Madwomen in Social Justice Movements, Literatures, and Art

Madwomen in the Attic is excited about the publication of “Madwomen in Social Justice Movements, Literatures, and Art,” forthcoming from Vernon Press (2022). One of its editors is MITA co-founder Jessica Lowell Mason and its other editor is MITA member and featured writer, Nicole Crevar.

There is certainly a need for more books on madness and mental healthcare written by and for people whose bodies and life trajectories have been directly affected by mental healthcare systems and practices, and this is one book that affirms Mad people and people affected by the mental health systems as knowers and producers of historical, theoretical, social, creative, and other knowledges on the subjects of consciousness, the mind, madness, mental health, and psychic and bodily existence.

Check out the beautiful cover of the book, designed by Vernon Press and artist Gwynne Duncan, whose larger body of work is viewable online on her website.

Image description: Image is of the front cover of the book. It features beige-peach and reddish-brown hued brick buildings in a cityscape, with windows, and in each window there are figures of people engaged in a variety of activities: the uppermost window, which opens to a roof, features a figure in a blue dress whose features are not clear looking out at the moon, a window to the lower left is wearing a white shirt and black shorts and sitting in a lotus pose, a figure in a window to the right of this window features a figure in a black short dress who is in the motion of dancing, in the windows of apartments below are two figures, one in pinkish red dress sitting at and playing the piano and the other on in a two piece black outfit standing with one leg up in a yoga pose. There is a crescent moon over a starry blue sky in the upper lefthand corner over the buildings. There are plants inside windows and outside of the buildings. There is a tree with light green leaves in center front of the building. To the uppermost right of the page are two small square windows with a figure reading a book on the left and a figure at a computer on the right. Below that and over the painting is a square with the title of the book in large print (Madwomen in Social Justice Movements, Literatures, and Art, Edited by Jessica Lowell Mason, Nicole Crevar). Below that is a white railed porch and ladder or staircase down to the bottom of the sidewalk or page. On the sidewalk are pink cherry blossoms below the tree. Behind the ladder /staircase is a three part window with blue curtains. Beside that is a tiny window that is cut off but there is a figure engaged in an activity, perhaps with a piece of paper in front of them.

Description from the Back of the Book:

Madwomen in Social Justice Movements, Literatures, and Art’ boldly reasserts the importance of the Madwoman more than four decades after the publication of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s seminal work in feminist literary criticism, ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’. Since Gilbert and Gubar’s work was published, the Madwoman has reemerged to do important work, rock the academic boat, and ignite social justice agency inside and outside of academic spaces, moving beyond the literary context that defined the Madwoman in the late 20th century.

In this dynamic collection of essays, scholars, creative writers, and Mad activists come together to (re)define the Madwoman in pluralistic and expansive ways and to realize new potential in Mad agency. This collection blazes new directions of thinking through Madness as a gendered category, comprised of a combination of creative works that (re)imagine the figure of the Madwoman, speeches in which Mad-identifying artists and writers reclaim the label of “Madwoman,” and scholarly essays that articulate ambitious theories of the Madwoman.

The collection is an interdisciplinary scholarly resource that will appeal to multiple academic fields, including literary studies, disability studies, feminist studies, and Mad studies. Additionally, the work contributes to the countermovement against colonial, sanist, patriarchal, and institutional social practices that continue to silence women and confine them to the metaphorical attic. Appealing to a broad audience of readers, ‘Madwomen in Social Justice Movements, Literatures, and Art’ is a cutting-edge inquiry into the implications of Madness as a theoretical tool in which dissenting, deviant, and abnormal women and gender non-conforming writers, artists, and activists open the door to Mad futurities.

