Tag Archives: feminist rhetorics

Lunsford, Andrea, ed. — Rhetorica Reclaimed,

Rhetorica Reclaimed, Andrea Lunsford, editor (1995)


Aimed to disrupt the “seamless narrative” of the rhetorical tradition and create space for other rhetorics, Rhetorica Reclaimed offers a series of rhetorical studies of women’s rhetorics, which both reread classical texts and recover and theorize a plethora of rhetorical forms, strategies, and goals not previously considered in the rhetorical tradition.   To recover this body of rhetorics, rhetorical scholars take a historical approach to rhetorically analyze a wide variety of women’s rhetorics from antiquity through medieval times to the 20th century.  In their recovery of rhetorics employed by figures such as Aspasia, Diotima, Margery Kempe, Mary Astell, Margaret Fuller, Ida B. Wells and Sojourner Truth, and Julia Kristeva, feminist historiographers also rely heavily on gender analysis, genre analysis and draw on feminist and postcolonial theories.  As these scholars demonstrate, recovery of women’s rhetorics demand a turn toward alternative sites of oral and written persuasion used both in the public and private domain.  The wide range of sites include:  speeches, autobiographies, letters, fragments of classical texts, syllabi and other teaching materials, articles, lectures, scholarly work, and pamphlets.  Common strategies identified in women’s rhetorics across time and cultures include rhetorical strategies such as breaking silence; subverting traditional genres; naming in personal terms or truth telling; employing dialogics, recognizing and using the power of conversation; and valuing collaboration.  As well as diversity in terms of sites and strategies, studies of women’s rhetorics reveal that multiple purposes were achieved in women’s rhetorical practices that include but are not limited to:  empowerment of self and audience, inspiration, motivation, theoretical enlightenment, survival, self-expression, conversation, self-definition, articulation of fears, and promotion of action. 


Included in this anthology is Susan Jarrat and Rory Ong’s article “Rhetoric, Gender and Colonial Ideology,” which along with Cheryl Glenn’s work on Aspasia stimulated a series of debates about truth, evidence, and history.  In Jarrat and Ong’s article, the authors attend to questions of whether or not Aspasia existed, how we can come to know Aspasia, and what kinds of historiographical tasks are required to read Aspasia–as rhetorician–into the rhetorical tradition.  Jarrat and Ong argue that the recovery of Aspasia in classical texts such as Menexenus reveal that Aspasia “marks the intersection of discourses on gender and colonialism, production and reproduction, rhetoric and philosophy[ which] makes her a rich site for interpretative work” (10).  Jarratt and Ong employ their imagination in recovering what roles Aspasia might have played in sophistic rhetorics by analyzing the ways in which Plato gave voice to Aspasia.  It is this use of imagination, perhaps, that lead Gale to raise concerns about historiographical recovery work.  




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Glenn, Cheryl — Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity through the Renaissance

In this important text, Cherly Glenn studies the ways in which women from antiquity through the Renaissance contributed to rhetorical history and theory and performed gender through rhetorical practices.  Questions that arise in this study do not just attend to an identification of rhetorical strategies employed to achieve various rhetorical purposes at particular moments in time, but also what strategies were used to become visible in their particular communities and take an active role in public life.  Thus, this work studies the ways women enacted both resistance and negotiation to break through social and educational boundaries that confined women in silence, chastity, and domestic confinement.  In doing so, Glenn helps break through the silence in our own field that has contributed to a gendered landscape of rhetorical history that excludes the ways in which women across time and culture have employed rhetoric to construct culture.  By remapping rhetorical territory through a gender analysis of women’s rhetorics, Glenn attempts to rewrite rhetorical history, regender rhetorical theory, and remap the rhetorical tradition.  To do so, Glenn models a performative historiography that both looks back to and interrogates the never previously questioned rhetorical scholarship produced in our field. In addition, she recovers new rhetorical practitioners and practices that have been excluded in the rhetorical tradition and thus redraws the traditional boundaries of rhetoric.  Glenn concludes by offering four strategies to continue regendering the rhetorical tradition:  devise new methodologies that allow feminist historiographers to hear the women rhetoricans speak; engage in collaboration; investigate silence as a feminine rhetorical site; and expand our studies beyond famous historical women who have refused to be forgotten and silenced.  Glenn reminds us in her final words that there are endless possibilities to recover women’s rhetorics; we simply need to listen.


