Works by Kate Ronald

Ronald’s works were compiled by Ann S. Updike as part of Charlotte Hogg and Meredith Love’s tribute. Works are listed in reverse chronological order.


  • Teaching Rhetorica: Theory, Pedagogy, Practice. Boynton-Cook, 2005. Co-edited with Joy Ritchie.
  • Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. With Joy Ritchie.
  • Reason to Believe: Romanticism, Pragmatism, and the Teaching of Writing. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. With Hephzibah Roskelly. Honorable Mention, Ross Winterowd Prize for Best Book in Rhetoric and Composition for 1998.
  • Farther Along: Transforming Dichotomies in Rhetoric and Composition. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann/Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1990. With Hephzibah Roskelly.

Articles and Chapters

  • “Philanthropy as Interpretation, not Charity: Jane Addams’ Civic Housekeeping as Another Response to the Progressive Era.” Invited response to Francis Ranney, “A Case Study in Difference: Fabricating a Feminine Self in a Man-Made Era.” Feminist Rhetorical Resilience, eds. Elizabeth A. Flynn, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady. Utah State University Press, 2012. 174-177.
  • “Talking the Talk/Walking the Walk:  The Path of Feminist Rhetorics.” Foreword, Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics: Landmark Essays and Controversies, eds. Lindal Buchanan and Kathleen J. Ryan. Parlor Press, 2010. ix-x.
  • “‘Where Else Should Feminist Rhetoricians Be?’ Leading a WAC Initiative in a School of Business.” Performing Feminism and Administration in Rhetoric and Composition Studies, eds. Krista Ratcliffe and Rebecca Rickly. Utah State University Press, 2010. 159-171. With Cristy Beemer and Lisa Shaver.
  • “Foreword.” Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methodologies, eds. Eileen Schell and K.J. Rawson. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. ix-xii.
  • “Rhetoric and the Teaching of Composition.” The Present State of Scholarship in the History of Rhetoric: A Twenty-first Century Guide, eds. Lynee Lewis Gaillet and Winifred Bryan Horner. U of Missouri Press, 2010. 212-213; 234-235. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Literacy on the Margins of Power and Prestige: Louisa May Alcott’s Pragmatic Rhetoric.” Women and Literacy: Local and Global Inquiries for a New Century, eds. Peter Mortensen and Beth Daniell. Routledge, 2007. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Pedagogy and Public Engagement: The Uses of Women’s Rhetorics.” Rhetorical Woman, eds. Hildy Miller and Lillian Bridwell-Bowles. U of Alabama P, 2005: 206-228. With Joy Ritchie.
  • “Mothers, Spinsters, Othermothers: New Models for Women Mentors and Their Students.” Reinterpreting the Dissertation in Composition and Rhetoric: Reimagining the Discipline, eds. Nancy Welch, et. al. Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann, 2003: 55-66. With Joy Ritchie and Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Embodied Voice:  Peter Elbow’s Physical Rhetoric.” Writing with Elbow, eds. Pat Belanoff, Sheryl Fontaine, Marcia Dickson, and Charles Moran. Utah State University Press, 2002: 210-223. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Learning to Take it Personally: The Ethics of Collaborative Writing.” Personal Effects: The Social Character of Scholarly Writing, eds. Deborah H. Holdstein and David Bleich. Utah State University Press, 2002: 253-267. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Untested Feasibility: Imagining the Pragmatic Possibility of Paulo Freire.” College English 63 (May 2001): 612-632. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “‘Befriending’ Other Teachers: Communities of Teaching and the Ethos of Curricular Leadership.” Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture 1 (Spring 2001): 317-327.
  • “Coming to Composition, or, A Collaborative Metanarrative of Professional Life.” Composition Studies 28 (2000): 59-79. With Dale Jacobs.
  • “From Transparency toward Expertise: Writing-Across-the-Curriculum as a Site for New Collaborations in Organizational, Faculty, and Instructional Development.” To Improve the Academy, Fall 2000. With Phil Cottell and Serena Hansen.
  • Review of Joseph Petraglia’s Reality By Design: The Rhetoric and Technology of Authenticity in Education (Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998), Journal of Advanced Composition 19.4 (1999): 747-754.
  • “How to Tell a True Teaching Story.” Review essay of Wendy Bishop, Teaching Lives: Essays and Stories (Utah State UP, 1997), Teaching College English and English Education: Reflective Stories, eds. H.T. McCracken, Richard L. Larson, with Judith Entes. National Council of Teachers of English, 1998; and Narration as Knowledge: Tales of the Teaching Life (Boynton/Cook Publishers, 1997), ed. Joseph F. Trimmer.College English 2.62 (November 1999): 255-264.
  • “Riding Long Coattails, Subverting Tradition: Why and How Feminists Should Teach Rhetoric(s).” Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words, eds. Susan C. Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. Modern Language Association, 1998: 217-238. With Joy Ritchie.
  • “Teaching Locally, Thinking Globally: Intersecting Contexts for the Introductory Composition Theory And Practice Course.” Composition Studies, 23 (Fall 1995): 59-66. With Joy Ritchie and Robert Brooke.
  • “What’s the Use of Stories that Aren’t True? A Composition Teacher Reads Creative Writing.”Teaching Writing Creatively, ed. David Starkey. Heinemann/Boynton/Cook, 1998: 1-14. First appeared in Carolina English Teacher, 1995/1996: 33-43. Issue republished nationally by NCTE, 1996.
  • “Literate Life Stories: Researching Our Lives as Writers and Readers,” Teacher Research, 1 (Fall 1993): 87-104. With Margrethe Ahlschwede, Susan Anderson, Rick Evans, Amy Ribble, and Joy Ritchie.
  • “Style: The Hidden Agenda in Composition Classrooms.” The Subject is Writing, ed. Wendy Bishop, Heinemann/Boynton/Cook, 1993: 53-70. Reprint. 1998.
  • Review of The Writing Center: New Directions, eds. Ray Wallace and Jeanne Simpson (Garland, 1991), Focuses (Summer 1991): 75-77.
  • Review of Marilyn Sternglass’s The Presence of Thought: Introspective Accounts of Reading and Writing (Norwood, 1988), Journal of Advanced Composition, 11 (1991): 224-226.
  • “Personal and Public Authority in Discourse: Beyond Subjective/Objective Dichotomies.” Farther Along: 25-40.
  • “Ann Berthoff’s Dialectic: Theory and Applications,” Issues in Writing, 1 (1989): 150-165.
  • “Another Competing Theory of Process: The Student’s.” Journal of Advanced Composition, 9 (1989): 83-97. With Jon Volkmer.
  • “On the Outside Looking In: Students’ Analysis of Academic and Professional Discourse Communities,” Rhetoric Review, 7 (1988): 130-147.
  • “Survival of the Fittest: Ten Years in a Basic Writing Program,” Journal of Basic Writing, 7 (1988): 13-30. Ed. Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “The Politics of Teaching Professional Writing,” Journal of Advanced Composition, 7 (1987): 23-3. Reprinted in Landmark Essays in Advanced Composition, ed. Gary Olson. Hermagoras Press, 1996.
  • “The Self and the Other in the Process of Composing: Implications for Integrating the Acts of Reading and Writing.” Convergences: Essays on the Connections Between Reading, Writing, and Literacy, ed. Bruce Petersen. NCTE, 1986: 231-246
  • “Listening as an Act of Composing.” Journal of Basic Writing, 5, (1986): 28-40. With Hephzibah Roskelly.
  • “Expressive Writing: Exercises in a New Progymnasmata.” Journal of Teaching Writing, 4 (1985): 31-53. With Joseph J. Comprone.

Reprint of “The Making of Available Means,” an Anthology by Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald

The following is a reprinted article from Peitho Journal 20.2, 2018, pp. 198-211. You can view the original article here.

I say that even later someone will remember me.


Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald’s introduction to Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s), begins with these words from Sappho. Because of their anthology, which brings together rhetorical texts by 70 women stretching from 410 B.C.E. to 1999, Ronald and Ritchie will be remembered as women who helped introduce many current scholars and teachers, and many of their students to numerous women rhetors and the burgeoning field of women’s rhetoric. Ronald’s retirement in 2016,1 and Shari Stenberg and Charlotte Hogg’s current effort to create an updated collection of women’s rhetoric(s) in their forthcoming anthology Women’s Rhetorical Acts: Writing, Making, and Speaking in the 21st Century provides the perfect moment to reflect on the making of Available Means.2 I have known Kate Ronald since 2002. She taught the first women’s rhetoric course I took, she directed my dissertation, and she has remained a valuable mentor and a cherished friend. Consequently, I have heard bits and pieces of the Available Means story. In this essay, I draw on interviews with Ritchie and Ronald to share that story in order to provide historical context for this widely-used anthology, which was part of a comprehensive collaborative effort that included navigating a male-dominated department, building a composition program, and broadening conceptualizations of rhetorical history. Ultimately, this essay attempts to capture an important early moment in our field as well as the fraught and often messy process of anthologizing. It even gleans a few sage teaching suggestions from the collection’s creators.

Since its publication in 2001, Available Means has become a foundational text in women’s rhetoric. It is repeatedly cited in histories of the field, countless manuscripts, and in innumerable conference presentations. It is the second best-selling book, behind Jacqueline Jones Royster’s Traces of a Stream,3 out of the almost 80 titles in University of Pittsburgh’s Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture, and it continues to be one of the most widely used texts for teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in women’s rhetoric, rhetorical history, and first-year writing.

Available Means has been an invaluable contribution to the field for so many reasons, but especially for the story of how it came about. Colleagues at University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), Ronald and Ritchie first began working together in a composition colloquium where faculty shared writing projects in progress. However, their true collaboration began when Ronald asked Ritchie to serve as co-coordinator of composition with her. “It was a teaching and administrative collaboration before it was a research and scholarly collaboration,” explains Ritchie.4 Yet, from the very beginning, “We knew we had to be allies.” “There was strength in numbers; even if the numbers were two,” adds Ronald. In 1984, Ronald and Robert Brooke were the first two hires in Rhetoric and Composition at UNL, and Ritchie, who transitioned to a tenure-track faculty position in 1987, was the third. Both Ritchie and Ronald acknowledge that it was daunting to speak out in the heavily literature- and male-dominated English Department. Administering together gave them the ability to talk to each other about decisions, problematize, and try out ideas before they went public. This was especially important because they did not have the authority most Writing Program Administrators (WPAs) have today. “We had a lot of responsibility, but no real authority,” explains Ronald.

Their administrative collaboration was both practical and philosophical. “It grew out of the sense that the production of knowledge is always collaborative,” observes Ritchie. It also provided a form of mentoring. While Ritchie had chaired a high school English Department, she had no writing program administrative experience; so, the collaboration provided her with valuable training. She says Ronald also had the foresight to know that someone else should be prepared to assume that role. In fact, Ronald and Ritchie employed a similar collaborative model when they hired two graduate student associate coordinators. One student focused on the Writing Center, and the other focused on working with new graduate teaching assistants, and they too could collaborate and learn from each other.

One reason for Ritchie and Ronald’s success as collaborators was their different strengths and perspectives. Ronald grounded her approach to teaching composition in classical and modern rhetorical theory and history. Ritchie had been a high school teacher, taught literature, and was a women’s studies faculty member, and her approach to teaching composition was influenced by Ann Berthoff, Peter Elbow, and Andrea Lunsford. “We came with slightly different perspectives but with the same commitment to teaching and feminism, and that set up our collaboration for years to come,” says Ritchie. Another reason for their successful collaboration was their genuine friendship and openness. Ritchie explains that they did not separate their professional and personal lives. “At the same time that we talked about TA assignments or how to combat incoming creative writers’ skepticism toward teaching composition, we were also talking about our mothers, our children, food, or lamenting that ‘I need to get my hair colored,’ or ‘I don’t have anything new to wear to 4C’s,’” she smiles. “We really liked each other,” adds Ronald, “we admired each other, and we made each other laugh.”

This mutual respect and collaborative spirit also extended to their classrooms. The germ for Available Means came about in 1994 when Ritchie sat in on Ronald’s graduate history of rhetoric seminar. Ronald was using the standard texts, which included few women, and both Ronald and Ritchie were struck by female students’ urgent and persistent question, “Where are the women?” As a result, they wrote a proposal for a graduate course titled, “The Rhetoric of Women Writers.” However, Ronald says they soon learned that teaching women’s rhetoric was a “scramble to find things. It required searching, Xeroxing and sometimes making random choices.” “There was no online,” adds Ritchie, who resorted to putting books on reserve in the library and even keeping books in a box outside of her office (“Cultivating”). At that time, there were few women’s anthologies available, and early collections such as Karlyn Kohrs Campbell’s Man Cannot Speak for Her: Key Texts of the Early Feminists (1989) and Shirley Wilson Logan’s With Pen and Voice: A Critical Anthology of African-American Women (1995) had a specific focus. For this class, Ritchie and Ronald wanted to include women’s rhetorical practices across a broad spectrum of contexts.

Fortunately, UNL was a pioneer in composition and rhetoric and women’s studies. UNL was committed to the National Writing Project, which aligned the English Department with K-12 teachers. Dudley Bailey, the former chair of UNL’s English Department was one of the founders of 4 Cs, and UNL made an early commitment to composition and rhetoric. UNL also had one of the first women’s studies programs in the country. “So, there were a lot of forces that came together making this the right time to do this work,” says Ritchie. Nonetheless, both Ritchie and Ronald acknowledge the struggle they initially faced interjecting their own voices into department discussions as well as interjecting women’s voices into department courses. In that sense, Ronald stresses that Available Means emerged out of their praxis, “especially if you think of praxis as the whole context of teaching, research, your life as a colleague in a department, and your personal convictions that teaching an all-male rhetorical canon was absurd.”

In the ‘80s, Ronald and Ritchie were two of ten female professors in an English Department of more than sixty. “It was not a welcoming climate for women even though two of the women were full professors, and quite formidable,” says Ronald. “We used to meet before faculty meetings to literally plan how to talk—to say something, anything, instead of staying silent in meetings.” During meetings, Ronald remembers that they encouraged each other with glimpses and nods. Years later, Ritchie would become department chair, but early on they struggled to assert their own voices at the same time that they fought to include women’s voices into the rhetorical tradition. “I had not studied women’s rhetoric, and when we taught rhetoric, we taught classical rhetoric and theorists like Burke,” says Ronald. “We didn’t teach women.” When the first edition of Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg’s Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present came out in 1990, it had just a few women. Ronald says this reflects the debate at the time, which centered around the concern, “‘if you include her, that means you have to leave out him, and you can’t do that.’”

Barbara DiBernard, who taught literature and directed UNL’s Women’s Studies program, championed that debate at UNL. Ronald explains that every semester when book orders were due in the English Department, “there would be a memo in your mailbox from Barbara asking, ‘How many women authors are you including in your course?’ Of course, she was scoffed at by most of the men who said, ‘are you kidding me, there are no women in the canon.’” According to Ronald, there was one exception at Nebraska, the Willa Cather course. Cather was a UNL alum and winner of the 1922 Pulitzer Prize. Yet, DiBernard kept pushing to get more women’s texts into the classroom, and her efforts inspired Ritchie and Ronald. In fact, her name appears on the dedication page of Available Means.

Capturing a Critical Moment in the Field

They were also guided by scholars such as Lunsford, Lisa Ede, Cheryl Glenn, Logan, Royster, Susan Jarratt, and many more women who were trying to redress the silences around women in the rhetorical canon. Ritchie points to Lunsford’s call in Reclaiming Rhetorica asking scholars to interrupt, to listen, and to work collaboratively5 (“Cultivating”). Indeed, the conception and publication of Available Means came about as the field of women’s rhetoric was emerging and rapidly expanding. In 1995, in addition to Logan’s anthology, scholarly collections such as Catherine Hobbs’s Nineteenth-Century Women Learn to Write, and Lunsford’s Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the History of Rhetoric appeared on the landscape. Other foundational texts included Krista Ratcliffe’s Anglo-American Feminist Challenges to the Rhetorical Traditions: Virginia Woolf, Mary Daly, and Adrienne Rich (1995), Anne Gere’s Intimate Practices: Literacy and Cultural Work in U.S. Women’s Clubs, 1880-1920 (1997), Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance (1997), Carol Mattingly’s Well-Tempered Women: NineteenthCentury Temperance Rhetoric (1998), Christine Mason Sutherland and Rebecca Sutcliffe’s The Changing Tradition: Women in the History of Rhetoric (1999) and Royster’s Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women (2000). Available Means was also bolstered by discussions at the first biennial Feminism and Rhetorics Conference6 in 1997 where Ronald and Ritchie presented a paper, “Available Means/Necessary Acts: Reading Women’s Rhetorical Practices as Theory and Teaching Women’s Rhetorical Theory as Action.” They later published part of this paper in their essay, “Riding Long Coattails, Subverting Tradition: The Tricky Business of Feminists Teaching Rhetoric(s),” which “explores the tangled relations among feminist theory, feminist pedagogy, the canon of rhetoric, and emergent women’s rhetorics” (218).

With their collection, Ritchie and Ronald contributed to this burgeoning field by expanding the definitions of rhetorical theory and its history. They didn’t want to limit the anthology to women writing about writing or rhetorical theory. “We wanted to bridge that divide between theory and practice—to see practice as theory and theory as practice,” Ritchie explains. “We also wanted to argue that rhetorical history is not linear and fixed, but fluid and multiple” (“Cultivating”). Additionally, they wanted to explore some new and unrecognized contexts that women were writing out of and speaking to. “Women were writing from their own lives and locations such as the kitchen, the nursery, the bedroom, the garden, as well as the science lab, academy, courts, and even from the often denigrated and reviled women’s bodily experience,” explains Ritchie (“Cultivating”). They also wanted to show women’s strategies, which included opening up silences, interrupting the status quo, arguing from the personal, arguing from anger, but also using dialogue and conversation. “In other words, we wanted to see women making rhetoric come alive and thereby posit new and often innovative means,” says Ritchie (“Cultivating”). As they explain in their introduction to the collection, their choice of title, Available Means, “reflects our desire to locate women squarely within rhetoric but also to acknowledge that their presence demands that rhetoric be reconceived” (xvii).

Not only does Available Means introduce 70 women as rhetoricians, Ronald and Ritchie’s introduction to the collection and their introduction to each of these women and their texts, teaches students how to read, examine, understand, and appreciate women’s rhetoric. “I would say the introduction is written for scholars and the introductions to each text are directed at students,” says Ronald. “We’re really talking to the field in the introduction in a lot of ways.” While they knew the anthology would be used in graduate courses, because the need existed, they also wanted it to be used in undergraduate courses. However, Ronald stresses, “when we conceived this text it was many years before an undergraduate major in writing and rhetoric was even a glimmer in our eyes. The only undergraduate classes we taught were first-year composition.” The fact that Available Means is used in undergraduate rhetoric courses and even undergraduate women’s rhetoric courses today is a testament to field’s amazing growth and the text’s contribution and continued value. Certainly, anyone who has used Available Means will acknowledge that it is an easy text to put into undergraduate students’ hands because the collection’s introduction offers foundational questions for a course, and the introductions to each woman rhetor provides helpful historical context and rhetorical framing.

While the process of putting together the anthology was difficult, Ronald says choosing which 70 women to include was the greatest challenge. “At first, we wanted to include everything,” Ritchie laughs. Space limitations imposed difficult choices. There were also pieces they could not get permission for and pieces where the writer or agent never responded to their requests. For instance, Ronald laments that they could not get permission from Mary Daly, and texts by Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, and Anita Hill were eliminated in the final stages because of space limitations. Having to excerpt texts also created problems. “It created issues of context and integrity,” says Ritchie. “There were pieces where we thought an excerpt won’t do this work justice.”

Before they faced those difficult choices, Ritchie and Ronald devoted a lot of time to gathering. “We both were aware of texts that we wanted to use that we found important as rhetorical texts from our teaching and from our own general reading,” explains Ritchie. They also mined work by Lunsford and Lisa Ede, Jarratt, Glenn, and other scholars as they started making lists. Ronald says, “We felt some obligation to chronology. We didn’t want to skip whole centuries.” Indeed, while some things were clear from the beginning others emerged alongside the project. For instance, Ritchie says, “We knew we needed a diversity of voices and perspectives. We couldn’t confine ourselves to the standard of pieces that would be in Bizzell and Herzberg—works that traditionally defined rhetorical theory and practice.” At the same time, they chose texts that show women using traditional rhetorical practices and theories and forging new ones.

The act of gathering was also full of discoveries. Ronald was delighted to find Hortensia and while she knew who Anna Julia Cooper was, she had never read her writing. Merle Woo and Nomy Lamm were two other women she did not know. Ritchie also notes how discovering one set of writers illuminated parallels with other writers. “Putting Audre Lorde alongside Quaker Margaret Fell or Ida B. Wells alongside Ruth Bader Ginsburg created dialogues that could enrich our study of women’s rhetoric,” she says (“Cultivating”). Certainly, that is one of Available Means’ greatest contributions; it demonstrates the different way we perceive women’s rhetoric when we are able to read women alongside other women instead of reading them inserted in anthologies overwhelmingly dominated by men. Prior to that, students might find a woman in an anthology every few hundreds of years. Ritchie explains, “We wanted to expose and problematize the whole conception of a few extraordinary women” (“Cultivating”). They chose texts that would bring to light material differences among women—sexuality, physicality, race, religion, nationality, etc. “We also chose texts that might unsettle us and unsettle our students,” says Ritchie (“Cultivating”).

Teaching with Available Means

Ronald acknowledges that Nomy Lamm’s “It’s a Big Fat Revolution” and “The Combahee River Collective Statement” were hard texts for her to teach. However, she stresses that it’s good for teachers to use texts they find unsettling. “Then you are actually reading with your students rather than telling them what the text means, or trying to cheerlead them into thinking this is a great text, which we all do,” observes Ronald. “That’s how we get our hearts broken in the classroom, because students don’t always love what we love.” For Ritchie, who describes herself as “a very secular person,” she says incorporating the rhetoric of religious women was both daunting and enlightening. Women like Margaret Fell and Dorothy Day stretched her perception of women’s rhetoric. Ritchie also says that Minnie Bruce Pratt’s “Gender Quiz,” which explored transgender and gender fluidity in the mid-90’s, was important for her at the time.

Both Ronald and Ritchie point to Dorothy Allison’s Two or Three Things I Know for Sure as imperative, but demanding. “I thought that was a crucial text in so many ways,” says Ritchie, “but I always held my breath a little and needed a little courage when I assigned it, especially in undergraduate classes.” In the text, Allison addresses issues of class, sexual assault, and sexuality. “It’s just such a painful text,” remarks Ritchie. “It challenged my students, and it also challenged me to think about how I can help students approach a text like this.” Whether it’s religion, sexuality, social class, “you want to help students identify their own assumptions,” she explains. “I remember saying to students, ‘As you read this think about why you are reacting a certain way, where is your response coming from, is there something in your background that has shaped this response?’”

In addition to texts that might challenge students, they also chose texts for Available Means that allowed them and their students to pursue epistemological questions: How is knowledge produced? What counts as evidence? What counts as truth? “Questions that are of enormous importance right now,” Ritchie asserts. Ronald says she almost always assigned Toni Morrison’s “Nobel Lecture in Literature,” because no matter the era, her class could apply it to the political rhetoric going on around them. To illustrate this, Ronald points to an excerpt:

The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties, replacing them with menace and subjugations. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. (Morrison 419)

Like so many of the texts in Available Means, Morrison’s words are timeless, and continue to speak to students.

Indeed, Ronald stresses, “It’s the women in the collection that have made the anthology important and successful.” However, both Ritchie and Ronald are reluctant to name favorites. With coaxing, Ritchie admitted that Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde stand out to her. “Those pieces especially, helped me see where my own commitments lay.” In addition to reiterating Morrison’s powerful message about ethics of language, Ronald says she cannot read the end of Alice Walker’s “The Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” without crying. “But if I had to choose one,” she says, “it is Anna Julia Cooper’s ‘The Higher Education of Women.’ There is a feminine side and a masculine side. And it acknowledges a culture that has been raised by all men. I think it is brilliant, and just a beautiful, beautiful piece.”

