Nearly a decade ago, at the 2010 CCCC in Louisville, Kentucky, I attended a session on “Women’s Ways of Making It—or Making Do?: Off and On the Tenure Track with Children.” The roundtable included six mother-scholars: Lee Nickoson-Massey, Kim Hensley Owens, Christine Peters Cucciarre, Mary P. Sheridan-Rabideau, Deborah Morris, and Christa Albrecht-Crane. They shared narratives that presented family-friendly alternatives to the R1 careers emphasized in Michelle Ballif, Diane Davis, and Roxanne Mountford’s 2008 book Women’s Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition. The conversation hit close to home. I was thirty-six, tenured for three years, married for three years, actively trying to conceive, and experiencing a longing for parenthood that surprised even me. My circumstances are hardly unique. I had been reminded, as have so many others, that babies should come before age thirty-five and ideally after tenure. The clock was ticking. Just thinking about Lee Nickoson-Massey’s description of getting a job offer the same day she received word that she’d be adopting a baby girl made me tear up. My hopes, my dreams, my anxieties, my sense of “what now?” after the long road of tenure—they all coalesced around the stories I heard at this panel. I wanted to deliver a conference paper with a baby in my arms, as Kim Hensley Owens described, or write while my children played in the background. I could live without the experience of pumping milk on the job market, a topic mentioned by at least two presenters. But I wanted the rest—the chaos, the sleeplessness, the playpen in my study—so badly it hurt.
The stories I heard that afternoon went on to become the impetus for Composition Studies’ 2011 special issue on “Wo/men’s Ways of Making It in Writing Studies.” I didn’t read it at the time, or anything else that wasn’t a board book. Two pregnancies and one baby later, I was at last a mother. The mother-scholar narratives would have been more resonant then, but mainly in terms of how I wasn’t measuring up. I found it impossible to do any work with my baby around. Even when I hired sitters, I heard him screaming, and I didn’t trust in their ability to comfort him. I didn’t sleep for months because of a round-the-clock nursing schedule from a child who wouldn’t take a bottle. I remember myself filmy from spit up and a lack of showering, and I wore the same three sweatsuits every day for almost a year. I was lucky enough to have a semester-long stay of teaching thanks to a parental leave policy that reallocated teaching duties to scholarship and service, but I got little done. On the rare occasions that I was cogent enough to think about how it was supposed to be, me working, my baby self-entertaining, I felt a profound sense of failure. Had I read the Composition Studies essays as a new mother, they would have struck a similar chord as Women’s Ways, which I had read shortly after its publication; while the latter left me feeling like an inept scholar, the Composition Studies pieces would have exacerbated my post-partum awareness of my inadequacies as a mother-scholar. I’m certainly not blaming these narratives for my response to them, nor for my own anxiety and paralysis. But I do think feminist scholars in our field would be well-served by considering the stories mother.1
Mother-scholars’ stories join a rich tradition of storytelling within writing studies. Diana George insists “storytelling is necessary if we are to pass on more than theory and pedagogical or administrative tactics to those who come after us” (xii). My own career has been guided by such stories. As a graduate student in the 1990s, I learned about women’s professional inequities through personal narratives like those collected by Theresa Enos and Sheryl Fontaine and Susan Hunter. While working on my dissertation, I read biographical sketches that equate contingent labor with the discipline’s classification as “feminine” or “feminized” (Schell; Schell and Stock). When I began a tenure-track position, I looked to the scholarship on writing program administration (WPA) for insights about administrative work as an assistant professor (George; Goodburn and Leverenz; Mirtz et al.). Taken together, works like these point to the significance of experiential narratives for rhetoric and composition professionals, even while, as Amy Ferdinandt Stolley has discussed, such accounts also universalize experience and inhibit alternative professional identities (19).
Indeed, the publication of Women’s Ways marked a shift in the field’s relationship to professional narratives. The volume’s narrow representation of success inspired a new generation of storytelling, more divisive than its predecessors. In addition to the 2011 special issue of Composition Studies, multiple counter-narratives emerged. Amy Goodburn, Donna LeCourt, and Carrie Leverenz’s book collection Rewriting Success in Rhetoric and Composition Careers, for example, took issue with Ballif, Davis, and Mountford’s equation of success with “an academic culture that requires an undivided devotion to work” (176). Published in 2012, Rewriting Success showcases teachers and scholars who have found—and, moreover, defined—success through alternative career paths, including various roles within and beyond the academy. Kristin Bivens et al.’s Harlot piece “Sisyphus Rolls On” also confronts Women’s Ways’ definition of success, sharing mixed-media narratives of women working in a range of positions and institutions. With reference to contingent labor, the authors assert “most of the people who work in the field, according to the definition proposed by Ballif, Davis, and Mountford, have not made it, nor can they.” Others have challenged Women’s Ways’ hierarchical constructions of academic mentoring (Gindlesparger and Ryan; VanHaitsma and Ceraso).
The Composition Studies narratives about mothers “making it”—or, to borrow their term, “making do” (Cucciarre et al. 54)—were especially haunting when I eventually read them. Discussions of motherhood had, at the time, rarely entered the professional conversation, much less as a concentrated collection in one of the field’s prominent journals.2 I recently began to wonder why these stories remain so gripping several years after their publication. Part of the explanation lies in Dara Rossman Regaignon’s observation that genres are not only “social and rhetorical,” but “affective as well”; they encode “particular subject positions and modes of interaction” (157). Composition Studies’ mother-scholar narratives spur a set of affective associations through vivid verbal descriptions of academic mothers doing professional work while simultaneously tending to children. A detailed rendering of a new mother typing her dissertation while nursing an infant, for example, evokes an emotional response through its visualization of high-stakes personal and professional activities. Often set in the home, portrayals like these sometimes extend to spaces where academic responsibilities coincide with the work of home and family. Through compelling illustrations of working and parenting, the Composition Studies articles pull readers into the scene. They suggest an alternative not only to Women’s Ways, but also to the broader “Mommy Wars” asking professional women to choose between children and a career (Douglas and Michaels 204-05).