The book is available for pre-order with a 30% discount using the code KLBR30 at

Recently, Jessica Lowell Mason and Nicole Crevar were presenters at the National Women’s Studies Association’s annual conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The conference’s theme was “killing rage: Resistance on the Other Side of Freedom,” inspired by bell hooks’ book, Killing Rage: Ending Racism. As part of a paper session titled (also drawing on hooks’ words), “My focus has always been on the work: Exploring Opportunities for Transformation and Reclamation,” their performance-presentation was titled “Mad Feminist Ingenuity at the Edge of Rage: Gathering Theory and Stories to Challenge Epistemic Injustice.”

Image Description: Pictured above is a rectangular image of a slide from a Powerpoint slideshow that was projected at the presentation. The above slide is on a mustard-yellow background with a brown border. The following text appears at the top of the slide, underlined: “Challenging Epistemic Injustice.” The following text appears at the center of the slide: “Epistemic injustice: an injustice of denying a person the capacity for knowing, or the ability to be a knower (based on the work of Miranda Fricker in Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing, Oxford University Press, 2007).”

If you’re curious about epistemic injustice, check out the work of Miranda Fricker in her book, Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Fricker’s work was introduced to the co-editors of the collection by brilliant philosopher, theorist, scholar, professor, and musician extraordinarie, Dr. Catherine Adoyo, whose wide-ranging work includes elucidations of epistemological decolonization in the works of Dante Alighieri, critical analyses of language practices, and poetic meditations (which might be also considered historical fiction) that speak to intergenerational trauma.

Video description: the video below features two short white women wearing glasses, both close to 5’1” in height and slight in figure, one (Nicole Crevar) with red long hair to her shoulders – wearing a pumpkin-orange blazer and gray pants, and the other (Jessica Lowell Mason) with short gingerbread-colored hair with blonde highlights, wearing a gold-yellow sweater, black turtleneck, and black and white plaid baggy pants. They are standing beside a conference table with a tablecloth over it and a laptop on it and in front of a screen that shows images that are blurred out by the light of the projector. They are passing the microphone to each other during the presentation, while standing about a foot or so apart from each other at the front of the conference room.

[Above is a slide show of slides that correspond with the text included below. There are two images in which the speakers are pictured engaging in community work, Jessica with Madwomen in the Attic and Nicole with a group called Wildcat Writers. There is also an image of the cover of the book, which was described above.]

Mad Feminist Ingenuity at the Edge of Rage: Gathering Theory and Stories to Challenge Epistemic Injustice

Jessica Lowell Mason and Nicole Crevar

National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)’s 2022 Conference

November 13, 2022, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Part I: Performance


We gather

at the creative edge

of anger

to understand the fertile

futurity of rage,

that place

of mobility

to which our rage


a range

of movement,





I am the woman who quietly rages. I am the mad woman, the mad academic, who is distraught from reading about the injustices brought by neoliberalism. I find myself increasingly stressed and depressed, eaten alive by the system I am studying and living in. I quietly rage, because I do not know how to make my anger productive for justice.


Rage, when we are

cut down,

told we cannot,

told we do not,

told we are not,

rage, when we are

told we should,

told we are,

told we must,

rage, when we


when we insist,

when we rise

with rage

to face threats

that feed

our sense

our knowing,

rage, when we


that we

are knowers.


My story is rooted in Rita’s story. My great-grandmother Rita was institutionalized for schizophrenia: she was locked up in a straight jacket and silenced. In my family, she is treated as a stigma, a stain on my family history that no one talks about. I will never know her story, never know her rage or the ingenuity that it might have become. The more I tried to learn about Rita, the more I started to wonder, how many other stories, like Rita’s, are erased, fragmented, edited, or lost in the shadows of patriarchal, racist, sanist, ableist, and capitalist systems of oppression?


We do not


our rage,

we do not deny

our gifts,

hidden and unhidden

in the knowing

that our rage


sacred rage



as we devise


at the edges

of our knowing:

as we witness

a horizon,

a question

of what’s next.