In hindsight, Jane Addams and Ann Berthoff are two omissions Ronald regrets. To this day, she also laments that they did not discover and include Bathsua Makin, who in 1673 published, “An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewoman in Religion, Manners, Arts and Tongues With An Answer to the Objections Against This Way of Education.” In her chapter, “Feminist Perspective on the History of Rhetoric,” in the Sage Handbook for Rhetorical Studies, Ronald points to Makin as she cautions the field from becoming too self-congratulatory. In this tract, Makin includes a long catalog of women rhetors that scholars in our field have only recently recovered. Consequently, Ronald concludes, “We’re recovering what was lost, found, and then lost again” (149). Offering Makin as a cautionary tale, Ronald suggests that recovery and even publication of women’s rhetoric is not sufficient. Women’s rhetoric(s) must be taught.

Consequently, one of the most crucial measures of the texts in Available Means is how they work in the classroom. Ronald says she often began her women’s rhetoric courses with Hortensia’s “Speech to the Triumvirs,” Queen Elizabeth’s “To the Troops at Tilbury,” and “Cherokee Women Address Their Nation.” Because each of these texts demonstrate audience challenges that women face and women’s efforts to invoke ethos, “they immediately show students, particularly undergraduates, that it is different to speak as a woman,” says Ronald. In her personal copy of Available Means, she lists all the classes where she has assigned each text. Ida B. Wells, Terry Tempest Williams, bell hooks, and Andrea Dworkin are some of the texts she frequently used.

Ronald believes Wells’ “Lynch Law in All its Phases” is the perfect text to study audience and logical appeal. “There is hardly any emotional appeal there and she rarely speaks of herself,” she explains. “By employing logical appeals relentlessly, Wells is assuming that her audience is good men who clearly don’t know about the lynchings, because if they did they would do something about it.” Ronald used Williams “The Clan of One-Breasted Women” to show the blending of personal and public appeals that is so common in women’s rhetoric. She notes how Williams moves seamlessly back and forth from her own family’s experience with breast cancer to disquisitions on nuclear weapons. And she used hooks “Homeplace” to help students see how rhetorical theory comes from rhetorical action. “Particularly for women, rhetorical theory comes from physical embodied experience,” says Ronald.

Initially, Ronald worried about putting Andrea Dworkin’s “I Want a 24 Hour Truce During Which There is Not Rape” in the anthology. “Not because I didn’t think she was dead right,” she says, “but because students might think she was so shrill. However, I found it is the perfect essay to teach audience, ethics, and ethos.” Ronald has also used Susan B. Anthony’s The United States of America v. Susan B. Anthony to demonstrate stasis theory, and she has used Zora Neal Hurston’s “Crazy for this Democracy” to illustrate women’s use of humor. “The text is so funny, so my classes talked about whether it’s ok for women to be funny,” explains Ronald. She also found that some texts work better with graduate students than undergraduates and vice versa.

In her teaching with Available Means, Ritchie was continually struck by the way students found essays or writers that really spoke to them and their situation. “It’s amazing to think that Hortensia inspires students today. That’s the marvel and fun—the myriad connections and cross currents.” Nonetheless, Ritchie admits that it was sometimes a challenge to get students to move beyond reactions and ask the appropriate questions such as: What definition of woman was the writer working from? What traditions, laws, or norms were they working out of, or resisting? What were their methods and available means? What did they seek to accomplish? “While I want students to discuss the impact of the pieces on their life, I also want them to approach the pieces rhetorically,” stresses Ritchie.

Similarly, Ronald continually asked students: What’s the rhetorical situation? Who is speaking to whom? What is their argument? How are they making it? What are the syllogisms? What are the enthymemes? What are the appeals? What kind of style are they using—high, low, medium? “I didn’t want students to come away from this text simply with a sense of awe about these women—‘weren’t they brave, weren’t they incredible?’ Yes,” says Ronald, “but what can we learn from them, how did they manage to do what they’re doing, and how might you deploy a similar kind of strategy?”

In the same way they hoped that their collection would change their students, Ronald and Ritchie admitted that the collection changed them and their teaching. Ritchie began assigning papers connected to action research. Students in her classes did outreach projects, some volunteered in the Women’s Studies Center, she even had a student do an ethnography at a battered women’s shelter. “That was really different for my teaching,” says Ritchie, “but I wanted to encourage students to take the next step and put what they were reading and learning into practice some way. I wanted them to understand that they could be active rhetoricians themselves. I think it’s Minnie Bruce Pratt who says, we have to ‘give theory flesh and breath.’”7

Ronald says that working on Available Means led her to be more conscientious about asking “what am I missing?” In terms of her teaching, she says the collection has taught her “how identity is inherent in the rhetorical situation and rhetoric is always about uncertainty and power.” She notes that Gloria Steinem’s essay “Supremacy Crimes” is especially effective in showing this. In this 1999 essay, Steinem wrote, “I think we begin to see that our national self-examination is ignoring something fundamental, precisely because it’s like the air we breathe: the white male factor, the middle-class and heterosexual one, and the promise of superiority it carries” (494). Given the murders of African American men and women, President Trump’s election, and the current political climate, Ronald stresses how Steinem’s text still speaks to us today.

Often Ronald used Available Means in her first-year writing courses. “There is no exigence like that of being a woman,” she asserts. “I mean if you want to teach rhetoric there is no better way to teach it than to consider how you persuade the powerful when you have no power.” Furthermore, she says, “Teaching women’s rhetoric teaches the rhetorical context and the rhetorical triangle in stark, stark ways that first-year writers get immediately. Instead of using a JFK speech, it is much more effective to use Angelina Grimké. Plus, they don’t consider women rhetors, and dammit, they should!”

A Labor of Love

One of the most telling facets of the making of Available Means are the logistics, which underscores that the anthology was a labor of love. Ritchie and Ronald admit there are many trials to putting together an anthology. Ronald says their process in the mid-to-late ‘90s “almost seems like the middle ages today.” “We photocopied, photocopied, and photocopied,” explains Ritchie. And after Ronald accepted a position at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, they began shipping pages back and forth between Nebraska and Ohio. “We had a copy of every text (70 plus), and a grid that we laid out indicating who would write the introduction, whether we had obtained the permission, what the fee was, whether we had paid it, who paid it, and so on,” explains Ritchie. Indeed, payment for copyrights was no small matter; the cost totaled a daunting ten thousand dollars. While they received some funding assistance from the UNL and Miami University, Ronald and Ritchie paid most of it themselves; that’s how much they believed in the project. According to Ronald, Alice Walker’s piece was the most expensive, but she promises that’s not why reading it always brings her to tears.

Ronald and Ritchie are quick to acknowledge that compiling the anthology was a collaborative effort not only between themselves, but also with the women writers included in the collection, women scholars across the country, and librarians, who were invaluable in helping them track down first appearances, first editions, and copyright holders for obscure volumes. They also involved their students. Some graduate students helped with head notes, undergraduates helped gather bibliographic information. And everyone helped proofread, especially Ronald’s late husband, Dennis. Ronald explains that all the primary texts that appear in the collection were scanned, and while that was better than typing everything, the unreliability of scanners at the time meant everything had to be closely proofread. In fact, Ronald’s husband read the entire book out loud with her—over 500 pages of copy—to compare the manuscript with the original text including punctuation. For several months, Ronald says their talk around the house was punctuated.

“Quotation mark, have you let the dogs out, comma, Dear, question mark, quotation mark.
Quotation mark, Kate, comma that was a delicious dinner, exclamation point, quotation mark.”

Despite their best efforts, in the back of her personal copy of Available Means, Ronald has a running list of errors. She regrets that the publisher did not allow them to do a second edition around 2004 or 2005. “That was a real disappointment,” she says. “We would have corrected the errors and switched out some pieces.”

While Ritchie and Ronald never had the opportunity to update the collection, Charlotte Hogg and Shari Stenberg have decided to continue the work by putting together a new anthology of women’s rhetoric(s). Both have a direct lineage to Available Means. Hogg was in one of Ronald’s undergraduate courses at UNL, and she was also in one of Ritchie’s early Rhetoric of Women Writers graduate courses for which Available Means was initially envisioned. And in 2007, when Stenberg joined Ritchie as a colleague at UNL, Ritchie invited her to begin teaching the Rhetoric of Women Writers course.

Describing the need for a new collection, Hogg explains, “While an explosion of theoretical, methodological, and historiographic texts in the field of women’s rhetoric have been published since the turn of the century, there still isn’t another book like Available Means with primary works grounded in context and history with a rhetorical focus” (“Creating”). She believes that a new anthology is especially needed in undergraduate courses filled with students who are about the same age as Available Means and immersed in new literacy practices. Some of the exigencies Stenberg and Hogg point to that are driving the need for a new collection include third wave or new feminisms; new means of persuasion; globalization, transnationalism, and climate change; and questions about what constitutes woman or gender fluidity. Hogg and Stenberg anticipate that Women’s Rhetorical Acts will highlight up to 40 contemporary female rhetors, including well-known voices such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hillary Clinton, Melissa Harris-Perry, Marjane Satrapi, Lindy West, as well as voices less known—or even unknown—such as the Stanford rape victim and “Riverbend,” the anonymous Baghdad Blog author. In a time when more platforms and media include more voices, Stenberg and Hogg consider the rhetorical work from blogs, podcasts, or YouTube that has in one way been an equalizer and in another demonstrated the kind of rhetorical resilience against exclusion that women have faced for centuries.

Ronald and Ritchie are delighted that Hogg and Stenberg are continuing the project. Moreover, they believe this new anthology needs to be guided by the next generation of scholars. Of course, it is a generation of scholars who grew out of the flourishing field of women’s rhetoric that Ritchie and Ronald’s anthology has helped cultivate. Inspired by students’ persistent question, “Where are the women?” Available Means helped make it possible to teach women’s rhetoric courses. Along with the substantial work of other scholars in women’s rhetoric, Available Means has also contributed to the reconception of rhetorical history; thus, paying homage to Sappho’s words.


  1. Ritchie previously retired in 2010.
  2. I am grateful to Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald, who allowed me to interview them. They even took the time to search old files to answer some of my questions. I want to thank Charlotte Hogg and Shari Stenberg for their assistance. After working on this essay, I am especially grateful for their efforts create a new anthology. I also want to thank Jess Enoch, one of my Peitho reviewers, and Jane Greer and Liz Tasker Davis, my wonderful writing group, who read drafts of this essay and offered several helpful suggestions.
  3. Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.
  4. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Ritchie and Ronald were drawn from telephone interviews.
  5. See Andrea A. Lunsford’s “On ReClaiming Rhetorica” in Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995: 3-8.
  6. The biennial Feminisms and Rhetorics Conference is sponsored Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition, which was organized in 1989 as the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition.
  7. See Minnie Bruce Pratt’s “Gender Quiz” in Available Means pg. 434.

Works Cited

  • Hogg, Charlotte. “Creating Change: Furthering Available Means across Generations.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Oregon Convention Center. 16 March 2017. Conference Presentation.
  • Lunsford, Andrea A. “On Reclaiming Rhetorica.” In Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Ed. Andrea A. Lunsford. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995: 3-8. Print.
  • Morrison, Toni. “The Nobel Lecture in Literature.” (1993) In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001, 417-423. Print.
  • Pratt, Minnie Bruce. “Gender Quiz.” (1995) In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 2001. 425-34. Print.
  • Ritchie, Joy. “Cultivating Capacities: Anthologizing to Theorize an Emerging Field.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Oregon Convention Center. 16 March 2017. Conference Presentation
  • —. Telephone interview. 21 Feb. 2017; 13 Nov. 2017.
  • Ritchie, Joy and Kate Ronald. “Introduction: A Gathering of Rhetorics.” In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. xv-xxxi. Print.
  • —. “Riding Long Coattails, Subverting Tradition: The Tricky Business of Feminists Teaching Rhetoric(s).” In Feminism and Composition Studies: In Other Words. Eds. Susan Jarratt and Lynn Worsham. New York: MLA, 1998. 217-38. Print.
  • Ronald, Kate. “Feminist Perspectives on the History of Rhetoric.” In Sage Handbook of Rhetorical Studies. Eds. Andrea Lunsford, Kirt Wilson, and Rosa Eberly. London: GBR Sage Publications, 2008. 139-152. Print
  • —. Telephone interview. 29 Sept. 2016; 30 Nov. 2017.
  • Steinem, Gloria. “Supremacy Crimes.” (1999) In Available Means: An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). Eds. Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001. 491-494.
  • Stenberg, Shari. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, “Creating Change: Transversing Gender and Geography.” Conference on College Composition and Communication. Oregon Convention Center. 16 March 2017. Conference Presentation.

Review of Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity

Flynn, Elizabeth A. and Tiffany Bourelle, eds. Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity. The Ohio State University Press, 2018. 286 pp.

The three words that subtitle the collection of essays in Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition: Choice, Chance, and Serendipity (Flynn and Bourelle, eds.) actually describe the origin of this very book review. As a forty-eight-year-old first year Ph.D. grad student, my professors advised me to write a few book reviews to beef up my CV that lists the lone literary analysis I wrote twenty-three years ago.1 Choosing this book as my very first book review turned out to be a serendipitous one since I am beginning a new journey and I am looking for connection, inspiration, and place (space) in my professional career. In this collection of fifteen thematically linked narratives grounded by an illuminating preface and informative introduction, I travelled the journeys these professional women took/are taking as rhetors, teachers, activists, creators, and renegades and fortunately found myself in these stories. Flynn and Bourelle’s collection of essays could be a kind of an introductory primer for new scholars of rhetoric and composition who, like me, can relate to the personal and surprising beginnings and transcendental movements in the various paths of life. While reading these narratives, I recognized and related to the fears, the risks, the choices, the mentors, and the euphoric moments when everything just clicks: the explosive kairotic stillnesses in time that motivate us to keep going. Like all of these women, I have made choices that have given me great fulfillment, yet I still want more: more writing, more collaboration, more experience, more research, more learning, more change, more chances to make choices, and more moments of serendipity.

“Feminist Rhetorical Resilience”

Editors Elizabeth A. Flynn and Tiffany Bourelle are two forces of nature who have created, collaborated, resisted and changed the field of rhetoric and composition. Notably, Flynn co-authored with Patricia Sotirin and Ann Brady Feminist Rhetorical Resilience, the text that inspired this new essay collection, and Bourelle has “designed and currently runs eComp, a fully-online program that utilizes a multimodal pedagogy, helping distance education students acquire twenty first century literacies” (245).

As chance would have it, I am in the middle of a transcendental unit with my accelerated English III and AP Lang students that includes the reading of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God. The chances, choices, and serendipitous moments in Janie Starks’ journey of self-discovery align with those narratives in Women’s Professional Lives. Hurston writes, “Now, Women forget all the things they don’t want to remember and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly. So the beginning of this was a woman” (1). Each woman in this collection of narratives recalls the expectations and challenges as times in which their core selves battled for individuality and as their dreams changed into their truths. And given choices, chances and serendipity, these women “act[ed] accordingly.”

In their introduction to the text, editors Flynn and Bourelle remind the reader of the center argument from Feminist Rhetorical Resilience: “feminist conception of resilience is best seen not as fundamentally psychological but as rhetorical, relational, and contextual” (Introduction). Incorporating the “metaphors feminist rhetoricians have used recently to describe the present-day and historical situation of marginalized groups,” Flynn, Sotirin, and Brady claim “like borderlands, streams, silence, listening, geographies, advocacy, motion, and walking and talking, resilience resonates with concerns about feminist agency and rhetorical action in the face of pernicious social and material forces” (“Introduction”). Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition develops this concept as the authors explore metis and fifteen journeywomen act in the “intersection of agency and accidental sagacity” (5). These travelers have been “unusually resilient,” have “exhibited considerable agency, especially in taking risks and have made decisions in serendipitous ways and at kairotic moments” (15). Like Janie Starks in Their Eyes Were Watching God, the women in these essays chronicle transcendental movements of the individual rhetor/scholar/teacher and her intimate relationships to place and others as she journeys to within and for herself. 

“Metaphors [and] Feminist Rhetoricians”

A central image of a pear tree for the metaphor of creation weaves through Hurston’s novel as the protagonist Janie searches for her own voice. Hurston writes, “Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches” (8). Words and images are kin that center themselves in the study and practice of rhetoric and composition. Writers Malea Powell, Shirley Rose, Libby Falk Jones, and Suellyn Duffey contribute moving essays to Women’s Professional Lives in Composition and Rhetoric that also incorporate powerful metaphors of creation to frame their stories. In “Word by Word, Bead by Bead: Making a Scholarly Life” Malea Powell begins with “this story is a making, a tracing of relations, a beadwork of choices, of words, stitched around and through an accumulation of stories, anchored with poetry, shot through with chance” (124). As she instructs us in the making of her art, she “construct[s] a beadwork story-sculpture for how [she] became the scholar” she is (128). In her assertive tone she advises the reader to not be “afraid of what happens between asking and listening. Don’t be afraid to take a chance, to listen, to practice, to tell (136). Similarly creative, Shirley Rose‘s “What I Learned about Teaching, Administration, and Scholarship from Singing with the Scottsdale Chorus” reflects upon lessons both learned and remembered through becoming a member of the competitive Chorus. Through her creation of song and the development of her voice as it enhances the voices of others, Rose transcends the boundaries between student and teacher, follower and leader, seeker and finder. Poet Libby Falk Jones presents her essay woven with stanzas of poetry, “words and image” (74) that offer a “continuous and a discontinuous” narrative “speak[ing] to the new identity” she creates (84). She provides two poems in her essay that lay bare the emotions and snapshots of intersectionality in her life and she “defines [her]self as poet and photographer. In yet another artistic expression, Suellynn Duffey embraces “kinesthetic elegance” and claims that “we, as women in rhetoric and composition, move with a different choreography through dances that show diverse ways in which one can ‘make it’” (105). As a student of dance, “physical realms…. A sort of bodily experience in the mind” is both a “metaphorical abstraction” and “an embodied reality” of her life (89). Narrative is a form of art and metaphors, analogies, and connections are strong ways to speak to audience. Art both shapes and reflects life providing both aspiration and validation. These feminist rhetoricians and Hurston’s Janie, and writers Powell, Rose, Jones, and Duffey see incorporate these artistic expressions that begin as seeds but develop into branches, expand, and flourish. 

“Exhibiting Considerable Agency”

In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie’s life was managed first by Nanny, then by her husbands Logan Killicks and Joe Starks and the town of Eatonville, and finally, by the racial inequality of pre-civil rights era America. Similarly, each essayist in Flynn and Bourelle’s collection describes expectations from families, from societies, and from circumstances that curse? bless? her to follow paths that required choices and action. The women exhibited considerable agency in battling the barriers they faced personally and professionally. Lisa Ede’s “desire” to collaborate with Andrea Lunsford was “challenged” by university departments as “shocking—even dangerous” (22). Lynn Z. Bloom’s marriage “defied [her] parent’s expectations” and her choice to have children were “defiant rebuttals to the stand advice for 60’s women, which equated maternity with professional suicide” (61). Jacqueline Rhodes was a “transient student, physically speaking, living in [her] own poverty in order to escape her families.” Rhodes continues: “those multiple paths, too, served as queer ways…queer time…was ‘unscripted’…by any conventions of straight temporality. It was disorderly and strange, the ‘constantly diminishing future’ indeed hovering like a storm cloud” (145). Irene Papoulis exposes her anxiety and struggles with shame in her career in the academic world as her essay “explore[s] how the social realities of the field of composition fueled her status anxiety” (204). Natasha N. Jones was “aware of and, almost immediately confronted with the stereotypes about black, single mothers and the challenges that [she] would face because of the gendered and racialized perceptions that are entrenched in our society” (222). Iklim Goksel’s emigration from Turkey and her study of ethnography to “give voice to women’s non-Western forms of linguistic and cultural rhetorical choices” employ the term “kismet” that “does not represent a ready-made world but rather entails a remaking that suggests inquiry, capability, resilience, choice, chance and serendipity” (192). Linda Adler-Kassner‘s “threshold concepts of writing studies” and her incorporation of Timmermans’s definition of “troublesome knowledge” are “central for growth and contribute to a sort of resilience through which growth can occur” (110). These women exercise resilience in the face of their obstacles in that they do not resign, but again, “act accordingly.” In Hurston’s novel, Janie’s resilience to have the faith to act on her dream is called upon when she meets Tea Cake after years of living a silent life. Tea Cake acts as mentor to hear Janie speak, telling her “Have de nerve tuh say whut you mean” (Hurston 109). Like Janie, Flynn and Bourelle also acknowledge the mentors who influenced them to take agency of their voices. Other mentors and influence came for Papoulis with Peter Elbow, and Susan Miller guided Duffey, Rhodes, and Ede. Every essayist regards influential texts that mentored her in her career, such as Jack Halberstam’s In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives for Rhodes, and “Technologies of Serendipity” by Paul Fyfe for Bourelle. Families, high school teachers, spouses, and groups of other women act as mentors supporting these women as they acknowledge the journey to discover self does not have to be a lonely one. After starts and stops and other branches in the road, these women, like Janie, ultimately find the power of their individual voice.

“…Like Borderlands, Streams, Silence, Listening, Geographies…”

Malea Powell writes “as human beings, we are all intimately connected to the land… you live in a geography, a particular space writing on a place, a body of land. …our lives happen on the land, in places practiced into spaces of discovery, of rhetoricity…” (136). The collection of essays does not name a higher power or mention religion, but the reverence for serendipity is clear, and often, inspiration is taken from nature and place. Bloom calls her life a “garden of serendipities” (59) and Bourelle looks to the “aspen trees that line the Rio Grande beginning to turn yellow and orange” (173) before beginning her recollections. Flynn cultivates gardens on her home farm and both Anne Ruggles Gere and Duffey describe hiking in the mountains. Bloom “listens to the lingua franca flutes, guitars, and the throbbing drums carried high on the western wind” (70). Many of the writers feel a connection to their universities and students and augment the culture of these places. In their retellings, the writers urge the reader to recognize those moments in order to be open to taking the chances provided. Serendipity can happen in times of great joy or despair. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Janie and the others “seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were questioning God” (160). After the devastation from the hurricane and events after that irreparably change Janie’s life, Janie returns home with a ‘package of garden seed that Tea Cake had bought to plant” (191). The writers in this collection also began with the stuff of possibility, often faced events that irreparably changed their lives, but still they drew upon their resilience and embarked on journeys to nourish their “packet of seeds.” In their personal lives they created families, in their professional lives they also created “democratic classrooms,” and writing groups, such as Gere’s Puget Sound Writing, and Beth L. Hewett’s OWI and GSOLE. Like Hurston’s pear tree that gives and receives, these women create and re-create themselves often in and around a constellation of others. These women teach, encourage, direct, research, engage, and challenge their audiences with their application of individual voice and purpose.

“Rhetorical, Relational, and Contextual”

The intention of the book is to provide guidance both professionally and personally since, as many of the essays describe, the two areas of life are inextricably entwined. I referred to it as an introductory primer for rhetoric and composition, but it is also transcendental primer for someone like me. Like Janie, I have a dream that has become my truth and prompted me to “act accordingly.” Like Lisa Ede’s and Iklim Goksel’s transition between academic disciplines, I am an English teacher transitioning from American Literature into a new space of rhetoric and composition. The narratives in this collection remind me of my resilience and validate my choices. My story is not without metaphor, agency, and space. I have navigated the waters of public high school education in Mississippi with the serendipitous fortune of teaching at a school where I have a voice. Encouraged by the narratives of these women, I can bravely blend my literary past with the new horizon presented in the discipline of rhetoric and composition. From these women, I am equipped with a reading list to expand my knowledge and bolster my teaching style such as “Border Crossings: Intersection of Rhetoric and Feminism” (Ede, Glenn, Lunsford), or A Writer Teaches Writing (Murray). As a reader/student, I learned new terms of this field such as “ethnography,” “queer theory,” andanti-modernist feminism.” I can hear myself in the singing in the constellation of these women’s voices here, in my own space, in my own classroom. Like Janie and these feminist rhetoricians, I search for more chances and hope to change rhetorically, relationally, and contextually. Women’s Professional Lives paints the journeys and the ultimate, profound kairiotic moments where “old thoughts [come] in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them” (Hurston 32). I choose to live and love this journey since, like them and Janie, I am not “finished thinking and feeling” but will “pull in [my] horizon like a great fish net” (Hurston 192). Illustrating the “feminist perspective of resilience” that is “rhetorical, relational, and contextual,” Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric and Composition breathes with the lives of choices and chance. It offers the reader—regardless of the path she is now onthe power to recognize her own resilience and the faith in the agency of serendipity.


  1. Keane-Temple, Rebecca. “The Sounds of Sanctuary: Horace Benbow’s Consciousness.” The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 3, Special Issue: William Faulkner, 1997, pp. 445-450.

