Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Fantasies of Control

Intellectual Disability and Sexual Agency in the Second Wave

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2019), 13, (4), 393–410.

Abstract

Examining erotic scenes between intellectually disabled men and non-disabled women in Colleen McCullough’s Tim (1974), Graham Swift’s Waterland (1983), and Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump (1986), the article argues that these novels use intellectual disability to invoke compromised sexual agency, which facilitates the formation of a female subject who is knowledgeable, agential, and in control. This female subject supports “sex-positive” arguments, which emerged in response to second-wave feminism’s “sex wars” and extend through the #MeToo movement. In the relationally produced gender dyads featured in each of these novels, sex between women and intellectually disabled men not only associates sexual knowledge with femininity, but also frames women as intellectually able. At the same time, in embodying compromised sexual agency, intellectually disabled male characters exaggerate and hold up for examination the limited extent to which all individuals are knowing, agential subjects and to which women, in particular, are free to make determinations about sexuality in cultures shaped by male authority.

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McCullough, Colleen. Tim. New York: Random House, 1974. Print. Google Scholar

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McRuer, Robert and Anna Mollow. Sex and Disability. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. Print. Google Scholar

Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2001. Print. Google Scholar

Rubin, Gayle S. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Abingdon: Routledge, 1994. 143–79. Print. Google Scholar

Sanchez, Rebecca. Deafening Modernism: Embodied Language and Visual Poetics in American Literature. New York: New York UP, 2015. Print. Google Scholar

Scott, Steven D. “‘Like a Box of Chocolates’: Forrest Gump and Postmodernism.” Literature/Film Quarterly 29.1 (2001): 23–31. Web. 4 Jul. 2018. Google Scholar

Shakespeare, Tom. Disability: The Basics. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. Print. Google Scholar

Swift, Graham. Waterland. New York: Vintage, 1983. Print. Google Scholar

Szalai, Jennifer. “The Complicated Origins of ‘Having It All.’” The New York Times Magazine. 2 Jan. 2015. Web. 4 Jul. 2018. Google Scholar

Trent, James. Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Intellectual Disability in the United States. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2016. Print. Google Scholar

Ward, Jane. “Gender Labor: Transmen, Femmes, and Collective Work of Transgression.” Sexualities 13.2 (2010): 236–54. Web. 20 Sep. 2018. Google Scholar

Way, Katie. “I Went on a Date with Aziz Ansari. It Turned into the Worst Night of My Life.” 13 Jan. 2018. Web. 4 Jul. 2018. Google Scholar

Willis, Ellen. No More Nice Girls: Countercultural Essays. Minneapolis: Minnesota UP, 2012. Print. Google Scholar

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Author details

Pulsifer, Rebecah