Author(s): Rebecca Dingo and Clancy Ratliff
Rebecca Dingo is Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Rebecca’s research has addressed transnational rhetorical and composition studies and in doing so she forwards a transnational feminist lens attuned to global political economy. She is the author of Networking Arguments: Rhetoric, Transnational Feminism, and Public Policy Writing, which received the W. Ross Winterowd Award in 2012. She has published widely in both the field of Women’s Studies and Rhetorical Studies. Rebecca has also offered workshops and trainings across the globe on her research, writing pedagogies, and writing development. Her pedagogy seeks to connect theory with practice and all of her classes tend to offer on-the-ground case studies paired with theoretical lenses. Rebecca earned her Ph.D. in English with an emphasis on Rhetoric and Composition from The Ohio State University.
Clancy Ratliff is Friends of the Humanities/Regents Professor in the English department and Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her research and teaching interests are in feminist rhetorics, environmental rhetorics, writing program administration, and copyright and authorship. She has published research in Women’s Studies Quarterly, Kairos, Pedagogy, and other journals and edited collections. She is involved with several community advocacy organizations, including Sierra Club Delta Chapter, Move the Mindset, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and the Acadiana Regional Coalition on Homelessness and Housing (ARCH).Tags: coalition building, memory, transnational feminism, violence, war
Fall 2023 has been fraught. Across US college and university campuses, students have been threatened and arrested due to speaking out about the violence that, although happening in Gaza for decades, came to a peak with Hamas’ kidnapping and murdering Israeli civilians. This violence carries on in the extreme as Israel continues to viciously target Palestinian citizens and military forces—murdering over 18,000 Palestinians at the time of writing this. During the fall, three Palestinian college students, visiting family and friends, were shot while walking down the street in Burlington, VT over their Thanksgiving break. A “doxxing truck” drove through Columbia University’s campus showing faces of student protesters. Just as Palestinian students have been targeted, since Oct 7th, Jewish students have also been threatened on and off campuses across the US as part of a rising wave on antisemitism, including ideologies that conflate Judaism with zionism. Faculty have felt silenced as administrations have asked them not to write statements in response to the growing violence globally and the unrest on their campuses, while administrators at some of the US’s most elite colleges have been scrutinized for their responses to the conflict. Locally, many of my university’s graduate students, particularly international graduate students, report feeling unsafe. As emotions run high and the conflict continues, campuses are becoming more deeply divisive places and conversation, debate, and listening—some of the tenets of rhetorical study—have seemingly become impossible. While universities have historically been fraught places for many students and faculty, humanistic inquiry at its best is supposed to create an environment where students are encouraged to listen to others, hear different and conflicting perspectives, read deeply, think and act critically, and take rhetorical risks. This seems difficult, almost impossible, in the current moment. Yet, for me as feminist rhetorical scholar, this moment has made me turn back to transnational feminist theory and its focus on solidarity. For transnational feminist scholars, the starting point for solidarity begins with not only hearing different and conflicting perspectives but also attending to how conflict and war are critically embedded in sociohistorical contexts. Solidarity does not always mean agreement or consensus.
As I have taken in the growing divisiveness on my own campus and in my own community (even among my friends), I have been reflecting on my own role as a feminist scholar and editor. As a transnational feminist rhetorical scholar, this divisiveness to me is not only unsettling but it is also not productive because at the heart of transnational feminist thinking is the understanding that “differences and commonalities… exist in relation and tension with each other in all contexts” (Mohanty 521). Foundational transnational feminist scholar Chandra Mohanty calls for transnational feminist approaches that attend to the legacies of imperialism and colonization that work through sexist and racist policies and representations, as well as the resulting unevenness of political economic structures across the globe. She also calls for framing feminist projects through the knowledge that this unevenness creates different on-the-ground feminist intentions and politics that, at times, may be in conflict with other feminist projects and experiences. In short, transnational feminists seek to forge connections and solidarities across scales based not on common experiences of gender oppression, identity, and patriarchal oppressions alone but on the various ways that legacies and contemporary structures of violence frame women’s lives in different ways. Transnational feminism is a useful framework to approach this current moment where we need new strategies for understanding and communicating about violence.