Works Cited

  1. Flynn, Elizabeth, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady, Eds. “Introduction.” Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. Utah State University Press, 2012. 
  2. Halberstam, J. Jack. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York UP, 2005.
  3. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Perennial, 2006.


Kathleen Ethel Welch Article Award Winners

The Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award was created in honor of the Coalition’s first president and co-founder, Kathleen E. Welch, whose immeasurable impact on the organization continues today. The award is presented biennially in odd years for refereed work published in Peitho journal to recognize outstanding scholarship and research in the areas of feminist pedagogy, practice, history, and theory. This year’s judges had the honor of reading and rating excellent articles from seven issues of the journal—volumes 21.2 through 23.1. These articles presented diverse approaches to feminist and historical scholarship, pushing the boundaries of both field and discipline, and many of them reflected collaborative authorship.

While we would normally confer awards at our Action Hour event on the Wednesday evening prior to CCCC, this year we rely on virtual conferral and social media. Thus, on behalf of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award Committee, I am pleased to announce this year’s award recipients and honorable mentions: Ana Milena Ribero and Sonia C. Arellano (award recipients); Patricia Fancher, Gesa Kirsch, and Alison Williams (honorable mention); and GPat Patterson and Leland Spencer (honorable mention).


Ana Milena Ribero, recipient of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award for “Advocating Comadrismo: A Feminist Mentoring Approach for Latinas in Rhetoric and Composition,” Volume 21.2. Dr. Ribero is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at Oregon State University.

Sonia C. Arellano, recipient of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award for “Advocating Comadrismo: A Feminist Mentoring Approach for Latinas in Rhetoric and Composition,” Volume 21.2. Dr. Arellano is Assistant Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida.

This year’s Article Award committee felt that Ribero and Arellano’s call to rethink the whole discourse around mentoring is salient. Their article absolutely fulfills one of the Coalition’s principal missions: to attend to the education and mentoring of feminist faculty and graduate students in scholarship, research methods, praxis, and the politics of the profession. One judge wrote the following of this winning piece:

This article gives timely attention to the discipline and to the important, understudied area of feminist Latina rhetorical strategies of mentorship.

Another judge concurred:

In offering comadrismo as a mentoring model, Ribero and Arellano successfully elide the dichotomy between assimilationist and resistant approaches to professionalization. They elegantly describe how comadrismo can speak back to the white hegemonic norms that have underscored many mentoring practices while also transforming the structured mentoring relationship into a site for institutional critique. Furthermore, the dialogic nature of their article demonstrates comadrismo as an embodied practice.


Patricia Fancher, honorable mention for “Feminist Practices in Digital Humanities Research: Visualizing Women Physician’s Networks of Solidarity, Struggle, and Exclusion,” Volume 22.2. Dr. Fancher is Faculty in the Writing Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Gesa Kirsch, honorable mention for “Feminist Practices in Digital Humanities Research: Visualizing Women Physician’s Networks of Solidarity, Struggle, and Exclusion,” Volume 22.2. Dr. Kirsch is Professor of Rhetoric and Composition and Director of the Writing Center at Soka University.

Alison Williams, honorable mention for “Feminist Practices in Digital Humanities Research: Visualizing Women Physician’s Networks of Solidarity, Struggle, and Exclusion,” Volume 22.2. Professor Williams is Faculty in the Writing Program at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

While this article did not win the 2021 award, this year’s judges appreciated the authors’ creative approach to historiographic recovery of women physicians through the visualization of solidarity networks and citational politics. Judges particularly admired the care with which the authors demonstrate “naming” as a simultaneous inclusive and exclusive practice. Their article absolutely fulfills one of the Coalition’s principal missions: the advancement of feminist research and pedagogy across histories, locales, identities, materialities, and media. One judge wrote the following:

This article demonstrates an excellent research design and thoughtful consideration of the idea of feminist community. Furthermore, it has broad implications for future research.

Another judge concurred:

Not only is this article sophisticated in argument and clear in scope, it also reflects several approaches to feminist scholarship that readers of Peitho have come to value: it reflects the historical, the digital, and the critical—particularly in revealing with honest sensitivity the egregious limits of certain kinds of feminist solidarity movements.


GPat Patterson, honorable mention for “Toward Trans Rhetorical Agency: A Critical Analysis of Trans Topics in Rhetoric and Composition and Communication Scholarship,” Volume 22.4. Dr. Patterson is Assistant Professor of English and LGBT Studies Coordinator at Kent State University Tuscarawas.

Leland G. Spencer, honorable mention for “Toward Trans Rhetorical Agency: A Critical Analysis of Trans Topics in Rhetoric and Composition and Communication Scholarship,” Volume 22.4. Dr. Spencer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Interdisciplinary and Communication Studies, and affiliate faculty in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Miami University.

While this article did not win the 2021 award, this year’s judges felt that Patterson and Spencer made several critical pathways more visible for conducting research on trans subjects and/or into trans topics. One judge wrote the following:

This extensively well-researched article prompted generative discussion and prompted considerations of how the literature review is in itself a feminist genre, one that demonstrates tireless labor and acts as a welcome to future scholars and a gift to current researchers. This article will no doubt chart the course of future research in Trans Rhetorical work and in the field, broadly construed.

Another judge concurred:

Patterson and Spencer actively reconsider how different forms of materiality—literature, visual media, genre, reviews (like itself), etc., as well as pedagogy—can help contribute to a reconfiguring of trans* agency beyond simply undoing and replacing. They propose methods that can help us regenerate conversations around representations rooted in time—contemporary and not—and explain why/how these require evaluations that do more than switching out paradigms. Ultimately, they help us question how to reconfigure the way we understand and support spaces for trans* realities, voices, and representation that are relevant in shaping current and future scholarship.


Please join us in congratulating these scholars and teachers on their work. We look forward to your nominations and applications for the several awards still upcoming this year!

Tarez Samra Graban
Immediate Past-President
Awards Chair 2020–2022

and members of the 2021 Kathleen Ethel Welch Outstanding Article Award Committee
Rachel Jurasevich
Kimberly R. Lacey
Jolivette Mecenas
Nancy Myers
Kate Pantelides

“There’s Just Something About Her”: The Lasting Influence of Anti-Suffrage Rhetoric on American Voter Attitudes

In November 2018, Sarah Elfreth made Maryland history as the youngest woman to win an election to the Maryland State Senate at age 30. But like so many other women who work to shatter the glass ceiling, Senator Elfreth ran into her fair share of sexist criticism. “[I was] incessantly criticized for being too young, being unmarried, and being childless. Apparently that combination made me wholly unqualified to serve in the Senate,” she shared during a June 2020 personal interview. “That was the most misogyny I faced in the entire campaign. When women say things like that, it gives men credence to say it” (Elfreth).

Erin Lorenz, a candidate for the Anne Arundel County Board of Education in 2020, shared a similar experience of voters needing to see her as a “traditional” woman. According to Lorenz, voters would ask “But what will you do?” upon learning that she would have to resign from her teaching job if she won. Because many of them looked visibly uncomfortable when she said that she would have to get another job, adding, “I’m getting married in April,” seemed to go over much more smoothly. “They definitely felt more relieved when they knew that,” Lorenz said. Unfortunately, after one hundred years of national suffrage, women like Sarah Elfreth and Erin Lorenz still encounter tired tropes of how women are regarded in the political arena. Women may have the vote, but their fight to be recognized as full political participants is far from over.

The centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020 gives us many opportunities to celebrate social progress. The new Turning Point Suffrage Memorial in Fairfax County, Virginia is a space for visitors to learn more about the Silent Sentinels, while the Library of Congress crowdfunded archival project, “Suffrage: Women Fight for the Vote,” has provided the public with ways to engage remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. But while enjoying these commemorations, we must be careful not to succumb to what University of Wisconsin sociologists Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer deem the ahistorical fallacy: the belief that past events like the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment “are too far removed to matter to those living in the here-and-now” (Desmond and Emirbayer 344). History is a continuum of connections, and individual instances of progress do not eradicate institutional sexism. There is still so much to learn, and so much to fight for.

My article argues that despite the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920, the rhetoric that charged its opposition still persists when it comes to female voters and female political candidates. To reach this conclusion, I analyze the continuation of anti-suffrage rhetoric over the last century according to the colonial “Republican Mother” archetype, as well as Peter Glick and Susan Fiske’s ambivalent sexism inventory, to establish six appeals of anti-suffrage rhetoric: appeal to respectability politics, appeal to spite, appeal to family, appeal to male structural power, appeal to women as overly emotional, and appeal to unique gender roles.  Finally, I share my own recent data from political canvassers on the negative rhetoric surrounding female voters and female candidates, examine the ways in which voters’ comments both echo and diverge from sentiments made one hundred years ago, and establish a seventh rhetorical appeal for the twenty-first century.

Citizenship by Proxy: The Republican Mother

As was the case when black men were legally denied the vote before the passing of the 15th Amendment, definitions of citizenship lay at the heart of the women’s suffrage question. If women did not have the vote, were they full citizens of the United States? And if they were not full citizens, was the goal of the anti-suffrage movement to reserve citizenship, as Elaine Weiss sardonically observes in The Woman’s Hour, “by right of a certain shape of genitalia”? (40)

Rosemarie Zagarri describes the notion of a separate brand of citizenship for women, to be practiced within the boundaries of what is “natural” and therefore appropriate for their sex, as a “broad, long-term, transatlantic reformulation of the role and status of women” in her essay, “Morals, Manners, and the Republican Mother” (Zagarri 193). European philosophers like John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Lord Kames lay the groundwork for how Americans eventually conceived of women’s relationship to the family unit and to society more generally. The latter’s assertion that women’s “relationship to their country is secondhand, experienced through husbands and sons,” was particularly influential in the formation of the “Republican Mother” archetype, as it carved out a specific path of political influence that American women could exercise in lieu of suffrage (Kerber 196). In his 1806 essay, “Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic,” Benjamin Rush insisted that “[women] should not only be instructed in the usual branches of female education, but they should be taught the principles of liberty and government; the obligations of patriotism should be inculcated upon them” (qtd. in Zagarri 206). By learning about politics in America without any first-hand involvement, women would be able to perform a kind of citizenship by proxy. They could shape the character of men and boys, and by extension, contribute to a more moral society.

Relatedly, the Republican Motherhood ideal is also an illustration of benevolent sexism. Defined by Peter Glick (Lawrence University) and Susan T. Fiske (now Princeton University) in 1996 as one of the two “prongs” of the researchers’ ambivalent sexism inventory, benevolent sexism is the lesser-known cousin of hostile sexism that masquerades as kind and complementary. According to Glick and Fiske, this kind of sexism is comprised of attitudes “[that view] women stereotypically and in restricted roles but that are subjectively positive in feeling tone (for the perceiver) and also tend to elicit behaviors typically categorized as prosocial (e.g. helping) or intimacy-seeking (e.g., self-disclosure)” (Glick and Fiske 492). A contemporary example of benevolently sexist behavior would be a man telling a woman that the catcalls she gets while walking to work are “just compliments,” and that she should “smile more” so as to appear inviting and amicable. Such comments focus on praise while undermining female agency. The woman is harassed, her male friend assures her, because she is just so beautiful, and urges her to sacrifice her comfort to maintain the social order.

For its time, the argument that women should exercise influence over their husbands and sons could be read as progressive and even feminist. But the resulting Republican Mother archetype shaped American conventional wisdom in benevolently sexist ways, and defining women by their sexual and moral purity became grounds for anti-suffrage activists to keep them out of political life. “It was, suffrage opponents explained, because they held women in such high esteem that they denied them the vote,” Christina Wolbrecht and J. Kevin Corder write in A Century of Votes for Women. The authors additionally note that such rhetoric often turned from flattering to frightening once women disobeyed the rules: “An anti-suffrage cartoon presented women with a choice: Reject the right to vote and retain the safety and happiness of the home, or obtain the vote and accept the degradation of the ‘street corner’” (Wolbrecht and Corder 33-34). Left with no middle ground between the home and the street corner, a space that implies poverty, prostitution, and general debasement, women would surely be scared into silence.

The Rhetoric of the Antis: Benevolent Sexism Turns Hostile

The benevolent sexism inherent in the Republican Mother archetype is an example of what Glick and Fiske deem “protective paternalism,” a method of preserving women “as wives, mothers, and romantic objects…to be loved, cherished, and protected” (493). As in the previously mentioned anti-suffrage cartoon, benevolent sexism is often exposed as a cover for hostile sexism once women respond in a way that rebukes the existing social order. The real threat of physical violence that women face while being harassed on the street, for instance, exemplifies how quickly a flatterer can pivot and become an attacker.

It is worth noting that some anti-suffrage rhetoric, usually from individual speakers, did remain benevolently sexist without turning hostile. Many female anti-suffrage activists of the early 20th century revised their former position that women should keep exclusively to the home as more women became active in social clubs and other community organizations. Mrs. J.B. Gilfillan, president of the Minnesota Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, clarified her evolving stance in 1915:

Anti-Suffragists are opposed to women in political life, opposed to women in politics…We believe in women in all the usual phases of public life, except political life. Wherever women’s influence, counsel, or work is needed by the community, there you will find her, so far with little thought of political beliefs…The pedestals they are said to stand upon move them into all the demands of the community. (qtd. in Thurner 40)

Gilfillan subtly frames her position as one that allows women more freedom than they had previously been accustomed to. “We believe in women in all the usual phases of public life” suggests variety of choice as well as eased restrictions, and the words “except political life” may resonate as a fair compromise. Gilfillan’s use of the word “pedestal” is also apt, as pedestals are symbolic of benevolent sexism. Putting women on a metaphorical pedestal first for their “natural” roles as wife and mother, then as a beacon of “political neutrality and nonpartisanship,” is a way of praising them for adhering to boundaries (Thurner 41). To sell the idea further, President Josephine Dodge, the founder and first president of the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, argued that women actually held more power by not being able to vote. She employed respectability politics by urging women to get “the best results from lawmakers by working with them for the common good, not dividing along party lines” (Miller 453). Catharine Beecher pushed women to use “moral persuasion” on male voters instead of voting themselves, another proper way to “create less conflict” (Miller 451). Gilfillan, Dodge and Beecher all used benevolent sexism to persuade by framing less power as more power. By spinning legal limitations as an opportunity for women to realize their unique gifts of “moral persuasion” and “working for the common good,” anti-suffragists were able to frame the absence of the vote as necessary.

The anti-suffrage advertisements found in newspapers and magazines were not so benevolent; in fact, they were quite hostile. Women were forced to choose whether they wanted to be virtuous housewives who left the voting to their husbands or greedy, unsexed barbarians who failed to know their place. The rhetoric in these advertisements performs the dual functions of threatening women who step outside of their proper sphere of influence while playing on men’s fears of losing structural power.

President John Adams’ notion of “petticoat government” influenced many anti-suffrage advertisements, which depicted women as nags, bullies, and literal hens corrupted by their newfound power at the polls (Weiss 29). One cartoon, titled “America When Feminized,” features a hen with a “Votes for Women” sash stepping out of her coop, directing the rooster to “Sit on [the eggs] yourself old man, my country calls ME!” The caption immediately below reads, “The more a politician allows himself to be henpecked the more henpecking we will have in politics,” followed by, “A vote for federal suffrage is a vote for organized female nagging forever” (Weiss). The postcard is certainly meant to horrify its male readers. But because it leans heavily on argumentum ad odium—an appeal to spite—female readers would also be justifiably repulsed at the thought of themselves as hen-like. 

Image is a postcard with the text "if you love your wife and much less your life get out and get under." Underneath the text is a living room with two signs on the wall: "Bless this house" and "votes for women." There is a woman holding a rolling pin menacingly while standing over a man lying on his back on the floor.

Fig. 1. “Get Out and Get Under.” Palczewski Suffrage Postcard Archive, Feminization of Men Collection.

An anti-suffrage postcard from the Catherine H. Palczewski Postcard Archive at the University of Northern Iowa depicts a woman physically dominating her husband and threatening to strike him with a rolling pin (Fig. 1). Here, a traditionally female domestic household item is weaponized to emasculate a man: what was previously a tool of service (providing meals) is now a symbol of tyranny and disorder. On another postcard from the same collection, a woman yells at her husband to clean while pointing urgently to a newspaper with the headline, “Votes for Women” (Figure 2). The husband cowers sheepishly in the corner, and neglected teapots appear to boil over behind him while the caption reads: “Puzzle—Find the Head of the House.” A puzzle, indeed, and a clear appeal to prescribed gender roles. The postcard insists that reversed roles for men and women would be a disaster for the entire household, as the man appears frightened and unable to carry the burden of domestic labor that is, oddly enough, supposed to be enjoyable and fulfilling for his wife. 

Image is a postcard that shows a woman bending down to pick up a paper that reads "votes for women." Behind the woman is a table, and there's a man, presumably her husband, crouched behind it looking at the woman with a scared facial expression.

Fig. 2. “Puzzle – Find the Head of the House.” Palczewski Suffrage Postcard Archive, Feminization of Men Collection.

Hostile sexism in anti-suffrage rhetoric also characterized women as too fragile and unstable to be entrusted with the vote. “Innate physical weakness made white women unfit for the rigors of the electoral competition,” Wolbrecht and Corder explain, “and unable to defend the republic against threats” (34). John Jacob Vertrees, who mentored anti-suffrage activist Josephine Pearson in her fight against Tennessee’s ratification, played on the related stereotype women as innately emotional in his 1916 pamphlet, To the Men of Tennessee on Female Suffrage. He argues in the pamphlet that “a woman’s life is one of frequent and regular periods marked by mental and nervous irritability, when sometimes even her mental equilibrium is disturbed” (qtd. in Weiss 39). Vertrees directly appeals to the idea that women are “too emotional” by citing women’s character flaws, not their positive attributes, as just cause for keeping them out of the voting booth. Anti-suffrage activists also used women’s anger to deem them “too emotional”; in other words, women’s aggressive pursuit of the vote caused their worth to diminish. “When you hand her the ballot, you simply give her a club to knock her brains out,” one Nashville reverend preached. “When she takes the ballot box, you’ve given her a coffin in which to bury the dignities of womanhood” (Weiss 32). The metaphors of violence and death are no accident here. They are a veiled threat, and an eerie foreshadowing of the jailing and torture of suffragist protesters. 

By the time the first woman was elected to Congress in 1916—four years before national suffrage—the sexist rhetoric surrounding women in politics was overtly hostile. When Jeannette Rankin of Montana won her seat in the House of Representatives, reporters painted her as “a cheap little actress” prone to “sobbing,” who needed to be “forgive[n] for her election” (Walbert). Rankin’s challenger, Jacob Crull, was so distraught over his loss that he downed a bottle of muriatic acid. But rather than characterize Crull’s action as hysterical, the newspapers published ledes like, “The sting of defeat—administered by a woman.” The message was clear: Jeanette Rankin was responsible because she dared to take a male politician’s place (Walbert). America’s first female representative needed to be punished for stepping out of her natural role, just like the women clamoring for suffrage.

Repurposing Anti-Suffrage Rhetoric for the 20th Century

After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920, the general expectation in America was for women to show up to the polls in droves. This was not the case. Roughly one third of eligible female voters turned out for the 1920 election compared to almost 70% of their male counterparts. The gender gap continued for some time: although women’s participation surpassed 50% in the 1936 election, men’s participation rose to a record high at about 75% (Wolbrecht and Corder 70-71).

Why the low turnout? Voting was entirely new to women and as a historically oppressed group, they were vulnerable to voter suppression efforts. “Voting is habit forming; turnout in the past increases the probability of turnout in the future,” Wolbrecht and Corder maintain. “Those who have been systemically denied the opportunity to develop the habit due to disenfranchisement are disadvantaged in the future.” Data showing that significantly more women turned out to vote in states without restrictive election laws supports this theory (76-77). For women of color, the road to enfranchisement has been even more fraught. Native American women could not vote until the Indian Citizenship Act was passed in 1924, and Chinese-American women were barred from the vote until 1943, when the Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act lifted the ban on Chinese immigration to the United States that had been in effect since 1882. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 deemed racial discrimination unconstitutional after decades of Jim Crow laws that explicitly targeted black voters, though the fight for free and fair elections continues today as gerrymandering, strict voter ID laws, and overt conflicts of interest suppress racial minorities. Women as a demographic continue to be targeted in voter suppression efforts today (“Voter Suppression”). Exact match requirements across multiple documents mean that married, divorced, and transgender women are at risk for being turned away because of name changes. Women in states without early voting will also have less of an opportunity to get to the polls on Election Day, as women still carry the bulk of household labor and childcare (Germano). 

Voter attitudes about what was and was not appropriate for women in public life also remained deeply internalized after suffrage. In 1920, 9% of women who participated in a Chicago survey on non-voter behavior stated that they did not “believe” women should vote and/or stated that their husband objected to women voting (Wolbrecht and Corder 78). Little had changed by the time Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Hazel Gaudet conducted their research on Eric County, New York voters during the 1940 election. The trio analyzes voting behavior in their 1944 book The People’s Choice: How the Voter Makes Up His Mind in a Presidential Campaign and note that responses from women that trivialized suffrage were not uncommon. Some of these responses included “Voting is for the men,” “I think men should do the voting and the women should stay home and take care of their work,” and “I never will [vote]…a woman’s place is in the home…Leave politics to the men,” signaling a strong adherence to appeals to family and to unique gender roles (Lazarsfeld et al 49). The rhetoric here echoes anti-suffrage sentiment and Republican Motherhood concepts of citizenship. Women who were dismissive of their right to vote held to hard and fast rules about the appropriateness of women in political life. Voting was not only “for” men exclusively; it was unbecoming for a woman who had other “work” to take care of. Though the hostile sexism is apparent here—Keep Out!it is warranted by benevolently sexist ideas about what a woman is and is not “naturally” suited for. And notably, even though female anti-suffragists in the 1910s advocated for women’s participation in the public sphere so long as this participation was not political, the women quoted in The People’s Choice specifically called for women to remain “in the home” where “their work” was. 

Republican Motherhood ideas persisted mid-century, enjoying a revival as what Betty Friedan now famously termed “the problem that has no name” in The Feminine Mystique. However, because women were attending colleges and universities in greater numbers, repurposed anti-suffrage rhetoric found a new audience among graduates. During his 1955 commencement address at Smith College, Adlai Stevenson II urged each woman to “inspire in her home a vision of the meaning of life and freedom,” echoing the citizenship by proxy ideas of the Republican Mother archetype. He also stressed the importance of never letting educational or professional pursuits overshadow domestic duties in an appeal to family. “This assignment for you, as wives and mothers, you can do in the living room with a baby in your lap,” he explained. “I think there is much you can do…in the humble role of housewife. I could wish you no better vocation than that” (qtd. in Friedan 57). In a culture obsessed with adherence to gender roles, where male columnists joked freely that problems could be solved “by taking away women’s right to vote,” Betty Friedan worried that speakers like Adlai Stevenson II would persuade women to normalize the extinguishing of their own voices (11).

Unfortunately, Friedan was more correct than she may have known at the time. During the 1960s and 1970s, women were having less children and becoming parents later in life, pursuing more college degrees, and holding more jobs outside the home. They were also making progress through legislation like the Title IX Education Amendment in 1972 and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 (Wolbrecht and Corder 131, 135). Enter Phyllis Schlafly, who held that “feminism has been a catastrophe for the people it was meant to help,” (qtd. in Storrs 144). A fierce opponent of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, Schlafly spent much of her recruitment efforts on housewives. Suddenly, an antifeminist activist was encouraging women to use their vote as well as their voice—but only as long as they pledged to undermine women’s equality.

Schlafly frequently appealed to housewives by injecting benevolent sexism into her rhetoric: for instance, by framing opposition to the ERA as a defense of women’s rights rather than an impediment to progress. “The ERA takes away the right of the wife to be supported by her husband,” Schlafly argued on a Good Morning America segment in 1976 where she debated Friedan. She considered her position to be defending “the real rights of women…the right to be in the home as a wife and mother” in the same way that anti-suffrage advocates Gilfillan, Dodge, and Beecher persuaded women that they actually had more power without the vote (“Phyllis Schlafly debates”; Gregorian). She also invoked the hostile sexism of anti-suffrage advertisements by characterizing feminist women as unattractive, hostile, and mannish. “Men should stop treating feminists like ladies,” Schlafly argues in a column entitled “Feminists on the Warpath Get Their Men,” “and instead treat them like the men they say they want to be” (Schlafly). 

