fluctuating fortunes, was a man's sphere, the home, the moral sanctuary of society, was the temple of woman and her only proper sphere” (36). Women are often secluded away from the world because of gendered ideologies. Gregory makes Paula and everyone else believe that she is too fragile and ill for the outside world. There is a chance that being confined to a space away from the outside actually attributes to real insanity. If so, society and the oppressors are even more responsible for the spiral of a woman’s mental health. Quawas says, “In spite of her oppression, she achieves a superior sanity and at least a relative liberty in the assertion of a self” (40). It is not until a woman can overcome her mental and physical prisons, that she can truly be free of mind and space.

Words can hold a certain power when it comes to describing persons. Gregory is seen calling Paula “hysterical” or “mad” when she shows concern over her situation. Words like these tend to undermine a woman’s real emotional distress and creates self-doubt. Paula’s self-doubt becomes so severe that she cannot distinguish what is real anymore. The maids somehow do not see Paula’s predicament or notice Gregory’s malicious intent and manipulative language. Even the elderly female neighbor, who sees Paula every day, does not suspect anything abnormal. Brian Cameron follows Gregory for a few days until he is finally caught stealing her aunt’s famous jewels and reveals his entire ploy to Paula. It is not until another male character sees through Gregory’s intentions that Paula and the other female characters eventually come to fruition. This is another way of making men seem like the sane and rational ones for being capable of seeing what women cannot on their own.

Cukor’s intentions for making this movie could have been to expose the way men often gaslight women, but there are ways society could still see this as Paula’s fault. Paula’s character is made to be portrayed as naïve and gullible for picking the wrong man and believing everything he says. In other ways, Paula can still be seen as insane for quickly marrying a man she barley knows and for not seeing through his malicious intentions. It was not until another man, notably the “right man” comes to her rescue, that Paula is able to see past deception. Even through Brian’s evidence and second opinion, Paula has a hard time believing she is being manipulated by the one she loves. This makes her seem weak, fragile, and vulnerable for many reasons. One reason being she is a woman needing a man’s help in gaining back her sanity and the other is she becomes a stereotypical woman blinded by love and her emotions. Paula needing to be rescued from a man, by another man, sends the message that only the “right” man can take the crazy out of a woman.

            The irony following most tales about women and insanity is that there is often a male character responsible for their ailments. The narrator in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is victim to almost identical circumstances as Paula. Her husband convinces her that she is insane. Again, this could be due to the belief that men possess a higher intelligence and rationality. Her husband, John, is a physician who diagnoses her with a temporary illness she does not believe she has. She starts out with most of her sanity and with self-resilience, but John inserts doubt into her mind. She says, “If a physician of high standing, and one's own husband, assures friends and relatives that there is really nothing the matter with one but temporary nervous depression—a slight hysterical tendency—what is one to do?” (3). John plays off her mental illness as something minor like delusion and tiredness. Hysteria is a condition which society believes all women experience.

            “The Yellow Wallpaper” starts in the same manner as Gaslight. A woman marries a man she thinks to know well but now is forcing her to move into an anomalous house. The houses only enclose them with their fears and oppressors. The structures represent the barrier between the sanity they desire outside and the insanity they experience on the inside. Likewise, this narrator feels sane outside of herself but is fighting an internal battle with her sanity. John keeps her secluded in the house, although she wishes to be free. Her husband does not understand her ailment because he has a job and is free to leave as he pleases. A survey in The American Sociological Review suggests, “Employment outside the home is associated with improved mental health among married women” (Kessler & McRae 216). Because the narrator cannot work or leave the house, her mental state suffers greatly. She believes it is the house which is causing her mental torment when in reality it is the man she married. 