My story, in many ways connected with Rita’s, is a mix of anxiety, trauma, gut disorders, and social pressures. While some of these are genetic, I have come to realize that many of them are triggered by, and a result of, our changing socioeconomic and political climate. As a social activist and a scholar of neoliberalism, I feel helpless. I often feel stuck and hindered, but I have to remember the contributions that I can make, like those I made in collaborating as co-editor of this collection. Editorial work and gathering stories are both forms of political organizing, too.


I am always railing

on the border

between rage

and what righteous

rage seeks:

Justice; my creative


and my laboring


to do the work

of Justice–

I listen to the wisdom


in my rage

and to the wisdom

in others’ rage;

I stretch my rage,

I reach out

to hold the hands

of yours.


As a graduate student, I face surmounting pressures to produce, to do more, to manage one more project, all the while facing a bleak job market that does not value people, especially Mad people. My experiences with anxiety and trauma sometimes do shape and certainly affect the work I do in the classroom–they have helped to make me empathetic; they make me a good listener and an even better educator. This is my mad feminist ingenuity at work.


I bring my rage

in close and quiet

so I can listen

to you,

I am at the edge

of rage

with you, ready

to make something,

ready to give,



Mad academics are not welcome at the university. We are not welcome because we do not fit; because we care, support, challenge, and push back against patriarchal and sanist structures. We’re forced to find creative ways to subvert the university’s capitalist, neoliberal agendas in order to survive within it and to change it. And so we must fight. We must continue to find the ingenuity in our rage: to tell our stories when they are not wanted or listened to, to demand our voices be heard, and to gather the stories that challenge oppressive structures.



is our ingenuity,

our Mad feminist



we name the past,


we reclaim

our identities,

our histories,


we retell

our stories,


we reshape

our future.

Part II: Re-Theorizing the Madwoman and Calling On Our Mad Feminist Ingenuity


At the end of “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” Audre Lorde calls feminists to gather “face to face, beyond objectification and beyond guilt” at what could be called the edge of rage, a productive and mobile space of transition toward “a future of pollinating difference and the earth to support our choices” (118). Lorde’s words helped us to interpret the concept of “killing rage” around which this conference was formed. Voicing our rage at that brave edge of ingenuity that Audre Lorde describes requires that we use our anger to respond to injustice by making our differences places of fertility and growth. When we learned about the theme of the conference this year, we had just finished editing a collection of academic and creative essays titled Madwomen in Social Justice Movements, Literatures, and Art, and so we went there to interpret the conference’s theme. Those espousing feminist ideas have, for centuries, been called Mad and angry, and feminists have histories with the word “rage,” histories shaped by identity. The policing of rage and the misrepresentation of rage have been used against people whose bodies have resisted white supremacy, coloniality, capitalism, and tyranny. People who have claimed rage have been killed and people have had the rage inside themselves killed. Mad people, in particular, have unique relationships with rage, historically: we know rage is allowed or disallowed, fostered or killed, based on race and gender. The weaponizing of feminist rage: rage against misogynistic or colonial or racial injustice, in particular, has led to the killing of rage within the mental health system–for example, Electroconvulsive Therapy (widely referred to as ECT) and psychotropic drugs have been used to kill rage in mental institutions over the last century, and before and during that same period, a host of other torturous practices have been used to control gender and racially marginalized bodies in the name of killing rage. But what happens when we kill rage differently? When we transmute rage into new forms in order to preserve parts of it. When we tune into our rage to find our ingenuity. In considering the Madwoman through the project of our edited collection, we were able to see ingenuity on the edge of rage, in action. Our project and process of co-editing helped us to see some of the productive ways that rage operates when it is connected to social justice. We also thought about the ways we make rage function so that our rage is not used against us or so that our rage does not hurt us. The Mad feminist ingenuity of the writers in our forthcoming collection showed us that feminist rage is a rage that aims to seek justice and liberation. Rage can be hard to bear; it can be a heavy load to carry, but at the edge of rage is the momentum that rage gives us to creatively act out, to act for justice.


