I want to talk about my favorite short stories of all time.”The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It was written in 1892. (This is a little out my time frame but the story contributed to the culture that surrounded her.) The Victorian era is known for its repressive gender norms. Women stayed at home and tended to the house and children. Men went out to work (if they weren’t really rich, then they went out to their clubs). Women only existed in the home; men, on the other hand, existed both outside the home and inside it. Notice I am only talking about upper middle class white women. Women of color or poorer women had to work
whether it was inside or outside the home. Upper middle class women were supposed to stay in the house. It was thought that the only reason why women should be out of the home is if they were looking for trouble. If women were not happy with this arrangement they could be shipped off to mental institutions. Or they were treated for hysteria. One of the treatments was for women to be on a type of bed rest. They were not allowed to really do anything. The author, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was forced into bed rest. She was not allowed to write except for two hours a day. She wrote that the “treatment” almost killed her. And that is what the story is about.
A little tangent on Victorian society. Women were not allowed to really be in public spaces, they really did belong in the house (at least that was what society said). If a female were to be harmed out of the home there were seen as deserving of it , as they were “looking for trouble”. Corsets at that time became more and more restrictive, possibly as a way for women to gain some control over their lives. Eating disorders also rose during this period. Before this corsets were not restrictive. Here are two good articles about the history of corsets. Here and here.
This is a deliciously creepy story that I encourage everyone to read.