            The windows of the nursery in the house are barred, signifying the constraints on her ability to act and think freely. She writes in secret, because John believes any form of education can become detrimental to her health. Ironically, her inability to even express her thoughts on paper is what causes her sanity to begin to fade. John does not allow her to pursue an education because it signifies freedom and individuality. This is especially relevant to most married women, like the narrator. John does not allow her to associate with acquaintances that may be too mentally stimulating or provoking; he wants to keep her sheltered and under his control. There is evidence of this when she writes, “John says we will ask Cousin Henry and Julia down for a long visit; but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillowcase as to let me have those stimulating people about now” (13). All aspects of the narrator’s life, including socialization, are being barred like the nursery windows.

            The color of the wallpaper itself represents the narrator’s mental illness. When she is confronted with the yellowness of the wallpaper, she describes it as “… repellant, almost revolting; a smouldering unclean yellow…” (8). Yellow is often associated with disease and illness like yellow fever. The disease is actually John’s invasion of her subconscious, making her believe she is just hysterical and experiencing nervousness. She is subconsciously thinking of her resentment towards John but takes out her frustrations on the paper. His assumptions, persuasions, and assuredness spread and latch to her mind, like a virus to a host. Her mental illness also stems from two silent killers, depression and anxiety. The narrator shows signs of depression through her loss of appetite, fatigue, and emotional hysteria. Her anxiety becomes apparent through her paranoia, fear, and obsessive thinking. She writes, “It is getting to be a great effort for me to think straight. Just this nervous weakness I suppose” (22). The narrator is constantly dismissing her own symptoms, due to John’s ignorance of her condition.

            The narrator is fascinated, but also frustrated with the intricate and absurd design of the paper. It becomes a personification of her madness. She writes, “There is a recurrent spot where the pattern lolls like a broken neck and two bulbous eyes stare at you upside down” (13). The narrator believes the unblinking eyes are watching through the design; it enrages her. The pattern mocks her, the same way John and her mental illness mock her. The narrator’s mind is torturous and confusing like the pattern. The wallpaper seems to change every time she examines it. She discovers new layers within it, and new shades of color. Similarly, the narrator also reveals new secrets and layers about herself, within every journal entry. She never truly knows what is wrong with her, the same way she never truly knows the nature of the design.

            The woman she finds behind the wallpaper pattern can be interpreted as paranormal but can also be interpreted as a representation of the narrator’s mental state. She feels trapped in her own mind and home; the same way the woman feels trapped in the wallpaper. The woman wants to escape her prison, the way the narrator wants to escape the house and John, “The faint figure behind the behind seemed to shake the pattern, just as if she wanted to get out” (24). John continues to convince her that she really is better and there is no need to leave so soon. He is enclosing her within the house and within her mind, which progressively pushes her towards complete madness. The woman not only represents the narrator, she is the narrator. There is evidence of this when she writes, “I always lock the door when I creep by daylight. I can’t do it at night, for I know John would suspect something at once” (37). She plans on helping the woman escape her prison, which foreshadows her own liberation.

            Many feminist observations of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story interpret it as a look into the patriarchal control over women’s mental health and lives. Jane F. Thraikill’s article, “Doctoring ‘The Yellow Wallpaper,” explains this further. She says, “The Yellow Wallpaper” has since become a case study of the phycological consequences of the masculine refusal to listen to a woman’s words, a refusal that critics link to the more general proscription of female self-expression—literary and otherwise—within a patriarchal culture” (526). Although this was perhaps Gilman’s original purpose for her renowned short story, there are ways the media can misconstrue this and change the meaning of her work to the audience. This can be done through reprintings, reinterpretations, censoring, and years of criticism.

Shawn St. Jean is an independent scholar and author focusing on feminist studies. His study on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s work finds that several republishing’s of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the media are often altered to comply with an audience. He says, “In short, women’s madness, and the treatment that Gilman deplored in her story, are oversimplified in the magazine text…” (402). The evidence presented here, proves that society wants to keep the image of women as insane alive. He continues to claim, “The notion that she continues to “creep” around and around the room, repeatedly over the senseless John instead of just once, adds decisively to the impression of total insanity and virtually precludes any positive reading of the ending” (402). The idea of that all women are insane can manifest in the way they are being presented by the media. A powerful story about a woman’s battle with mental illness and phycological abuse can easily lose its impact and message.

