In her short story entitled “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist writer from America living from 1860 till 1935 proposed writing to cure mental illness. In the short story, Gilman illustrated the heroine who suffered from postpartum depression was prescribed bed rest by her physician husband. Her husband insisted that she avoid intellectual activities such as reading, writing and painting. This is compatible with what Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar said in their book The Madwoman in the Attic that “the activity of writing, or producing art, was fraught with anxiety for most nineteenth-century women.” intellectual activities were believed to enhance the tendency for women to suffer from nervous breakdown in the nineteenth century America.
Since the heroine in the short story was prohibited to write by her husband, although she believed that writing even could help cure her, she had to write secretly, when her husband or her sister-in-law was not around her. Or, when she was writing, and then she saw one of them coming, she had to put her book and pencil aside quickly in order that they wouldn’t find her writing.
Gilman ended the story by leading the heroine into insanity. When this is viewed from Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, we can say that Gilman’s suppressed wish was that women would be led into insanity if they were not allowed to write, to express themselves openly and freely; women would be suffering from nervous breakdown during her entire lifetime when they were not respected as individual and were heard. Not all women in general, of course, but especially bright, articulate, hardworking and ambitious women who didn’t feel enough to have inactive life, without involving their intellectuality.
Diane Price Herndl in her book entitled Invalid Women, Figuring Feminine Illness in American Fiction and culture, 1840-1940 stated that “Gilman was never entirely free of her nervousness, but after becoming an active writer and speaker, she never suffered from it to the same degree as she had earlier.” She escaped from bed-rest medication prescribed by S. Weir Mitchell—the most well-known neurologist in the nineteenth century America when she suffered from postpartum depression after delivering her only child, Katharine. Gilman cured herself from her postpartum depression and nervousness by resuming her intellectual life—writing and lecturing about men-women equality all over America and some countries in Europe.
In the meantime …
I find many people around me underestimating the power of writing. Some months ago one private student of mine, female, in her early forties, told me that it is useless to write, especially write diary. Some female workmates of mine also said the same thing. They argued, “When you are married, your husband is your best friend, your best audience to talk to, to listen to you. Besides, after getting married, you belong to your husband. What if he doesn’t let you write? What if he says that it is better for you to use the time to write diary to be with your husband?”
Don’t they perceive egotism of men in those arguments? An understanding husband will let his wife have some time to be alone, if that’s what his wife needs—let’s say time to write a diary; time to be with her friends. Getting married doesn’t mean that people no longer socialize with their old friends, or even have new friends.
And I believe in writing, people can sharpen their ability in analyzing something; perhaps in some ways it is similar to having oral discussion with someone. However, writing really helps when people want to analyze something when nobody is around.
And I could perceive that in fact in that private student of mine’s case, she needed a trustworthy friend who is not her husband, someone else. She needed a good friend to talk to, to listen to her, that, to me, it could be substituted by a diary. “Writing diary? Count me out. Besides I am not good in writing, I don’t want my husband to read what I write. Don’t you agree with me that sometimes we also have right to have secret? I don’t want my husband to know what I write, just like I don’t want my husband to know what I usually talk to you.”
At last she admitted it; she needed a media to express something she could not express to her husband. Only unfortunately, she couldn’t write. And she didn’t even want to try it. I wish she tried it and found the amazing function of writing in expressing herself.
Another friend said to me that at last she needed to have a friend to discuss anything at home when she found out that in fact she no longer found her husband as a good partner in debate, due to the intellectual gap between them. “Sometimes I am tired to talk to him. He doesn’t understand. He even doesn’t want to try to understand what I am talking about. If he tries to give comment, it just shows that he doesn’t understand the core of the problem.” One day she complained to me. In my opinion, she still can sharpen her ability in having discussion by writing it--by discussing it with herself. This is what I sometimes do in writing some articles for my blog. But she said, “Well, I accept my life like this now. I married my husband coz I love him. He is my own choice.”
I observe that in Indonesia recently blogging has been more and more popular. This is a very good phenomenon, I believe. More and more people will try to write. More and more people want to share what they have in mind with other people via writing. The main obstacle, in my opinion, is that internet connection is still expensive in Indonesia. Not many people can afford to access it everyday. Therefore, since blogging is considered a serious and intellectual thing and many people access internet only to have fun (IN INDONESIA!!!), not many netters use this blogging technology yet. Some students of mine don’t show their interest yet. They say, “I go online to cyber cafes for fun, Ma’am, not to do something serious like that. No.” Some other students say, “Writing? Count me out.”
Well, I hope gradually more people will write after they find the useful function of writing. Just like what I mentioned in the beginning of this article, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and some other female writers in the nineteenth century America found writing as medication for their nervousness.