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The Empowered Woman and Encounters with Breast Cancer, the Year’s Chick Disease: Sick Lit and the Work of Memoir in the Postfeminist Decade





Specialization: English Degree: Doctor of Philosophy Abstract: This dissertation examines a postfeminist subgenre of women’s autobiography referred to as “sick lit.” The primary texts, all published between 2004 and 2009 are: Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Breastless in the City: A Young Woman’s Story of Love, Loss, and Breast Cancer by Cathy Bueti, Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy by Geralyn Lucas, Lopsided: How Having Breast Cancer is Really Distracting by Meredith Norton, My One Night Stand with Cancer by Tania Katan, and Nordie’s at Noon: The Personal Stories of Four Women “Too Young” for Breast Cancer by Patti Balwanz, Jana Peters, Kim Carlos, and Jennifer Johnson. I show that sick lit is a postfeminist manifestation of a genre of life writing more broadly known as the breast cancer narrative. While the breast cancer narrative was initially clearly a product of second-wave feminism in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, sick lit’s contents and paratexts reflect the presence of postfeminism as an oppressive and pervasive ideology, one which now discourages its authors from making explicit “feminist” demands for gender equity despite the fact that they write of encountering oppressive circumstances. Sick lit is written by women who have been aggressively targeted by a heteronormative consumer culture which conveys the message that consumption is an antidote to breast cancer. These authors frequently use irreverent humour and self deprecation in the form of confession to talk about the struggles they experience as a part of this social order. Thus, sick lit resembles the contemporary women’s fiction known as chick lit, as well as the chick flick. While I argue that sick lit is an aesthetic strategy which some writers use to reclaim their identities after cancer and, even at times, to unsettle the normative social order, ultimately, sick-lit writers—particularly those tied to breast cancer’s cause-related marketing campaigns—are yoked to commodity culture in ways which jeopardizes the legacy they might otherwise earn through life writing. For these reasons, sick lit helps to reveal postfeminism’s harms and potentials at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

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