There also exist modern forms insanity through popular television shows. Netflix created a hit thriller called You, which is narrated through the point of view of an obsessive man. In the first season, Joe Goldberg meets a woman while working in a bookstore. Beck acts like the perfect woman and he is immediately infatuated with the idea of her. He stalks her and finds any information he can about her life. He makes himself believe that he is in love and that there is nothing wrong with the extreme measures he is taking. Meanwhile, he acts normal in her presence but manipulates all their encounters together. Joe goes as far as constructing a plexiglass enclosure, where he traps Beck’s ex-boyfriend and eventually kills him. Joe convinces himself that Benji has to be killed because he is getting in the way of their love. Joe later kills Beck’s best friend, Peach, for the same reason. In an unexpected plot twist, Beck finds out about Joe’s secrets and he kills her too. Joe is never convicted of any murders at the end of season one because he frames other people for them.

The first season did so well that Netflix decided to create a second season of the show. This time, Joe moves to California to escape the suspicion of his murders. He is also trying to escape another ex-girlfriend who he tried to murder before Beck. Robert D. Hare, a criminal phycologist, wrote his book, Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. He says, “Not surprisingly, many psychopaths are criminals…using their charm and chameleonlike abilities…leaving a wake of ruined lives behind them” (2). Candace wants to ruin Joe’s life the same way he ruined hers. To better his chances of leaving his exes and old life behind, he must steal someone’s identity. Joe changes his name to “Will Bettelheim” after knocking out the real Will. He imprisons him in another self-made plexiglass prison inside a warehouse.

Joe acknowledges that trying to love again would be too dangerous, but he cannot resist his obsessive tendencies. Ironically, he notices a woman named Love in a grocery store. He tries to figure her out in his mind. He analyzes and contemplates her mannerisms through the way she dresses, the way she walks, and what she is buying. Although his inner monologue represses against the urge to approach her, Love ends up approaching him first. Love is persistent and forward and they go on several dates thereafter. Joe learns she was married two years ago but her husband died of an illness; she does not learn as much about him. They begin to fall for each other. She even gives Joe a job in the library section of her family’s organic produce store. Now that he has a job, he can afford to rent an apartment in Los Angeles. He then meets Delilah and her 15-year-old sister, Ellie. Because Delilah is the landlord of the complex, she lives there with her sister too. Joe later strikes up a friendship with Ellie and becomes protective of her. 

Greg Berlanti, the show’s creator, constantly demonstrations the sympathetic and charming side of this character. After learning that Ellie is interning for an older notorious comedian, he keeps an eye on her to make sure she is safe. In season one, Joe is also seen protecting a young boy from his abusive stepfather and bringing him books to read. This is all a ploy to distract the audience from Joe’s psychopathic tendencies and trick them into sympathizing with him. Hare again claims psychopaths are “… self-centered, callous, and remorseless… profoundly lacking in empathy and the ability to form warm emotional friendships with others, a person who functions without the restraints of conscious” (2). Joe shows all the behavioral characteristics of a psychopath, except he somehow still has emotions and feelings for others. His feelings for Love, his protectiveness over kids, and his good deeds are all real. Yet, Joe cannot escape his inclinations to also commit his crimes.

