Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 09/04/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Baynton, Douglas

Second Advisor

Witt, Doris

First Committee Member

Greyser, Naomi

Second Committee Member

Glass, Loren

Third Committee Member

Buckley, Jen


This dissertation examines lived experiences of mental disability and neurodivergency in contemporary women’s writing. It demonstrates that social forces and identifications across race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability mediate experiences with mental disability in the contemporary era. I draw from disability studies, feminist cultural studies, feminist philosophy, critical race studies, and affect studies in order to explore interdisciplinary questions about mental illness, neurodivergency, and mental disability in contemporary literature and culture. I bring an intersectional feminist disability studies methodology to the archetype of the “madwoman,” theorized by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their groundbreaking 1979 work, The Madwoman in the Attic. Moving away from “madness” and toward “mental disability” in order to focus on how social logics and medical industrial systems produce mental disability, I argue for literary study as a way to better understand disability as a lived experience. I read Claudia Rankine’s poetry, Joyce Carol Oates’s and Dorothy Allison’s novels, and Amy Bloom’s and Esmé Weijun Wang’s short stories in order to investigate race, class, and sexuality across a range of feminine and nonbinary experiences with mental disability and neurodiversity in the contemporary era. I choose women as a primary category of analysis because they, in particular, have been hystericized, pathologized, and even incarcerated due to disabilities. These violences and inequities disproportionally affect women of color. I reveal how social logics, such as racism, and systems, such as the medical industrial complex, cause harm to those with mental illnesses and neurodivergencies. In some ways, mental disability may be an identity; in other ways, it may be a trauma; in other ways, it may be a stigmatizing force.


Contemporary, Disability, Literature, Mental disability, Neurodiversity, Women's Writing


viii, 172 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 161-172).


Copyright © 2019 Corey Hickner-Johnson

Available for download on Saturday, September 04, 2021