Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Caroline Dadas

Committee Member

Jesssica Restanio

Committee Member

Janet Cutler


AMC’s The Walking Dead is part of Robert Kirkman’s franchised juggernaut, The Walking Dead. Within this world, humans struggle to survive as they band together in groups to fight against the zombie hoard and monstrous elements of humanity. As survival is their main priority, established roles from pre-fall society no longer function as all genders, races, ages, and classes of people actively fight to live. Using Judith Butler’s gender performance theory and Julia Kristeva’s description of the abject, this thesis questions how and if gender functions when culture is destroyed and civilization breaks down. Gender markers of femininity are lost as women embrace masculinity and become stronger. There is no time for luxuries or girly things when life centers on food, water, shelter, and safety. Women can no longer function as mothers because if they do, either they or their children die. Instead, women become friends to children and others. The wild barbarity of an apocalyptic world tilts masculine and men are better prepared to survive, but women are right with them and learn quickly. In addition, women are allowed more room to function on the gender spectrum and when they are most shrewd, they can use assumptions about their gender, feminine weakness and fear, to manipulate and disarm their adversaries.

It remains to be seen if the flexibility of movement on the spectrum is lasting or if the psychological damage peeking through the storyline are the result of women taking on and preforming extreme masculinity. This thesis argues that the extremes of gender performance are damaging, death for extreme femininity and insanity for extreme masculinity, as people move towards preforming as a humanity within a more neutral presentation of gender. Feminist goals of gender equality seem possible after the destruction of the culture that perpetuates repressive femininity. Without pop culture, media, and big culture, small groups of people can find more similarity in the ability of people without the labels and stereotypes, allowing great feats of teamwork, survival, and action to occur.

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