There are more ways the producers downplay Joe’s insanity with sympathy. They show his victims beginning to like him. When he locked up Beck’s ex-boyfriend, he would bring him the food he liked. Joe likes have good conversations with all his victims and shows understanding. Will and Joe start to form a bond by talking about their relationship problems. Joe also forms a friendship with Love’s troubled brother. Love has a strong bond with Forty who is also her twin. Joe puts up with his predicaments for her sake. Delilah has a dark history with the comedian her younger sister is interning for. She claims Henderson raped her when she was underage. This information causes Joe to get involved in their business, despite Delilah’s demands that he stays away. Joe and Forty are invited to Henderson’s house party and Joe decides to break in later that night to look for evidence of pedophilia. When he finds enough evidence, Joe later kills Henderson and disguises it as a suicide. The audience is also given flashbacks of Joe’s dysfunctional childhood during the murder. The flashbacks and the pedophile trope are all done to rationalize Joe’s actions.

No matter how hard Joe tries to avoid executing his immoral actions, he still faces trials that come on their own. Because he stole someone else’s name, he now has to face the consequences of being associated with that name. The real Will Bettelheim owes a large quantity of money to someone dangerous person named Jasper. He has never seen Will’s face, which puts Joe in even more danger. Meanwhile Joe tries to keep his relationship with Love alive, because she is getting suspicious of his lies. He coaxes the real Will into helping solve the problem so he can return his attention to Love. She feels as though she is acting crazy or clingy when Joe begins to distance himself. Ironically, Joe is planning a crazy scheme to murder once again and free himself of Will’s debt. He takes Jasper to the warehouse and reveals that he has the real Will locked up. When Jasper does not come to reason with him, Joe kills him and mutilates his body to hide the evidence. The show creates a montage coinciding with Joe’s butchering of the body and Love cutting and cooking meat someplace else. This was meant to foreshadow and mirror the way these two individuals are somehow similar.

Once things start to feel normal again with Love, she decides it is time for Joe to meet her parents. Love’s parents are renewing their vows on a retreat. Joe meets her parents and also finds that Forty is dating someone new. When Forty introduces his new girlfriend, Joe is shocked to find it is his ex-girlfriend he failed to murder. Candace purposely tracks Joe down to mess with his life and carry out her revenge. She has also changed her name and is lying about her life to everyone else. They both pretend to be meeting for the first time. Through more flashbacks, the audience sees what really happens with Candace and Joe in the past. Candace wanted to end things with him, but he refused and promised to fix things. He takes her to a wooded area where he thinks he successfully killed her and tried to bury her. She digs her way out after regaining consciousness and finds help. Nobody believes her at the police station because she has a history of mental problems. They also mention that trying to build a case would be a great hassle to her and everyone else.

During the current retreat, the guests decide to form a spiritual healing circle. Candace professes her story about Joe, without actually acknowledging it was him. She declares that she will do everything to prevent this from happening to another woman. Joe and her later meet inside a tent and she threatens him with a knife. Joe starts gaslighting her claiming she is not trying to save Love or anyone else and is just trying to harm him. He also calls her crazy for tracking him down and following him there. After the ceremony is over and everyone is back home, Candace decides to face Love and uncover Joe’s lies to her. Love then confront Joe about his lies, and he admits to all of them except for the murders. He admits his real name is not Will and that he moved to California only to escape his “crazy” ex-girlfriend. Love believes Candace is crazy but still breaks up with him for lying in the first place.

Although Joe is an expert liar, there is one person who begins to see past his schemes. Delilah suspects Joe is Henderson’s killer because of how protective he is of Ellie and the strange way he has been acting. She decides to follow him into the warehouse where she finds the empty plexiglass enclosure. Joe already let Will go because he promised to disappear to the Philippines and be with his fiancé. Delilah is afraid Joe is going to kill her, so she promises that she will not tell anyone. Joe does not want to risk anything because Delilah is friends with a police officer. He traps her in the enclosure and uses special handcuffs that unlock after a certain time. He ensures Delilah that because of Ellie he has no intention of killing her, but he needs time to escape the city before he sets her free. Joe only has a few hours to leave but decides first to see Forty a last time before also finding Love. He finds him drunk in a bar and Forty convinces him to have one drink as well. Forty reveals that he laced his drink with psychedelic drugs.