Divisive thinking pits women against each other and makes it difficult to recognize the systems and scales (the local home or community and the global spaces) through which communities suffer violence. While I am in no way a scholar who studies or fully understands conflict and violence in the Middle East, as a feminist scholar, I am all too aware that violence is gendered and that in war, occupation, and conflict, women’s bodies become literal battle zones—sometimes as an act of public war meant to publicly dehumanize the enemy and others in private settings meant demoralize, silence, and take control (“Women and Newborns Bearing the Brunt of the Conflict in Gaza”). Reports from Gaza suggest that women on both sides of the conflict have been raped, murdered, and humiliated. War, occupation, and conflict make transnational feminist solidarity politics paramount for feminist rhetorical practices and analyses.
An article in the online publication The Intercept described how just days before the events of Oct 7th, the Palestinian feminist group Women of the Sun and the Israeli feminist group Women Wage Peace met in various symbolic places throughout Israel and Palestine with the goal of recognizing how violence is gendered and calling out the violence of occupation on all women—Palestinian and Israeli alike but at different scales and effects. On a beach-side table, both sides sat down to write a formal declaration for ending the decades-long conflicts among Israeli and Palestinians. The declaration begins “We, Palestinian and Israeli mothers, are determined to stop the vicious cycle of bloodshed and to change the reality of the difficult conflict between both nations, for the benefit of our children” (WWP). The meeting between both these feminist groups is a great example of a transnational feminist solidarity practices. This group of women see the necessity of solidarity for peace in the region, but they recognize that solidarity does not mean erasing difference or only attending to sameness. Rather, the two groups see the necessity of making connections between how both sides of the conflict, who have different aims and projects, ultimately carry out their violent policies and practices on the backs of women and often without seeing the unintended consequences of violent policies and practices.
While the article shows how deeply violence is gendered in its recognition that “In conflict settings, rape and sexual violence are used as strategic, systematic, and calculated tools of war, ethnic cleansing, and genocide,” both sides see the history of violence in the region to be gendered in insidious and often quieter ways. The Intercept reports how “The situations [of each feminist groups] are not exactly parallel, but feminists in both Israel and the Palestinian territories are under attack by the most tribalist elements of their societies, each of which envisions its own version of a ‘pure’ society, whose achievement requires the modesty, piety, and subservience of women” (Levine). The article points out how Prime Minister Netanyahu has created a coalition between extreme-right Religious Zionists who are anti-women’s and LGBTQ+ rights and who seek to remove women from public life. Moreover, the military’s violent colonial practices further reinforce other sorts of gendered violence that impact not just Palestinian women but also Israeli women, such as how in the military, in which all women must serve, over one third of women report sexual harassment. As another example, a feminist human rights organization in Ramallah has noted “how Israeli policies such as home demolition, movement restrictions, night raids, and child arrests increase the burdens of family and household, reinforc[ing] women’s ‘traditional roles within the Palestinian patriarchal society’” (Levine). The organization goes on to say, “Coupled with discriminatory laws pertaining to family reunification and marriage and cultural policing by radical Islamists, these policies exaggerate male domination and female dependency and trap women in abusive relationships” (Levine). In other words, as this feminist organization notes, even when the state of Israel supports liberal feminist equality projects, policies are enacted in the name of saving women from patriarchal violence, including that which Hamas is reported to support, while simultaneously reinforcing it. This is pattern seen widely throughout the history of colonization—using women as arguments for political intervention (Spivak).