If pieces like the Composition Studies essays reassure women that they can integrate their personal and professional aspirations, they carry detrimental impacts as well. Portraits of mothers working alongside their children, at kitchen tables and living rooms, in classrooms and on campuses, and even at conferences, imply that work in writing and rhetoric can be done as needed, while multitasking parenting and domestic chores. By figuring women’s workspaces as simultaneously home and office, the narratives’ images reinscribe the symbolic functions Susan Miller attributed to her “sad women in the basement”: nurse, maid, and mother (137). Given our field’s reliance on flexible labor, its gendered labor inequities, and its fight for academic status, there’s an inherent risk in circulating tropes from which we have worked to distance ourselves. In making parenting visible, meanwhile, mother-scholar narratives render multiple constituencies invisible. Their stories homogenize domestic spaces, minimizing the relationship between socio-economic privilege and mothering in the profession.3 They exclude parents whose gender identities, sexualities, and domestic partnerships don’t align with the authors’ heteronormative families. They overlook the mothers and children who are ill-equipped to function in combined domestic and professional spaces. With these concerns in mind, this essay charts the narratives’ reliance on visual depictions of academic motherhood. Adapting classical enargeia, loosely understood as a verbal picture designed to evoke an emotional response, I focus on the potential for mother-scholars’ domestic enargeia to cultivate desire for immersive parenting experiences while also addressing the liabilities of such representations for the profession and its members.
Conceptualizing Domestic Enargeia
Classical texts offer a wealth of terms associated with the visibility of language, which have been interpreted and applied in slightly different ways by literature scholars and rhetoricians. Literary critics Judith Anderson and Joan Pong Linton note that contemporary understandings of visual imagery often blend “enargia (Greek arges, ‘bright’; Latin evidentia inlustratio, repraesentatio), or vividness and distinctness in description (the practices of ekphrasis, effictio, and the like), and energia (Greek ergon, ‘work’; Latin, actio), or the liveliness and ‘point’ of style in appealing to the senses, moving the emotions, and effecting turns of thought” (6). Anderson and Linton attribute this convergence to Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which stresses the appeal to an audience’s visual sense (enargia) as a means of enlivening listeners and moving them to action (energia) (6-7; see also Aristotle 3.11.2-4). Rhetoric scholar Ruth Webb favors the Greek ekphrasis as a term for language designed to “mak[e] the listener ‘see’ the subject in their mind’s eye” (2). She views enargeia (Latin evidentia), which she characterizes as the vividness that allows for transactionality, as the “defining quality” of ancient ekphrasis (5). Webb distinguishes rhetorical ekphrasis from literary examples based upon their relative engagement with audiences. Literary ekphrasis—which some critics choose to label enargeia or enargia—conjures a pictorial representation of an art object, a “referent” or “representation of reality,” such as Homer’s poetic rendering of Achilles’s shield; rhetorical ekphrasis, which applies to a range of topics, impacts audiences’ perception, “making the listener seem to see” in a manner that is experienced as if tangibly present (Webb 38).4 My discussion of mother-scholar narratives is concerned with this rhetorical understanding of ekphrasis and, especially, its attendant enargeia.5
Webb locates enargeia in Quintilian’s Institutes, which supplements the Greek handbooks for rhetorical instruction (Progymnasmata), with his courtroom experience: “[from Quintilian] there emerges a clear set of ideas about the word’s ability to summon up images in the listener’s mind and about the ways in which an orator might need to make use of this technique in very specific ways to bolster his case” (4). Peter O’Connell’s work on enargeia in Athenian courtrooms establishes guided visualization as a characteristic forensic technique, consistent with jurors’ preference for observed evidence. Even if Attic orators lacked a vocabulary for naming their practice enargeia, says O’Connell, their speeches readily conveyed it (225). Feeling as if they had first-hand knowledge of the events in question made jurors especially receptive to the affective dimension of a speaker’s testimony (O’Connell 230). Quintilian’s Institutes, which harkened to its Greek predecessors, suggests one route through which the Greeks’ courtroom enargeia came to Roman forensic rhetoric. Despite its courtroom association, however, enargeia “is part of [Quintilian’s] broader discussion of emotional appeals” and thus applies to his larger rhetorical curriculum, including deliberative and epideictic rhetoric (Webb 90).
Significantly, Quintilian’s notion of enargeia hinges upon its psychological work. Enargeia, says Quintilian, “forces itself on the [audience’s] notice,” “set[ting] forth the objects of which we speak in lively colors, and so that they may as it were be seen” (8.3.61-62). Quintilian calls upon rhetors “not so much to narrate as to exhibit [such that] our feelings will be moved not less strongly than if we were actually present at the affairs of which we are speaking” (6.2.32). The sense of firsthand observation, he insists, holds “the greatest power in moving the [audience’s] feelings” (6.2.30). This process represents an affective transfer between speaker and audience, with listeners supplying their own imaginative details to reinforce the exchange. Jens Kjeldsen makes the point that performed accompaniments, such as gestures and expressions, solidify listeners’ involvement in the scene at hand (134-35). Although Kjeldsen’s discussion highlights physical performance, his remarks undersc
Enargeia’s efficacy relies upon the activation of images that resonate with listeners’ existing values. Take for example, Quintilian’s illustration of this phenomenon via Cicero’s oration against Verres:
[W]hen [Cicero] reads the description in the oration against Verres, ‘The praetor of the Roman people, with sandals, with a purple cloak after the Greek fashion, and a tunic reaching to his feet, stood upon the shore leaning on a courtesan,’ he does not seem to behold the very aspect and dress of the man, and even to imagine for himself many particulars that are not expressed. (8.3.64)
Quintilian goes on to indicate, “I, for my part, seem to myself to see [Verres’s] countenance, the look of his eyes, the repulsive dalliance of him and his mistress, and the tacit disgust, and shrinking modesty, of those who witnessed the scene” (8.3.65). Cicero’s selection of visual details reveals how enargeia might elicit responses like Quintilian’s, rooted in shared cultural assumptions: “a Greek style of dress coloured with oriental dye, would have had strong connotations of un-Roman luxury, not to mention his unmanly stance, as he leans (‘nixus’) on his mistress” (Webb 110). Tellingly, the resonance of particular details is more significant than the amount of description provided.