Photo of Barbara Mikulski and Linda Chavez at the 1986 Maryland Senate Race debate. Both women are smiling and appear to by laughing as the clasp each other's hands in a gesture of support and triumph.

Fig. 3. Barbara Mikulski and Linda Chavez at the 1986 Maryland Senate Race debate.
Reproduced from J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press.

This hostile rhetoric was weaponized as female candidates for office became increasingly common in the latter part of the twentieth century. The race in Maryland to fill Charles Mathias’ Senate seat in 1986, for example, came down between Reagan staffer Linda Chavez and Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski (Fig. 3). The former quickly advertised herself to Maryland voters as the right kind of woman for the job: conventionally attractive, calm under all circumstances, and a devoted wife and mother. In short, Chavez performed gender in a “ladylike” way that did not come across as threatening to a male political establishment. Mikulski’s primary campaign had certainly prepared her for sexist attacks from Chavez—both of her Democratic challengers were male and frequently painted themselves as “less dogmatically liberal and less aggressive” than their female counterpart (Sheckels 79). Chavez’s attacks went deeper, focusing on Mikulski’s hiring of a publicly Marxist feminist aide named Teresa Brennan. This “embracing of [a] radical anti-male Marxist feminist such as Brennan,” Chavez claimed at an October 1986 press conference, “was a symbol of what Mikulski had done and would do on Capitol Hill.” Chavez’s mailers, which featured “a grotesquely over-painted pair of very red lips” and read, “Kiss Your Traditional Values Goodbye,” implied that Mikulski’s radical feminist ideas and suspected homosexuality would dismantle traditional notions of male structural power in politics and, by extension, the family (84-85). Furthermore, it echoed the anti-suffrage advertisement idea that feminist women are angling to become men. As Theodore Sheckels writes, Mikulski had to reframe her liberal views and single status in a nurturing way in order to appeal to family and tradition:

In response to the accusation that she was anti-male, Mikulski quipped that her father and nephews and uncles and “the guys down at Bethlehem Steel” would be surprised to hear that. In response to the unvoiced accusation that she was a lesbian, Mikulski jokingly referred to herself as “Aunt Barb” and talked about how, in many families, one daughter became the maiden aunt who took care of the aging parents. She was that maiden aunt, but now she was taking care of not her mom and pop but the voters of the state of Maryland. They were her family; she was their “Aunt Barb.” (Sheckels 85)

Barbara Mikulski’s “Aunt Barb” alter ego successfully refashioned the Republican Mother trope for the late 20th century, appealing to voters with a deeply maternal role meant to overshadow any gossip about sexual orientation. Mikulski could lead the state of Maryland in the Senate while looking after her parents and her surrogate children—Maryland voters—thereby utilizing all of her talents. She smartly leveraged voters’ traditional desire for a nurturing woman in order to make history in a male-dominated arena.  

Chavez’s strategy to paint Mikulski as dangerously “anti-male” was effective in more conservative parts of the state like the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, but ultimately, “Aunt Barb” handily won her election and went on to serve in the United States Senate for thirty years. The combative rhetoric surrounding (and sometimes wielded by) women in politics, however, did not disappear. 

How Do Contemporary Voters Feel About Women in Politics?

I spent several months canvassing door-to-door for Senator Elizabeth Warren during her 2020 presidential campaign. The responses from voters were generally positive: male and female voters alike expressed enthusiasm for Warren’s dedication to rebuilding the middle class and fearlessness in spite of Donald Trump’s efforts to bully her. However, enough voters reacted negatively to Warren’s gender that I occasionally felt discouraged. Some voters scoffed at the idea of a female president or suggested that Warren would be better suited “in a supporting role.” Others hovered tentatively, fearing that our country is not ready for this kind of progress.

Reviewing the tenets of Republican Motherhood and past examples of anti-suffrage rhetoric, I wondered about contemporary echoes like those I had encountered in my own travels. I considered that women who ran for office during the 2018 midterm elections had won a record number of congressional seats and that Congress has become substantially more diverse during the tenure of Donald Trump, a president known for his litany of crude and offensive comments about women and people of color (Bialik). The contrast could not be starker. What kinds of rhetoric were canvassers hearing from voters in this environment? And were the women they spoke with emboldened to vote?

First, I sorted the anti-suffrage rhetoric discussed in this paper into six categories that utilized both hostile and benevolent sexism. These categories are as follows:

  1. Appeal to respectability politics: the notion that women should “go along to get along” as expressed by Josephine Dodge.
  2. Appeal to family: the notion that a woman’s family must come before any career or political aspirations, as expressed in criticisms of Sarah Elfreth.
  3. Appeal to women as overly emotional: the notion that men act on rationality while women act on emotion, as expressed in criticisms of Jeannette Rankin.
  4. Appeal to male structural power: the notion that women in power will emasculate men, as expressed in anti-suffrage postcards where men cower to women.
  5. Appeal to traditional gender roles: the notion that women have “unique gifts” that justify their belonging to the domestic sphere, as expressed by Catharine Beecher.
  6. Appeal to spite: the notion that feminist women are “hens,” “angry and mannish,” and other undesirable associations, as expressed in Linda Chavez’s criticism of Barbara Mikulski.

Then, in February 2020, I sent out a brief online survey to eleven female and four male canvassers who had volunteered to share their experiences for the purposes of my research. Every respondent indicated that they have canvassed for female candidates, and the vast majority have canvassed for candidates at multiple levels of government. The female candidates most respondents reported canvassing for were Hillary Clinton for President (8), Elizabeth Warren for President (5), and Sarah Elfreth for Maryland State Senate (8). Others included Barbara Mikulski for Senate and various female candidates for state delegate, mayoral, and county council positions. Though the respondents have mostly covered ground in Maryland, some noted that they have gone door-to-door in other states to include Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Alabama, Louisiana, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Indiana, Colorado, and California. 

It is important to note that the sample of this survey is small and in no way speaks for larger patterns. I was most interested in not the size of the sample, but in evaluating the fifteen respondents’ qualitative, anecdotal data on the rhetoric that voters currently use when engaged by canvassers. My questions focused on two kinds of rhetoric: voters’ thoughts on the role of women in the electoral process, and voters’ thoughts on women as political candidates.

When canvassers were asked if a male household member ever tried to prevent them from speaking with a female household member while she was home and available, ten out of fifteen answered, “Yes.” The most common behavior from male voters that respondents mentioned was refusing to call a particular female voter to the door even though she was home and on the canvasser’s list. Other behaviors listed included speaking on a female voter’s behalf, preventing an interested female voter from coming to the door, lying about a female voter’s party affiliation (canvassers are equipped with partisan voter registration information), and abruptly interrupting an ongoing conversation between the canvasser and a female voter. “I remember one guy who walked over while I was pleasantly speaking to his wife,” Claire*1 wrote. “[He] gave me the finger and kicked the door shut with his foot.” Respondents noted hearing phrases from hostile male household members that included, “You don’t need to talk to her,” and “Don’t you worry about who she’s voting for.”

Additionally, when the canvassers were asked if “a female voter ever deferred to a male household member in a way that suggests he speaks for her,” eight out of fifteen questionnaire respondents answered, “Yes,” that they picked up on sexist power dynamics while talking to voters. “A woman stated that she wasn’t sure who she was voting for because her husband hadn’t told her yet,” wrote John*. Other explicit comments that respondents noted from female voters included: “I have to consult my husband,” “I vote the way my husband votes,” “It’s a family decision,” and “I’ll have to ask my husband who we’re voting for.” These responses bear an eerie resemblance to the previous selections from Lazarfeld et al’.s The People’s Choice. Though some of the women interviewed for Lazarfeld’s 1940 research advocated for women to abstain from voting altogether, the women quoted here advocated for their own political participation so long as it reinforced their husbands’ views. In both instances women appear to be abiding by respectability politics, playing a supporting role while leaving the ultimate political decisions to men.

Nine out of fifteen survey respondents indicated that they heard overtly sexist rhetoric from male voters while discussing female candidates. The criticisms that respondents shared included: “Women are too emotional,” “She’s just not likable,” “There’s just something about her,” “America isn’t ready for a woman,” “What happens if she’s on her period?” “She’s too inexperienced” (often said about female candidates who had objectively more experience than their male counterparts), “She’s not attractive,” “Other countries won’t respect us if we have a female leader,” and “Women are caring by nature—could a woman really command the armed forces?”—the latter two comments being direct appeals to women as “too emotional” and better suited for more nurturing environments. Respondents cited electability as a common concern among voters, e.g. “I don’t think a woman can win.” One of the respondents, Nathan*, campaigned all over the country for Kamala Harris during her presidential candidacy. “Men seem to be more cagey about copping to sexist attitudes when approached on the doors,” he said. “I approached a voter about Kamala Harris who explicitly said that the senator wouldn’t be ready to lead the armed forces because of her gender. I pointed out that Harris had previously run California’s Department of Justice—a police force larger than most nations’ military forces—and although he didn’t have a counter-argument, he held to his views that a woman just wouldn’t be capable.” 

The argument that a woman cannot handle being in charge of the United States military was notably reported by multiple canvassers. This comment is a clear appeal to male structural power, as the military has strong masculine connotations. Most of the overtly sexist comments (such as regarding women not being able to command the military and women getting “irrational” because of their periods) were reported by male canvassers, which could suggest that men with sexist attitudes feel more comfortable relaying such comments to other men.

While nine survey respondents shared that they had heard sexist rhetoric from male voters, eleven stated that they had heard sexist rhetoric from female voters. Deborah* shared that in her personal experience, “This seems to happen more frequently than men, to be frank.” Some of the comments from female voters mirrored those of male voters, namely, “America isn’t ready,” “She’s inexperienced,” and “A woman can’t win.” Rachel* observed that among female voters there were “still worries that a woman couldn’t win the seat, but from a place of worry more than a place of defensiveness as men usually do.” But many other remarks from women were overtly hostile. According to the canvassers, several female voters stated explicitly that they “just don’t like female candidates.” Paula* shared that female voters often criticized a particular female candidate’s “attractiveness, voice, friendliness, attitude” and that some went so far as to call the candidate a “bitch” in an appeal to spite. Nathan called instances of internalized sexism at the doors “beyond depressing,” writing, “statements like, ‘A woman just shouldn’t be president’ have come up from women several times.”

A New Kind of Sexist Rhetoric in Politics

Even though their stories of sexism were thankfully not representative of the majority of doors they knocked, the small pool of canvassers surveyed shared enough rhetoric to indicate that gender-based discrimination and internalized sexism are still prominent issues. Furthermore, the appeals of this rhetoric aligned strongly with the tenets of anti-suffrage rhetoric. “I’ve had men and women ask how my husband and children felt about me running for office,” Paula wrote on what it was like to canvass for her own campaign. “I found most men MORE supportive than other women…one woman even asked if it was fair to my pets.” Like Barbara Mikulski, Sarah Elfreth, and Erin Lorenz, Paula was criticized by voters for not seeming “family-oriented” enough, or for not appearing to prioritize her family over her political aims.

Much of the rhetoric that respondents shared was a modern reworking of anti-suffrage or post-World War II ideas about women’s roles. The criticisms directed at Paula for campaigning while female echo Landon R.Y. Storrs’ analysis of sexist rhetoric during the second red scare, when married mothers who pursued careers and other passions were accused of “selfishly indulging material desires or unwomanly ambitions”—a direct appeal to tradition and family (Storrs 135). “I’ll have to ask my husband who we’re voting for,” is a startling example of women erasing their own voices in the political sphere and similarly, “I vote the way my husband votes,” gestures at an effort to maintain a gendered status quo. This rhetoric also suggests a household sexism that makes its way into the polls. If the husband controls the “family vote,” the family vote will probably not be going to female candidates. 

Instances of benevolent and hostile sexism reported by the canvassers were not associated with one gender or another. Men and women are capable of being benevolent and hostile, albeit in their own ways: while men were more likely to project their hostility onto the canvasser (slamming the door; giving the finger), women called female candidates derogatory names, criticized their superficial elements like attractiveness and voice, and made blanket statements about “not liking” female candidates in general. These instances of women tearing each other down, difficult as they are to read, are part of a longstanding tradition in America to drive women away from positions of power. “Female officials faced a nearly irresoluble double bind,” Storrs writes about sexist attitudes in the middle of the 20th century, “because normative constructions of femininity were incompatible with the wielding of power and expertise” (Storrs 142). Glick and Fiske’s 2011 update to their original work, entitled “Ambivalent Sexism Revisited,” similarly enforces the idea that benevolent sexism (abbreviated below as “BS”) and hostile sexism (abbreviated below as “HS”) are two sides of the same coin, upholding a system of reward and punishment for women:

Ambivalent sexists were not “mentally conflicted,” rather, their subjectively positive and negative attitudes reflected complementary and mutually reinforcing ideologies…at least as ancient as polarized stereotypes of the Madonna and Mary Magdalene. BS was the carrot aimed at enticing women to enact traditional roles and HS was the stick used to punish them when they resisted. One emphasizes reward and the other emphasizes punishment (hence their differing valences) but both work toward a common aim: maintaining a gender-traditional status quo. (532)

If the hostile sexism of today looks relatively similar to that of the past, what about benevolent sexism? It persists, certainly. But it looks quite different from the way anti-suffrage activists appeared to glorify women, urging them to use their unique and special talents to explore avenues other than politics. Now, benevolent sexism looks a lot like fear and deflection. “America isn’t ready,” voters say. “What if a woman can’t win?” Rhetoric like this suggests that even though voters would be personally comfortable with a female president, they hesitate because the rest of the country may not feel the same way. The Atlantic’s Moira Donegan calls these attitudes “sexism by proxy,” or “voter masochism disguised as pragmatism” (Donegan). By basing their decisions on what they suspect others will do, voters create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anti-suffrage rhetoric has certainly found new life in the one hundred years since national suffrage became the law of the land, and is enjoying a revival during the Trump presidency. The 2020 Republican National Convention featured speaker Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood employee turned pro-life activist who tweeted in May 2020 that she “would support bringing back household voting.” When asked to clarify, Johnson responded that “[i]n a Godly household, the husband would have the final say” (@AbbyJohnson). Just as Phyllis Schlafly endorsed Donald Trump in 2016, women like Abby Johnson continue to uphold the patriarchal status quo in the interest of “Making America Great Again.” But while appeals to male structural power are continually reintroduced to mainstream America, a new appeal has emerged that could be called an “appeal to pragmatism.” When voters declare that “a woman can’t win” the presidency or that “America isn’t ready” for female leadership, they are doing their best to sound rational and impartial. “I’m not sexist,” they argue, “but my neighbor is.” Or more broadly and abstractly: “America is sexist.” The appeal to pragmatism continues in the tradition of undermining women, but unlike other more brash appeals, it is insidiously self-defeating. The only way to curb it, along with other sexist fallacies, is to identify them as such and work toward citizenship for women in the fullest sense of the word.


  1. * indicates a pseudonym.

Appendix A: Survey Protocol

February 2020 via

  • Question 1: What kinds of political campaigns have you canvassed for? (Check all that apply.)
    • Federal
    • State
    • County
    • Municipal
  • Question 2: In what areas have you canvassed? (List as many states, counties, and municipalities as apply.)
  • Question 3: In your experience canvassing door to door, has a male member of the household ever tried to prevent you from speaking with a female member of the household while she is home/available?
  • Question 4: In your experience canvassing door to door, has a female household member ever stated that a male household member does not want her to vote or has tried to prevent her from getting to the polls?
  • Question 5: In your experience canvassing door to door, has a female voter ever deferred to a male household member in a way that suggests he speaks for her? (e.g. “My husband makes those decisions,” “I’ll have to ask my husband,” etc.)
  • Question 6: Have you ever canvassed for any female candidates?
  • Question 7: Have you had any experiences with male voters expressing overtly sexist feelings about a particular female candidate or female candidates in general?
  • Question 8: Have you had any experiences with female voters expressing overtly sexist feelings about a particular female candidate or female candidates in general?
  • Question 9: Have you had any experiences with male voters reacting POSITIVELY to female candidates in general/more female representation in government?

Works Cited

“An American Orphan”: Amelia Simmons, Cookbook Authorship, and the Feminist Ethē

Food Network host Ree Drummond, in the introductory section of her cooking blog The Pioneer Woman, welcomes readers saying “My name is Ree. Howdy! I’m a desperate housewife. I live in the country. I’m obsessed with butter, Basset Hounds, and Ethel Merman. Welcome to my frontier!” Cheerful and friendly, she writes in a conversational style that invites readers into her kitchen and her life as a wife and mother of four children. Simultaneously, Drummond is a television personality, businesswoman, wife, mother, cook, blogger, rancher, as well as former big-city girl. In short, she is relatable and trustworthy to a wide variety of audiences. Her various identities all play a role in her ethos construction as that chatty friend anyone would love to have. After all, who better to rely on for good recipes than a rancher’s wife?

While the popularity of Food Network and cooking blogs continues to hold strong, it is important to note that this focus on ethos construction in the authorship of cookery texts is not new. Authors have been writing their expertise into their recipes for centuries. Women authors, in particular, have found creative ways to establish their trustworthiness and claim a voice in a public space that would otherwise be unfriendly to their sex. Writing two centuries earlier, Amelia Simmons performs a similar type of rhetorical move in developing her ethos as an author. Simmons, author of the bestselling 18th-century cookbook American Cookery, offers the earliest example of American ethos construction by a cookbook author. I argue that Amelia Simmons uses what might be interpreted now as a feminist ethē (as defined by Ryan, Myers, and Jones in their 2016 collection Rethinking Ethos), as she, by speaking from her marginalized position, disrupts assumptions regarding who can be an expert. Studying Simmons’ use of identity statements, orphan trope, morality statements, and sentimental narrative style, she uses her writing to craft her expertise and claim a space for herself in the culinary tradition. This article works to uncover Simmons’ rhetorical moves and argue for their value in a feminist context. After detailing the publishing history of American Cookery, reviewing relevant scholarship on cookbooks, and providing historical background about what little is known of Amelia Simmons, I analyze how Simmons uses what would today be considered a feminist ethē to establish the trustworthiness of her cookbook.

A Revolutionary Text

Published in 1796 in Hartford, Connecticut, American Cookery’s claim to history is that it is the first cookbook purported to be American, illustrating a thoroughly American way of cooking as separate from British traditions. Only 47 pages long, cheaply bound and without a cover, this little book went on to have over a dozen printings between 1796 and 1831, with many more pirated versions (Lowenstein). It was the best-selling cookbook in the new Republic until Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife of 1824 claimed the title (Hess ix). The fact that it was the first to claim a unique American identity makes American Cookery a valuable part of American history and American culinary history. The Library of Congress recognized it as one of the 88 “books that shaped America.” Cookbook scholar Janice Longone calls its publication “a second revolution–a culinary revolution.” But what was so revolutionary about it?

Only two decades after the Republic’s founding, America was still finding its way as a culture. Up until American Cookery’s publication, the only cookbooks available in the new world were republished versions of British bestsellers. This remained true even during and after the American Revolution; even though colonists railed against being ruled by the British, they still wanted to eat like them. Some of the most popular were Markham’s The English Hus-wife of 1615 and Glasse’s The Art of Cookery of 1747. The closest any cookbook had come to creating an American food culture was Eliza Smith’s 1727 volume The Compleat Housewife, republished in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1742. This book attempted to adapt its recipes to an American audience by merely deleting the British recipes that could not be replicated in America due to ingredient availability. While moderately helpful, American cuisine still had a long way to go.

In many ways, Simmons’ American Cookery is revolutionary, more than just its claim as the first American cookbook. It did more than merely delete British ingredients or plagiarize British recipes (though it did that too, which was a common practice at the time and not one that held a negative connotation like today).1 Simmons took ingredients native to the Americas and explained how to use them. She shared practices that were common to home cooks and domestic workers at the time, formalizing the practice in print. One notable first was the substitution of cornmeal (in the text called “Indian corn” or “Indian”) for English oatmeal in several recipes, such as johnnycake (see Fig. 1).

Image is recipe for Johny Cake or Hoe Cake and reads: "Scale 1 pint of milk and put 3 pints of Indian meal, and half pint of flower—bake before the fire. Or fcald [sic] with milk two thirds of the Indian meal, or wet two thirds with boiling water, add falt [sic], molaffes [sic] and fhortening [sic], work up with cold water pretty ftiff [sic], and bake as above."

Fig. 1. Recipe for “Johny Cake” from American Cookery (1796, Albany printing).

While johnnycake had already existed in England, this was a new variation on the recipe. Turkey and cranberries, both native to the Americas, were included for the first time in a recipe. Other native produce, such as the frost grape, a Native American introduction, and the long pepper (today called the cayenne pepper), appeared in recipes. The American Citron, a smaller, bland precursor to the watermelon, brought to North America from Africa through the slave trade, has a recipe (see Fig. 2). 

Image is a recipe for The American Citron and reads: "Take the whole of a large watermellon (feeds excepted) not too ripe, cut it into fmall [sic] pieces, take two pound of loaf fugar [sic], one pint of water, put it all into a kettle, let it boil gently for two hours, then put it into pots for ufe [sic."

Fig. 2. Recipe for preserving “American Citron” (watermelon) from American Cookery (1796, Albany printing).

For food historians, possibly the most significant part of the cookbook is the use of pearl ash (elsewhere called pot ash) as an easier, time-saving chemical leavening agent in quickbreads, as baking powder was not invented until 1843 (LaRue). This use of pearl ash helped to popularize the ingredient in the new world for several decades, despite its reported metallic aftertaste (Walden 40). Simmons’ cookbook also introduced new words into the American lexicon: “slaw,” taken from the Dutch word “sla”), as well as “cookie,” adapted from the Dutch “koekje” (Hess xi).

Image is the cover of "American Cookery." It is yellowed and weathered looking, with only traditional typewriter text.

Fig. 3. Cover page of American Cookery (1796, Hartford printing).

Beyond the text’s revolutionary firsts in ingredients and language, it is, more importantly, rhetorically revolutionary. Simmons, adapting models of ethos to fit her own needs, uses a variety of strategies to become a trustworthy author. Her most curious ethos construction is on the title page (see Fig. 3), where she identifies herself, the only place in which Amelia Simmons is named in the text. She calls herself “Amelia Simmons, An American Orphan.”2 It is a simple appositive phrase, yet so curious in terms of a rhetorical move. On first analysis, it is not immediately clear what her upbringing has to do with cooking. However, it was clearly a calculated move, as Mecklenburg-Faenger argues in her study of the Charleston Receipts Junior League cookbook, “cookbooks encode information about how their compilers see the world and their places in it” (213). In narrative elements like these, Tippen notes that cookbooks demonstrate their authors’ rhetorical moves (17). Simmons’ use of the “American Orphan” identifier was just one of her choices that she hoped would lead to audiences trusting her and her expertise. Additionally, orphan status enables her to distance herself from any non-American heritage, making it easier for Simmons to claim an all-American identity, just like her cookbook. Further, orphans were often domestic servants at this time; thus, the position lent itself to a certain level of credibility in the kitchen. Through her narrative elements, Simmons constructs ethos that I claim could be identified today as feminist, even while writing in the early days of the Republic.

Cookbook Authorship and Ethos

Writing the first American cookbook, Simmons begins composing the history of American cookbooks, which can offer insight on American culture at the time. Laura Schenone, in her 2004 book A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, notes, “food opens a window that we can look through” (xv). This is a useful metaphor to consider the value of food. Certainly, it is much more than sustenance. Food helps us identify our culture, our community and ourselves. Scholars can study foodways—habits of others—to gain insight on cultures outside of their own. As a digest—pun intended—of food culture, the cookbook is an excellent primary resource through which to view one’s own culture and others. Karen Hess uses Janus as a metaphor to describe the cookbook’s rhetorical value, as the text looks both back and forward at once: a cookbook records culinary practice at the time of its writing, and it also influences cooking to come (xii). As a set of instructions, cookbooks are, at their most simplistic, a practical text (Collings Eves 280). But if we look further, we can see a story (Bower 2). Writing in PMLA, Susan J. Leonardi explains that a cookbook’s stories are more complex than the average linear narrative: they are embedded, layered discourses (340). While they are “gap-ridden” (Bower 2), asking the reader to fill in the gaps with her own knowledge, they are also “a narrative which can engage the reader or cook in a ‘conversation’ about culture and history in which the recipe and its context provide part of the text and the reader imagines (or even eats) the rest” (Floyd and Forster 2). Indeed, recipes demand exchange, and even “exist in a perpetual state of exchange” (Floyd and Forster 6). Leonardi notes that “Even the root of recipe—the latin recipere—implies an exchange, a giver and receiver. Like a story, a recipe needs a recommendation, a context, a point, a reason to be” (340). The ability of this genre to be a window on culture as well as a conversation about culture lends the text a space in which the author can establish her own voice, expertise, and ethos, even while remaining inside a patriarchal paradigm. In her book Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives Through the Cookbooks They Wrote, Janet Theophano asserts that cookbooks are “opportunities for women to write themselves into being” (9). Cookbooks, as well, are sites where women and minority writers can dispel stereotypes and establish their own voice. As a window on culture, cookbooks allow a space for marginalized voices to be heard, listened to, and above all, trusted as a knowledgeable source for cooking. The cookbook, as a cultural text, is ripe for analysis as a space for ethos construction.