In Rhetoric Retold, Glenn locates Sappho Aspasia, , Diotima, Hortensia, Fluvian, Julian of Norwhich, Margery Kempe, Margaret More Roper, Anne Askew and Elizabeth I.   While some of these women left written poetry, speeches, letters, and books, some women such as Aspasia, and Diotima exist only in secondary texts written by men. 

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Inderpal Grewel and Caren Kaplan — Scattered Hegemonies: Postmodernity and Transnational Feminist Practices


Introduction:  Transnational Feminist Practices and Questions of Postmodernity


thoughts on rhetoric:


the way terms get co-opted constitutes a form of practice, just as the way that they contain possibilities for critical use is also an oppositional practice.  Specific terms lose their political usefulness when they are disciplined by academia or liberal/conservative agendas.


One of main questions their compilation hopes to address is:

How do we understand the production and reception of diverse feminisms within a framework of transnational social/cultural/economic movements? (3)


they claim very often, feminist poststructuralist or psychoanalytic theorists do not utilize a transnational frame or consider colonial discourse or discourses of race.  –3


also claim, some feminst practices continue to use coloinial discourse critiques in order to equate the “colonized” with “woman,” creating essentialist and monolithic categories that suppress issues of diversity, conflict, and multiplicity within categories—3


G and K believe postmodernity is an immensely powerful and useful conception that gives us an opportunity to analyze the way that a culture of modernity is produced in diverse locations and how these cultural productions are circulated, distributed, received, and even commodified (5). 



Interested in rearticulating histories of how people in different locations and circumstances are linked by the spread of and resistance to modern capitalist social formations even as theair experiences of these phenomena are not at all the same or equal.  3









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Royster, Jacqueline Jones Traces of A Stream


Methodologies:  “uses trends and practices in rhetorical criticism, discourse analysis, ethnographic analysis” and autobiography to argue for recognition of a long history of AA women rhetoricians for social justice and social action (283).


African American elite (well-respected) women used literacy “systematically as a variabl tool” to fight for social justice (5). 


Site:  AA women essayists and orators who have overcome obstacles, reconstituted themselves and left traces of stream (4) .  these women as foremothers to alice walker and bell hooks were committed and had deep level of rhetorical prowress.  These women used oral strategies from classical rhetoric in their written essays.  They used their understanding of rhetorical triad of context, ethos formation, and rhetorical triangle.  Royster examines African cultural traditions used in women’s rhetorics which lead to community action.  Example: alice walker—In search of our mother’s garden—use of narrative, storytelling, description, dialougue, poetry, powerful images, to appeal to ethos, pathos, logos. 


At end, royster reminds us to articulate our research interests and relationships to the work before writing about any project.—self reflexivity—critical awareness of need to read across cultural difference, figure out one’s subject position affects meaning making of rhetorical object,


Three major sections:

Rhetorical view—describes genre of essay, which reflects discursive flexibility and rhetorical awareness, and its significance to literacy practices and social advocacy in work of elite 19th century women—maria stewart, ana Julia cooper, Josephine st. Pierre ruffin; these women attempted to save lives through work; make sense of their experiences and the world; develop agency and authority to intervene in patriarchial and racist society—literacy and social action linked.   –link of literacy and orality create rhetorical competence—the “skill, the process, the practice of ‘reading’ and being articulate about ‘men and nations’” (61).  Rhetorical competence uses to as empowerment to take social action.  Ex.)  situated ethos and invented ethos used for mixed audiences.



Historical view—gives historical account of role of storytelling, religious beliefs, etc. and posits them as intellectually and rhetorically astute intentional reactions to poltical and social exigencies.  Also maps how these female rhetors educated themselves and postioned themselves in workplace to develop rhetorical prowress.  Black women’s club movement for instance was integral…as were national association of colored women, spelman and Oberlin colleges, African American periodicals.


