The main women in the book are Harding's wife, Ratched, Candy, and Mrs. All of them, except Candy, are matriarchs who dominate over men and are all represented negatively. Harding's wife uses her beauty and Harding's own insecurities to keep him locked up in the ward; Ratched is a tyrant over the ward's patients (all of whom are men); and Mrs. Bibbit babies Billy and rules him completely which is why Billy kills himself when he knows his mom will find about Candy. The only woman represented postively in the book is Candy, a prostitute, a woman whose profession involves submission to men. Thus, women are shown as being the evils of society and the temptation of men, and are only good when they submit to men a la Candy.
The characters of Nurse Ratched, Mrs. Bibbit, and Vera Harding are representative of the matriachy that reigns in the mental ward. On a larger scale, these women exemplify the notion that women are to blame for the ills of soicety. Kesey does introduce the characters of Cand Starr, a prostitute and friend of McMurphy, and the girl in the cotton mill, both of whom stand in stark contrast to the matrons of the hospital. He also has McMurphy mention that "ball-cutters" can be any age or gender. These parts of the novel show hints of gender equality that the rest of the book appears to ignore. Nontheless, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest clearly illustrates a reversal in stereotypical gender roles, and serves as a constant reminder of the attitude biases still present in modern society. .
Nurse Ratched, whose power is expressed in bluntly sexual terms despite her attempts to deny her sexuality, maintains her position as the sloe voice of authority on the ward by suppressing the patients' laughter. The men under her jurisdiction use sexual references when talking about her, and after the first group therapy session the new admission R.P. McMurphy calls her a "ball-cutter.