There is a growing body of scholarship surrounding rhetorical analyses of cookbooks, particularly feminist rhetorical analyses, which add further credibility to the value of this subject as an area of study. Lisa Mastrangelo, writing about community cookbooks, describes them “as rhetorical artifacts that reveal much about their communities” (73), as a lens that readers can look through to understand more about the author and her context. Reading Simmons’ text, we can gain insight on her values and the values of the community around her. Even years before feminism, cookbooks illustrate how women used rhetoric to advance their message. As Mecklenburg-Faenger explains, studying cookbooks can provide scholars of women’s rhetoric “opportunities to reaffirm the presence of women’s rhetorical activities even in historical periods when women’s rhetorical performances in the public sphere were discouraged, devalued, or diminished” (213). Abby Dubisar, in her study of peace activism cookbooks, argues that these texts can “teach feminist rhetoricians the potential of domestic genres to promote activist causes and frame political identities” (61)—thus, cookbooks can do much more than simply tell us how to cook a meal.

The trustworthiness of an author is a major factor on the success or failure of a cookbook. When choosing a recipe, the reader wants reassurance up-front that the person writing it knows that the recipe will work, and that it will be worth the effort. Ever since its origins as an oral culture, the act of recipe sharing has centered around trust. Originally, recipes were asked for from women who were trusted to be good cooks, who could be guaranteed to provide a quality recipe. They were women known personally to the receiver, whether a family member, neighbor, or friend. This role of ethos is more important now that recipes have moved from an exclusively oral, shared culture between friends and family members, to a public forum where most recipes are written by people the reader will never meet, in mass-produced cookbooks or online. The cookbook constructs the writer’s ethos for the audience. One would be unlikely to choose a cookbook if the author were perceived untrustworthy. If the audience can trust the speaker, then her argument is that much more powerful. Now that the personal connection of recipe sharing is removed for modern cookbooks, today ethos is even more of a factor when determining whom to trust. As such, the cookbook is a useful text to analyze an author’s rhetorical moves regarding their credibility.

In 1796, when American Cookery was published, the rhetorical space of the American cookbook was fraught with difficulty—not only did the author need to assure readers of the text’s quality, but she also needed to claim an American ethos—one that did not yet exist, at least not in printed form. While the new Republic had existed for two decades by this point, there was no formal recognition of a distinctly American food culture. Colonists quickly learned the art of adaptation, as many English ingredients were not available in the Americas, while other, unfamiliar ingredients were plentiful. They also benefited from the Native American’s knowledge of the land, adapting their knowledge to the colonists’ tastes. Still, American food culture was nonexistent, but there was finally an author ready to take on this challenge: Amelia Simmons.

Amelia Simmons: Claiming Feminist Ethē

Simmons, as an American and as a woman, is in a challenging position. Writing the first book of truly American recipes is difficult enough, but to claim that expertise in a public forum as a woman is more difficult, as she is already in a marginalized position. Oddly enough, to address this challenge, she mentions her upbringing as an orphan (and an American one). Wilson notes that Simmons seems to have a “preoccupation” with her orphan status, bringing it up more than once in the text (20). Simmons doubles down on her marginalized status, marking herself as an orphan on the front page and reminding us of her status. She names herself in the preface as “a poor, solitary orphan.” Usually, highlighting one’s marginalization, especially as it has no obvious link to the book’s content, would not seem to be an effective use of ethos. However, there is more to this ethos construction than appears at first glance.

Feminist rhetors have developed an alternative model of ethos to describe how women and other marginalized groups gain the goodwill of their audience. Coretta Pittman, observing that Aristotle’s model of ethos is caused by deliberate choice, points out that black female rhetors are not positioned to freely make their own choices, or to engage in speaking in a public forum, as an Aristotelian model assumes (49). As Pittman argues, “Western culture has appropriated a classical model of ethos to judge the behavior of all of its citizens. However, not all of its citizens can be judged by the same standards. The legacy of racism, classicism, and sexism in American society marked individuals associated with undesirable groups” (45). For instance, a woman writer in 18th century America can exhibit as much “good sense, good moral character, and goodwill” (Kinneavy and Warshauer 179) as she would like, but she cannot do anything to control her gender, skin color, or economic status, all of which play a large role in who listens to her and how seriously she is taken. These bodily and cultural constraints also play just as large, if not larger, a role than her own speech.

Nedra Reynolds describes how feminists like Adrienne Rich, bell hooks and others explicitly locate themselves in space to establish ethos. Their identity, and character, is developed through their body’s location in space, both literal (placement of body) and figurative (position in social realm) (326). It is useful, then, to consider the marginality of an orphan in tandem with the marginality of a woman writing in 1796. In identifying herself as an orphan, she claims the margin as her location to establish ethos. While Simmons did not use the term “feminist” to describe herself, as it did not exist in the 18th century, her action of claiming the margins as part of her identity could today be interpreted as feminist. No matter their origin, feminist rhetors exist in the margins, and as such take the margin as an advantage, with bell hooks naming the margins as a “location of radical openness and possibility” (209). Instead of a traditional Aristotelian framework, feminist rhetors have shifted to one that can account for interrelationality, materiality, and agency: a model that, in their eyes, is more accurate. Similarly, Reynolds notes that “ethos […] shifts and changes over time, across texts, and around competing spaces” (326). According to Johanna Schmertz, ethos, for feminism, is not fixed or determined, but instead is a series of “stopping points at which the subject (re)negotiates her own essence to call upon whatever agency that essence enables” (86). 

In a 2016 collection titled Rethinking Ethos, editors Kathleen J. Ryan, Nancy Myers, and Rebecca Jones argue for a feminist ecological approach to ethos formation–one which considers the entire ecology of a given rhetorical situation. As they claim, there is no singular women’s ethos; thus, they use the plural term ethē. They study ethos “with the acknowledgment that it is culturally and socially restrictive for women to develop authoritative ethē, yet acknowledg[e] that space can be made for new ways of thinking and artful maneuvering” (2). This model, a model of feminist ecological ethē that Ryan, Myers, and Jones promote, helps to describe the complexity of multiple relations operating and changing in response to others (Ryan, Myers, and Jones 3). Ryan, Myers, and Jones claim that their work “reconsiders ethos to offer a feminist ecological imaginary that better accounts for the diverse concerns and experiences of women rhetors and feminist rhetoricians” (5). The authors observe that “[W]omen can seek agency individually and collectively to interrupt dominant representations of women’s ethos, to advocate for themselves and others in transformative ways, and to relate to others, both powerful and powerless” (3, emphasis in original). Simmons’ rhetorical moves can be interpreted as a feminist ethē in this same way, as she, by claiming and speaking from her marginalized position, interrupts dominant impressions of how women can be considered experts. By sharing her story, Simmons advocates for herself as a successful woman and encourages other women, particularly those who are in her same economic and/or familial situation. Furthermore, Simmons frequently uses narrative elements to relate to other women, not only as a way to build herself up as an expert but to use herself as a case study: if she could do it, you can too. Simmons uses several rhetorical moves to adapt to the multiple interrelations of her rhetorical situation, considering her position as orphan, as uneducated, as a domestic servant, as an American, and as a woman. All of these are positions which, particularly in the nascent years of the Republic, are all marginal. Simmons claims the margins, not only speaking from there but also emphasizing her location there as a way to connect to readers.

However, outside of her one cookbook and its revisions, there is little else to establish Simmons’ existence, making scholars and critics question her identity, and even the ethos of the text itself. Cookbook author and editor Andrew Smith claims that it is a pseudonym, based on the lack of evidence that Simmons ever existed (Bramley). However, considering her status as an orphan, uneducated, domestic servant, the fact that Simmons is not mentioned elsewhere is not surprising. If she had not had this incredibly lucky break to publish her work, she would not have been remembered for posterity at all, alongside millions of other working-class women. Food historian Karen Hess argues that Simmons is from a Dutch heritage, considering the Dutch-language influence on her recipes and language use, described earlier (xi). Hess places Simmons in the Hudson River Valley, a logical assumption: while her book was published first in Hartford, it was then published exclusively through presses in New York state, such as Albany, Troy, and Poughkeepsie (xi). In any case, the only mention of Simmons is within this text. Other than what she tells us, that she is a working-class American orphan, the reader must infer anything else. This act of invoking meaning on historical rhetors is inherently problematic, in particular with modern terms such as “feminist,” as discussed in Michelle Smith’s review essay on feminist rhetorical historiography. Any claim made about the author’s intentions, feminist or otherwise, is complex. While Simmons didn’t use the term herself, there is insight to be gained from viewing her rhetorical moves through a feminist lens. Simmons presents a layered rhetorical approach to presenting her authority in this text in multiple ways: through identity statements, the orphan trope, morality declarations, and a sentimental narrative style to establish this feminist ecological ethē.

Ethos Construction: Identity Statements

Julie Nelson Christoph, writing about ethos as constructed by pioneer women diarists, observes how statements of identity are used frequently in women’s writing (670). Establishing and re-establishing who a woman is allows her to claim expertise, by placing herself in the context of an identity marker. Simmons, taking the “orphan” moniker, isn’t alone in her use of these descriptors: studying title pages of the female-authored cookbooks between 1796-1860 listed in Eleanor Lowenstein’s 1972 bibliography, these identity statements are used frequently.3 The nonstandard style of writing titles and naming authors that was used during this period is informative about the ways in which these women authors went about claiming expertise in a public forum. In fact, many women authors chose not to identify themselves at all. Even though women authors accounted for about 70% of cookbooks at this time (not counting new editions or reissues),4 the most common identity statement (at 33%) was by an anonymous identifier, such as using a gendered prepositional phrase to identify the author, without using her name. Some examples of this are “by an experienced housekeeper,” “by a lady of Philadelphia,” “by a Boston housekeeper,” or “by an experienced lady.” These authors prefer to establish their credibility through relatable identifiers—the assumption is that the reader would be more likely to trust a “housekeeper,” who would have the expertise of daily work, or a “lady,” who would have the authority of class to support her. Locating the author in the new world also lent credibility of being American and using a city name would afford the status marker of being in a large metropolitan area.

The next most frequent identifier for women (at 23%) was using their full name only, such as “Mrs. Mary Randolph,” “Caroline Gilman,” “Mrs. Lettice Bryan,” “Elizabeth F. Lea,” among others. The lady’s formal title was most often used as a marker of class, though occasionally it would be left off, particularly if the author was well-known. However, some of these full names may have still been pen names, as the likely fake name “Priscilla Homespun” indicates. Sometimes the full names would also include other information, such as “Susannah Carter, of Clerkenwell,” another attempt to lend credibility through location. Minimizing the author’s originality or role in the creation of the text was occasionally used, such as the participle phrase “compiled by,” as in “compiled by Lucy Emerson.”5

Used less frequently at 16% was the use of titles, not first names, for women authors, such as “Mrs. [Lydia Maria] Child,” “Miss Leslie” (referring to fiction writer Eliza Leslie), or “Mrs. [Hannah] Glasse.” Other times, the author’s title and last name was used in the title of the cookbook itself, such as “Miss Beecker’s domestic receipt book.” This was another way class markers were used to build the ethos of the author.

Below this at 15% was using job descriptions alongside the author’s name for women authors. Some examples were “Mrs. Mary Holland, author,” “Miss Leslie, author of Seventy-Five Receipts,” “Mrs. Child, author of the Frugal Housewife,” and “Eleanor Parkinson, practical confectioner, Chestnut Street.” This use of job title is a departure from how women authors were normally represented, as these titles are a marker of economic power, even from a marginalized class position.6

Without a doubt, the most curious of all these identity statements is Amelia Simmons’ “an American orphan.” Her confidence in claiming on the title page, and then reasserting in the preface and conclusion, this marginalized identity—even as it has no link to cooking expertise—is initially confusing. Why would someone want to doubly marginalize themselves, particularly in a situation where she wants to be seen as an expert? Her confidence appears to rewrite the script on assumptions about marginalized groups—one can be a woman, a domestic worker, and an orphan—and still be a published expert. Walden interprets Simmons’ orphan identity statement as her ability to turn a perceived weakness into a strength, relying on the readers’ lack of knowledge (and therefore assumptions) about her and her lineage:

She is unknown as an author, and, as a servant, she has no particular authority—or even autonomy—to claim her work as her own. Yet she turns this lack into a source of power in its own right by suggesting that her unknown origins and lineage represent the new republic she seeks to construct, both physically and ideologically, through her recipes. (37)

Even if the reader cannot relate to Simmons’ childhood, she can respect her for demonstrating such a quintessentially American value of pulling herself up by her bootstraps, coming from nothing and turning into a success, solely through hard work.

Ethos Construction: The Orphan as Literary Trope and Rhetorical Move

The orphaned child protagonist has been a frequent literary trope for centuries, and Simmons takes advantage of this familiarity in her text as another way she establishes ethos with the reader. The vision of an abandoned, desperate child pulls the reader into the story through sentimentality. Notably, Henry Fielding’s 1749 bildungsroman The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling traces the rise of the titular character, an illegitimate child abandoned by his mother, who is raised by a kind, wealthy pair of siblings. In the novel, Tom’s illegitimacy is a permanent mark on his identity, closing many doors along the way. His orphan status is the major complication of the novel, and it turns out to be something he can never overcome. Tom’s concluding happiness is due more to luck than rising status—indeed, it is his lack of any known lineage that motivates much of the book’s conflict, proving that the orphan trope is ripe for dramatic exploitation.

Similarly, many young protagonists begin their stories as an orphan, or are orphaned early on. From Bronte’s Jane Eyre, to Jane Fairfax in Austen’s Emma, to Pip in Dickens’ Great Expectations, orphans are a frequent character type, used for dramatic or sentimental effect. Writer Liz Moore explains the usefulness of orphan characters in this way: “The orphan character—especially one who is an orphan before the novel begins—comes with a built-in problem, which leads to built-in conflict” (para. 8). The lack of a stable family has often been a source of conflict in storytelling, even today. One cannot discuss orphans in contemporary literature without mentioning Harry Potter, for instance. To be an orphan means to go against the most commonly-held values of society: the strength of the family unit. Orphans lack stable role models; indeed, most fictional orphans are quickly taken in by others and struggle to find their way in society without guidance. Thus, the dramatic impact of an orphan’s rise to success is greater, as it is hard-fought (and, to the writer, “fictionally useful” (para. 11) as a story arc, according to scholar John Mullan). Moore notes of her own choice in writing orphan characters, “For me, at least, writing about orphans is a way to write through the terror of being alone in the world,” thus making the orphan’s struggle a universal one. In an orphan’s story, the reader experiences more highs and lows as the character starts from nothing and struggles to achieve greater. The orphan’s journey from outsider to accepted makes their character type a “useful trope for novelists to think about what it means to become a subject” (König 242).

Similarly, Amelia Simmons plays up her orphan status as a way to engage the reader, impressing upon them her lifelong struggle to overcome her low birth. Simmons portrays herself as a success story. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps despite the odds and intends to serve as an inspiration for others to work hard. In her preface to American Cookery, Simmons writes that it is exactly her character, her ability to develop an appropriate ethos, that is a large part of her success:

It must ever remain a check upon the poor solitary orphan, that while those females who have parents, or brothers, or riches, to defend their indiscretions, that the orphan must depend solely upon character. How immensely important, therefore, that every action every word, every thought, be regulated by the strictest purity, and that every movement meet the approbation of the good and wise. (5)

Simmons knows the importance of constructing an effective ethos to achieve her goals. While the “regulation” she writes of in the above excerpt implies a belief in the fixed, Aristotelian model of ethos that she must live up to, her openness in writing about such marginal subjects as her low status, orphan identity, and struggles as an independent woman demonstrates a use of ethē. Simmons claims these marginal identities as her own, disrupting the usual representation of women in this time period and instead embraces a more complex approach to her character development that allows her to advocate for and relate to other women, whom she hopes will achieve as much as, or even more than, she did.

By sharing her story, Simmons portrays herself as a symbol of inspiration to other women. She does not get into details about her own origins, only referring in general terms to her tragic, low origin. It is worth noting, however, that she may be using the orphan trope to distance her identity from any non-American heritage. If she does not know her origins, it is much easier to claim an all-American identity, further impressing on her readers the authentic American-ness of her text. Simmons only makes vague reference to her origins in her preface, mentioning how she was forced into domestic work due to her low status. In fact, low-status women seem to be her target audience, as indicated by this disclaimer: “The Lady of fashion and fortune will not be displeased, if many hints are suggested for the more general and universal knowledge of those females in this country, who by the loss of their parents, or other unfortunate circumstances, are reduced to the necessity of going into families in the line of domestics” (3). Simmons expects that other domestics like her, or those who expect to become a domestic servant, will be the most likely to use this cookbook. She sees it as a women’s survival manual. This text is not one that, like many of today’s cookbooks, can be leisurely browsed, while enjoying the descriptions and illustrations of food, fantasizing about one’s ability to recreate these meals at home. It is a workbook, meant to help women get on their feet and become a success—like this American orphan.

Ethos Construction: Morality Statements

Simmons additionally develops her ethos through her use of morality statements. Her references to morality imply her own values, which line up with common beliefs of the time. If nothing else, these morality statements are Simmons’ most successful attempt to relate to her reader and show how much she is like them, no matter her childhood experiences. As Simmons explains in the preface, the purpose of this text is to prepare women for “doing those things which are really essential to the perfecting them as good wives, and useful members of society,” aligning domestic work with virtue and reasserting the value of hard work. She also criticizes women who ignore tradition and only pay attention to fads, saying “I would not be understood to mean an obstinate preference in trifles, which borders on obstinacy,” and argues the value of “those rules and maxims which have stood the test of ages, and will forever establish the female character, a virtuous character.” Her statements connecting female virtue with domestic work anticipate the later Victorian era “cult of domesticity” that privileged women as the moral center of the home. Skill in the kitchen was often a measure of women’s moral worth—which complicated the argument that cooking was a skill to be learned, since morality was believed to be inherent (McWilliams 393). That issue would be handled later in the Victorian era, during the cooking reform movement, that encouraged formal training in cooking and standardized and simplified the cooking process, taming the kitchen for young women who had never learned how to cook but were expected to do so.

In these value statements, Simmons implies her belief that expertise in cooking is a virtue, and as such essential to becoming a good woman. She also conflates the female character with tradition. For instance, only a good woman would know to use the already-established cooking methods rather than experimenting with fads. Through both her identity statements and her morality statements, Simmons negotiates her ethos with her readers, proving that while she may have come from a marginal upbringing, she still holds claim to mainstream values. Her marginalization of herself works to make a point about the complexity of identity. Simmons upends readers’ assumptions about her, demonstrating how much she and the reader have in common, even though the reader may not think so at first glance.

Ethos Construction: Sentimentality

Finally, Simmons builds her ethos within a sentimental narrative style. Even though it might initially seem curious that she mentions her upbringing as an “American orphan,” she can get away with it because she uses it to seek pity from the audience and thus garner more attention than the average, more relatable identity statement would. While sentimental narrative did not reach its peak in popularity until novels of the mid-19th century (Uncle Tom’s Cabin being a famous text in this style), Simmons again anticipates this style, using it to her advantage and setting herself up to be pitied.7 She emphasizes the tragedy of her orphaned experience in the preface, noting her lack of choice in her employment as domestic servant. While she is sharing her sad tale of growing up, Simmons still comes back to her expertise–implicitly claiming her expertise was gained through her struggle. She positions herself as wise primarily because she lived through this lonely existence, and praises independence as key to her salvation: “the orphan […] will find it essentially necessary to have an opinion and determination of her own” (3). Simmons notes that this independence is essential, as an orphan has no one else to guide her. Simmons presents herself as unfailingly honest, even within this sentimental style. For all the praise she gives herself for her bootstraps mentality, she also recognizes her limitations. In the preface, she reminds the reader that “she is circumscribed in her knowledge,” implying a lack of education, not surprising for a working-class woman of the time (5). She again reminds readers of her deficit in an extra preface added to the revised and corrected second edition, asking the reader who finds fault with her recipes to remember “that it is the performance of, and effected under all those disadvantages, which usually attend, an Orphan” (7). In her discussion of the rhetorical power of sentimentality, Coretta Pittman uses author Harriet Jacobs as an example of the rhetorical impact of sentimental narrative; Pittman describes how Jacobs defines her authority through exposing her marginality by narrating in sentimental form, proving that sentimental style is rhetorically useful to gain credibility with the reader (55). Through this sentimentality, Simmons succeeds in gaining the goodwill of her readers. Her style heightens the pathos of her situation, encouraging the reader to first pity her, then be in awe of her strength. Even if the reader had never experienced domestic work or was never orphaned, she understands universal human experiences of being alone or having one’s reputation be questioned. This is exactly what Jane Tompkins in her book Sensational Designs claims is the usefulness of sentimental narrative—that it helped women claim power; it helped them define themselves and claim status in a public forum (160). Though the reader may view this narrative as over-the-top today, Simmons is able to relate to the reader of her text on a personal level. Simmons uses this style to claim her identity and her values, knowing it will speak directly to other women and help them relate to her, trusting her expertise in the process.

Conclusion: American Cookery as Melting Pot

When asked why American Cookery is still considered a major American cookbook, scholars argue that this text was the first to blend British and American cultures together (Hess xv). It brought native American ingredients together with British methods to create a new melting pot of a food culture. This “melting-pot” metaphor is timely; while the metaphor is normally associated with the early 20th century, it was used much earlier, appearing in print as early as 1782,8 making it entirely possible that Simmons was aware of the idealistic assimilation of cultures as a benefit to the new world. This synthesis of cultures mirrors Simmons’ ethos construction as well; negotiating her location as American, as an orphan, as uneducated, as working-class, and as a woman, with her position as author of this text, a nationwide bestselling cookbook. Through her use of identity statements, the orphan trope, morality statements, and sentimental narrative style, Simmons effectively develops what might be termed today as a feminist ethos—or, more accurately, ethē, to identify for the first time in print as both an American and as a trustworthy cook. Even as Simmons blends together her various identities, she resists assimilation. Instead, her use of ethē in this context operates as an interruption, as someone with multiple marginal identity markers gains enough of a voice in American print culture to become a bestselling author. Similar to Food Network star Ree Drummond navigating her varied identities through her blogging, Simmons is able to negotiate multiple relations existing in this rhetorical situation, as she simultaneously presents herself as having multiple identity markers of woman, orphan, working class, and uneducated. For the first time, Simmons establishes an ethos that is recognizable to modern audiences, one that accounts for multiple identities and negotiates all of them with the audience: ethē. She composes an American ethos, demonstrating through her narrative that one can come from a poor childhood, grow up doing manual labor, and still become a bestselling author, all through hard work and the right attitude. This is the quintessential “American Dream,” demonstrating the potential for success in the new Republic. This myth that American Cookery perpetuates feeds Simmons’ own ethos, as well as the ethos of her new nation. The text, to use Hess’s Janus metaphor, looks back and forward at once, looking back to record and claim a narrow (white, upper-middle-class) definition of American foodways, and looking forward to influence that narrow cultural definition for years to come. Thus, through this ethos construction, Simmons is able to claim a space for herself to speak within the public sphere and lay the groundwork for generations of female cookbook authors to come.