About the Collection

Our collection brings together a community of writers who identify, or have been labeled against their will, as Mad, because our voices have too often been excluded from the conversation. We are Mad scholars, Mad editors, and those whose madness and identifications as Mad often threaten to put us and keep us on the periphery of the academy.

We, like Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar in their seminal work The Madwoman in the Attic, recognize the madwoman as a subject worthy of literary study, but our collection pushes beyond these literary confines to explore the madwoman in ways that consider the madwoman as a ‘knower’ and take into consideration emotional distress, disability, and varying forms of structural oppression and violence. That is, our collection centers on and validates Mad subjectivities, with each chapter taking social circumstance and social justice into serious account.

This book is meant to disrupt sanist academic discourse by challenging it to be more honest, practical, and liberatory. To enact such disruption, we have included creative pieces by mad activists and artists that we’ve named Mad Disruptions. These pieces interrupt the academic chapters and bring attention to the many voices that have been silenced or ignored and whose lived experiences have been deemed unvaluable forms of knowledge.

As the title indicates, our collection interrogates the madwoman in the specific areas of social justice, literature, and art. We believe that these three thematics inherently overlap when discussing the subject of the madwoman; specifically, literature and art embody, inspire, and are forms of social justice activism. This perspective stems from two major underpinnings of our collection: our insistence that it (1) is part of the field of Mad studies and participates in the movement for Mad Liberation, and (2) employs an autoethnographic approach that values lived experience as a form of knowledge. In this regard, we are indebted to the contributions of Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, whose edited collection This Bridge Called My Back proffers an alternative feminist epistemology––a “theory of the flesh”––that produces radical theorizing through the lived, physical experiences of women of color.

We have divided this collection into three important sections that organize and name the political work that the essays in the collection are doing: Silencing the Madwoman, Trauma and Testimony of the Madwoman, and (Re)Defining the Madwoman (point to slide). We thought that we would spend the last few minutes with you sharing an excerpt from each section.  We’ve chosen one excerpt from a Mad Disruption piece and two excerpts from scholarly essays that we feel showcase the Mad feminist ingenuity of our collection.

Part III: Mapping Mad Feminist Ingenuity in Madwomen in Social Justice Movements, Literatures, and Art

Silencing the Madwoman (JLM)

  • Foisy writes, “As a Mad sound artist with familial experiences of ECT, I have engaged with Janet Frame’s work to inform my artistic methodology and praxis. Through Frame and other survivor life writing and oral testimonies, I am able to resist psychiatric labelling and reclaim madness as a source of power and critique that led me to compose three sound art pieces that reflect upon mnemonic and epistemological themes in the novel and to also highlight the continued human rights violations caused by the industrial psychiatric complex which incarcerates and perpetuates ongoing violence.”

Trauma and Testimony of the Madwoman (NC)

  • “Liar was written entirely while in bed in the Fall of 2013, during the worst mental health episode of my life so far. I was having daily panic attacks. I had gone to the ER twice within two weeks and both times was sent home and told I had to wait for the next available outpatient psychiatric appointment. I was given drugs that should never have gone together. I remember clearly bringing them all to the student clinic at Fleming College, where the doctor, wide-eyed and concerned, asked me to surrender most of them. If I had taken them as prescribed, in conjunction with the medications I was already on, I likely would have overdosed… I was an absolute wreck at the time. My internship was at a harm reduction site in the same building as the little theater that Liar would be produced at a few months later. It was in that otherwise uninteresting office building that I saw a poster for the Theatre on King’s one-act play contest and decided I wanted to enter something. I had no idea what at the time, just that I needed to create and that I wanted it to be outside of my usual craft.”