  Ideological view—role of self-reflexivity in research and scholarship

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Chapter 1 of Regendering Delivery—“Readers and Rhetors: Schoolgirl’s Formal Elocutionary Instruction”—Lindal Buchanan

In this chapter, Buchanon demonstrates how the site of education can be a useful topoi for tracing gender’s influence on delivery–the fifth rhetorical canon. In all the chapters of this text, Buchanan illustrates that delivery is grounded in social context and is, in fact, contingent on an individual or group’s social environment. In this chapter, specifically, Buchanan shows that education in the late 18th and early 19th century played a significant role in shaping women’s participation in public speaking. Buchanan begins the chapter by demystifying the notion that women lacked formal training in public speaking, which is often equated with women’s lack of participation in civic discourse. Buchanan argues that, actually schoolgirls in the late 18th and 19th centuries were educated in elocution and civic discourse through reading classes, in which they practiced oral reading and received elocution instruction from various kinds of readers. Reading aloud from readers that were directed to male, female, and mixed audiences gave schoolgirls opportunity to practice delivery by attending to their voice, gestures, and expressions. Buchanan argues that women’s education in elocution eventually increased their rhetorical performance in public settings so much, in fact, that an educational backlash occurred. This backlash “led to the truncation of the elocutionary coverage and oratorical contents of school readers likely to be consumed by a female audience, an attempt to restrict women’s eloquence to the private sphere by limiting their knowledge of the arts of oral expression” (13).

Buchanan traces literacy instruction in US Northeast schools during the colonial period and explains that not only was ones education determined by gender but also by class. While wealthy, male boys attended second tier schools where they received a classical education, boys “destined” for careers in specific trades and crafts as well as girls attended first tier schools, which focused on basic English literacy and numeracy skills (13). Gender determined what subject were taught; while wealthy boys were taught to read and write, girls were taught to read and sew(14).

In the late 18th century, elocution became part of reading instruction under the influence of the British elocutionary movement, which was sparked in response to a crisis in poor pulpit oratory that was thought to derive from poor reading instruction(15). The rationale behind this movement was that if you can read well, you can speak well, (which in contemporary US education seems to have been transformed to the notion that if you can read well, you can write well.) 18th century readers, thus, utilized elocutionary pedagogy under the belief that reading instruction, with a particular emphasis on its oral delivery, would lead to strong oratory (16).

Buchanan compares and contrasts three landmark readers published in the 18th century that prove the readers were aware of girls’ presence in the classroom and directed elocutionary instruction at them. In Webster’ reader, for instance, women’s domestic place and role in the nation was emphasized through the female characters in the selected prose. Playing off the Republican Motherhood, women’s domestic purpose was to instill civic, moral, patriotism in their children and families. In Bingham’s reader, girls were introduced to contemporary debates over women’s education and to civic rhetoric, both of which illustrated the power of public oratory even though the reader did not advocate for female students to use elocution outside the home. Moving away from the focus on patriotism, Murray’s reader focused on morality, religion, and proper conduct in its prose sections while the elocution instructional section taught elocutionary techniques and strategies that became useful in the parlor and eventually the platform. These three texts provide several insights into US schoolgirls’ rhetorical education:
1.) young female students were perceived as consumers
2.) instruction in elocution was directed specifically at girls
3.) young females were offered rationales for their education
4.) young girls were introduced to oratory and civic rhetoric
5.) therefore, girls received “real” opportunities in rhetorical education(25-26).

This opportunity, according to Buchanan did not last, however, as a trend in decreasing instruction on elocution became apparent in 19th century readers directed specifically at girls.

With the rise of industrialization, antebellum working class women began to work outside the home, which gave women exigency to defy social norms of womanhood in public, yet white women in the middle to upper classes bought into the cult of true womanhood, adopted a new feminine ideal, and constrained those opportunities. Moreso, while women were still provided with elocutionary knowledge through some readers and thus had the rhetorical and elocutionary competence to challenge gender norms in public, women’s speech stayed in private spaces in a large part because many readers encouraged women to learn elocution simply as a means for social respectability to be used in the private sphere and portrayed female characters who spoke in public in a negative light. Also, many readers directly aimed at women curtailed elocutionary instruction, especially actio. Thus, while women learned to read aloud well, they were excluded from learning how to use their bodies in oratorical performance, which in turn constrained their ability to speak persuasively in public settings.