            The audience roots for Joe while he races against the clock. If he does not escape within time, he will face consequences. Joe finds this much more challenging now that he is under the influence and in the presence of Forty. He begins to hallucinate heavily and decides to call Love to mend things. She forgives him and offers a plan to run away together. At some point Joe blacks out in Forty’s apartment and wake up with blood on his hands. He does not recall even leaving the apartment. He has suspicion that he did something wrong and runs back to the warehouse to go check on Delilah. He finds her in a pool of her own blood with her throat slit open. He did not intend to kill her because of Ellie and feels regret over her death. He begins to spiral due to the grief and drugs. He is still not completely certain that it was him who killed Delilah. He goes through all the possible suspects, but evidence still points to himself.

            Candace finds Forty and urgently tries to explain who Joe really is. He does not believe her. Joe has convincingly painted Candace as the crazy ex-girlfriend and she has lost all credibility. Candace wonders why nobody believes her and why everyone only believes Joe. The answer is clear. Society has trained people to always believe the seemingly rational man over the hysterical woman. Candace becomes determined to catch Joe in the act and eventually discovers his warehouse. She finds him inside the enclosure with Delilah’s body and immediately locks him inside. Candace calls Love and gives her directions to the warehouse so she can see the real Joe. When Love arrives, Joe decides not to lie anymore and confesses to all his murders. Joe confesses that he truly does love her despite everything. Love runs out crying and Candace goes after her. Love ends up stabbing her in the neck during a turn of events.

            Joe is upset and in disbelief over Love’s murder of Candace. She says it had to be done in order for them to stay together. She also admits that this is not her first murder and she has killed others including Delilah. Joe cannot process and does not want to accept that Love is just as depraved as he is. He thinks what she did is insane and contemplates being with her any longer. Love begs for his forgiveness over Delilah because she knows he cares for Ellie. Love confesses that she always kills with good reason. The reason this time is that she is pregnant with Joe’s child and cannot handle raising a baby on her own if he gets caught. The unborn child is also the only reason Joe does not murder her as well. The couple end up moving in together and starting a life, although Joe’s perception of Love will never be the same.

            Jane M. Ussher is a trained clinical psychologist researching gendered health and was nominated for the 2012 Distinguished Publication Award of the Association for Women in Psychology. Within her book, she tries to answer the question “why are women more likely to be positioned or diagnosed as mad than men?” This is relevant to women in literature and the media as well. Male characters are not as often portrayed as insane in the same way women are. In the hit Netflix series, You, the male protagonist murders countless people and somehow the audience is manipulated to reason with him. When it is discovered that his girlfriend has also murdered people, she is instead perceived as the crazy and impulsive one. Ussher says, “For centuries, women have occupied a unique place in the annals of insanity. Women outnumber men in diagnoses of madness, from the ‘hysteria’ of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to ‘neurotic’ and mood disorders in the twentieth and twenty-first” (1). Candace is also labeled the crazy ex-girlfriend by her abuser and dismissed by everyone because she is a woman.

            The male ego plays a major role in the media and is a commonly used trope. This is seen through the male characters in Gaslight, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and You. They expect the women in their lives to cater to them and remain docile. In A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft says, “…MAN is prepared by various circumstances for a future state, they constantly concur in advising WOMAN only to provide for the present. Gentleness, docility, and a spaniel-like affection are, on this ground, consistently recommended as the cardinal virtues of the sex…” (65). If a woman does not perform these actions, she is seen as rather a threat to his ego and not a potential partner. Men are afraid of women who are like them or stronger than they are.