  1. Despite her efforts to build ethos with her readers, it is important to acknowledge that Simmons herself engaged in questionable authoring practices. Simmons plagiarized individual recipes and entire sections (the Syllabubs and Creams section in particular) from Susannah Carter’s 1772 bestseller The Frugal Housewife (Beahrs). While this practice of copying recipes was common, every copied British recipe Simmons uses undercuts her claim to be an “American” cook. In fact, a close look at the recipes of American Cookery shows that for the most part, English methods and trends are used to such an extent that it is still more English than it is really American (Hess xv). For instance, her patriotic “Election Cake” and “Independence Cake” in the second edition is a play on British baking trends, re-named for an American audience (Hess xiv). For all its claim to originality, American Cookery is still English at its heart, with only a veneer of American. This use of English foodways traditions still helps Simmons claim her expertise, though, as readers can more readily identify with those familiar recipes and have a touch of nationalistic pride for the American spin she puts on them.
  2. Across the thirteen reprints of American Cookery, the title page identity statement changes a few times. In 1808, 1814, 1819, and 1822, the edition lists the author as “an American orphan,” or just (in the case of the 1831 edition) “an orphan,” without her full name (Lowenstein).
  3. Using Eleanor Lowenstein’s 1972 bibliography, between the years 1796—1860, each entry was coded for gender and for identity statements. Coding for gender involved either identifiable gender (whether by first name, title, or personal pronoun) or implied or likely gender (such as reference to “housekeeper” being likely female). For the small percentage of texts (less than 1%) where gender was unidentifiable, those were left out of the results. Only female gendered entries were considered in this analysis. Coding for identity statements involved any descriptors regarding the author’s knowledge, expertise, work history, publication history, or personal or professional life. So as to not skew the results, only the first publication of each cookbook was considered; repeat entries and new editions were ignored.
  4. Out of 103 total cookbook entries surveyed between 17961860, 72 were written by women and 41 by men. Only women authors were analyzed in this study.
  5. In the case of Lucy Emerson, the phrase “compiled by” is also honest: Emerson’s 1808 New-England Cookery plagiarized everything but the title from American Cookery.
  6.  Not surprisingly, they are also most similar to male cookbook authors’ identity statements. The majority of male cookbook authors’ identity statements (58%) were the use of job descriptions alongside a full name, such as “Thomas Chapman, wine-cooper” and “Samuel Child, porterbrewer, London.”
  7. The orphan-made-good trope was a familiar one in sentimental fiction, banking on the pathos of the marginalized, abandoned child to tell a coming of age story where the orphan, left to his or her own devices outside of the familial system, is allowed to be upwardly mobile due to the lack of family connection (Walden 37-8).
  8. The melting-pot metaphor was first used in 1782, in Letters from an American Farmer by French immigrant J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, in his description of American identity: “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of man” (Crèvecoeur).

Works Cited

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  • König, Eva. The Orphan in Eighteenth-Century Fiction: The Vicissitudes of the Eighteenth-Century Subject. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.
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  • McWilliams, Mark. “Good Women Bake Good Biscuits: Cookery and Identity in Antebellum American Fiction.” Food, Culture & Society, vol. 10, no. 3, Fall 2007, pp. 389-406.
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  • Reynolds, Nedra. “Ethos as Location: New Sites for Understanding Discursive Authority.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 11, no. 2, Spring 1993, pp. 325-338.
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The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty: An Embodiment of Postracial Rhetoric

In response to women’s growing dissatisfaction with the representation of the female body within media and advertising, Dove commissioned a global study in 2004 to get a better understanding of the relationship between beauty and self-esteem. The study concluded that 57% of the 3,200 women across 10 countries surveyed believed that “‘the attributes of female beauty have become very narrowly defined in today’s world’” (Etcoff et al. 27) and 75% indicated that they “wish the media did a better job of portraying women of diverse physical attractiveness, including age, shape and size” (43). Based on these survey results, Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty (CFRB) in 2004 to “widen” the definition of beauty from the perception of physical attractiveness to confidence, acceptance, and pride, among other qualities (“The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty”). In 2005, Dove initiated its “most iconic” phase of the CFRB with a series of ads featuring the “real bodies and real curves” of six, non-professional models (“The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty”)—in other words, no digital re-touching of their photographs was allowed.1

Through these ads, the company lauded itself on initiating a “global conversation” revolving around beauty stereotypes and bodily perceptions (Dove, “The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty”). In its 16-year history, the CFRB has published a number of viral ads and videos in TV spots, on YouTube, and on its social media pages with body-positive messaging featuring young girls and women of all ages. This decade-plus long campaign has largely been met with overwhelming success. It has been credited with being “on the natural beauty train long before many brands were even thinking about it” (Brown) and (in)directly influencing other brands such as Nike’s “Big Butts” and “Thunder Thighs” ads (Associated Press) and Victoria Secret’s “Love My Body” campaign (SheSpeaksTeam). The CFRB won PRWeeks “Best U.S. Campaign of the Past 20 Years” award (PRWeek Staff) and Ad Age’s top spot in the 15 best ad campaigns of the 21st century (Neff). Unsurprisingly, it has been profitable, too, increasing Dove’s sales from $2.5 to $4 billion within its first ten years (Dasher and Zed). 

However, some scholars analyzing the campaign are hesitant to extend praise just yet. Some point to the irony of a campaign celebrating women “just as they are” while using its models to promote a firming cream (Brodbeck and Evans; Howard; Stevenson). Others critically evaluate the relationship between feminism and corporate culture (Murray), arguing that the campaign is an example of “feminist consumerism” or a “corporate strategy that employs feminist themes of empowerment to market products to women” (Taylor et al. 124; Johnston and Taylor). Consumer responses echo this skepticism, contending that “Dove’s version of feminism lacked transformational potential because it encouraged a solipsistic focus on the self, rather than making connections between personal problems and the social organization of society” (Taylor et al. 135). Many female consumers also believe that the Dove models’ “deviant” bodies are still significantly fitter than the average American female body (Scott and Cloud; Postrel). These “deviant” bodies are also able-bodied ones (Heiss). 

Despite this range of scholarship, little work has thoroughly analyzed the relationship between race and gender with the CFRB. Thus, I argue that without fully considering the intersectionality of gender, race, and weight stigma, Dove’s feminist consumerist message does little to challenge Western, White beauty norms.2 I use postracial rhetoric to examine how the text and visuals of the CFRB gloss over and homogenize the racial and ethnic differences of the models in an essentializing discourse that reflects a universal approach to “beauty” without thoroughly considering how cultural differences affect various notions of beauty (Johnston and Taylor; see also Bordo, xxii). Postracial rhetoric stems from postracialism, or the “claim that we are, or are close to, or ought to be living outside of debilitating racial reference” (Goldberg 15),” whose origins are frequently attributed to Barack Obama’s 2008 election to the presidency (Adjei and Gill; Teasley and Ikard; Paul; Temple). By focusing on Dove’s use of a postracial rhetoric, my analysis accomplishes two goals. First, it develops current critiques of the campaign that do not thoroughly address its relationship with race and gender. Second, it takes up discussions of postracial rhetoric that largely circulate outside of rhetorical studies and situates them in a feminist, embodied, rhetorical context by articulating major components of this rhetoric and explaining how they apply to the depictions of Black, female bodies in the CFRB.3 While my analysis primarily focuses on how Black women’s bodies in the campaign are read, I also discuss how the bodies of other women of color are largely absent from the advertisements as well. 

I begin by reviewing scholarship about postracialism from ethnic and racial studies, Black studies, communication, and rhetorical studies. Given this range of interdisciplinary research, I define what I mean by a “postracial rhetoric” and synthesize prior discussions about postracialism into its four key components: A postracial rhetoric normalizes Whiteness, disregards the material realities of race(ism), eschews diversity, and is performative and embodied. This last point positions this analysis of Dove’s postracial rhetoric within embodied, feminist rhetorics that advocate for “an ethical reading of bodies and recognition of bodies as people—not objects” (Johnson et al. 40). Through examining the CFRB advertisements, viewers’ responses to them, and the models’ statements about their participation in the campaign, I describe how Dove enacts a postracial rhetoric that allows the company to both foreground White bodies and reproduce historical, stereotypical imagery of Black bodies across its ads. By claiming diversity without also acknowledging the history of racialized depictions of (female) bodies of color, Dove does not engage in anti-racist efforts but instead “asks us to focus our views on visible triumphs associated with racial difference” and ignore “obvious instances of discrimination” (Cobb 413). Considering Dove’s reputation as being at the forefront of shaping beauty advertising, this oversight is troubling indeed. 

Defining Postracial Rhetoric

I begin this section by outlining my use of a “postracial rhetoric” to situate this term within the scope of embodied, feminist rhetorics. I do so because references to postracial rhetoric outside of rhetorical studies often either do not clarify their understanding of rhetoric or carry connotations of rhetoric as “‘empty talk,’ or even ‘deception’” (Herrick 1).4 Although approaches to rhetoric within the discipline can vary, I adopt Dolmage’s definition of rhetoric as “the strategic study of the circulation of power through communication” (3). I have selected this definition for several reasons. First, it includes a focus on the body as Dolmage adds that “we should recognize rhetoric as the circulation of discourse through the body” (5). His emphasis on the body corresponds to how embodiment informs rhetoric given that “the physical body carries meaning through discourse about or by a body” and that such meaning “can be articulated beyond language” (Johnson et al. 39). Second, Dolmage’s definition is grounded in disability studies, which is complementary to feminist theory considering shared concerns about “the politics of appearance,” “the relation between femininity and embodiment,” “the commercialization of health and fitness” and “the ideology of normalcy,” among others (Garland-Thomson 1559). And third, the definition’s attention to power and the body aligns with feminist rhetoric, “a set of long-established practices that advocates a political position of rights and responsibilities that certainly includes the equality of women and Others” (Glenn 3),5 and one of its goals to “make all bodies and the power dynamics invested in their (in)visibility visible” (Johnson et al. 39). 

With this rhetorical framework in mind, I understand postracial rhetoric to mean the circulation of textual, visual, and bodily discourses that (in)directly suggest the eradication of racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice. I do not posit this understanding as postracial rhetoric’s “true” definition as it, much like rhetoric itself, can have multiple interpretations. I am also by no means coining the term, but I do outline what I have gathered to be its main components from prior scholarly discussions about postracialism that are largely outside of rhetorical studies and do not always explicitly define their approach to a postracial rhetoric.

Postracial Rhetoric Normalizes Whiteness

On the premise that racial preference is on the decline, postracial rhetoric promotes a universal message of equality and, consequently, an idealized version of society in which Whiteness is unraced and therefore the default (Temple; Klinenberg; Teasley and Ikard). Various iterations of this rhetoric “‘in effect proclaim that whiteness is normative’” (Walker and Smithers qtd. in Gunn and McPhail 20). In the context of media and advertising, a postracial rhetoric can homogenize (i.e., “smooth out all racial, ethnic, and sexual ‘differences’” (Bordo 24)) and normalize (i.e., create “models against which the self continually measures, judges, ‘disciplines’, and ‘corrects’ itself” (Bordo 25)) Western, White representations of beauty. It is critical, then, to acknowledge that these representations “have dominance, and not to efface such recognition through a facile and abstract celebration of ‘heterogeneity,’ ‘difference,’ ‘subversive reading,’ and so forth” (Bordo 29-30). By advancing a racially unmarked, “normal” culture at the expense of others, postracial rhetoric is an “an outsider-imposed identity discourse” (Temple 51).

Postracial Rhetoric Disregards the Material Realities of Race(ism)

The assumption that the United States has “overcome” race with the election of its first Black president “renders invisible the material realities of ‘race’” (Teasley and Ikard 412). This assumption is quickly proven false by the very same “daily realities of racialized bodies [that] suggest that racism is still pervasive in the United States” (Adjei and Gill 142). By “material,” I refer to Bordo’s definition (which itself is influenced by Marxian and Foucauldian perspectives), which is “the ‘direct grip’ (as opposed to representational influence) that culture has on our bodies, through the practices and bodily habits of everyday life” (16). Collins likewise emphasizes the contributions of material, lived experiences towards Black feminist thought, which is “situated in a context of domination and not as a system of ideas divorced from political and economical reality” (288). Not only does postracial rhetoric gloss over the present-day, material impacts of race(ism), it conveniently forgets or ignores the history of racial inequalities that is embedded within current race relations in the United States. 

Postracial Rhetoric Eschews Diversity

In believing that “African-Americans have finally achieved racial equality,” postracialism is an “assimilationist term” that downplays Black cultures in favor of “mainstream White behaviors and orientations” (Temple 46). As such, its rhetoric “expresses a desire that African-American identity and heritage practices decrease, rather than increase” (46). Postracial rhetoric also goes hand in hand with a color-blind rhetoric that uses terms like “fairness, open access, and equal opportunity” (Holmes 26) and in so doing causes “social inequalities [to become] invisible” (Collins 26). What is ultimately valued is a homogenous (i.e., White, heteronormative) culture.

Postracial Rhetoric is Performative and Embodied

Understandings of race(ism) do not occur in a vacuum, but are bound up in cultural symbols: “the language of racism is masked within the language of culture” (Adjei and Gill 144). These symbols are not only linguistic ones, but visual as well. Considering how bodily features (e.g., skin tone, hair, body shape, etc.) and gestures all carry cultural weight, Cobb notes that “postracial imagery unevenly assigns concepts of visibility to performances of racial identity” and that “postracialism [can be] treated as performative and as a thing to be embodied” (412). Put another way, bodily features and gestures are not race-neutral. Sherrell describes how the need to keep Whiteness unraced and therefore “invisible” (148) appropriates embodiment by requiring Black bodies to “simulate whiteness and white embodiment in white institutions and spaces” (142). Modifying one’s behavior, mannerisms, and features becomes a survival tactic with the knowledge that “merely being noticed by whiteness has led to violence against, and death of, Black bodies” (150). In response, Sherrell proposes “embodied filtering,” a “means of titration of experience,” that counteracts encounters with racism with bodily rituals (e.g., restorative actions such as applying lotion, massaging one’s skin, and making selective clothing choices) that promote connections to one’s Black community and ancestry (151-152).  

With the exception of the last one, most of these components of postracial rhetoric operate primarily within the realm of textual language. Cobb, though, situates this rhetoric in a visual context through explaining the paradox of how “Blackness is rendered hypervisible as a symbol in a post-race United States; yet, it is also made invisible in terms of its own social and cultural relevance” (407). With its history of racial caricatures (that intermingle with discriminatory visual imagery of other racial identities), portrayals of Black bodies remind us that “there is never a culturally neutral ground for racial depiction—no place where our representational contexts have taken a reprieve from old ways of knowing race that create enough distance for the postracial to occur” (418). We cannot simply “forget” these historical caricatures when looking at images of Black people (and others of color) just as we cannot use an election of a Black, male president to treat the history of racial injustice in the United States as “one long, bad dream” (407). In the following sections, I use postracial rhetoric as an analytical lens to examine how Dove’s textual, visual, and paralingual discursive practices reveal the power dynamics embedded in its representations of race and reproductions of White beauty norms in the CFRB. My analysis takes up Cobb’s argument that we must be as critically conscious of “our approach to visuality” as we should be with “our idea of raciality” (419).

Postracial Undertones to Dove’s Definition of “Real Beauty”

In the now-iconic ads that the CFRB launched in 2005 (see Fig. 1), “real women with real bodies and real curves” (Dove, “The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty”) in white underwear strike confident poses daring to expose “curvy thighs, bigger bums, [and] rounder stomachs” (Fielding et al.). Clearly “real” in this context means bodies that are not “retouched, airbrushed or altered in any way” (Fielding et al). Both components—featuring “real women” in the ads and depicting them as they are in “real life”—make up two out of the three vows for “The ‘Dove Real Beauty Pledge’”—the third being to “help girls build body confidence and self-esteem” (Dove, “The ‘Dove Real Beauty Pledge’”). The third vow also refers to the Dove Self-Esteem Project, which has “has educated over 20 million young people in body confidence and self-esteem” over the last 10 years (Dove, “The ‘Dove Real Beauty Pledge’”). 

Image is an advertisement from The ‘Dove Real Beauty Pledge. Six racially diverse women are posing together and smiling. Large text to the right of the women reads: "curvy thighs, bigger bums, rounder stomachs. What better way to test our firming range?"

Fig. 1. Ad from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.

The “real beauty” behind “The ‘Dove Real Beauty Pledge’” is an example of postracial rhetoric that fails to acknowledge the dominant ideology of Western female beauty rooted in histories of colonialism and enslavement. To achieve its “utopian” mission (Nayak 427) of eradicating racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice, postracialism supports eliminating race since “it is a false, dangerous and consequently indefensible category” (Paul 703). Race is absent from Dove’s vow to “never” use professional models since they “reflect a narrow view of beauty” and instead embrace the belief that “beauty is for everyone” by using “real women of different ages, sizes, ethnicities, hair color, type or style” (Dove, “The ‘Dove Real Beauty Pledge’”). While race (physical characteristics) and ethnicity (belonging to a social group with the same nationality, regional culture, ancestry, and language) arguably overlap with one another, the two are not synonymous. “Hair color, type or style” might be a roundabout way of suggesting race, which reflects a lack of critical consciousness about the social construct at best and an active disengagement with it at worst. In any case, the explicit omission of race from Dove’s definition of beauty is significant since it allows the company to participate in the “abstract celebration of ‘heterogeneity’” (Bordo 30) without recognizing, interrogating, and addressing the racial dynamics within Western beauty standards.

Although a “cultural creation” (Smedley 5), race still has (in)direct material impacts whether invoked or not. Put simply, abandoning race does not erase racism. Shying away from the concept risks promoting the belief that “racial invocation inherently produces racist inevitability” (Goldberg 114) despite the fact that “racisms establish, set in place, and extend races, not the reverse” (115). Anti-racist efforts can instead adopt a both/and approach—i.e., acknowledging a preference for Whiteness while still insisting on “equality for all in the face of ongoing racial reference” (121). In this section, I argue that Dove does the opposite by setting the tone for a postracial rhetoric through its early CFRB ads that center on White bodies and white imagery. The Black women in these ads are forgotten by Dove’s marketing team whose decision to have the models wear white underwear evokes conceptions of the “pure”, White, female body as contrasted to the body of the exotic Black Other. Such a choice reflects how “visibility is fundamental to race relations” (Cobb 418) and, when combined with the oversight of the few Black women chosen to be among the CFRB’s inaugural models, signals Dove’s lack of awareness of its own postracial rhetoric. 

A “Whiter” Approach to Beauty

Despite Dove’s claims of contributing to a “wider definition of beauty” (Dove, “The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty”), the advertisements themselves are still largely dominated by White, toned women. Results from focus groups of 40 female participants suggested that these women largely viewed the models as having “conventionally beautiful skin, hair, and eyes” (Taylor et al. 132). “Imperfections” such as “cellulite, rolls, body hair, dreadlocks, tattoos, bumps, scars, blemishes, prostheses, and stretch marks” were also mentioned as missing from the ads; the inclusion of dreadlocks in this list implies that physical features typically associated with Black bodies are excluded from implicit, White norms of “conventionally beautiful” standards. Some of the Black and Latina participants noted that “Most of the models are light skinned people, not really dark-skinned” and the Muslim participants commented that the absence of hijabs reflected little diversity in terms of religion (133). Most of the non-White women in the focus groups felt that “Dove’s version of diversity did not challenge hegemonic beauty norms based on white ideals, nor did it address the racism that underpins myriad beauty practices and expectations” (133). These sentiments highlight Dove’s superficial approach to diversity that implies postracial, homogenous assumptions of beauty. The company further compounds the danger of these assumptions by using a minimally diverse group of “real” non-professional models to uphold its claim of equalizing perceptions of beauty.

Any potential gains from the diversity present in the ads are undercut by the CFRB’s marketing team. During a roundtable discussion with the Ogilvy marketing team behind the campaign’s launch, Linda Scott gives this story:

One thing that was brought to my attention just last week that I had not noticed before—a friend and a colleague of mine, Jason Chambers who is a professor at the University of Illinois, was in town last week and he’s African American. I told him that I was having this meeting and he says, “Oh, you know, I would really like to know…That campaign didn’t have any Black women in it. Why is that?” And it was the first that I had ever—I’m embarrassed to say—the first time I had thought about it. (Fielding et al.)

Dennis Lewis, Creative Partner at the London branch of Ogilvy, responds that Dove has “always been multi-racial and multi-cultural,” but then must retrieve physical pictures from the campaign to confirm the existence of Black models. Alessandro Manfredi, the Global VP of Dove Masterbrand and Deodorants, begins to list different phases of the campaign that had “it” (i.e., Black models) while remaining uncertain about the promotional campaign video, “Little Girls.” Scott adds that she is “pretty sure” “Little Girls” has Black models and suggests that Chambers might have been thinking of the 2005 ads as the phase lacking diversity (Fielding et al.). 

And yet, the 2005 ads do have two Black models—Syleste Molyneaux and Jane Poku (see Figs. 1 and 2). What is especially concerning about these ads is not just that there are only two Black models within a campaign meant to “widen” the definition of beauty, but that the roundtable discussion demonstrates what hooks describes as “dehumanizing oppressive forces, forces that render us invisible and deny us recognition” (35). The admission of race as an afterthought plus the scramble to provide evidence of the presence of non-White bodies both convey how Whiteness is normalized within an ad series claiming diversity and highlight Dove’s unconsciousness of its own postracial rhetoric. 

These actions also undercut the appearance of agency in Molyneaux and Poku’s individual advertisements that include their names and statements about the campaign. On the one hand, these women’s participation in the CFRB is an opportunity for them to advocate their own narratives about their bodies, diversify the representation of women in the media, and be positive role models for Black girls who often do not see versions of themselves in beauty ads. On the other hand, Molyneaux and Poku’s body-positive narratives are not their own while being open to editing by Dove and its marketing team. Black women’s empowerment (and, in this case, individual views and collective consensus on what “beauty” is) strives to be autonomous: “When Black women define ourselves, we clearly reject the assumption that those in positions granting them the authority to interpret our reality are entitled to do so” (Collins 125). Because this empowerment must resist knowledge production tied to objectification, commodification, and exploitation (Collins 308), Black women’s agency becomes constrained in a beauty campaign claiming good intentions but still profiting from their bodies.

Material Constructions of Racialized Beauty Norms

One consequence to Dove’s exclusion of race from its definition of “real beauty” is the failure to identify and respond to racialized conceptions of beauty and their material impacts and, in so doing, renew them. Historically, Black women’s bodies have been objectified to facilitate and justify their economic, political, and sexual exploitation, which is reflected in the “controlling images of Black womanhood” (Collins 111) such as the mammy, “the faithful, obedient domestic servant” (80), and the jezebel or “whore, or ‘hoochie’” (89). This objectification also reinforces “long-standing notions of Black women’s sexuality” (238) and acts as a ballast against which the ideals of White beauty are defined. One example of this objectification in the CFRB is the white underwear that the models are consistently photographed in. The Ogilvy team made the decision for the models to wear white underwear during the shoot since they wanted the women “to look confident and feel sexy,” instead of being cast as “sex icons” (Fielding et al.). “Plain” white underwear, instead of lingerie, would draw the audience’s attention to the women’s skin and “loveliness” (Fielding et al.). The choice of white underwear to convey these impressions ultimately relies on implicit, historical associations with lingerie, which have connections to the exotic Other of the Black body. 

Image is an ad from Dove's Campaign for Real Bodies. A Black women wearing a white tank top and underwear stands to the side, with her head turned toward the camera, smiling. Text to the side of her reads: "I like to wear clothes that are, I would say, figure hugging."

Fig. 2. Ad from Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty.

A notable instance of a Black woman’s body being used to constitute notions of Black female sexuality and White femininity was the exhibition of Saartjie Baartman (also known as the “Hottentot Venus”), a South African Khoikhoi woman, in England in the early 19th century. Enslaved by a Dutch farmer after her family was killed in a commando raid, Baartman (although illiterate) allegedly signed a “contract” to work as a domestic servant for William Dunlop, an English ship surgeon (Parkinson). Dunlop instead put Baartman on display across England to present her large buttocks (steatopygia) and elongated labia (known popularly as the “Hottentot apron”) as a “‘scientific curiosity’” (Davie). The speculations from Europeans about these features serve as one example of the association of Black women’s sexuality as “animalistic, lustful, and deviant” (Fields 613) that was contrasted against White bodies, white lingerie, and sexual purity (612). Black lingerie functioned “as a racial masquerade akin to Blackface that allowed women, especially white women, to express, and their bodies to convey, the eroticism attributed to Black women via a safely contained and removable Black skin” (612). Conversely, covering Black women in white underwear against a white background—Poku’s clothing is so indistinguishable from the background that the two blend together, leaving only fragmented sections of her Black skin (see Fig. 2)—suggests a restriction and control of “unclean” Black female bodies in relation to the White ideal of “pure” beauty.