Enargeia has received only sporadic consideration in contemporary rhetorical studies. Its closest correlate, notes O’Connell, is “Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s concept of presence” (243; see also Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca 115-20). Charles A. Hill, for example, invokes presence in his work on visual rhetoric, offering a definition that resonates with classical enargeia. Hill characterizes presence as “the extent to which an object or concept is foremost in the consciousness of the audience members”; as he explains, dominant rhetorical elements “can crowd out other considerations from the viewer’s mind” (28-29). He goes on to associate presence with vividness, the psychological concept that marks information as “emotionally interesting and concrete” (31).6 Film and photographs readily transmit vividness, Hill indicates (31). When “direct visual perception” is not possible (30), he suggests, descriptive language that “promotes the construction of mental images” holds the power to dominate one’s thoughts, catalyze an affective response, and steer attitudes and actions (36).
Motherhood is a particularly rich site for eliciting the “mental images” Hill describes. According to Lindal Buchanan, the construct of the Mother “invokes a shared cultural code and generates powerful persuasive resources” (Rhetorics xvii). It’s not surprising that Buchanan’s work on maternal rhetorics highlights their visual qualities. Buchanan’s study of Anne Hutchinson, a prominent figure in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, reveals how imagistic discourses of monstrosity turned public opinion against her (“A Study”). According to her political opponent Thomas Weld, Hutchinson’s 1637 pregnancy resulted in “30 monstrous births or thereabouts, at once; some of them bigger, some lesser, some of one shape, some of another; few of any perfect shape, none at all of them (as farre as I could ever learne) of humane shape” (qtd. in Buchanan, “A Study” 252: 214-15). Through its appeal to cultural fears linking monstrosity to God’s wrath, this depiction effectively maligned Hutchinson and her followers (“A Study” 252). Buchanan’s subsequent work on birth control advocate Margaret Sanger describes how Sanger’s self-construction through a family photograph also steered public sentiment, albeit in a favorable direction (Rhetorics). The photograph circulated in newspapers in January 1916, shortly after the death of Sanger’s youngest child Peggy and shortly before Sanger’s obscenity trial (Rhetorics 37-39). The portrait depicts Sanger with her sons Stuart and Grant and gestures toward Peggy’s absence, “contributing to Sanger’s ethos as a grieving mother” and generating support for the dismissal of her charges (Rhetorics 40-44). While the Hutchinson example involves verbal demonstration and the Sanger discussion centers around an actual image, both showcase the process by which visualizations of motherhood evoke presence and approximate classical enargeia.7
Buchanan’s examples also illustrate visual representations’ ability to advance received notions of maternity. They prescribe a vision of what motherhood “should look like” (or shouldn’t) in their respective contexts, much like Cicero’s enargeic description of Verres calls upon Roman assumptions about leadership. The profession’s portraits of parenting function similarly, signaling a set of assumed values regarding family, work, and gender. As noted, I use the term domestic enargeia to refer to depictions of women combining academic work with childcare. My terminology stems from Webb’s assertion that enargeia deploys visual description as a means of “inviting imaginative and emotional involvement” (195); this combination of visuality and affective participation, which Webb calls “imaginative response” (106), is key to our field’s representations of academic motherhood. I have added the descriptor domestic to reflect the narratives’ sustained attention to children and household responsibilities. Domestic enargeia speaks to a synthesis of visual and emotional appeals, conjuring relationships among mothers, caregiving, and home. My terminology encapsulates the vividness associated with enargeia’s etymology, particularly the psychological quality that renders an image resonant or memorable. In keeping with Quintilian’s belief that enargeia “forces itself on the [audience’s] notice” (8.3.61-62), domestic enargeia gestures toward the visibility that informs the profession’s discussions of motherhood, namely the impulse to make motherhood itself visible. Finally, my language harkens to the visualization associated with classical enargeia, including its courtroom use as a means of bringing listeners “to the scene.”
The following sections explore how mother-scholar narratives promote normative understandings of mothering in the profession. I aim to critique domestic enargeia’s socializing function by addressing the working conditions the narratives depict and elide, as well as their constructions of family and parenthood. I consider these depictions through the lens of my necessarily partial response as a white middle-class woman in a heterosexual marriage. To set the scene, I ground my analysis in an assessment of the relative absence of parenting in Women’s Ways. I then demonstrate how the Composition Studies essays frame the domestic sphere as a congenial site for mothers’ scholarly work, forging a problematic convergence between women’s work and childcare. To further my critique, I reference progressive portrayals of motherhood in the profession, focusing on a video essay that meditates on a filmmaker-rhetorician’s challenges raising bilingual sons. A pattern of domestic enargeia emerges across this representational range, pointing to its normativity despite the field’s diversity. I thus conclude by underscoring the need for mother-scholars to cede their reliance on domestic enargeia, and I urge feminist rhetoricians to circulate stories that reimagine what it means to work and parent in the profession.
Not Seen and Not Heard
Charting the limited depictions of home and family in Women’s Ways helps to explain why mother-scholars writing after its publication choose domestic enargeia as a storytelling device. The chapter on “Family and Academic Culture” (174-94)—particularly its section on “Combining Family and Career” (175-83)—is relatively brief. And, as the authors remark in that chapter, “many of the women scholars in our study do not have children. And neither do we” (175). They observe that, of the nine women profiled, only Jacqueline Jones Royster had a child while on the tenure track, and she entered her tenure-line position as an associate professor with an established publication record (177). The habits the book associates with scholarly achievement, such as working into the evening and traveling to multiple national conferences each year, do not lend themselves to active parenting. Home figures prominently as a writing space, but it is portrayed as a quiet alternative to a campus office (167). Success, as defined by the authors of Women’s Ways, is not compatible with childcare responsibilities. While five profile subjects have children (two with one child each), readers are meeting these women after they have “made it.” They are senior faculty and, in some cases, now emerita, and those who are mothers have grown children. Their formative professional years coincided with heightened, more explicit, gender discrimination in the academy that may have served as a tacit prohibition against seeking both a career and a family.8 On the whole, we encounter women defined by their passion for scholarship.