Buchanan claims the exclusion of actio and diminishing of elocution instruction resulted from the rise of female orators in evangelical, legislative, and other public realms, which caused conservatives to deem rhetorical education for women a “contagious disease.” Although antebellum’s rhetorical performance stayed in the parlor to some extent, Buchanan ends this chapter by pointing out that many female rhetors fortunately found their way to the platform….


This chapter did some of the work I believe we all wanted Carr, Carr, and Schultz to do—namely to attend to politics of representation in 19th century readers. Although Buchanan does not really attend to issues of race and or ability in this chapter, she does illustrate how readers represented 18th and 19th century women and makes an argument as to how these representations affected women’s rhetorical education and rhetorical opportunities. (She also, of course, makes an argument about how the content or lack of content I should say affected women’s rhetorical education and opportunities to speak in public.) I am interested in the role that argument plays in this chapter as well as the rest of the book, which leads me to ask: What role does argument play in social history? What risks does Buchanan take by making explicit arguments in this social history?

Related, Buchanan begins this chapter by dispelling the myth that women lacked formal training in public speaking, which is often equated with women’s lack of participation in civic discourse. She begins most, if not all, of her other chapters in a similar fashion. I found this repeated practice effective; she is clearly attempting to revise our notions of rhetorical history by attending to the social forces and cultural networks surrounding 19th century female rhetors. By dispelling certain myths and regendering delivery in each chapter, she thus weaves together a coherent argument throughout the entire book. The back cover describes this structure and rhetorical study as a “bold” project because in a sense she challenges the histories that other scholars have produced before her. I am curious as to how this book would be reviewed by social historians. Going back to a smart question Jannell asked earlier in semester, is this text a revisionary history or a social history? Both? What is difference again???

Lastly, I really admire how Buchanan carved out a space for her scholarship and opens doors, as Zosha notes, for similar revisionary projects. Her focus on delivery makes me wonder about historical non-discursive forms of delivery employed by 19th century US women. A nice extension of this work would be to investigate how 19th century social, cultural, and political forces necessitated/engendered/constrained non-discursive delivery practices/genres by female rhetors. This research would help us better understand how gender impacted delivery and complicate the rhetorical canon which privileges discursive, public rhetorics. It would also create a new topoi or at least expand the fourth topoi of genre from which explore the nexus of gender, power, and rhetoric.

Speaking of genre, genre analysis seems as if it might be a very useful methodology for social history…..


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“An Essamplaire Essai on the Rhetoricity of Needlework Sampler-Making: A Contribution to Theorizing and Historicizing Rhetorical Praxis”

Goggin begins this article by pointing out that much scholarship in our field, particularly work in feminist and visual rhetorics, that has focused on textual artifacts emphasizes their semiotic and performative aspects. Goggin praises this work yet emphasizes the need to theorize and historicize rhetorical praxis to uncover the material practices that construct these artifacts. In this article, then, Goggin sets out to historicize and theorize needlework sampler-making in order to explore the “rhetorical force of diverse practices that create texts” and to extend “boundaries of what counts as rhetorical practice and who counts in its production” (310).

Such work is important, Goggin notes, because “Theorizing and historicizing multiple material practices is critical for contributing to our understanding how rhetorical practices are learned and conducted, where and when these practices take place, who has been admitted into the practice and who has been barred, and how both access and barriers to such practices are constructed and sustained” (311). This lack of knowledge, in turn, leads to the reification of autonomous models of literacy, the perpetuation of the literate/illiterate binary, and the limitation of what cultural artifacts the field of rhetoric deems worthy of scholarly attention.

