ABLE-BODIED WOMANHOOD: DISABILITY AND CORPOREALLY EXCLUSIONARY NARRATIVES IN BLACK AND WHITE WOMEN’S RIGHTS DISCOURSES, 1832-1932
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This project is a feminist disability rhetorical analysis of US black and white women’s rights movements from 1832-1932. Guided by Disability and Feminist Theory, it works to identify the presence and use of patterns of disability tropes in women’s rights discourses. From Lucretia Coffin Mott to Sojourner Truth, Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Mary Church Terrell, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Addie Hunton, this project interrogates the rhetorical work of dominant narratives and lesser known voices in women’s rights discourses. I argue that early black and white women’s rights advocates often utilized and repeated a disability rhetoric that relied on disability metaphor, narrative prosthesis, and corporeally exclusionary narratives in order to construct definitions of womanhood. Their insistence on cognitive ability as a marker of “fitness” and “ability” provided the foundation for rights arguments based on ableist assumptions of autonomy and citizenship. I also argue that this use of disability rhetoric relied on and furthered a pervasive ableist ideology present not only in many of these movements, but in US society. In the process, US black and white women’s rights discourses have continually elided women with disabilities from women’s rights discourses because their bodies (physically, cognitively, and/or psychologically) did not meet the ableist prerequisites set for claiming women’s rights during this time period.