This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ishika Das. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Here Is Why You Should Netflix And Chill While Watching Ratched

Erving Goffman was way ahead of his time. Goffman’s work on asylum was among the first sociological scrutiny of patients living in psychiatric asylums, from their perspective. He based his groundbreaking work Asylums (1961) on a year of field research at St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, USA.

Goffman described the mental hospital as a “total institution”, a formal organization in which regimentation dominated every aspect of daily life, along with a customary separation of places for work, sleep, and play.

The daily liturgy was carried out in the form of batch living. Activities were scheduled by rules and officials, and the activities were devised as part of a plan to realize the institution’s goals. Life in the total institution was very different from civil life and domestic family households.

Induction to these institutions involved a series of abasements, humiliations, and profanations of self”. Initiation rites were followed, where the inmates were frisked, their personal belongings confiscated, hair cut, and they were uniformed.

What Is The Under Life?

Goffman also observed resistance i.e., the acts through which patients constructed a life for themselves amidst the conformist asylum. He called this an “under life” that went on beneath the radar of the staff. This underlife included “free places”, “stashes”, sexual liaisons, using personal contacts on the outside etc.

These acts were merely antics in an oppressive environment. Goffman countered psychological orthodoxy, where he said that the “sick behaviour” of the patient was not because of any illness, but due to the consequence of social distancing from the patient’s immediate situation.

His analysis of asylums was supported by Stigma (1963).

Stigma dealt with the themes of difference, disadvantage, and otherness, primarily “being disqualified from full social acceptance”. Goffman wrote, “A stigmatized person is first of all like anyone else, trained first of all in others’ views of persons like himself.”

Thus, “normal” and “stigmatized” were not persons, they were perspectives and interactional roles instead.

Why Is Ratched An Important Watch?

Ryan Murphy’s Ratched is a psychological thriller series. It follows the life of a nurse, Mildred Ratched (Sarah Paulson), based on the character in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, working in a psychiatric asylum in the 1940s. 

A still from the Netflix show Ratched, starring Sarah Paulson. Photo credit: Wired

Similar to what Goffman described, Lucia State Hospital, the asylum in Ratched, is modelled keeping in mind the absolute obedience of patients. Upon entering the establishment, processes are implemented to destroy the patient’s old self and create a new self.

The patients are dispossessed from normal social roles, stripped of their usual identities. The patients go through a “mortification process” of self via physical and social abuse, whereby their personal details and biography are recorded, belongings confiscated, their hair cut and civilian clothing changed for institutional purposes.

These processes are instituted to rid the patients of any form of self-identification. Contacts with outside persons are limited and the patients can’t stop their visitors from seeing them in humiliating and mortifying conditions. Their daily activities are monitored and scheduled by the staff.

Activities and rituals are conducted in batches. There are group tasks, closely supervised social events like dances, etc. However, there are also strict rules that prevent any form of solidarity among patients, discouraging high morale and friendship.

Cut Off From Others And Each Other

The patients are cut off, rather, alienated from the wider society. Human needs are managed in a bureaucratic and unsentimental way. An under life is also manifested in the show, as patients develop bonds of camaraderie with each other, friendly banter is exchanged along with casual plans to escape the asylum.

Patients staying in psychiatric facilities are often cut off from the rest of the world and the social alientation adds to their mental distress. Representational image. Photo credit: Pxfuel

These bonds help the patients to hold onto a semblance of their past lives and restore worth. There is a form of social distance between the staff and the patients, as each group tends to be hostile to each other. This reflects a feature of the total institution that Goffman highlighted.

Just as he had claimed, the patients at Lucia have a strong feeling that the time spent there is time wasted or time is taken from one’s life. Goffman described an “inpatient” phase, where the patients realize that they are completely deserted from society.

They begin to acknowledge themselves as “patients” and are made aware of the fact that society will treat them differently once they go back. This is very apparent in the show, as the patients at Lucia also know that when they get out of the institution, life on the outside will never be like it was, before admission.

The Stigma Of Labels

This brings us to stigma. Goffman addressed how the patients felt about their stigma. His analysis emphasized the bigotry the stigmatized faced as they attempted to navigate through society’s standards of worthiness. The standards for labelling people were widely shared.

The stigma that mentally ill people are savage is epitomized in Ratched. This is one of the many stigmas portrayed in the show. These prejudices haunt the patients at Lucia as they gradually begin to accept that they are completely shunned from society.

Several movies have spread the false stigma that people with mental illnesses are prone to violence, unpredictable behaviour and thus, are incapable of leading a life in society by gaining employment. Some films have even presented people who seek asylum as being “possessed”.

These obstinate stereotypes engender harsh negative attitudes towards people with mental illness. Ratched is not foreign to this, as it illustrates the horrifying consequences of these stereotypes. 

Thus, the stigma attached to asylum is ubiquitous. Asylums take the psychological mentality of a patient as its point of departure. Stigma makes no presumption of psychological difference between the normal and the stigmatized.

Discrimination Seems To Be The Norm

There is no country, society, or culture where people who have been institutionalized have the same societal value as others. A survey was conducted with respondents from 27 countries, where nearly 50% of persons with mental illnesses reported discrimination in their personal relationships.

Succumbing to these realities, asylum and stigma have become leading themes in psychological movies in the last 50 years. 

Featured image has been borrowed from Ratched’s official Facebook page.
You must be to comment.
  1. Harold A Maio

    Goffman wrote, “A stigmatized person …” (fait accompli, mission accomplished)

    Indeed he did. He did not write about those who directed that prejudice, but wrote about it being so.

    He, in other words, did not write about “people who stigmatize”. he repeated their assertion.

More from Ishika Das

Similar Posts


By Anusha S

By Charkha Features

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below