The women in these stories are seen battling against their sanity and partners. They also find no comfort from their partners because they are often the ones causing the insanity. Mary Wollstonecraft says, “Besides, the woman who strengthens her body and exercises her mind will, by managing her family and practising various virtues, become the friend, and not the humble dependent of her husband” (58). Instead of being a friend to their partners, the women in these stories are fighting against them like enemies. The men act this way because they know women are capable of breaking the bond tying them down. In order for this to not happen, they make them vulnerable with various manipulative strategies. The male ego needs women to act like passive because they are more likely to let themselves be controlled and protected. The male needs this power and control to feel whole. When a woman is already in control of her own self, a man finds a way to introduce self-doubt.

Gilbert and Gubar express the expectations of society by men on women through the angel vs monster theory. They say, “to understand literature by women because, as we shall show, the images of "angel" and "monster" have been so ubiquitous throughout literature by men that they have also pervaded women's writing to such an extent that few women have definitively "killed" either figure” (17). Women writers have tried to dismantle this figure of angel vs monster that men created in literature. Oftentimes, they also purposely try including these depictions of women in their stories. This is done to depict the stereotype ironically and showcase the woman eventually regaining her control over the man. Charlotte Perkins Gilman does this in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by creating a woman who follows the typical angel-role in the beginning but ends up being a monster in a powerful way in the end.

Angels do not threaten male egos, but monsters do. Angels are known to carry the innocence and pureness of a child and are easily manipulated. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the nursery is symbolic of the way John treats her and talks to her as a child. He wants to control her the way a child can be controlled. The narrator assumes the space was once used as a nursery; it becomes representative of the way John treats her. He sees her as a helpless child, like one that would once occupy the nursery. He calls her a “blessed little goose” or “little girl”, which proves his authoritative demeanor towards her. John does not realize the extent of her suffering, therefore, does not take her case seriously. He dismisses her complaints, as a parent would dismiss a nagging child. Despite her protests to occupy a different room downstairs, he insists she is only letting the room get the best of her.

Paula is the perfect sophisticated angel in Gaslight. She is compliant, well-mannered, and harmless. This makes it easier for Gregory to use her as a way to get to her aunt’s jewels. His ego is so imposing that he even charms the other women into complying with him. The maids of the house do not question his authority because they are afraid of him. Paula is also afraid to disobey him. There are a few instances where she gains the resilience to follow through with her own intuition. Paula wants to go out and meet people but Gregory refuses to go with her. He expects her to comply with his demands and not venture out without him, but Paula defiantly proceeds with her plans. Gregory is stunned by her noncompliance and the audience sees a new side of Paula. Gregory feels he must contain the “monster” within her trying to escape. He accomplishes this by furthering his scheme to convince her she is going insane.

Because You is through Joe’s point of view, he paints himself as just a good guy who just cannot find love. Beck acts as an innocent angel and for that reason he chooses to pursue her. She felt untouchable and naïve to the dangers of the world. This is notable as she leaves her windows open and ventures out in the city on her own. Joe takes advantage of her angel-like qualities and in this way able to easily manipulate her and eventually kill her. His next angel, Love, turned out to be a monster just like him. This became a threat to his ego, and he did not have the power to kill her. Candace is seen as a monster throughout the entire show because Joe paints her as the crazy ex-girlfriend. Although nobody believes her, Candace is always right about Joe and his lies. Joe is the perfect example of the male ego getting what it wants but also retreating when threatened.

Stella Bruzzi is a scholar of film and media studies. In her book, she focuses on the portrayal of gender in media. She says, “when it comes to classical Hollywood, in particular, to believe that masculinity and male identity are not so fragile, not so ‘turned inside out on the screen’ because somehow normative men and masculinity assume ownership of the screen and the mise en scène” (30). Almost all men in film and media play a very relaxed, normative, or heroic role. This can be done on purpose to contrast the female characters and make them appear even crazier. She continues to say, “…feminism became secondary to the interpretation of narrative cinema through psychoanalysis and, in particular, a series of gendered binary oppositions” (7). Men are usually given the spotlight and the women become secondary. The men in the spotlight, good or bad, are given superior traits. Joe is a serial killer but is given thoughtful and devoting traits. Gregory is a thief but is given the traits of a clever and masterful antagonist. John is controlling and arrogant but is given the status of an intellectual physician.

