“Telling Evidence: Rethinking What Counts in Rhetoric” — Carol Mattingly

In this article, Mattingly identifies weaknesses of early recovery efforts, which because of our own acculturation and prejudices, have limited the scope of our understanding of rhetorically active women throughout history and asks us to redefine evidence to account for ways in which women enact rhetoric and thus complicate and enrich women’s rhetorical history. She explains that one reason why feminist historiographers in the past have promoted individual women who employ traditional, masculine rhetorical strategies in their texts is that historians felt need to prove the credibility of the women they promoted. They emphasized logical, antagonistic approaches in women’s rhetorics because those are the qualities that have been valued in the rhetorical tradition. Privileging this kind of women’s rhetorics has only excluded other rhetorically active women, however. Therefore, we must interrogate our own examine these early prejudices against less “traditional” forms of rhetoric and locate alternative women’s rhetorics. Becoming open to less masculine forms of rhetoric will open our eyes to more gendered rhetorical actions such as dressing a certain way, as Mattingly demonstrates was an effective means employed by nineteenth century women.

Mattingly’s point that “traditional ways of assessing rhetoric cannot provide effective understandings or appreciations of women’s rhetorics” (107) is also applicable to non-Western rhetorics, as I have attempted to illustrate in my own work on ancient Moche burial practices. Mattingly says we need to take time and resources to recover, evaluate, and make meaning from additional information in order to create a more complete picture of women’s rhetorical history (99). We also need to do the same in order to create a more complete picture on non-Western rhetorical history. One point made by a visual culture scholar that is all important in creating this picture of non-Western rhetorical history will be to begin exploring theories produced by non-Western scholars. Traditional Western ways of assessing rhetoric cannot provide effective understandings of non-Westerrn rhetorics. Not only must we then perhaps modernize rhetorical concepts such as epideictic rhetoric but also begin to seek out theories that will help us better understand the primary texts we are researching.

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