Goggin begins historicizing needlework sampler-making by identifying ideological constructs that have prevented rhetorical scholars from investigating needleworking as a rhetorical praxis: insistence the needleworking is not the same as penmanship, demonization of needle and “distaff” as material practices, the delegation of needleworking to the private realm, and the lack of understanding needleworking as a significant cultural practice in meaning-making. More so, needleworking has been socially constructed as “woman’s work,” which prevents it from being seen as a rhetorical tool.

Goggin then turn her attention to the discursive, rhetorical nature of needleworking samplers. She begins by distinguishing between different textile practices and emphasizes that the practice of embroidery is a “form of meaning mark-making–a polysemous system of writing. Goggin then emphasizes that different types of stitching make the reading and writing of textiles a complex practice, yet at the same time, because each stitch has specific functions, the great variety of stitches increases the potential of needlework as a rhetorical tool.

After focusing on stitching, Goggin turns her attention to the genre of the sampler and identifies the transformations that occur within this genre between the 16th and 19th centuries. Goggin demonstrates that while early samplers contained animal motifs and thus served a decorative function, samplers soon became heuristics where women practiced writing the alphabet and numbers. As samplers became sites where women wrote verses, it became clear that during the 17th century, samplers served as places to learn and demonstrate stitching skills. This transformation occurred alongside a transformation in subject positions occupied by needleworkers. No longer a practice reserved for the domestic sphere, needleworking moved into schools and the public realm.

Gradually, Goggin demonstrates, sampler-making became a valued art and thus needleworking became a tool for instilling “basic secular and moral education” (323). Goggin claims sampler-making actually also served as a site to learn other subjects such as geography, math, and astronomy and thus served as a pedagogical tool.

Sampler-making did not maintain its status as an educational tool, however. By the end of the 19th century, sampler-makings as an art form practically died and instead became a site of credentialing for those professionally trained in sampler-making. Sampler-making became displaced, transformed, and erased and today, despite efforts to revive this practice, sampler-making has not yet fully recovered its once popular status.

Goggin’s study demonstrates that “praxis, the artifacts created, the discourse participants, and the avenues of circulation are interdynamic and historically specific” (326). She claims we have obligations to explore these shifting interdynamics within broader contexts. Sampler-making declined, for instance, as printing patterns flourished in pattern books and magazines made possible by the printing press. More so, the turn to texts for instruction in sampler-making reflected a transformation in epistemology, more specifically to the Cartesian notion that “separated knowing from doing” and the modern ideology that language is container of knowledge (326-7). Also, some displacement of sampler-making can be attributed to rise of technology, ie. the sewing machine.

In order to fully understand the displacement and near erasure of sampler-making, however, Goggin insists we understand the episteme (Foucault) during which sampler-making so radically changed. Although a plethora of descriptions of this episteme are, perhaps, responsible for the radical change, Goggin explores the effect the rise of individualism in late 17th and early 18th centuries had on sampler-making. Goggin also poses a number of compelling questions, which model ways in which we can theorize and historicize the historical praxis of sampler-making in other ways. Such questions include: “In what ways did the changing ideological definitions of femininity and masculinity create the conditions that led to radical changes of who participated in sampler-making and the purposes for which they did so?…What correlations may be drawn between the discontinuities in sampler-making and those that co-occurred in rhetorical theory?…What impact did the early modernist hierarchical division and subsequent gendering of arts and crafts as well as that of creative territories have on sampler-making as a practice?” (328).

Goggin ends her article with a discussion of the methodological limits of conducting such scholarship due to political, cultural, social, ideological, and theoretical forces that impact our scholarship. Such limitations also arise from: contestations over origins of cultural, rhetorical artifacts; decay and discarding of material artifacts, which reflects what prior groups deem valuable and worthy of preservation. In relation to this last limitation, Goggin claims scholars must identify the social, cultural, class, race, gender, ethinicity, political, and economic forces that privilege some rhetorical material artifacts and marginalize others. We should also attend to how these artifacts have been “discursively circumscribed and imbued with meaning before we even set our critical gaze on them” (330).