Although women are often portrayed as the insane ones, men could also be the ones suffering from mental illness. Nathan R. Booth works for the department of psychology at the University of South Alabama. He conducted a brief report with help from other experts on the topic of mental health. In their work, they attempt to analyze the way men express their insecurities and coldness. The article says, “Moreover, self-stigma may intersect with traditional masculinity ideologies (i.e., internalized belief structures dictating appropriate thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for men; Pleck,1995)” (756). This report aids to briefly examine two sides of one problem: men making women feel insane and why they do so. They continue to say, “Not surprisingly, numerous studies have found positive associations with self-stigma and restrictive, traditional expressions of masculinity or gender role strain” (756). This work is essential for understanding the strain on the male ego and how that strain causes men to act towards women.

            The media heavily impacts the way people behave in everyday society. The impact can become negative when the messages being shown are negative. Real women deal with the influence of fictional female stereotypes in their daily lives. By portraying women as insane through various outlets, the media is convincing society that all woman act this way. Although there are some gaps to this notion when creators allow a positive breakthrough within the negative stereotypes, they can still be misconstrued. This is attempted in Gaslight when Gregory pleads with Paula to untie him from the chair before the police arrive. She stands her ground and mockingly pretends to still be too insane and ill to help him. In “The Yellow Wallpaper” the narrator crawls all over her husband as a sign of power and dominance. In You, the audience sees Love beating Joe at his own game. Even through these powerful endings, the female characters are still interpreted as insane or even more insane. The same can happen with real women.

            Although Suzzane Zaccour is a young graduate student, she is published and studying law and feminism at Oxford University. Her argument in the journal, “Crazy Women and Hysterical Mothers: The Gendered Use of Mental-Health Labels in Custody Disputes,” claims, “The trope of the “crazy woman” is influential in our society, affecting psychiatry, the media, our culture, and popular discourses” (58). This proves even further that a “crazy woman” is a stigma constructed by society to keep women under control. This can lead to an increase in domestic violence as more people begin to believe that women are weak and easily manipulated like most fictional characters are. This can also become a problem for women seeking employment as many companies will believe women are unable to perform demanding tasks. Women fighting legal battles are often not being taken seriously when society assumes they are impulsive and unpredictable. Women are also more likely to be diagnosed as insane than men.

            Carol Lambert has over thirty years of clinical experience in psychotherapy. She wrote her book, Women with Controlling Partners: Taking Back Your Life from a Manipulative or Abusive Partner,to help real women in need against abusive partners. This book can be used to form a connection between fictional women and real women facing abuse. It can also help real women facing abuse. Lambert says, “These include the hurtful negative beliefs about yourself that your partner’s controlling behaviors inflict that can cause you to feel powerless” (40). Paula and the narrator from “The Yellow Wallpaper” both feel powerless against their husbands and are never seen making their own choices without them intervening. She continues to say, “you will learn how all women—including you—are made vulnerable to controlling partners by our culture and its influence on the people and institutions that impact your life” (57). These women eventually regain their power and realize that they are not the crazy ones. The same outcome can become possible with real women.

            Candace is a prime example of a woman losing all credibility. Much like with many real women, credibility is important when arguing for anything. Deborah Epstein is the director of the Georgetown University Domestic Violence Clinic and Lisa A. Goodman is a counseling phycologist researching domestic violence against women. Together they wrote, “Discounting Women: Doubting Domestic Violence Survivors’ Credibility and Dismissing Their Experiences.” In their review, they talk about the importance of credibility and what the absence of it can mean for women. They say, “This testimonial structure places enormous pressure on individual credibility. In the end, most protection order cases boil down to this: if a survivor is believed, the judge will award her protection. If she is not believed, the judge will deny it” (405). Candace and many other women lose their credibility when they are labeled insane. Their real trauma and abuse stories are dismissed, which can be detrimental to their well-being.