The profiles in Women’s Ways run about ten to 15 pages, beginning with a “Background” section, then shifting to a “Strategies for Success” section with a menu of subsections, including “Graduate School,” “Promotion and Tenure,” “Time Management,” and “Having a Life.” The only profile to include a subsection on “Children” is Patricia Bizzell’s. Her portrait recounts her adoption of two “biological sisters from Korea” during the 1980s (207). The mood here is cautionary—Bizzell describes how the life she had before having children was “reduced to rubble [. . . .] absolutely leveled to the ground” (208). The authors foreground Bizzell’s sense of frustration with her parenting options. She describes working full time and having children as “a real source of stress and pain,” referring to the “psychic tax” of being a working mother (210). This theme also surfaces in Cheryl Glenn’s and Susan Jarratt’s profiles. Glenn describes herself as “a pretty good mother, but [. . .] only pretty good” (238), while Jarratt reports, “parenting was a source of guilt for me” (253). Even the conversations with women who are “childless by choice” associate scholarly careers with parental inadequacy (167). Asked “if the decision not to have kids had anything to do with her professional life,” Cynthia Selfe echoes the uncertainty expressed by the women who are mothers: “I suppose it did. I just had never thought I’d make a particularly good parent” (304). Optimistic portraits of family and children receive comparatively less attention. Shirley Wilson Logan and Jacqueline Jones Royster note the centrality of family to their identities, yet their positive parenting experiences are minimized. Logan’s children are neither named nor enumerated, and Royster’s children are mentioned in a parenthetical (293).9 It’s hard not to see these portraits as part of an agenda that separates career success from engaged parenting.
Women’s Ways’ treatment of motherhood is largely pragmatic; motherhood is most directly associated with time management. Describing her return to work after her maternity leave, Bizzell refers to her watch as “a manacle . . . chaining me to the schedule” (208). She goes on to express the negative impact of parenting on her writing, especially the loss of the freedom to “let an idea gestate” (209). Glenn, whose remarks about being a single parent fall under her profile’s “Time Management” subsection, shares her intense daily schedule during her early years as an assistant professor, which coincided with her ninth-grade daughter Anna’s “acting out” after moving “two thousand miles from home” (241). The authors present Anna as an added challenge for Glenn, a source of “trips to the principal’s office and ad hoc parent-teacher conferences” (241). The sentence following these remarks reads, “So how did she manage her time?” (241), equating a needy child with lost productivity. Jarratt, also a single parent, was raising her daughter while a graduate student, living and teaching in San Antonio, commuting to University of Texas at Austin, and playing in a band. “It was too much,” she reports (254). “My daughter was protesting. And I could see that it was just too crazy” (254). The book describes Jarratt’s inclination to leave her PhD program, along with her eventual decision to relocate to Austin to complete her degree. Although the move benefitted her professionally and personally, Jarratt’s portrait further showcases the career and lifestyle accommodations that accompany parenting. Together, the three profiles that most explicitly include children depict them as “troubled,” in Bizzell’s words (209), “acting out” in Glenn’s case (241), and “protesting” in Jarratt’s (254). In this way, Women’s Ways foregrounds the demands and inconveniences of motherhood, with little attention to the rewards.
Even as Women’s Ways sounds a cautionary note about motherhood, its presentation of working mothers establishes a convention for the mother-scholar genre. Consider, for example, Jarratt’s reflection on the incident that made her rethink her 75-mile commute to graduate school: “One night I came home and [my daughter] had been sick—this was before cell phones. That scared me” (254). Although Jarratt is pointing to a moment when she failed to integrate work and childcare, her description calls upon domestic enargeia for its emotional appeal. The urgency surrounding a sick child—especially one who is 75 miles away with no means of contact—thrusts readers into Jarratt’s position. The selection of detail, such as arriving home “at night,” presumably too late to comfort her child, does salient rhetorical work. We, as readers, are invited to imagine ourselves in an analogous situation, failing to provide the nurturing perceived as fundamental to mothering. We might even visualize a fearful, feverish child, crying for her mommy. Learning “this was before cell phones” makes the situation all the more alarming: today’s working mothers rely on their mobile phones as a promise of connection in case of emergency. The sense of disconnect is palpable, and Jarratt’s uneasiness resonates with assumptions about care and neglect, availability and absence, and mother-scholars’ closeness to home. Bizzell’s and Glenn’s accounts make analogous appeals. Thus, despite its brief and largely negative attention to motherhood, Women’s Ways’ domestic enargeia sets a precedent for subsequent mother-scholar narratives: to mother is to nurture, the logic goes, and the happiest mothers find a way to grow their children alongside their scholarship.
Seeing is Believing
A corrective to Ballif, Davis, and Mountford’s book, Composition Studies’ “Wo/men’s Ways of Making It in Writing Studies” sought to confront the field’s “minimalization of family commitments to construct a persona of professional success” (Clary-Lemon 10). Its reliance on domestic enargeia, in turn, represents both a departure from and a continuation of the rhetorical pattern established in Women’s Ways. The lead essay, “Mothers’ Ways of Making It—or Making Do?: Making (Over) Academic Lives in Rhetoric and Composition with Children” includes five of the mother-scholar stories presented at the 2010 CCCC. Collaboratively authored by Christine Peters Cucciarre, Deborah E. Morris, Lee Nickoson, Kim Hensley Owens, and Mary P. Sheridan, the article follows the roundtable’s dialogic format to showcase authors’ experiences as mothers working on and off the tenure track at varying types of institutions. Loren Marquez’s piece “Narrating Our Lives: Retelling Mothering and Professional Work in Composition Studies” describes the synergistic relationship between “the mother-multitasking game” and her professional responsibilities (73). Meanwhile, in “On (Not) Making It In Rhetoric and Composition,” Robert Danberg associates personal and professional disappointment with an approach to fatherhood that “might be described as the default position of mothering” (68). Throughout these narratives, children are seen and heard, named and celebrated. Their visibility serves multiple ends: to validate parenting as a lifestyle choice; to establish compatibility between academic careers and family engagement; to advocate for workplace policies that support pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and childcare; and to problematize Women’s Ways’ depiction of success. The Composition Studies articles’ images of academic parenthood nevertheless mark a binary response to their predecessor: if Jarratt’s, Bizzell’s, and Glenn’s narratives employ domestic enargeia to link professionalism with parental absence, Composition Studies’ domestic enargeia features mothers working alongside their children. Their heightened attention to the domestic sphere doesn’t change the terms of the conversation so much as it puts nurturing at its center.
