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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Woman Madness

The first time I got to know this term—woman madness—in 2003, when I borrowed a classmate’s book entitled Literature and Gender written by Lizbeth Goodman. (NOTE: 2003 was the starting point in my life to be a feminist.) When getting an assignment from Comparative Literature Class, I happened to find one short story in Jurnal Perempuan number 23 that I could analyze together with “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Both stories have the same topic—woman madness.

One thing I enjoyed doing a lot to prepare writing papers during my study was looking for supporting materials from internet. So, in 2003 I got some materials from various websites about woman madness to write a paper in Comparative Literature Class. However, I didn’t have any idea yet to choose it as my thesis. For thesis, I wanted to do research on women’s movement in America compared to women’s movement in Indonesia—especially from Muslim society. I have collected some books on this topic. However, my thesis proposal was rejected by the then Head of American Studies Graduate Program of Gadjah Mada University. There is already one thesis with similar topic—comparing women’s movement in America and Indonesia, although not viewed from Muslim perspective. Not having much spare time made me remember the paper I made in Pak Bakdi’s class—WOMAN MADNESS IN CHARLOTTE PERKINS GILMAN’S “THE YELLOW WALLPAPER” AND PUTU OKA SUKANTA’S DEWI BULAN JATUH DI BATAM. I proposed this topic to the Head of American Studies. She approved it. However, in the process, I didn’t do comparative study because I dropped Putu Oka Sukanta’s short story due to not enough supporting materials.

I didn’t get a lot of books to support my research either—on Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper”. Depending on internet materials were not enough. Nevertheless, I was quite lucky because I got help from two ex guest lecturers from New York and Michigan. Prof Egan sent me a book entitled The Yellow Wallpaper edited by Dale M. Bauer published by Bedford Books in New York in 1998. The book consists the short story itself, some other short stories with similar topic—woman madness—written around the nineteenth century America, the background of the nineteenth century when Gilman wrote her most anthologized short story, etc. Prof Kenneth Hall helped me buy several books—such as Woman and Madness by Phyllis Chesler, The Captive Imagination, A Casebook on The Yellow Wallpaper by Catherine Golden, Invalid Women, Figuring Illness in American Fiction and Culture, 1840-1940 by Diane Price Herndl, Charlotte Perkins Gilman: A Non fiction Reader by Larry Ceplair, Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, etc. Prof Hall’s lovely and caring wife brought those books—also many other books my classmates bought—to Indonesia when she visited her husband.

In 2004 and 2005 I dealt with woman madness topic intensely. My deep involvement in this topic oftentimes put me in the position of the narrator of “The Yellow Wallpaper”. I love writing but I couldn’t really do it to my heart’s content. Once in a blue moon I thought that I was about to lose my insanity too due to the misery in my personal life I underwent in that episode life of mine. Should I blame myself for not conforming to patriarchal stereotypical feminine roles? In my case was I had my own requirement to feel happy that is obviously on the contrary to what common people think—I cannot really illustrate it here, should I give in and conform to society’s consensus of what a good woman is?

I successfully passed the misery of that episode life of mine. I finished my study more than a year ago (with the main topic woman madness for my thesis). Topic “woman madness” is (almost) gone from my daily life now. I feel okay now. Nevertheless, when finding my paper for Comparative Literature Class and retyping it to post in my blog, I remember that bitter episode again. Absolutely I didn’t blame the topic of my thesis. I just feel hostile deeply to this patriarchal society with its chauvinism—women are just imperfect men so women are to have tendency to get insane more than men are.

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