These historical constructions of White purity whose counterpoint is the Black Other are embodied and visually conveyed via the white undergarments the models wear against the white backdrop. As Johnson et al. note, “All bodies do rhetoric through texture, shape, color, consistency, movement, and function” (39). They assert that “the body also carries signifying power” (40), which connects to Collins’ point that the concept of White femininity needs an Other who is recognized as embodying the opposite of these values (77). As Collins puts it, “within the binary thinking that underpins intersecting oppressions, blue-eyed, blonde, thin White women could not be considered beautiful without the Other—Black women with African features of dark skin, broad noses, full lips, and kinky hair” (98). In this binary, Black women always remain outside of Western, White notions of beauty that also impact other non-White racial groups (98). Although this long-standing binary is embedded within the visual elements of the ads and the portrayals of the models’ bodies, viewers can nonetheless perceive how this visual rhetoric “confirm[s] an ideology of compulsory beauty for women”—i.e., the “idea that all women…should strive to be beautiful” (Taylor et al. 132, 128). The media, among other predominately White institutions such as government agencies and schools, have a role in perpetuating “controlling images” of Black women which retain their power so long as the stereotypes they rely on remain unnoticed (Collins 111, 125). As noted in the following section, Dove’s pattern of racial insensitivity only continues in later ads of the campaign.

“Tone Deaf” Ads and Racialized Soap Advertising

At first glance, the inclusion of non-supermodel bodies within Dove’s CFRB strikes a positive note. Research in fat studies6 posits that “there are very few opportunities for fat women (or, for that matter, any woman who is not exceedingly slender) to view favorable reflections of herself in mass media” (Fikkan and Rothblum 587). Fikkan and Rothblum argue that it is not enough for feminist scholars to explore how cultural expectations of svelte female figures can cause “every woman [to] feel badly about her body,” but that they must also acknowledge that “because of the pervasiveness and gendered nature of weight-based stigma, a majority of women stand to suffer significant discrimination because they do not conform to this ever-narrower standard” (588). Even if the campaign was to include more diverse body types, this representation would need to be more systemic across beauty advertising to effect social, transformative change about the perceptions of female bodies (Bissell and Rask 664).

Moreover, companies like Dove also need to be attuned to intersections of weight stigma, race, and gender within their advertising. Because of research showing Black women to be more likely than White women to perceive fat bodies positively (Hebl and Heatherton; Hebl et al.; Molloy and Herzberger), it has been speculated that most Black women reject the White ideal of beauty that by definition does not include them, which allows them some buffer from its effects (Fikkan and Rothblum; Saguy). Nevertheless, Williamson contends that it is erroneous to “suggest that all ‘non-Whites’ live sequestered in isolated communities, free from dominant cultural influence” (68). While Black women may dissociate themselves from White mainstream culture, this does not necessarily mean that they are “immune” to poor body image and eating disorders (Thompson 558).  Racial discrimination can also outweigh weight discrimination for Black women considering that White women still benefit from racial privilege despite their body type (Fikkan and Rothblum; Saguy). Factors such as poverty, violence, heterosexism, and mental health must also be taken into account when considering the relationship between Black women and their weight (Wilson).7

Merely adding non-White bodies to beauty ads without also critically considering the social, cultural, and political dimensions of weight stigma only demonstrates a half-hearted attempt at challenging established beauty norms. Such an attempt is further weakened by repeated visual gaffes that replicate historical, racial caricatures of Black bodies. In the rest of this section, I outline how more recent CFRB ads do not fare much better than the earlier, iconic phase in terms of successfully representing diversity. While the original firming cream ads from 2005 could have included more women of color, each one did have her own ad with her name and a statement about her body listed. This recognition is not present in the newer iterations of the campaign from the 2010s that minimize the presence of non-White bodies, give White women more of a platform to speak about their bodies, and evoke historical, racialized soap advertising. In so doing, these ads take up a postracial rhetoric that presents homogenous depictions of beauty and normalizes Whiteness. This rhetoric also forgets or ignores the material realities of race(ism) through visual, embodied performances that repeatedly carry the implicit message that White skin is “pure” and “clean” while Black skin is “dirty.”

Erasure of Non-White Voices

While the 2005 CFRB ads made a nod towards including the bodies and voices of women of color, even this minimal commitment to diversity diminished with the 2013 launch of Dove’s documentary-style YouTube video, “Real Beauty Sketches.” This video has two versions: One is six minutes and 36 seconds and has received over 10 million views and the shorter, three-minute video has received over 69 million views at this time of writing. The videos reflect the outcome of a “social experiment” (Dove, “Real Beauty Sketches”) in which several women spend time with a fellow participant before individually describing their facial features to an FBI forensic artist, Gil Zamora, who—separated from them by a curtain—sketches their responses. Next, they detail their partner’s appearance as Zamora—still unable to see them—illustrates their portrayal. Whereas many of the women describe themselves as having freckles, crow’s feet, or dark circles, they are considerably more flattering when detailing the features of their partners. The two sketches are then hung side-by-side and Zamora invites each woman to view them. All of the women agree that the stranger’s description is more “gentle” than their own and confess that they have “some work to do” in appreciating their own beauty.

Despite the viral success of the video, several critics mention that “Real Beauty Sketches” still does not challenge the fact that beauty—whether “ideal” or “real”—is still held as the standard that women are expected to measure themselves against and use as a benchmark for self-esteem (Rodriguez; Keane; Friedman). Although a full critique of this video extends beyond the scope of this article, the one major criticism of the video that I want to highlight is its lack of diversity. Watching the video, it is immediately clear that the participants are “lovely, thin, mostly white women” (Fridkis; Stampler). Of the group, the ones who get the most speaking time (and are named) are all White women. In fact, the individual stories of three of these women—Melinda, Florence, and Kela—are filmed in short, one-minute videos as part of the series. While these women openly share their insecurities about their physical appearance, Adamson argues that the video only targets “first world pain” and does not problematize the “‘narrow cultural perception of beauty’” it purports to be challenging.

Even though two Black women are shown being sketched by Zamora, they each only speak one line. The first (unnamed) woman describes herself as having a “fat, rounder face” while the second woman, Shelly, mentions that she gets more freckles as she ages. (Interestingly enough, while Shelly is named in the shorter version, she appears without a name tagline in the first, longer version of the campaign video). A Black man is briefly shown describing one of the participants as having “very nice blue eyes,” but he too is given no name. Towards the end of the video when the final sketches are revealed, the White women are often shown standing beside their portraits while explaining their reactions either to Zamora or to the viewers via narration. For a moment, the camera peeks over Shelly’s shoulder as she stares at her sketches and there are flashes of other women of color looking at their own. However, none of these women are shown giving commentary about their experiences. One of the final scenes shows the lights going out over Shelly’s sketches while she is not present. One blogger sums up the situation with: “Out of 6:36 minutes of footage, people of color are onscreen for less than 10 seconds” (jazzylittledrops). Thus, it seems that as Dove’s CFRB evolves, even the minimal, though significant, active participation from women of color promoted in the original ads becomes further reduced.

Image in an ad for a Dove product, Dove VisibleCare. Three women stand in front of two large images of skin. On the left, "before," the skin looks dry; on the right, "after," the skin looks moisturized. The women are standing in order of skin color, with the darkest skin color to the left and lightest to the right.

Fig. 3. Ad for Dove VisibleCare product.

References to “impure” Black skin

In a campaign that omits race from its understanding of “real beauty,” it is perhaps unsurprising that its few models of color are forgotten and/or delegated to the background; in fact, Dove’s ability to authentically portray women of color, especially Black women, within the CFRB has consistently been fraught. In 2011, Dove was criticized for an ad that implied its soap could make dark skin lighter and cleaner (Nolan, “Dove Body Wash”) (see Fig. 3). In the ad, a Black model striking a “‘sassy’” pose (much like Poku in Fig. 2) is positioned in front of a “before” image while more “demure,” light-skinned models are standing closer to an “after” image (Edwards). With this positioning inferring that the body wash is “strong enough to turn a black woman white,” Dove’s PR firm, Edelman, released a statement claiming that “‘All three women are intended to demonstrate the ‘after’ product benefit” and that “We believe that real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes, colors and ages and are committed to featuring realistic and attainable images of beauty in all our advertising” (qtd. in Nolan, “Dove Body Wash”). 

Despite this statement, Dove faced yet more backlash in 2017 concerning a three-second video the company posted on its U.S. Facebook page in which a Black woman removed her dark brown top to reveal a White woman in a pale top underneath. Although the White model repeated the same action to be replaced by “a racially ambiguous woman,” this act did not undo the suggestion of “anti-Blackness of the first series of images” (The Race Card). For some critics, the Black woman to White woman transition evoked the Pears’ 1884 soap advertisement that depicted a Black child scrubbed white after washing (The Race Card; Conor). Others referenced the 1901 Nulla Nulla soap advertisement that featured an illustration of a Black woman with both stereotypically exaggerated features and a bib that said “dirt” being hit on the head by a spoon that was surrounded by the tagline: “Knocks Dirt on the Head” (Conor). Taken together, these critiques link the CFRB to the racialized history of soap advertising in the United States and across the world, which illustrated how “primitive, unclean, and ignorant” Black skin could be “corrected” after using soap that would turn the consumer into a “‘beauty,’ as opposed to the ‘beast’ she once was” (Rooks 29). Dua states that the proliferation of “tone deaf” ads and corresponding hashtag #boycottdove suggest that “Dove has lost control of its narrative.”

Amidst this response, Lola Ogunyemi, the Nigerian model in the video, published an editorial in The Guardian defending it. She asserts how she “jumped” at the opportunity to “be the face of a new body wash campaign” and in so doing, “represent my dark-skinned sisters in a global beauty brand,” since this occasion “felt like the perfect way for me to remind the world that we are here, we are beautiful, and more importantly, we are valued.” Ogunyemi’s defense of Dove, along with the Ogilvy marketing team forgetting about Molyneaux and Poku’s involvement in the original CFRB ads, convey how “Black women’s lives are a series of negotiations that aim to reconcile the contradictions separating our own internally defined images of self as African-American women with our objectification as the Other” (Collins 110). With respect to embodiment, Sherrell describes the struggle to reconcile “stories [of] Black bodies as vile, dangerous, subhuman, and of no value except for consumption by whiteness” with “the narrative my body also knows—of brilliance and resistance and humanness and beauty and agency” (149). When applied to Molyneaux, Poku, and Ogunyemi, these negotiations suggest how Dove’s Black models must navigate the “dialectic of oppression and activism” (Collins 16) with respect to advocating positive messages about Black bodies while also participating in a campaign that profits from their bodies. They also illustrate how these models can be complicit in Dove’s postracial rhetoric while also trying to contribute to more heterogenous representations of beauty.


As this analysis has demonstrated, Dove’s 16-year message of “real beauty” is a postracial one that assimilates racial and ethnic differences to White beauty norms and reproduces and modernizes centuries-old racial caricatures through the claim of equalizing beauty standards. These caricatures have historically functioned to render “a notion of racial difference as visible, and thus, controllable” (Cobb 410) and their presence in the CFRB shows how adaptable a textual and visual postracial rhetoric can be in a digital age. This rhetoric is also an embodied one considering how a series of minimally diverse, racially insensitive ads asks its audience to “consume a number of postracial moments over the terrain of the Black body” (409). Although the focus here has largely been about the depiction of Black bodies, the impacts of a postracial rhetoric within beauty advertising can be extended to other races and ethnicities as well. With its failure to learn from past mistakes, Dove reinforces the “thoughtlessness” or “Arendtian sense of failing to exercise reflective (and by extension self-reflective) critical judgement” (Goldberg 111) of racisms present within postracial rhetoric. This lack of awareness is significant when Dove’s “real beauty” message is already suspect when tied to financial profit; it becomes more insidious with repeated inferences of White purity and “dirty and impure” Black skin (The Race Card).

By outlining the characteristics of a postracial rhetoric and applying them to the textual, visual, and paralingual elements of Dove’s CFRB ads, this analysis contributes to feminist rhetorics which, among other aims, uncovers and challenges White, male, and Western hegemonic discourses and promotes diverse and inclusive ones (Royster and Kirsch 44). Feminist rhetorics unpack the “the nature, scope, impacts, and consequences of rhetoric as a multidimensional human enterprise,” with multidimensionality referring to engagement across multiple boundaries (e.g., gender, race and ethnicity, status, and geographic sites), genres, material conditions, and other means of producing rhetorical knowledge (42). Likewise, my reading of the Dove CFRB ads considers the dimensions of gender, race, and weight stigma embedded within discourses about beauty within the genre of beauty advertisements. These dimensions call attention to an often implicit, but still pervasive postracial rhetoric that is by no means an “empty” one; on the contrary, it supports and produces unconscious, uncritical understandings of race that perpetuate the simultaneous historical discrimination and erasure as well as the objectification, commodification, and exploitation of Black bodies. Furthermore, this intersectional perspective not only reveals both resistance to and complicity in the power dynamics of Western discourses about beauty, but also situates these discourses in a “broader transnational context” (Royster and Kirsch 54), especially when it comes to beauty advertisements aimed at international audiences.

On the one hand, Dove is not alone when it comes to doing damage control over racially insensitive ads. In 2017, Nivea pulled an ad for its “Invisible for Black and White” deodorant that featured a woman sitting on a bed, her back to the camera, and her long, dark brown hair cascading down a white outfit above the tagline, “WHITE IS PURITY.”  This ad, supported by White supremacist groups who stated, “‘Nivea has chosen our side’” (Tsang), followed the controversy of the company’s 2011 Nivea for Men ad showing a groomed, Black male model holding the head of his former self with an afro and beard with the tagline, “Re-civilize yourself,” across his body (Aronowitz). The 2017 ad, posted to Nivea’s Middle Eastern Facebook page, reflects how marketing language for skin-whitening beauty products varies globally, with ads across South, Southeast, and East Asia associating whiter skin with confidence, attractiveness, and marriageability whereas ads in North America promote similar products that “‘brighten’” skin and help it to become more “‘radiant’” (Koul). The difference is not that North American audiences are “less racist” or “less obsessed with whiteness as the highest form of beauty,” but that they are more concerned about “appear[ing] racist” (Koul).

On the other hand, the thoughtlessness of Dove’s postracial rhetoric is also evident in the company’s disengagement with its own relationship to a global skin lightening market. Koul’s claim about the desire not to “appear racist” might explain some consumer reactions to Dove’s muddled attempts at aligning itself with protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by White Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020.8 The company participated in #BlackoutTuesday on June 2, 2020, which began in the music industry as a “proposed day of reflection” and rapidly evolved into a social media movement during which individuals and other brands posted black squares across Instagram and other platforms (Coscarelli). While some people posted messages of thanks for Dove’s support, others called attention to Dove’s affiliation with its parent company, Unilever, which sells skin-whitening products like Fair and Lovely in over 40 countries (Conor). When Dove tried to deflect the accusation by stating, “we do not sell skin lightening products” (Dove, “@roberta.camara”), one commenter responded with, “of course you can say you don’t make skin lightening products. Explain your relationship with Unilever” (cassilla927). What these consumer critiques allude to is that Dove’s “real beauty” message “seems skin-deep when it fails to penetrate into the pores of its parent company and its subsidiaries” (Conor).

Other replies to Dove’s black square post correspond to a larger criticism of #BlackoutTuesday, which was seen by some as a way for both individuals and brands to perform allyship without making consistent efforts towards addressing and reforming systemic, institutionalized racism. As Tariro Mzezewa, a Black travel reporter who participated in a discussion about #BlackoutTuesday for the Style section of The New York Times put it, “they post, but with no real intention of listening, learning, donating, protesting or helping beyond the post. The post makes them feel like they’ve done their part” (The New York Times). Some reactions to Dove’s black square reflect similar skepticism with one commenter remarking, “Nice post and all but are there any actions taking place towards the cause?” (x.vivii.xix, “Nice post and all…”) Dove’s answer to posts like these (including ones pointing to its relationship with Unilever) was to refer to its newest campaign, Project #ShowUs, which curates stock photos from women and non-binary individuals to “offer a more inclusive vision of beauty to all media & advertisers” (Dove, “Project #ShowUs”). Although well-intentioned, this campaign arguably boosts Dove’s profit margins more so than anti-racist efforts, as indicated by x.vivii.xix’s reply: “If you’re only mentioning those [initiatives] attached to the Dove name it’s more like a PR move with the benefactors being your stock holders and not actually the cause at hand” (“@dove that’s nice”). 

Ultimately, this exchange between Dove and its online audience reveals the limitations of advancing genuine, systemic change within the context of feminist consumerism. Consumer responses show how Dove’s “corporate cosmetic approach” fails to adopt an authentic feminist approach to disrupting White beauty ideals that would “challenge beauty norms, include women across the color spectrum, enable women to resist using skin lighteners, affirm diversity in skin tone, and honor the range of embodied existence” (Taylor et al. 133). Instead, its various ads hinge on the notion of “compulsory beauty” that centers more on individual improvements (through purchasing Dove’s beauty products) versus participating in collective social justice movements (Taylor et al. 128, 134). This understanding of beauty is also largely not self-generated by women, particularly Black women and others of color, considering the requests on Dove’s black square asking the company to provide numbers on how many Black women number among its executives. Still, women acknowledge that campaigns like Dove’s are “‘better than nothing’” and that “ethical consumption” or “making social and environmental change through targeted purchasing” is possible to some degree (Taylor et al. 140).

Dove’s feminist consumerist approach to tackling hegemonic beauty expectations also does not align with the goals of Black women’s empowerment, which include ensuring their autonomy, valuing their self-definitions, and “fostering social justice in a transnational context” (Collins 309). To truly challenge intersecting oppressions of race, gender, and weight stigma, empowerment must go hand-in-hand with self-definition that can be used to “replace controlling images” of Black women (111). As Collins states, “ceding the power of self-definition to others, no matter how well-meaning or supportive of Black women they may be, in essence replicates existing power hierarchies” (40). Littlefield agrees, arguing that a forum is needed in which to have conversations about Black female and male stereotypes in the media and that “an attention to community education that educates young Black women, Black men, and the overall community is the only context that will have any meaning for social justice” (683). Self-definition is a vital component in creating “alternative modes of ‘making it’” (Littlefield 683) for not just Black women, but for all marginalized groups. In identifying these alternative definitions to “beauty” beyond corporate ones, we as consumers can move beyond considerations of how companies like Dove are “losing control” of their postracial narratives towards recognizing and acting on the ways we respond, resist, and contribute to them.


  1. The truthfulness behind this statement has been contested. In the May 12, 2008, issue of The New Yorker, Pascal Dangin, “premier retoucher of fashion photographs,” described “retouching” the photos of Dove’s ProAge campaign “‘to keep everyone’s skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive’” (qtd. in Collins, “Pixel Perfect”). He later clarified that his changes were “limited to color correction and dust removal” (Nolan, “Dove Denies New Yorker Hypocrisy Allegations”).
  2.  By intersectionality, I refer to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of the “intersecting patterns of racism and sexism” that Black women often experience (1243). Nash has argued that this concept lacks a clear definition and methodology, uses Black women as “prototypical intersectional subjects,” and obscures whether intersectional identities can be claimed by all or the “multiply marginalized” (4, 9). However, Collins’ articulation of a matrix domination that refers to “how these intersecting oppressions are actually organized” (21) and is connected to a Black feminist epistemology offers a wider applicability of intersectionality and a method of studying it.
  3. In this article, I capitalize “Black” to signify “not just a color” but also “a history and the racial identity of Black Americans.” I capitalize “White” because “to not name ‘White’ as a race is, in fact, an anti-Black act which frames Whiteness as both neutral and the standard” (Nguyễn and Pendleton). Because I am examining the involvement and representation of cisgender women in the CFRB, I acknowledge that this analysis does not include the full spectrum of gender identities. Non-binary and transgender people also experience erasure and discrimination in (beauty) advertising, but a full discussion of these particular experiences is beyond the scope of this article.
  4. For instance, Paul calls postracialism “an empty rhetoric” at best and at worst “the insidious denial of continued racism” (702).
  5. Similar to Glenn, I capitalize Other here and in the rest of the article to signify “an individual or group who has been or is being marginalized from another, that is being ‘othered’” (Jackson II and Hogg 527). Collins adds that Black women’s “objectification as the Other denies us the protections that White skin, maleness, and wealth confer” (276). Collins’ observation often applies to other non-White racial groups as well.
  6. Like Fikkan and Rothblum, I “use the term ‘fat,’ as it is descriptive, whereas the term ‘overweight’ implies unfavourable comparison to a normative standard and ‘obese’ is a medical term with its own negative connotations” (576).
  7.  Although further discussion of these intersecting factors is outside the scope of this article, more scholarship is needed about the relationship between Black women, their weight, and their mental health as weight stigma not only influences who is (and is not) included within definitions of “beauty,” but also who is (and is not) considered “at risk” for body disorders (Beauboeuf-Lafontant; Williamson; Ofosu et al.; Thompson; Root). 
  8. At the time of this writing, Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter with respect to Floyd’s death (Associated Press). Nearly two weeks before Floyd’s death, Louisville police officers acting on a no-knock warrant forced their way into the apartment of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black emergency room technician, and shot her several times, killing her (Oppel Jr. & Taylor). Subsequently, calls have been made to include attention to Taylor’s death to raise more awareness about police violence against Black women (Ryan). 

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CFP: On Race, Feminism, and Rhetoric


The fact of the matter is, we wouldn’t have any feminism worth thinking about or writing about without the work of feminists of color. They have pushed feminism to be better and do better since the beginning. However, these feminists often are not afforded the credit they deserve for creating feminist spaces and demanding change within them. During the Suffrage Movement it was Sojourner Truth’s speech, “Ain’t I a Woman,” at the Women’s Rights Convention, Akron, Ohio, in 1851 that demanded we recognize the voices and perspectives of all women. The work that Black women, lesbians and working class women did to push the mainstream white middle class feminism of the 1970s to speak across race, class, and sexuality made feminism stronger. Feminists of color in the 1970s writing in anthologies like This Bridge Called My Back, Home Girls, and But Some of Us Are Brave started building a third wave of feminism before the 1990s gave us the Third Wave. And it was a young Black woman named Rebecca Walker who first proclaimed “we are the third wave.” In short, it has always been the voices of feminists of color that pushed feminist movements to realize the radical notion that all womxn are people. In this issue, we are looking for scholarly complications to the discourse around white feminism that historically approach the idea: Feminism has never really been white.

This contemporary moment, perhaps more than any other has shown us the relevance and importance of race, feminism and rhetoric. The current global pandemic has put a spotlight on institutionalized inequities around race, class and gender. The on-going protests and unrest around police brutality and murders have forced us to come to terms with the meaning of solidarity and coalition in the struggle. Extreme nationalism has ripped children from the arms of their parents and placed them in cages going against every fiber of the founding lies of the United States. The recent election and the fact that yet again over 50% of the white women who voted cast their vote for Donald Trump has made clear that assumed alliances around gender are not to be taken for granted when we add race to the mix. Now more than ever we need to be in nuanced and critical conversations on race, feminism, and rhetoric.

From Fair Fight Now to the Black Lives Matter Movement, Black women have been the driving force behind the change we need in America today. In the wake of the 2020 US elections, we need to have more conversations about how feminists of color combat the normalization of the refusal to transfer power, concede losses, and acknowledge the truth. Like we saw with the Women’s March controversy, we can not continue to tolerate feminists of color being pushed to the margins in the spaces we created. This bridge can no longer be our backs. As “The Squad” on Capitol Hill grows to include even more women of color voices, we need to make space for complex conversations around what diversity and equality really means while continuing to hold our leadership accountable to the progress we have made. Now is not the time for half-measures, talking points for views, and conservative approaches. We need to center the voices of feminists of color who are doing the work to ensure our feminist futures. We hope that the essays in this special issue will help shed light on all the important and nuanced ways that race, feminism and rhetoric intersect across time, in this moment, and around the world.