At first glance, the articles appear to present generative possibilities for combining work and parenting, framing caregiving as a feminist choice. In the analysis that follows, I suggest the Composition Studies portrayals are complicit with a culture that pays disproportionate attention to children’s needs, often at mothers’ expense. Sociologist Sharon Hays describes this phenomenon as “intensive mothering.” In Hays’s view, contemporary motherhood is characterized by “a gendered model that advises mothers to expend a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money in raising their children” (x). Despite the large percentage of mothers working outside the home, says Hays, “a logic of unselfish nurturing guides the behavior of mothers” (x). Building on Hays’s work, Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels refer to this trend as the “new momism”: “the insistence that no woman is truly complete or fulfilled unless she has kids, that women remain the best primary caretakers of children, and that to be a remotely decent mother, a woman has to devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual being, 24/7, to her children” (4). This ideology infuses the Composition Studies portraits. Despite demanding professional careers, the mother-scholars work alongside their children; they bring energy to their multiple roles, though they make parenting a priority; and they establish a standard of zen multitasking that few could meet.
The pattern of domestic enargeia conveys the authors’ parental dedication. Cucciarre et al. acknowledge their use of visual persuasion, framing their article as a collection of “snapshots” designed to illustrate a “range of possibilities” for “work-life balance” (42). Their portraits reveal lives made richer thanks to their integration of home and work. Morris, for example, discusses how her children’s different stages impacted her career choices. She attributes her decision to stay home with her young children to her need “to be the one who encouraged their learning and imagining throughout the day” (46). Readers get a concrete image of this need when, speaking of her return to graduate school when her children “entered middle school,” Morris describes doing “homework around the dining room table” with her two sons (46). Sheridan paints contrasting pictures of her “R1 university” and her current “Research Intensive university,” which she describes as “far more hospitable” to families (55). She compares being one of the few faculty members who brought children to her former institution’s “welcome-back-to-school party” to her current position, where “it is not a problem if occasionally my children play in an empty classroom” (55). Cucciarre shares a near-parable about her three-year-old son writing in her copy of Women’s Ways: “page three is full of scribbles and pen marks with large swooping circles all encompassed by one big box outlining the entire page” (48). His “scrawlings” represent the “strange cocktail of shame and guilt” she felt after reading the book, mainly involving her acceptance of a non-tenure-line position (48). Together, these “visuals” prompt readers to affirm parents’ nearness to their children. Making it as a mother-scholar, the domestic enargeia implies, entails choosing a position that welcomes children at our desks, on our campuses, and in our texts.
As Quintilian reminds us, visualization persuades by simulating eye witness experience, thereby securing audience engagement. To showcase this process, I turn now to a close analysis of Nickoson’s and Owens’s vignettes within the Cucciarre et al. essay. While all contributors follow a convention of domestic enargeia, Nickoson’s and Owens’s accounts feature tenure-track mothers of young children—categories holding particular emotional exigency. As Rachel Connelly and Kristin Ghodsee discuss in Professor Mommy, “the timing of the tenure track coincides exactly with the woman’s most fertile reproductive years” (8). Ballif, Davis, and Mountford also speak to the complexity of academics’ childbearing decisions. Pointing to the tenure-achievement gap between women with and without children, they note that “women who choose to have a family before tenure . . . must be prepared to swim against the tide, particularly in the top-tier research institutions” (180). They simultaneously caution readers that waiting “too long to get started” comes with a decrease in fertility, citing a survey respondent who “waited too long” and “will regret it forever” (181). Notably, both Nickoson and Owens share scenes in which they made their young children visible to their colleagues and their workplaces, prompting readers’ affective involvement in the process.
Domestic enargeia infuses Nickoson’s description of walking her five-year-old daughter Olivia to the campus preschool three afternoons a week (43). The walks “serve as regular and yet powerful reminders” of Nickoson’s good fortune—to have a job “in such dire economic times” and “to share that part of my life—my self—with my daughter” (43). For Nickoson, the walks represent “moments of equilibrium” between the personal and the professional (43). She and her daughter have meaningful conversations, and, demonstrating her school spirit, Olivia sometimes sings the university fight song. Their return walks “often revolve around animated discussions of the new experiences of the day and how those moments leave [Olivia] feeling good, not only about learning, but also about herself” (44). The scene evokes a pastoral, idyllic quality—the two are strolling through campus, presumably in a natural setting, at Nickoson’s workplace but talking, listening, and singing in their own shared space. Readers are invited to visualize a literal journey across campus, but also to “see” it as representative of parental separation and reunification—much like Jarratt’s narrative. Nickoson’s rendering of the experience leaves readers to fill in the details of the setting. I envision Nickoson and Olivia holding hands, for example, and it makes me want to stroll across my campus with my son. I begin to share Nickoson’s optimism regarding the synergy between academic work and parenting. I feel her gratitude, even more so because I remember the adoption details she shared at the 2010 CCCC. By positioning readers as participant-observers, the domestic enargeia cultivates desire—there is much to want for oneself: children who are interested in our work, a campus that welcomes them, and a dream of motherhood fulfilled.