            Often when women express true suffering and emotion, society does not focus on the cause of their despair. They only focus on the woman’s actions which then label her insane. One of several poems by Hayden Carruth published in The American Poetry Review, rationalizes with these emotions. Although it is a short poem, it explains in great detail why women are seemingly “crazy.” The poem goes, “Raped By their fathers, raped by their uncles, raped By their brothers. Humiliated by their mothers, Betrayed by their lovers, beaten and excoriated By their husbands, reviled by their children” (19). He justifies their actions because they are put into situations and set up to react and defend themselves. When they do work up the courage to rebel against their abusers, women’s emotions are dismissed as insanity. “Can God, Even in his despicable remoteness, blame them? Which means that the world is equally full of Crazy men” (19). It is unfair to blame woman for losing their minds, when it is their abusers who led them there. 

            Women are all individual with different personalities, interests, and livelihoods. They experience the same emotions any man would. It is only because they are treated as lesser than men, that their feelings and actions are radicalized. Women can either be angels or monsters as depicted in media and writing with male ego playing a major role in in this portrayal. Since media plays a significant role in influencing society, it portrays women as weaker sex and fragile as compared to men. Due to the small degree it stands for, the society groups them on what they see.

            Women can be seen as insane through film and literature which would explain why the society does not take them seriously hence creating negative assumptions about them. Although some of them regain their courage, majority of women are often dismissed as crazy making them lose identity and dignity.

            Clear double standards are also evident where media and society approach women with negative attitude unlike men in a similar position. This reinforces the view that women as crazy and men as charming personalities since men are seen as figures of authority and power. As a result, this makes them sane as compared to women making women more vulnerable to accusations of insanity.

            Men are seen as sane and rational over women and at times may be the cause of insanity to women through the words they say or their actions against them including isolating them from the outside world. The women’s sanity can be manipulated emotionally by men as they are potrayed as fragile and through the roles of the women in their spaces they may be termed as insane.

            Though media, women’s insanity can be presented as normal and impact of message can be easily lost. As seen in Gilman’s work she is seen as insane for marrying a man she thinks she know well and loves only to be oppressed resulting to inside insanity.

            Insanity in modern world can be seen in popular tv shows such as Netflix where in the thriller You, a woman is convinced that it is right to commit murder for the sake of love. Although the man (Joe) commits numerous murders, his actions are justified through previous trauma experienced as a child. His insanity is downplayed and is seen to be liked by his victims.

            Society is also trained to believe rational man over a hysterical woman which makes it easy for people to believe Joe in the film rather than Candace. In the case that Love killed Candace, Joe views her as insane for her actions even though Joe is a killer too. Candace also is termed as insane for seeking revenge despite being abused by her ex-boyfriend. Although she is right, she is seen as insane in this setup.

The male ego also drives women to insanity as women are expected not to pose as stronger or challenging to men regardless of the fact that they do not find comfort in their partners. To combat the expectations of society on women some writers and filmmakers try to depict the angel vs monster theory ironically and display a woman as eventually gaining control even when viewed as insane.

Stella Bruzzi is her book explains of how men are given superior traits over women. She explains of how men are given the spotlight over women in films. However, Nathan in his article explains that men also can suffer from mental illness. He explains that the traditional expressions of masculinity may lead to a man acting towards a woman which may lead to her insanity. Although the media may influence the perception of insanity on women it tends to sometimes use this to create a positive breakthrough within this negative stereotypes although it portrays them still as insane.

In her publication, Suzzane claimed that a “crazy woman” is a stigma created to keep women under control. This leads to women not been taken seriously and even diagnosed as insane as they are assumed to be impulsive and unpredictable. This is supported by Goodman and Deborah when women lose credibility while fighting for justice they may be labeled as insane and this can lead to trauma and detrimental to well-being.