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Women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

            Until the mid 1900s society promoted an image where women's main role was as a caretaker, while the men had the authority. The 1960s, specifically, included many social transformations such as the Civil Rights movement and a wave of feminism. During this time, women obtained more control and made headway in society, contrasting their previous responsibilities primarily in the household. Kesey, however, negatively portrays dominating women in his novel as threatening figures who emasculate and strip away the mental and physical strength of men. Ultimately, Ken Kesey's portrayal of women in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest represents authoritative figures that are able to manipulate the patients on the ward and employ complete control through their devious schemes.
             Within the ward, all the authority is entrusted to Nurse Ratched. Ratched, who attempts to hide any feminine attribute to maximize her power, preserves her position as the voice of authority on the ward by suppressing the patients and putting them against each other. During the group therapy, Nurse Ratched is able to trick the patients into submissiveness: "It was better than she'd dreamed. They were all shouting to outdo one another, going further and further, no way of stopping, telling things that wouldn't ever let them look one another in the eye again. The nurse nodding at each confession and saying Yes, yes, yes" (Kesey 89). Big Nurse's domination infuses a chaotic state within the mental ward. She manipulates the men into spilling all their secrets and turning them against each other in efforts to keep the ward under control. By taunting the men's insecurities, she strips them of their masculinity and independence so they will not rebel. Ratchet finds the most vulnerable aspect of the patients and exploits it to keep them submissive. Clearly a figure of authority, Ratched contrasts to the stereotypical view of women at that time: "The Big Nurse also falls into the category of "Iron Maiden," an asexual powerful woman who dismisses traditional notions of femininity.

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