A Portion of This Paper…

So I mentioned that I’ve been reading a lot (more) about cancer; I’m currently writing a seminar paper on 21st century women’s cancer narratives, which I’ll be turning into a conference paper to present on a panel at the Michigan Women’s Studies Association conference–“Leading the Way: Feminism, Education, and Social Change”– in March. I presented a version of this in class yesterday. Abstract below.

A Portion of This Paper Will Help Fight Breast Cancer: Women’s Cancer Narratives and Twenty-First Century Survivor Subjectivity

 The rise of the breast cancer narrative as a popular genre evolves largely out of the establishment, in 1985—and the subsequent commercial propagation—of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: an annual cultural phenomenon sponsored by the pharmeceutical company AstraZeneca. The genre’s initial emergence in the 80s and 90s marks the emergence of a new subjectivity—the “politicized patient”—and a new genre: a Foucauldian “counternarrative to medical discourse.” [1]  In the twenty-five years since its inception, breast cancer awareness culture has moved from a model of a politicized patient to an increasingly commercialized one; adopted by corporate culture as a “cause,” breast cancer becomes a brand name. In the twenty-first century, the breast cancer narrative therefore demands not only a counternarrative to medical discourse, but a counternarrative to the commercial discourse in which women’s stories are used as useful marketing tools for the cultivation of the uniform subjectivity of “survivor.” Thirty years on from the publication of Susan Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor and Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals, a second generation of female cancer patient subjectivity persists: a sentimentally politicized patienthood, carrying with it a ubiquitously commercialized, normalized ur-narrative of “survival.” In this paper, I explore the ways in which American women’s cancer narratives operate in the post-feminist twenty-first century, particularly how the “survivor” subjectivity is constructed, or deconstructed, against the backdrop of American commercial culture.

[1] See Lisa Diedrich, Treatments: Language, Politics, and the Culture of Illness. (Minneapolis: Univ of Minnesota Press, 2007), pp. 25-6.

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