Disability studies is often associated with the treatment of people with physical disabilities, which are defined as features of non-normative human bodies. However, analyzed through the lens of the classical idea of the ideal body, which was first and foremost male, femininity itself is also atypical and therefore confines women to the realm of being disabled.
Sylvia Plath’s autobiographical novel The Bell Jar shows how the feminine is a disability in and of itself. As Plath’s main character and narrator, Esther Greenwood, spirals into her own madness, her condition is only worsened by societal reactions to her declining mental health. Those around Esther isolate her, those who try to help her actually do the opposite, and the cause of Esther’s mentality is never acknowledged. Not only does this autobiographical novel spin the tale of Esther’s mental disability, but it also highlights the similarities in disability and feminist rhetoric.
Rhetorically speaking, femininity and disability are portrayed as abnormal. However, within disability rhetoric, normality is defined by unfair social norms. Therefore, in order to respect and truly understand disability and femininity, the rhetoric behind both must be studied and explained so that true progress may be made in how we discuss both topics.
Kirkus, Shae and Herr, Monika Shehi
"Femininity as Disability in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.,"
University of South Carolina Upstate Student Research Journal: Vol. 15, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/uscusrj/vol15/iss1/3