Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Stewart Hoover

Second Advisor

Jane Menken

Third Advisor

Janice Peck

Fourth Advisor

Shu-­‐Ling Berggreen

Fifth Advisor

Richard Stevens

Abstract

Infertility and infertility treatments appear more often on TV and film today than in prior generations. One might believe that because the infertility experience is represented more frequently in popular media that the surrounding culture is more comfortable with supporting infertile men and women as they navigate their condition and potentially pursue treatment or adoption. This may be the case, but is not the only simple answer. Upon analysis, questions arise regarding how assisted reproductive technology is depicted—as opportunity or threat—and what the women who employ it look like. Are women identified in popular media as infertile of diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, as scientific and sociological data demonstrate, or are they overwhelmingly white, over 35, and upper class, as widespread stereotypes of the condition present as truth?

This dissertation investigates how contemporary popular media (notably film and television) articulate infertility. The study of this topic informs social structures regarding women and their perceived roles in the domestic sphere (and outside of it, in professional positions), as well as women and their perceived roles in reproduction. In outlining the historical, sociological, and medical parameters of infertility prior to analyzing the depiction of infertility in a range of popular media genres, I aim to demonstrate how the condition is being produced, disseminated, and represented in contemporary film and television, and illuminate ways that these images may challenge or, more frequently, align with longstanding biases against infertility, particularly infertile women.

Using a cultural studies framework informed by feminist, stigma, and Foucauldian theory, this qualitative study investigates representations of infertility in popular media through textual analysis of works from numerous genres, including melodrama, horror, science fiction, and reality television. In general, this study yields support for seeing more stereotypes regarding upholding the domesticity of women and social suspicion of medical intervention in reproduction than for popular culture as a resource for innovative ways of depicting and framing the infertility experience. However, the dissertation concludes with reflections on paths for further study, and potential avenues for advocacy enabled by popular media.

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