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Sunday, January 21, 2018
HomeMedia EngagementThe Return of Nurse Ratched – because we fear strong women

The Return of Nurse Ratched – because we fear strong women

Poured my coffee and grabbed The New York Times Weekend Arts section to see what’s happening culturally this weekend to make plans that would provide balm for my soul.


I turned to page C3, Arts, briefly and this headline jumped out at me: “Netflix Acquires Series on Nurse Ratched”  a Netflix series from Ryan Murphy, the creator of the horror series “American Horror Story”, Sarah Paulson will be the star of the show. It will focus on the the character Nurse Ratched in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It was adapted as a film in 1975.


I asked myself, why now?


It’s 2017, the President of the United States has been widely called out for his objectification of women – he has a tendency to criticise them for their looks – and he makes sexist remarks. This administration is back peddling on policy issues that directly impact women from access to equal pay, parental leave, and reproductive justice (to name just a few issues on a long list).


So Netflix is producing a 2-season 18 part horror series based on the female character, Nurse Ratched. “Ms. Paulson will play the title character, tracing her evolution from low-level nurse to the manipulative tyrant who terrorizes mental institution patients in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel.” In the film, her nickname was “Big Nurse”.


In the film adaptation (and in the book) Ratched is depicted as a powerful and threatening woman who emasculates and belittles men on the unit she commands full control over. Ratched also holds absolute power over the male and female staff. She makes them do what she wants.


One message: When this woman is in charge. Fear her to the fullest degree.


The book, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was written in 1962, a period of social turmoil, the Civil Rights movement and Second Wave Feminism.


I guess the backlash on women moving forward, nurses working towards full scope of practice is still as threatening now as it was in 1962.


We have our work cut out for us. But we already knew that. I’ll be tuning in as a feminist nurse media analyst.


I didn’t even touch on the portrayal of people living with mental health issues and how we still can’t talk about it or provide access to care.


Written by

Barbara Glickstein is a co-director of the GW Nursing Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement, as well as a nurse, media guru and activist in New York City. She is the chairman of the board of Project Kesher and a consultant to many health care organizations and creative projects. She tweets and 'grams @blickstein.

Latest comments

  • Right on & instead of feeling accomplishment for how far we have come, instead I feel rising anger daily (on so many levels) because the journey is still so long and exhausting !!! DC

    • I hear you Debra. We must persist!

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