In her “finishing touches,” Goggin underscores the importance of investigating rhetorical praxes that are not typically theorized, historicized in our field. She ends by reiterating the need to investigate how and why unique discursive practices that were once popular have been displaced, transformed, and erased. This work has the potential to “better understand other discursive formations and practices, including our own as rhetoric scholars and historians”


Last week I posed a question that Eileen asks on our course syllabus: What are the standards for good historical scholarship? I think Goggin’s work on needleworking samplers demonstrates many high standards for writing social history. One, she historicizes needleworking while at the same time points out the limitations in attempting to define the origins of this genre. Two, she attempts to uncover some of the political, social, cultural, and economic forces that create and transform needleworking as a rhetorical praxis. Three, she articulates the methodolgical limitations of conducting such scholarship. Four, she defines her methodological goals and political motivations for enaging in this work. Five, she explores a rhetorical site that has previously been untouched by rhetorical scholars and thus pushes the boundaries of texts worthy of being studied in our field. Six, she recovers a rhetorical praxis important for everyday women throughout three centuries.

For someone interested in studying Peruvian tapestries as rhetorical, material artifacts, Goggin does an excellent job modeling both rhetorical and methodological strategies for conducting such work. Some may argue that in this particular article, Goggin does not actually demonstrate how needlework samplers were in fact “rhetorical” in nature, which is true. But I have read two other articles by Goggin about this same genre in which she more clearly identifies its rhetorical nature. Her purpose in this article is to theorize and historicize rather than rhetorically analyze. In doing so, she offers methodological alternatives to a traditional rhetorical analysis and models how to write a good social history. We must remember that writing social history demands investigations of the social, cultural, political, and economic conditions which influence the rhetorical practices of everyday people. Goggin does a fine job of exploring some of those conditions by situating needleworking samplers in the specific episteme in which they were produced. In doing so, we not only discover a previously unexplored, unique rhetorical praxis, we also, begin to better understand the poltical, social, and cultural attitudes about epistemology, language, and gender–all of which influenced the way this particular praxis was enacted and transformed.


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“Feminist Historiography: Research Methods in Rhetoric” — Christine Mason Sutherland

A fan of primary research, Sutherland identifies common practices of feminist rhetorical history such as collaborating with other scholars; “living the research”–forming intellectual, spiritual, and emotional relationships with objects of research; building connections between facts and feelings in our scholarship; and employing an ethics of care. She also articulates her own bias against adopting adversarial positions and letting feminism as ideology trespass into their scholarship. Sutherland is also uncomfortable with relativism because, in a postmodern sense, the privileging of feminism that accompanies it is based on false categories of truth, values, and ethics. Therefore, Sutherland argues against claiming any kind of certainty, even in regards to feminism. In this regard, and yes, I am categorizing, it seems Sutherland is what some might call a moderate feminist. Sutherland believes in ultimate truth; yet she believes no single person or party can reach it. Nonetheless, we still must strive to find that truth and co-operate with each other in this endeavor.

I really like this last point Sutherland makes about cooperating with each other in order to move closer toward discovering some truth. In terms of scholarship, it helps to think of joining a conversation not because we are simply interested in the conversation but because we want to work with others to locate some truth of a matter that we deem important. Too often, I think we see ourselves in competition with each other rather than in cooperation.

I also appreciate Sutherlands point that research can’t be valued just for its practical value. Sutherland, in saying that modern feminists are doing “good” work, means I think that feminist scholarship is not just high quality but that in enacting an ethics of care, feminists are conducting scholarship for the common good. I wonder how different the rhetorical tradition would be if modern rhetoricians all adopted this ethics of care. In what ways might our field be enriched? On the other hand, how might an ethics of care also limit our field?

Lastly, Sutherland calls for theorizing sermo—the form of rhetoric typical of the private and semi-pubic discourse such as needlework samples, which Maureen Goggin has rhetorically analyzed and theorized. I really think she and Goggin are wise in making this move. Theorizing sermo will enlarge conceptions of rhetoric, open the rhetorical canon, and enrich our understanding of language itself. Theorizing non-Western sermo is especially provocative to think about…..and certainly creates all kinds of rhetorical artifacts which can be researched as primary texts.

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