The analysis of representations of disability in Western culture within a feminist framework

  • Josephine Pedersen

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines the representation of disabled people in Western culture within the context of feminist theoretical analyses to compare images of disabled people with the representations of women's bodies that are found in cultural representations. The body of the thesis is comprised of six chapters which explore images of disability in six major cultural sites for such images: charitable advertising, popular women's magazines, literature for children, film, biblical narratives and pornography. My analysis of these sites suggests that there are parallels between the ways in which women's bodies and the bodies of disabled people are represented. In Chapter 1 I analyse the discourse of charity advertising and the ways in which it presents disabled people in feminised scenarios. In Chapter 2 I examine the ways in which disability is allied to gender in popular women's magazines where certain bodily specificities and disabilities are associated with female characters. I consider in Chapter 3 the ways in which disabled characters in literature for children are presented as morally inadequate and lacking in self-control, exactly as female characters are depicted in Western culture. In Chapter 4 I address the identity of disability in film as a construction and in some respects as an illusion, as well as the role of disabled characters in the Freudian narrative of psycho-sexual development, and equate this with the role of the female in cultural expressions. In Chapter 5 I examine the cures of the New Testament and the ritual purifications of the Old Testament as a means to eradicate difference from the ideal of the male body. I argue that biblical narrative establishes women and disabled people as a violation of the ideal male body through their categorisation as unclean. In Chapter 6 I analyse pornographic representations of disabled women to investigate the ways in which disabled characters are positioned, like female characters, as the object of the gaze and as such as castrated and fetishised figures. The Conclusion summarises the argument of the thesis and briefly analyses some of the issues that arise around general concerns about the representation of disability.
Date of Award2001
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
  • University of Leicester
SupervisorGabrielle Griffin (Supervisor)

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