Kim Hensley Owens’s reflection on her 2009 Feminism(s) and Rhetoric(s) presentation follows an analogous rhetorical pattern: it presents a vivid mother-child interaction designed to secure readers’ emotional involvement. Owens’s scene opens when she begins her paper while her four-month-old daughter, whose designated babysitter didn’t arrive, slept in a carrier: “Alas, she awoke, wiggly, hungry, and angry, two minutes into my twenty-minute talk, so I gave my talk bouncing her in my arms” (54). Owens recounts denying her baby’s desire to nurse, which collided with her “professional responsibility” to complete her presentation (54). Untroubled by her discomfort, the audience was supportive, seeming more “impressed” than “surprised”; a graduate student approached Owens to tell her, “You make it look easy” (54). But Owens “felt desperate. It was my third day of being at a conference with a baby; I’d rarely been more exhausted, and I was embarrassed” (54). As in previous examples, the domestic enargeia revolves around parent-child separation, albeit in the same room rather than across a distance or a campus. In keeping with the genre, Owens’s description invites readers to visualize the situation: it’s easy to picture a squirming, fussing infant shaking with full-body sobs the moment her assistant professor mother steps up to the podium. The domestic enargeia provides multiple paths to affective identification, primarily rooted in the mother-infant connection but also associated with academic expectations. We are asked to share Owens’s sense of professional vulnerability, her mommy guilt, her performance anxiety, her need to soothe her infant, and her audience’s unexpected encouragement. Bearing witness to Owens’s “‘making do’ moment” (54), in turn, convinces us of the importance of nurturing children, even at the least convenient moments.
Domestic enargeia colors Marquez’s and Danberg’s articles as well, even as these pieces take more critical stances toward parent-scholars’ work lives. Marquez, for example, cautions readers about arranging a work schedule to accommodate a family schedule (77). While her husband taught high school during the day, she taught her classes in the evening, with each alternating parenting and teaching. Although this schedule “fit securely in the nook of our family life,” she reports, “the research and writing of my dissertation and securing a job did not” (77). As Marquez points out, flexible working hours can hinder mother-scholars’ productivity, as their most valued professional responsibilities can be overshadowed by a partner’s working hours or classes with finite meeting times.10 Marquez nevertheless closes her essay with a description of writing while her daughter Libby bangs on a Sesame Street laptop: “she looks at me, delighted with her nearly-toothless grin” (84). In highlighting Libby’s imitation of her mother, the domestic enargeia shifts the narrative toward the rewards of parenting. Working mothers’ material needs—for office space, technical resources, focused work time, and collegial interaction—are eclipsed by Marquez’s cozy pairing of writing and childcare. Likewise, for Danberg, a single father and visiting faculty member, domestic enargeia directs readers’ attention away from his career precarity. He refers to “moments of dinner and dishes, papers to grade . . . . remembering that I need to get GoGo a snack for her class tomorrow, to find cash to rent Rubin’s cello” amidst writing and lesson planning (72). “At that moment,” he writes, “I am in the midst of wanting what I have” (72), signaling gratitude for his engagement in his children’s lives.
Taken together, the Composition Studies articles inculcate a set of values that has become a staple of mother-scholar narratives: working in close physical proximity to our children is advantageous, our parenting can productively inform our teaching and scholarship, and our children’s development is a marker of work-life balance. While I share these values to a degree, I also find them consistent with the intensive mothering Hays and Douglas and Michaels critique. Nickoson works at the campus Starbucks near Olivia’s preschool if “it is not too crowded,” sitting at “a small corner table,” where she maximizes “sacred three-hour blocks of work time” (43-44). Faced with a missing babysitter and an immanent presentation, Owens doesn’t mention an alternate caregiver or a pacifier (54). Despite the frustrations of writing “inside the baby corral with my laptop to my right, and [her son] Nate and blocks and books, and balls to my left,” Marquez works alongside the same corral with her daughter (78). Danberg learns to want what he has, masking his aspirations, and calls it “mothering” (68). Presented together in a special issue, the Composition Studies portraits exert a homogenizing force: the parents look remarkably similar in their interactions with children. They write and grade alongside their kids, they cover personal and professional sacrifice with vivid descriptions of cuddly babies and inquisitive children, and they imply that their choices, however limiting, are worth it. Moreover, their reliance on domestic enargeia compels emotional and imaginative engagement. Just as readers would do well to question the stories’ orthodoxy, scholars interested in extending the conversation about parenting in the profession ought to consider more expansive and inclusive rhetorical strategies, as some are starting to do.
The mother-scholar genre has shown some promising new directions in recent years. It has become more attentive to the institutional and structural dynamics affecting mothers (and sometimes fathers) and more willing to situate motherhood in relation to intersectional identities. Narratives are more likely to voice parental challenges and dissatisfactions while offering more nuanced portraits of the children themselves. New rhetorical strategies, mediums, and methods have accompanied this growth. Alexandra Hidalgo’s video work, for example, locates academic motherhood in the contexts of multiculturalism, culture loss, and feminist activism. Her footage brings viewers directly into her family life, enabling us to watch her interactions with her sons. We are starting to see more attention to diversity in conventional print scholarship as well, as is the case in Krystia Nora, Rochelle Gregory, Ann-Marie Lopez, and Nicole A. Williams’s “Surviving Sexism to Inspire Change: Reflections from Mothers on the Tenure Track.” In offering a sample size “of more than 200 Rhet/Comp tenure track mothers” (136), Nora et al.’s heterogenous composite informs the study’s call for improved workplace policies. Parents’ experiences are also getting traction in venues that are not specifically geared toward family considerations, such as Christine Tulley’s How Writing Faculty Write. In her interview with Tulley, Jessica Enoch encourages mother-scholars to prioritize “the structural piece” of university policy “rather than evaluating if you’re being a good mom or not” (67).11 That said, generic change necessitates both invention and convention. Even as mother-scholar representations are shifting, an undercurrent of domestic enargeia inheres, appealing to readers through its happy domesticity. To illustrate how innovative, critical narratives can function within existing rhetorical patterns, I reflect upon Hidalgo’s 2016 video essay “Alto Precio: Love, Loss, and Rebellion in Raising Bilingual Children.”