Understanding conflict and violence across different scales and contexts demonstrates a transnational feminist analytic. The activism and connections made by Women of the Sun and Women Wage Peace, and the article in The Intercept, reflects what Mohanty has explained as a transnational feminist practice: “A transnational feminist practice depends on building feminist solidarities across the divisions of place, identity, class, work, belief, and so on” (530). Even though Mohanty is writing in the early 2000s, I believe it is apt today to be reminded by her words: “In these very fragmented times it is…very difficult to build…alliances and also never more important to do so.” (530). She argues against divisiveness and instead asks feminists to engage in solidarity projects that are “anti-imperialist, anticapitalist, and contextualized” and that “expose and make visible the various, overlapping forms of subjugation of women’s lives” (515). Mohanty’s approach is also a rhetorical project that requires listening to and understanding different scales and experiences in order to ask questions about, understand, and rhetorically transform location situations. Transnational feminist scholars Ashwini Tembe and Millie Thayer, drawing from Mohanty’s work, further explain that solidarity practices must create the conditions in which “differently situated communities can come together for ‘active struggle’” and then forge “alliances based on common analytic goals rather than similarity of identities” (7; 1). In the example above, similarity of identity would not create solidarity by women who are exploited differently and unevenly within one location. Rather, to create solidary requires understanding not only how gendered exploitation works and looks different within different locations or different political or ethnic orientations but also how the systems themselves are grounded in gender. The transnational feminist solidarity practices above help me to critique the divisiveness I see on my own campus and community by reminding me to think about the broader contexts and history of this war and the rhetorical projects that surround them. Understanding the various ways that structures organize legacies of gendered exploitation and oppression across borders requires a particular kind of attunement to how they are rhetorically constructed and how they are understood and interpreted on the ground. To me, this is a project of feminist rhetorical scholars, one that I hope to see reflected in future pages of Peitho.
While the essays for this issue do not address the conflicts in the Middle East, what they do offer us is reminders of the wide scope of feminist rhetorical theories and the importance of feminist rhetorical practices for reshaping our knowledge and understanding of history and the present; indeed, they offer feminist approaches that we may apply to other contexts. For example, Kristy Crawley’s essay “The Quest for Meaningful Work: Enacting New True Woman Values via Epideictic Rhetoric” focuses on how women have the power to reframe their roles even when there are pressures to act within the confines of gendered expectations. Crawley shows how women business and literary writers redefined the virtues of the new true women in the 19th century to include the values of resourcefulness, critical thinking, and self-fulfillment “as a basis for educating or guiding readers’ conduct through praising and blaming.” Similarly, Lisa Mastrangelo, drawing from Royster and Kirsch’s feminist rhetorical theories of strategic contemplation and social circulation alongside her employment of Barret-Fox’s cold kairos, reconsidered the value and project of Evelyn Cameron, a photographer whose eye captured what life was like as non-natives moved into the western part of what is now the US in the early part of the 1900s. Mastrangelo asks, “How do viewers ‘read’ the work of a person such as Cameron, particularly if their gaze, like mine was initially, is focused on her as exceptional?” The essay explores how “Cameron’s work as a photographer as well as the images she produced contribute to the more inclusive notions of gender” and women’s roles in defining the American West for non-native people; in doing so, Mastrangelo argues that works from women like Cameron importantly interrupt the idea that the American West was merely a masculine space. Also drawing from Royster and Kirsch’s concept of strategic contemplation, Zoe McDonald reads Hilary Rodham Clinton’s 2015 memoir What Happened as an important turning point toward Clinton espousing pluralist feminist practices. As McDonald argues, Clinton’s memoir offers readers many opportunities to strategically contemplate their own orientation to the election and in doing so, readers are directed by the memoir toward anti-violence and anti-racist coalition. Taken together, the essays in this issue offer readers feminist rhetorical lenses—specifically the role of feminist reframing, re-seeing, and contemplation—that we can employ to better understand our own rhetorical projects.
