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Feminist Disability Theory Approach to Representations of Mental Illness in Four Post-1990 Play Scripts

Stevens, Sunshine
spite efforts to change society's perception of mental illness, it remains one of the most highly stigmatized disabilities. The medical model of disability, which locates the supposed defect within individuals, shapes discourse about mental illness and perpetuates stigma. It places value on normative bodies and stresses the importance of overcoming what it views as negative difference. In recent decades theorists have embraced a social constructionist point of view, which examines the impairment disabilities represent as a result of interaction between individual, society, and environment. However, this view has been criticized for not fully realizing the difficulties disabled individuals face. Feminist scholars, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson in particular, have proposed a feminist disability theory which more accurately takes into account both social factors and the physical realities of disability. Feminist disability theory also overcomes the gap created by historical feminism, which has attempted to promote equality using a strength-based approach which may not be applicable to the non-normative or disabled. Because the literature society produces reflects commonly-held values and norms, this paper uses four contemporary play scripts to examine social attitudes and beliefs about mental illness, an enduring theme within dramatic literature.