“Alto Precio” centers around Hidalgo’s preschool son William’s “stated desire not to speak [Spanish] anymore” and his mother’s commitment, as a cultural rhetorics scholar, to sharing her home language (00:01:22-25). Through her intimate relationship with bilingualism, Hidalgo draws attention to the power differential between dominant and minority languages and the complexities her son faces as “the child of a Latina and a gringo living in Michigan” (00:23:15-17). Hidalgo’s narrative pairs the personal with broader cultural critique. She supports her decision to “keep pushing [William] toward embracing Spanish” (00:01:20-22) with references to scholarly and popular accounts of bilingualism and through interviews with her Venezuelan mother. Translated, Hidalgo’s title “Alto Precio” refers to a “high price,” and her orientation to struggle and achievement is especially striking. In contrast to the “making it” moments interspersed throughout the Composition Studies reflections, Hidalgo readily acknowledges the cracks and fissures in her experiences. These mainly revolve around William’s assertions—all expressed in Spanish—that he finds the language inadequate: “[I]t doesn’t sound good” (00:14:59); “I don’t like it” (00:15:42); “I don’t want it” (00:15:52). Hidalgo doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the complexities of William’s experiences, nor from addressing the structural barriers to her literacy sponsorship. Obstacles like the prohibitive expense and security concerns associated with travel to Venezuela, William’s monolingual school with its weekly Spanish lesson, and his grandmother’s awareness that her relationship with him suffers because he must speak to her in Spanish are readily incorporated into Hidalgo’s project. When she asks, “is all of this wondering and strategizing worth it?” (00:22:59-23:02), she licenses uncertainty, resisting mother-scholars’ conventional depiction of triumph over adversity.
At the same time, Hidalgo’s work arguably calls upon domestic enargeia to move viewers.12 By offering video footage in place of verbal description, the medium enables direct observation. We literally see Hidalgo’s homelife, which spurs our affective response. Her narration accompanies footage of family walks through a wooded park, gatherings with family and friends, and scenes of her children playing on floors strewn with educational toys. Her husband Nate consistently appears on screen. A sense of family solidarity and parental partnership emerges from these scenes. The language of video compounds our engagement, particularly the ample close shots of William’s expressive brown eyes and impish smile. Hidalgo’s camera foregrounds William’s perspective, often panning from a broader scene—including one in which Hidalgo discusses bilingualism with Victor Villanueva—to a close shot of William playing in the background. Thanks to Hidalgo’s editorial choices, we witness her son’s verbal challenges to his mother as if we, too, are in the room. The domestic enargeia, in turn, invites our participation in Hidalgo’s negotiations of language, power, and parenting.
“Alto Precio” offers some notable revisions to the mother-scholar genre: the use of new media allows for fresh storytelling possibilities, the narrative grounds personal challenges and accomplishments within broader cultural contexts, and the work’s representation of a Latina mother diversifies the field’s portraits. Yet Hidalgo’s strategic visual appeals also reveal the profession’s entrenched pattern of domestic enargeia. We see a mother who thrives by doing academic work in the presence of her children, even if filmmaking is her scholarly work and her position behind the camera masks it. While Hidalgo expresses her frustrations with her parenting, she demonstrates considerable accomplishment in shooting video while tending to two boys in two languages, gesturing toward a characteristic narrative of personal achievement. She features a heteronormative home with all the trappings of middle-class privilege. These seemingly inescapable conventions raise ethical questions about domestic enargeia’s construction of academic motherhood even in progressive accounts, especially regarding which members of the field it addresses and whom it excludes.
As Sarah Hallenbeck and Michelle Smith argue in their discussion of the rhetorical topoi surrounding work, the “mutual construction of work, gender, and technology is not accomplished strictly through material means, but through rhetorical interventions that strengthen certain material arrangements and weaken others” (215). Domestic enargeia constitutes such a “rhetorical intervention.” By bringing images of intensive mothering to the profession, domestic enargeia constructs working motherhood in relation to childcare. Typically invoked in moments of physical or emotional separation, it plays to maternal exigencies in order to normalize the practice of working alongside one’s children. The field would thus be well-served by considering domestic enargeia’s implications for labor, diversity, and professional participation.
Domestic enargeia, I fear, makes mothers especially susceptible to our workplaces’ gender asymmetries. When mother-scholars treat proximity to children as a source of personal and professional fulfillment, their narratives depict our work as capably done in the company of children, repeatedly stopped and started to tend to others’ needs. The parallels between individual flexibility and exploited flexible labor should not be overlooked: an assumption that one can work at others’ convenience, subpar working conditions, lost opportunities for professional advancement, and inequitable financial remuneration. If mothers accept these limitations, we devalue our labor, a risky move in an academic culture with an established wage gap between men and women (Hatch). To publicize this representation at a moment when universities are looking to streamline budgets seems particularly imprudent. In addition to the potential personal costs, the association of writing studies with the domestic sphere fuels institutional stereotypes about the field’s academic rigor (see Miller 51-55). These assumptions impact women disproportionately. Whether we work in departments that identify as writing, English, or humanities, women in rhetoric and composition still face the “nurturing trap”: increased mentoring and advising assignments along with a perceived approachability that makes us vulnerable to unrewarded emotional labor (Ballif, Davis, and Mountford 88-89).13Recognizing how domestic enargeia sustains gendered labor disparities, in turn, may help us to complicate our self-representations.
If domestic enargeia is troubling for the caretaking it reveals, it is also concerning for the perspectives it omits. In appealing to an audience that desires nearness to children and has the socio-economic resources to provide it, domestic enargeia normalizes a privileged vision of mothering. Its practices for balancing work and family, however, don’t apply across the profession. While my nonconformity with the narratives’ portraits is attributable to clinical anxiety and a healthy, if demanding, child, other mother-scholars struggle with more pressing obstacles: inconsistent employment, cramped domestic space, racial and ethnic discrimination, children with disabilities, absent (or present) spouses, elder care, blended or non-heteronormative family structures. Such stories are silenced by domestic enargeia’s prescription for maternal devotion, doubly so because scholars excluded from the established norm may lack the resources or inclination to write about their parenting. Cultivating parenting narratives that authorize a greater range of experiences will be an important challenge for the field to take up.