Coalescing and Remembering in Cluster Conversations
This issue has two Cluster Conversations, whose editors have done an outstanding job bringing these authors’ work together and presenting it here. With input from the Peitho Editorial Team, Rebecca writes above in response to the violence in Gaza, and she speaks for all of us about this horror, which continues to unfold as we follow events in the news and on social media. We will not look away, tune out, or be desensitized to this human suffering. Amid the devastation in Gaza and elsewhere in the world, we are also seeing turmoil domestically, as the Supreme Court is hearing a case to prohibit access to mifepristone in an added threat to abortion rights, and as state legislatures and governors in some states keep pressing their racist, transphobic, queerphobic agendas. The first Cluster, “Addressing the Barriers Between Us and That Future: (Feminist) Activist Coalition Building in Writing Studies,” is a powerful collection of writing about the frictions, frustrations, failures, and frontières associated with forming coalitions in this context of book banning, suppression of Critical Race Theory, and derailment of work in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity. The contributors to the Cluster reflect on their experiences and directly name and describe the demoralizing and infuriating treatment they have experienced and witnessed, especially in academia. They offer models for creating community in unwelcoming spaces and advocating for change in institutions. Getting to that future requires listening to these stories, and the authors in this Cluster are courageous to be the ones to tell them.
The second is a hybrid Cluster Conversation/In Memoriam devoted to Wendy Bishop’s legacy of writing, teaching writing, and mentoring, on the twentieth anniversary of her tragic passing at age 50 of cancer. I didn’t have the honor of meeting Bishop, but I worked closely in the early 2000s with one of her graduate students, Charlie Lowe, who treasured being one of her mentees. He had been working on his dissertation for at least a year, a project I thought was fascinating: an analysis of voice-recognition technology and its potential for composition, particularly with regard to the then-controversial concept of voice in writing. But one day in an email, he added as an aside: “Oh, and I ditched my dissertation,” explaining that he was starting over and writing about another topic. I couldn’t believe Bishop had gone along with that plan – it was such a good topic (still is), and he’d done a lot of writing on it! — but she supported him, and he ended up writing a good dissertation about another topic. She was serious about radical revision.
The pieces in the Bishop Cluster share memories of her mentoring, leadership, and teaching, and although it’s been two decades since Bishop’s death, the issues raised are still very much relevant in academia: burnout, feminized labor of teaching and administration, and the division between rhetoric and composition studies and creative writing: two fields that still need to talk to each other more. Some of the authors remark that Bishop wouldn’t like some of the changes that have taken place in the last twenty years. I think she would especially dislike the rise of program assessment and rubrics, which tend not to reward or encourage creativity and experimentation. I think she would also balk at the automation in writing and teaching: automated essay scoring, automated plagiarism detection software, and large language models (generative AI), though she may have approached LLMs with curiosity. Even readers who, like me, did not know Bishop will find this Cluster Conversation engaging to read; these pieces reorient us to what matters the most as we do the work of writing and teaching writing. Much has changed since Bishop taught and mentored students, but, to end this issue on a note of hope – and the dream of peace – we can remind ourselves of the power, generativity, and legacy of kind words, connection, and support: for students, colleagues, and community.
Levine, Judith. “It’s Feminist to Demand a Ceasefire in Israel–Palestine.” The Intercept, 5 Dec. 2023, theintercept.com/2023/10/26/israel-palestine-feminism-ceasefire/. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “‘Under Western Eyes’ Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles.” Signs, vol. 28, no. 2, 2003, pp. 499–535. https://doi.org/10.1086/342914.
“Women and Newborns Bearing the Brunt of the Conflict in Gaza, UN Agencies Warn.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news/item/03-11-2023-women-and-newborns-bearing-the-brunt-of-the-conflict-in-gaza-un-agencies-warn. Accessed 14 Dec. 2023.
Spivak, Gayatri. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Harvard UP, 1999
WWP. “The Mothers’ Call, 2023.” Women Wage Peace, 16 Sept. 2023, www.womenwagepeace.org.il/en/the-mothers-call-2023/. Accessed 10 Dec. 2023.