(Re)Defining the Madwoman (NC)

  • Sterling writes, “The Black radical women of the Combahee River Collective not only reference the pathologizing impulse of patriarchal hegemony (being made to feel crazy), but also further demonstrate how such an impulse stymies deeper awareness and consciousness for Black women. The systemic gaslighting employed by hegemonic forces threatens to subdue Black women but, if properly tended to, our anger can purge us of the self-doubt and sense of helplessness. Achieving collective liberation requires conscious recognition that our humanity is routinely negated and that our responsive anger is valid and necessary for social change. Despite the continuous fodder for legitimate Black anger, the tactics deployed to negate its validity swirl in a white hegemonic impulse to pathologize and criminalize. Both of these processes work to demonize and derange, creating mad objects that must reclaim subjectivity by affirming their right to be mad.”

Conclusion (JLM)

Our collection’s foreword, written by Herstory Writers Network founder Erika Duncan, offers the following commentary on rage. Reflecting on her experiences of Second Wave Feminism, she writes, “I am thinking of how we mourned the women who couldn’t find a place for their madness, and how we worshiped women’s rage, perhaps too much sometimes, as it sometimes set us against one another and ourselves. How our interest in rage as a catalyst for change, in the reshaping of what it meant to be a woman, kept growing, as the role of women in justice movements shifted and as separatism grew.” Erika then transitions to her story and across time from past to present, shifting away from rage, killing it on the page, and bringing us into another moment, writing, “Now, I am standing in the shower.” It is here that she consults with the water and the steam, as she gathers a stream of questions, and eventually declares, ​“Despite the editors’ claims that this book defies order, deliberately and proudly, my reading constituted one of the most re-ordering and provocative journeys that I have ever taken.” This is what Mad feminist ingenuity at the edge of rage can do: it can defy order and re-order. We put out the call for a collection on the subject of the madwoman, one which sought to engage the concept of feminist madness, and the ingenuity of the writers whose work responded is why we are here, able to tell you about this mighty collection of work today. Feminist writers and Mad-identifying activists gathered at the edge of rage to form a collection of creative and scholarly writing that breaks disciplinary and genre norms and propels the rage of the figure of the madwoman forward into the 21st Century’s “future of pollinating difference” (Lorde).

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Your Silence Will Not Protect You. Silver Press, 2017.

Writers of the Collection:

Christina Foisy (Center for Addiction and Mental Health, Ontario, Canada), Nadia Steven Rysing , Chloe Leung (University of Edinburgh, UK), Maria Rovito (Penn State University, Harrisburg), Kyéra Sterling , Stevie Scheurich (Bowling Green State University), Nicole Rizzo (Indiana University Bloomington), Nicole Turner (Georgia State University), Kritika Sharma (University of Delhi, India), Sonakshi Srivastava (Guru Gobind Singh Indaprastha University, Delhi, India), Janna Brown , J. M. Gagnon , Erin Soros (Simon Fraser University), Brittani Smit (Arcadia University, South Africa), Jessica Lowell Mason (University at Buffalo), Riley Clare Valentine (Louisiana State University)

The above slide from the presentation expresses our acknowledgement and thanks:

•For the Mad Feminist Ingenuity of the writers whose works comprise the collection we’re introducing to the world for the first time (today!)

•For the Mad Feminist Ingenuity of the madwomen and madpeople, past and present, whose lives, activisms, and advocacies have challenged systems of sanist white supremacist, colonial, and cis-heteronormative-patriarchal oppression

•For writers whose Mad Feminist Ingenuity, in its diverse manifestations, have helped to shape our current conceptions of Madness and feminism as co-collaborative in the struggle for the liberation of marginalized and oppressed peoples.

•For the Mad Feminist Ingenuity of Black and Indigenous People of Color and gender- and sexual- marginalized people struggling under white supremacist, colonial oppression whose strategies of survival and political organizing have informed and formed the resistances and coalitional work to which we hope that our own struggles, lives and work contribute

•For the unceeded Dakota land on which we are gathering at this conference, and for its original communities, whose Mad Feminist and other Ingenuity has contributed to resistances against colonial mindsets, systems, and oppressions, and whose contributions, past and present, have helped us to struggle to re-frame and re-form paradigms about land, place, minds, and bodies as they operate under capitalism and colonialism.

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