The omission of queer perspectives merits particular attention. Queer, trans, and gender-fluid academics have children. Yet rhetoric and composition scholars who have used queer theory to examine parenting have focused on its absence, such as Harriet Malinowitz’s “Unmotherhood” and Maria Novotny’s “Failing Fertility.” While these essays interrogate maternity, they draw an equivalence between queerness and childlessness: Malinowitz, a self-identified lesbian, links her “unmotherhood” to reproductive choice (13-18), and Novotny, a “cisgendered heteronormative woman,” uses queer theory to “evolve the rhetoric of infertility” (194-95). Their work upholds the field’s association of parenting with heteronormativity, an unfortunate consequence for authors who adopt queer theory’s resistance to binary thinking. Indeed, Malinowitz and Novotny are on tricky rhetorical ground. The heterosexism surrounding mothering stories infuses critiques of them, including my own. Scholars who have been written out of the field’s parenting narratives would be well-served by David L. Wallace and Jonathan Alexander’s awareness that “articulating a non-normative or queer sexual identity means much more than adding a secondary discourse” (802). This “complex literacy practice,” they write, requires “resist[ing] normalizing rhetorics of identity and family” while also “transform[ing] the discourses” (802). Specifically offered as a description of queer rhetorical agency, Wallace and Alexander’s remarks speak to the intricacies of rewriting any received narrative. Revising the mother-scholar genre to include queer and other underrepresented perspectives may necessitate rehabilitating domestic enargeia, subverting it, or doing away with it entirely.
Naming domestic enargeia’s current rhetorical dominance helps writers and readers alike to confront its limitations—an unqualified celebration of nurturing, the exclusion of multiple stakeholders, and the promotion of gender roles and sexuality stereotypes. Given its spurious representation of the profession, domestic enargeia merits cautious treatment and selective use. I’m hopeful that future scholarship will put parent-scholars’ mosaic of experiences into productive conversation. One practice would be for conference organizers and editors to sponsor presentations and publications that solicit a range of voices and rhetorical methods, situating instances of domestic enargeia within broader contexts that diffuse their dominance. Another would be to actively seek insights from mother-scholars and other scholars whose perspectives cannot be rendered through domestic enargeia’s white middle-class (hetero)normativity: the underemployed, the too-busy-to-write, mothers of color, fathers, queer and non-binary parents, the neurodiverse, and the differently abled. Taken together, these feminist interventions have the potential to transform the field’s parenting narratives into a site for inclusivity work. By remaining mindful of the limits of domestic enargeia, we stand to make rhetoric and composition a more hospitable place for future generations of scholars and their dynamic family arrangements.
- I use the term mother-scholar throughout this essay to reflect the prevalence of mother-scholar narratives in the profession. While I recognize the term’s exclusion of academic fathers and gender nonconforming parents, the scholarship has continued to highlight women’s parental roles, likely because of ongoing professional inequities surrounding childbirth and maternity leave. For a discussion of institutional gender bias related to parenting, see Ballif, Davis, and Mountford (174-75) and Connelly and Ghodsee (7-8).
- Kate Pantelides’s 2013 CCC column “On Being a New Mother–Dissertator–Writing Center Administrator” soon followed.
- Composition Studies editor Jennifer Clary-Lemon readily acknowledges this dimension of the pieces, referring to one reviewer’s critique of their “middle-class family archetype” and noting the “radically-changed economic climate” since the publication of Women’s Ways (11).
- See Heinrich Plett’s study of early modern aesthetics for an example of the former. Plett acknowledges enargeia’s classical origins, yet he deploys the term to emphasize literary descriptions of the visual arts rather than audiences’ responses to those representations.
- Following Watson’s translation of Quintilian’s Institutes of Oratory, I use the spelling enargeia throughout. When directly quoting or paraphrasing authors who favor the alternative enargia, I preserve their intended spelling. Similarly, I have italicized terms when sources do, reserving my own italics for occasional emphasis (usually when discussing the term itself, i.e., “the term enargeia”).
- Notably, visual texts’ immediacy also facilitates a collective response. In their introduction to Defining Visual Rhetorics, Hill and Marguerite Helmers describe how television coverage of historical “points of crisis” galvanized affective involvement through implied eye witness experience (3). The live broadcasts associated with Vietnam, the Gulf War, and 9/11, they explain, generated a vicarious presence that spurred “a national consciousness of being together as a community” (3-4).
- Depictions of children and their caretakers are well-suited to considerations of enargeia because of their characteristic pathos. Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee cite reporter Scott Maxwell’s “Driving on Daytona Beach” to define enargeia in Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students:
Four-year-old Ellie Louise Bland was doing what most any little girl would do during a glorious day at Daytona Beach this past Saturday—dashing here and there, playing with her family and soaking in the sunshine and salt air. . . . One moment she was holding her uncle’s hand. The next, a Lincoln Town Car driven by a 66-year-old visitor from Georgia ended her life. (185)
Maxwell’s use of enargeia, Crowley and Hawhee explain, “casts new light on the argument [regarding driving on Daytona Beach] by invoking the innocence of children and the tragedy of their untimely deaths” (186).
- Lynn Worsham’s profile speaks to this generational difference and its implications for younger women’s expectations, which are often disrupted by “faculty in positions of power and influence who [still] discriminate against women professors, especially those who start a family while on the tenure track” (316).
- Ballif, Davis, and Mountford’s subjects’ pets receive as much attention as children. See, for example, Selfe’s discussion of her Sunday “doggie potluck scrum” with Gracie and Bosco (167, 304), or Worsham’s description of her “companion animals,” including her Abyssinian kitten Pickle (319). Other examples include Glenn’s dog Charley (167) and Sharon Crowley’s cat Lady (163, 226).
- Connelly and Ghodsee make a similar observation, cautioning readers that “the trap of flexibility” can prompt women to tend to household responsibilities rather than devoting uninterrupted time to their scholarship (25).
- Enoch’s recent Domestic Occupations locates these structural considerations historically, examining how the discursive constructions of home shaped women’s relationship to the workplace during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
- Hidalgo’s 2017 documentary Teta, a breastfeeding advocacy film about her 22 months nursing son Santiago while working as an assistant professor, follows suit.
- Heinert and Phillips’s recent work provides a comprehensive discussion of feminized labor and gendered service, calling for a revaluation of service as a source of institutional sustainability.
I am grateful to the Peitho editorial team and blind reviewers for their generative feedback on multiple iterations of this essay. I thank my friend and fellow mother-scholar Sue Loewenstein for her guidance throughout the project.
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