'Mabel is Unstable': A Feminist Disability Studies Perspective on Early-Twentieth-Century Representations of Disabled Women in Advertisements

Ella Houston
2015 Considering Disability Journal  
The representation of women with mental health issues in early twentieth century advertisements supports the stereotype of women experiencing mental health issues as 'unstable', 'unworthy' and inherently 'lacking'. This paper finds that women with mental health issues are overwhelmingly placed as lone figures that are deserving of close scrutiny and objectification by patriarchal society. A cultural model of disability is outlined as a key perspective that can be used to provide a foundation
more » ... ide a foundation for a feminist disability studies inquiry that seeks to empower disabled women, in some small way. The medical 'gaze' dominates the representations of 'madwomen' through the persistent discourse of pharmaceutical intervention and the omnipresent message that cognitive enhancement is a necessary and 'effective' way of securing women in the home. Textual analysis suggests that the advertisements collectively carry ableist and sexist discourses that reflect hegemonic ideals of mid-twentieth-century UK society. Specifically, an application of critical discourse analysis finds that the discourses support the oppressive and ableist binary of 'sane/insane'. Intersections between gender and disability are further developed in order to shape understandings of how disabled women are repeatedly silenced through constant medication and surveillance in order to maintain the 'status quo' (Garland Thomson, 1996).
doi:10.17774/cdj12014.6.20575874 fatcat:k3jnqtis35gfbdovrgxumdrjh4