The editors invite articles, manifestos, and alternative works that consider, but are not limited to, the following questions and topics:

  • Rethinking Intersectionality Rhetorically
  • Global Feminisms (Transnational Feminism, Afrodiasporic and African Feminisms, IndigenousFeminism, Latinx Feminisms, Arab Feminisms)
  • Histories of Women of Color Feminisms
  • Models of political activism, like “The Squad”
  • Allies, Coalitions, Solidarity in the Struggle
  • Interrogating whiteness through gender and class
  • Black Lives Matter/Say Her Name
  • Rhetorical histories and the legacies of raced and gendered rhetoric
  • Anti-Racist Feminisms
  • Complicating conversations around human rights (women’s rights, trans womxn’s rights, immigrant rights)
  • The Phyllis Schlafly Effect and Why We Never Expect that 50% of White Women Will Act Against Solidarity
  • Re-examinations of Civil Rights
  • Marches and Uprisings
  • Feminist Pasts/Feminist Futures
  • Racing Digital Feminisms
  • Race and Inequities in Medicine
  • Race, Ability, and Disability
  • Black women theorizing and giving us the language to name our oppression (from intersectionality to misogynoir and beyond)
  • Race and Transgender Rhetorics

Submission Details & Timeline

Please send completed articles, manifestos, and book reviews. We are also open to accepting alternative formats such as digital, audio, and visual compositions. All submissions should be emailed to both editors, Gwendolyn D. Pough <> and Stephanie Jones <>, by January 30, 2021. Peer review will occur during the winter of 2021, Revisions will be due in the spring of 2021, and the anticipated publication date will be summer of 2021.

Review of Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope

Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope. Southern Illinois UP, 2018. 296 pages.

I began work on this review of Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope in the summer of 2020 feeling distinctly devoid of hope. Outside of the academy, people were dying—from illness, from state-sanctioned violence. They still are. I felt cynical: What was I doing studying rhetoric? Why did it matter at a time like this? I had a hard time answering these questions while isolated during quarantine. I was suffering from the misconception that the subjects we treat as academic inquiries are somehow separate from the activist commitments that drive us. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope points out that these divisions are artificial by providing necessary insight into how the field of feminist rhetoric emerged and, more importantly, how it can be used right now to advocate for social justice projects.

Cheryl Glenn leverages her experience with research, teaching, and administrative work to give her readers a look into what it means to live a feminist life as a rhetorical scholar. Her concept of rhetorical feminism serves as the connective tissue for this book. In her introduction, she identifies rhetorical feminism instead as “a theoretical stance—that is responsive to the ideology that is feminism and to the key strategy that is feminist rhetoric” and is “[a]nchored in hope,” a critical touchstone for the book—and for those of us living through crisis (4). She differentiates rhetorical feminism from feminist rhetoric, which she instead defines as “a set of long established practices that advocates a political position of rights and responsibilities that certainly includes the equality of women and Others” (3). While these two terms may initially seem interchangeable, they are symbiotic; rhetorical feminism is the principle that guides the use of feminist rhetoric that creates material change. Glenn reminds readers that rhetoric ought to “do something,” and she shows how feminist rhetoric can carry out rhetorical feminism’s vision of the hope for a more equitable future that recognizes the value of all voices, especially the ones that have been most marginalized in the past (4, emphasis in orig.). This reminder is what makes the text stand out amongst other works in the field. Glenn’s articulation of rhetorical feminism offers us a cogent way of making the discipline of rhetoric more inclusive and is a crucial read for anyone wondering what rhetoric should do in our everyday practices. In the spirit of rhetorical feminism, this book is not argumentative. Instead, Glenn asks us to listen as she presents her decades of experience and shows readers how rhetorical feminism should exist in all facets of academia. As such, Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope is an essential read for anyone new to the field and an important reminder to veteran scholars. Glenn’s book reviews the work we have done as feminist rhetorical scholars and points out the work we must continue to do to enact our commitments to inclusivity and justice.

Chapter one, “Activism,” reveals how rhetorical feminism has guided activists historically. Glenn begins her analysis with the U.S. suffrage movement and ends with Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Highlighting exemplars, or “Sister Rhetors,” who used feminist rhetoric in service of their activism, Glenn calls attention to rhetorical feminism’s long-standing advocacy in pursuit of the Aristotelian concept of eudaimonia, “the greatest good for all human beings” (5). She analyzes the speeches of Black and white suffragists, such as Maria W. Stewart, Angelina Grimké, Lucretia Mott, and Sojourner Truth, to show how they disidentified with hegemonic prescriptions of womanhood to argue for their enfranchisement. While this chapter touches on the racial schisms in the suffrage movement, further exploration of the political fissures that historically dissolved the alliance between African American suffragists and white women may be useful for clarifying current challenges around how rhetorical feminists can make differences a point of understanding, not contention. Nevertheless, by looking to the present moment at the end of this chapter, Glenn reminds us that it is imperative to build on activist legacies to secure real democratic equality in the U.S. With the November election looming and with the ongoing uprisings in pursuit of racial justice, this reminder of how rhetoric can serve activist goals feels especially urgent.

The second chapter, “Identities,” focuses on rhetorical feminism’s grounding in experience and, consequently, the obstacles to and possibilities for coalition-building across difference. The underlying question of “Identities” is not just who speaks but who they speak for and who is listened to. Glenn highlights the role of agency and audience as they relate to identity in different rhetorical strategies for coalition-building, She demonstrates the important challenges in actualizing these theories with historical examples of how feminists disidentify with each other, most notably Audre Lorde’s public critique of Mary Daly. Glenn points out that white feminists must prioritize “the rhetorical feminist precepts of silence and listening to Others” and acknowledge the limits of their experience without erasing different identities (42). Only with this mutual communication can rhetorical feminists form coalition around what they have in common while accepting the gravity of their experiential differences and “come together in their advocacy of human rights and social justice” (46). This is an especially timely reminder to white feminist rhetoricians, myself included, who must prioritize being effective allies to our BIPOC peers. Glenn’s acknowledgment of the epistemic potential of identity grounds the rest of the book’s exploration of rhetorical feminism as she repeatedly returns to the role that identity plays in determining the efficacy of one’s rhetorical actions. This insight urges rhetorical scholars to remain attentive to how the experience that underlies all rhetorical action is always informed by an embodied sense of identity. This principle can act as guiding force for our field, both professionally and in our activism.

Chapters three and four, “Theories” and “Methods and Methodologies,” focus on the disciplinary development of rhetorical feminism. “Theories” begins with the suggestion that “mainstream rhetorical theories remain mostly untouched by feminism,” leading Glenn to point out the main “conceptual actions” of rhetorical feminism in a loose taxonomy (50; 51). These conceptual actions include disidentification with hegemony, transformation of traditionally masculinist rhetorical tactics like argument and objectivity, reimagined uses of rhetorical appeals, and new methods of delivery. Glenn captures the breadth of these feminist rhetorical theories by drawing from a wide range of feminist scholars (Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Trinh T. Minh-ha, and Krista Ratcliffe to name just a few), highlighting the enormity of the work already done in this area. These theories each emphasize speaking from experience, emotion, silence, listening, and dialogue as core components of feminist rhetorical styles. This chapter’s identification of these theoretical movements can help us create a more expansive understanding of what rhetoric is and what it can do. “Methods and Methodologies” explores how rhetorical feminists carry these theories out in their work. This chapter focuses mostly on historical inquiry, drawing on Glenn’s background in feminist rhetorical history. She highlights Jacqueline Jones Royster’s and Gesa Kirsch’s ideas of critical imagination, strategic contemplation, social circulation, and globalization as the key practices that guide historical recovery while also pointing to the need for feminist historiography that questions accepted histories and reimagines the rhetorical tradition. Glenn also emphasizes the ethical imperative to listen to others involved in qualitative research, namely ethnography and interviews. Taken together, these chapters instruct researchers on how feminist precepts already are, and should continue to be, present in all facets of rhetorical scholarship.

In the second half of the book, Glenn switches from her examination of rhetorical feminism’s foundations to explore its guiding presence in other academic actions. In her meditations on rhetorical feminism’s place in our teaching, mentoring, and administrative work, Glenn reveals how we can use our rhetorical orientations to change the institutions we are a part of, a critical lesson for our current moment. Chapter five, “Teaching,” begins with a bleak, but honest, review of the state of education in the U.S. Perhaps because of this grim account of dwindling funding, program cuts, and the erasure of tenure, Glenn insists, “teaching is hope embodied. It is a forward-looking endeavor, one that has the power to change lives—our own, our students’” (125). Glenn suggests that rhetorical feminist teachers should acknowledge their own positionality, respect students’ experiences, and help students investigate patriarchy and other compounding injustices in the world. Equipped with this background, students are prepared “to develop rhetorical agency” and change the status quo, prompting us to see how our work matters and how our political commitments can guide our professional actions (148). Similarly, Glenn’s sixth chapter, “Mentoring,” calls attention to this essential component of academia and asks readers to practice alternatives to traditional, master-apprentice models of mentoring. She highlights how rhetorical feminist mentoring is non-hierarchical, mutual, and networked. It relies on real, supportive relationships built on honesty and shared trust. Glenn also points out that such mentoring is the way rhetorical feminists give each other hope and make space for each other in what has traditionally been a privileged and exclusionary white, male space. Chapter seven, “(Writing Program) Administration,” offers Glenn’s own experience securing new hiring lines and guiding curricular changes while directing the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Pennsylvania State University as an example for how rhetorical feminism can make real, material changes in higher education. She balances the “feminization” of composition that leads female scholars to languish in an overworked, undervalued position and the “demands of a masculinist academy” with the possibility that WPAs can leverage their rhetorical savvy and expertise for more resources and inclusive education (176; 179). The basis of this work is collaboration, communication using silence and listening, and “mutual understanding” (186).

The final chapter, “This Thing Called Hope,” resists arriving at a neat conclusion, which is one of its greatest strengths. Glenn spends much of this conclusion ruminating on the consequences of the Trump presidency. She asks readers to wonder with her about what hope might look like in this political moment. She points to disciplinary successes of rhetorical feminism but suggests that this work is not done. There are more possibilities for inclusive scholarship, intersectional coalitions, and better teaching and mentorship. That potential, she implies, is “this thing called hope” that we must all work towards together (212). While this book is a valuable read for anyone already invested in the overlap between feminism and rhetorical studies—indeed, for any feminist pursuing rhetorical studies and hoping to work in academia, as “Mentoring” aptly shows—it is also the summation of decades of work in rhetorical feminism, making it a worthwhile read for the field at large that may be less aware of these histories and ongoing work. Additionally, any student who is new to rhetorical studies can benefit from this thorough synthesis of the pitfalls and successes of our rhetorical feminist forerunners. When the constant motions of research, teaching, and service wears us down, Glenn’s book reminds us why we do this work. As such, it is an incredible resource for those of us who seek to use our rhetorical repertoires to make changes in the world, whether this is in the classroom, in our day-to-day interactions, or in our marches. 

In the two years since the publication of Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope, the future has become increasingly uncertain. Now, more than ever, hope is necessary. Glenn’s book urges us all to practice our rhetorical feminism: to listen, for example, when we hear people urge that Black Lives Matter, to be allies and amplify those voices, and to use all of the means available to us to make change in our world. Why study rhetoric? What can rhetoric do? It can help us enact ethical change if we use it well. Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope encourages to shed our naivety about the past and the present and to build on the work of other rhetorical feminists to create a more just future. It dares us to hope.

Review of Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education

VanHaitsma, Pamela. Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education. U of South Carolina P, 2019. 162 pages.

We read Pamela VanHaitsma’s Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education as two feminists, a student and a teacher, both queer women embarking on queer archival research projects. We studied VanHaitsma’s book in order to develop our own methods for queer archival research. VanHaitsma addresses many of the questions that we grapple with in our own work: How can we engage in archival research of queer lives when queerness has been systematically silenced? How can we interpret queerness in the past without projecting our contemporary standards? What interpretive practices can researchers adopt to attune to queer rhetorics in the archives? To answer these inquiries, VanHaitsma draws upon previous feminist and queer methodologies and, through her own research, demonstrates how to apply them.

VanHaitsma’s Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age: A Rhetorical Education demonstrates that queer romantic letter writing builds upon heteronormative standards in ways that resist binaries between public and private, erotic and civic, to queer traditional genre expectations. VanHaitsma invites readers to consider queer romantic letters as rich sites of rhetorical education and civic participation. Further, she offers readers a methodology for queer archival research: “Methodologically queering binary distinctions between public and private life, my archival research turns historiographic attention to romantic engagement while exploring its civic implications within instruction and practice” (21). Her work of “methodologically queering binary distinctions” has a long precedent in both queer rhetorics and feminist research methods, upon which VanHaitsma builds her methodology.

Queering Romantic Engagement expands upon previous work in queer rhetorics and contributes to an emerging conversation on queer archival methodologies. Serving as an important grounding for queer rhetorics, Jean Bessette’s queer rhetoric in situ pairs queer theory and rhetorical analysis to effectively analyze queer rhetorical practices across historical contexts. In her article, Bessette defines queer rhetorics in historical and cultural contexts that identify both the dominant norms and what it means to queer those norms. Bessette’s approach to queer rhetoric has been important for queer scholars who need to define queer within historical contexts. Further, Bessette’s book, Retroactivism in the Lesbian Archives, is important for understanding the constructed, curated nature of archives and for theorizing lesbian identity through archival materials.

One of the most important contributions to queer archival research can be found in KJ Rawson’s archival theories and archival work on the Digital Transgender Archive. Rawson identifies the rhetorical and political significance of archival infrastructure, metadata, and access. This is important because Rawson identifies how heteronormative logic erases queer experiences and at the same time reimagines and rebuilds archives to make queer lives and experiences accessible to scholars. Of course, VanHaitsma’s own previous work has already outlined a queer methodology that includes gossip, genre analysis, and storytelling. From this work, she demonstrates her deep commitment to methodologies that resist stable definition and encourage imaginative interpretation. Released in the same year as Queering Romantic Engagement, Ames Hawking’s These Are Love(d) Letters similarly offers a queer archival methodology that breaks distinctions between personal and public, past and present, text and author. In addition, Hawkings performs the queer genre-bending that VanHaitsma identifies a feature of queer rhetorics.

In this review, we first offer these key terms that are central to VanHaitsma’s queer archival methodology:

  • Queer Failure: By failing at heteronormative instructions and genres, writers make visible how literacy practices discipline hetero norms and how writers can recreate and invent new queer rhetorics. (pg. 45-48)
  • Queer Practices: Actions, relations, and practices themselves are defined as queer, which allows an archival researcher to identify queer rhetorics without imposing an identity category that a person did not chose for themselves. (pg. 10-14)
  • Queer in Context: Each genre, situation, and archive is placed in historical context, first outlining the hetero standard in order to feature queer failures and queer inventions.
  • Queer Intersectionality: Queer rhetorics are defined in relation to intersections of oppression that include race, class, and gender. (pg. 61-63)


How does [instruction in language arts] enable nonnormative, or queer, rhetorical practices and romantic relations? (9)

As detailed among the key terms listed above, VanHaitsma’s preface and introduction emphasize the book’s interest in queer practices rather than identities. By studying more than forty 19th-century letter writing manuals, VanHaitsma considers how such sites of romantic epistolary education established the norms from which some writers queerly departed. As she notes, the queer writers she studies employed “rhetorical practices that were unconventional in their transgressions of generic boundaries while pursuing nonnormative romantic relations” (13). Additionally, she identifies queer writers as learners whose “romantic communication [is] a form of rhetoric, one with intimate as well as social dimensions” (15). VanHaitsma describes her own methodological practices as queer, noting her work’s insistence that the personal and romantic cannot be considered totally separate from the field of rhetoric’s emphasis on civic engagement as the primary purpose of rhetorical education. By turning to romantic engagement as a locus of rhetorical education, she “[queers] binary distinctions between public and private life” (21).

VanHaitsma stresses that queer archival methods must always work against both archival and historical erasure—take, for example, the tendency for historians to assume that erotic and romantic letter writing among same-sex couples was primarily a form of affectionate friendship. VanHaitsma names this erasure and dedicates her archival research to recovering the erotic and romantic.

Chapter 1: Norming and Failing

How might we critically imagine still other possibilities for pedagogical, rhetorical, and queer failures? (47)

VanHaitsma’s first methodological move is to identify a normative frame against which she later contrasts the queer rhetorical practices of her historical subjects. Chapter One, “‘The Language of the heart’: Genre Instruction in Heteronormative Relations,” defines the norms of heteronormative romantic epistolary engagement. By analyzing manuals that taught 19th-century readers how to write letters for social and romantic purposes, VanHaitsma determines that these norms include heartfelt yet crafted expression, gendered address, restraint, and an explicit purpose of letter-writing towards marriage. The chapter follows Jean Bessette in placing queer rhetoric in situ, crucially emphasizing context and convention. By defining heteronormative conventions, VanHaitsma is able to then identify queer rhetorics specifically within this context and thereby avoid any overreach that may frame queerness as a stable or objective term.

VanHaitsma then identifies moments of queer rhetorical practice even within the letter-writing handbooks. She asks, “How might we critically imagine still other possibilities for pedagogical, rhetorical, and queer failures within complete letter writers and across nineteenth-century manual culture?” (47) and “when desires and relations are queer within the context of contemporaneous conventions, how do people fail ‘exceptionally well’ by learning to compose nonnormative relations from the models, genres, and practices available to them?” (102). These questions guide her queer archival methodology in this chapter. In order to identify queer rhetorics within otherwise heteronormative letter-writing handbooks, VanHaitsma models methods of queer archival research by pairing critical imagination (Royster) and queer failure (Halbastram; Wait). She takes note of “hints,” suggestions, slippages, ellipses, and openings within the archives that could have been adopted for queer romantic engagement. VanHaitsma asks readers to “imagine this learner as a woman in a same-sex, cross-class relationship,” to think outside the literal text and towards what could have been (40). Later, she reads between the lines of model “skeleton” letters and speculates how writers could have reinvented this writing instruction towards queer ends.

Chapter 2: Rhetorical and Romantic

[H]ow we might complicate interpretations of romantic letters through greater attention to the ways they are evidence of rhetorical instruction and practice as much as they are of romantic feelings and relations[?] (72)

Turning towards archival examples that defy and queer the hetero norms espoused by letter-writing manuals, VanHaitsma’s second chapter focuses on the romantic epistolary exchange between “two freeborn African American women, Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus” (49). The romantic undercurrent of Brown and Primus’ correspondence was not their only departure from the norms established by the manuals. The women engaged in queer practices, addressing one another with terms that denoted friendship, familial relations, and romantic affection. They also broke from the “straight time” practice of caution and moderation advocated by letter writing handbooks. Instead, their correspondence was urgent and intense and not oriented toward marriage. Perhaps most importantly, the women’s romantic epistolary rhetoric strayed, topically, from that which was acceptable in heteronormative romantic letters of the time—Brown’s letters to Primus were at times erotic, even describing flirtations with and attractions to other women, as well as political, with “information and commentary about racial politics” existing within and alongside expressions of “more conventional romantic longing” (61-62).

Central to VanHaitsma’s approach is her deliberate attention to “‘everyday’ people” (49), and, specifically, Black women, whose rhetorical contributions have historically been under-researched and erased. VanHaitsma quotes scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin in order to emphasize that Brown and Primus’ correspondence addressed both the personal and the civic and, crucially, was concerned with racial uplift: “Brown and Primus were ‘women who loved each other romantically’ but ‘who were no less committed (in fact, were more committed than most) to the struggle for black freedom and progress’ (7)” (51). Moreover, she keeps the fact that Brown and Primus’ relationship was one that crossed class lines at the forefront, and she pays particular attention to Brown’s exclusion from formal education, highlighting the ways in which Brown was self-educated.

Chapter 3: Queering Genres

How might we read such texts within the context of not only genre-specific instruction but also networks of other related genres? (98)

In the following chapter, VanHaitsma turns her attention to a college-educated white male writer, who would have been a normative audience of the letter-writing manuals, but who nevertheless also engaged in nonnormative, queer rhetorical practices. Chapter Three studies the commonplace book-turned-diary of Albert Dodd, a document VanHaitsma considers “both multigene and epistolary: as taking the form of multiple genres other than the letter, yet functioning according to an epistolary logic of address to and exchange with readers” (75). This use of the diary was genre-queer, she argues, not only because of its switch from an academic genre into a personal genre, but because it functioned as “a site of rhetorical invention” (90) where Dodd developed and practiced romantic epistolary address to both men and women. The diary also demonstrates that Dodd drew upon his classical rhetorical education to inform his civic and romantic writing. In the diary, he introduces homoerotic ideas and writing from the classical era, concepts that Dodd used to understand and explore his own sexuality through self-rhetorical writing practices.

VanHaitsma’s methodological attention to genre allows her to counter popular interpretations that deny any possibility of homosexual desire within Dodd’s only other extant writings, three familial letters from later in his life. VanHaitsma argues that previous scholars fail to take into account the clear differences in genre between the personal diary and the familial letter and their corresponding audiences. While she does not assign a sexual identity to Dodd, her interpretation of the genre differences opens possibilities of queer romantic and erotic practices in his post-college years—which is to say, the fact that Dodd does not mention any romantic attachments in his letters to family may indicate more about the letters’ audience than it does the realities of his romantic or sexual life. Accordingly, VanHaitsma calls for increased attention to genre on the part of scholars working with epistolary rhetoric, asking, “How might we read such texts within the context of not only genre-specific instruction but also networks of other related genres?” (98).

Concluding Towards Failure

 When desires and relations are queer within the context of contemporaneous conventions, how do people fail “exceptionally well” by learning to compose nonnormative relations from the models, genres, and practices available to them? (102)

VanHaitsma concludes with the chapter that most explicitly addresses her methodological commitments to queer archival research. Again, she posits questions that can guide future researchers, including, “When desires and relations are queer within the context of contemporaneous conventions, how do people fail ‘exceptionally well’ by learning to compose nonnormative relations from the models, genres, and practices available to them?” (102). With this question, VanHaitsma connects imagination and failure through the act of invention. She describes Brown, Primus, and Dodd as “learners who failed by the heteronormative standards within their given historical contexts and, in so doing, revealed the failures of heteronormative rhetorical education” (100). By extension, she suggests, queer failure also makes visible the failures of heteronormative archives and histories and creates space for novelty, surprise, and creativity. In this way, queer failure is also queer invention.

She ends by centering queer failure within queer methodologies. The goal is never to master queer theory, to apply it perfectly and perform it the same each time. Rather, she invites us to fail well and fail in interesting ways. And with each beautiful failure, she encourages us to be inventively queer.

To that end, this book could most immediately be included in graduate courses on queer theory and queer rhetorics. More broadly, any course that teaches or integrates archival research methods would benefit by including Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age in its curriculum. We believe that all scholars of rhetoric can benefit from VanHaitsma’s queer archival methods. She invites scholars to think capaciously and creatively about archival research and the interpretation of affect within archival materials. Importantly, her approach to queering archival methods can open up new lines of questioning, highlight new relationships, and enliven the research of any scholar whose research subject has been systematically erased from archival history.

Moving Forward | Queer Movement: The Next Steps

Our dear readers, we invite you to take up Queering Romantic Engagement in the Postal Age as a model of queer archival research. Flirt with the texts. Look for the intimate and public touching and the erotic and political aligning. Remember that genres are ours for the taking, breaking, and remaking. We hope you fail queerly and with joy.  


Amelia and Trish

Works Cited

  • Bessette, Jean. “Queer rhetoric in situ.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 148-164.
  • Bessette, Jean. Retroactivism in the Lesbian Archives: Composing Pasts and Futures. SIU Press, 2018.
  • Halberstam, Jack. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke UP, 2011.
  • Hawkins, Ames. These are Love(d) Letters. Wayne State UP, 2019.
  • Morris, Charles E., and K. J. Rawson. “Queer archives/archival queers.” Theorizing histories of rhetoric. Southern Illinois UP, 2013. pp. 74-89.
  • Rawson, K. J. “Rhetorical History 2.0: Toward a Digital Transgender Archive.” Enculturation, vol. 16., no. 9, 2013.
  • Rawson, K. J. “The Rhetorical Power of Archival Description: Classifying Images of Gender Transgression.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 48, no. 4, 2018, pp. 327-351.
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones. Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change among African American Women. U of Pittsburgh P, 2000.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Queering the Language of the Heart: Romantic letters, genre instruction, and rhetorical practice.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 1, 2014, pp. 6-24.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Gossip as rhetorical methodology for queer and feminist historiography.” Rhetoric Review, vol.  35, no. 2, 2016, pp. 135-147.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Stories of Straightening Up: Reading Femmes in the Archives of Romantic Friendship.” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, vol. 6, no. 3, 2019, pp. 1-24.
  • VanHaitsma, Pamela. “Digital LGBTQ Archives as Sites of Public Memory and Pedagogy.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 22, no. 2, 2019 pp. 253-280.