Selvedge Rhetorics and Material Memory

Donna Haraway and Sharon Traweek teach us that when we tell stories these are performative…there is no important difference between stories and materials. Or, to put it a little differently: stories, effective stories, perform themselves into the material world—yes, in the form of social relations, but also in the form of machines, architectural arrangements, bodies, and all the rest.” – John Law, “On the Subject of the Object” 

Introduction 

Peitho readers who work with fabric materials are likely aware of the “selvedge,” the final edge of a bolt of fabric that is both warp and weft that keeps it from fraying. Selvedges, coming from “self-edge,” represent a moment in material making in fabric production that is finite and finished. It is true that most often selvedges are thrown away, the edge of a bolt of fabric that is not like the rest. It provides information like manufacturers’ names, dye runs from light to dark known as color registrations (or more colloquially “traffic lights,” as that is what they resemble), or particular pattern numbers or designers’ names. Yet each of these, I argue here, also functions accretively as a textual addition to the fabric itself. These throwaway pieces have been used contemporarily by fabric workers of all sorts as a way to repurpose and make use of scraps and often take contemporary forms as rag rugs, quilts, handbags, pillows, placemats. Rather than focus on selvedge repurposing, however, instead I focus on the ways that selvedges can reveal a particular life to the material that allows materials themselves to point a researcher towards interesting questions, histories, connections, and recoveries.  Selvedges, as material-rhetorical practices, advance our ability to affectively think-with objects as a way to engage with material feminism in service of social justice work. 

Material Practices and Accretive Methods: Theoretical Framing 

The notion that the material is central to the life of feminist recovery work is not new. Indeed, to “read” fabric as I do in this short piece brings together insights put forward by feminist scholars, rhetorical scholars, new material and posthuman scholars, decolonial scholars, and scholars doing work at the forefront of crafting and maker communities. In her Key Concept Statement, “Material,” published in Peitho in 2015, Elizabeth Fleitz details the centrality of material practices, bodies, material conditions, objects, and spaces to women’s rhetorics. Since Flietz’ statement was published, an abundance of work has pointed attention to this emergent commonplace. This is evidenced by scholarship that has examined material-rhetorical rendering of the vibrant networks that surround both objects and identity politics.  

Such examples of this scholarship abound: Sarah Hallenbeck’s  work on bicycles as “active creators and shapers of new arguments” surrounding women’s bodies in the nineteenth century (198); Minahan and Cox’s examination of cyberfeminist roots of the “reclaiming of feminine craft” through Stitch’nBitch clubs (Minahan and Cox 10); and Kirtz’s reconsideration of collaborative fiber arts movements that examine textiles as data storage are all models of the intertwining between feminism and the material. Working with textiles in particular offers up a re-materialization of making, considering that contemporary mass industrial sewing practices dematerialize those who labor to create them—primarily women and girls working in the textile industry (see in particular Propen; Cloud). To that end, it is my aim to join not only in ongoing conversations around fabric and textile-oriented scholarship that engages making (see, for example, Shivers-McNair), quilting (see Arellano), and feminist material objects (see Goggin, Sohan), but also to join scholars like Iris Ruiz and Sonia Arellano in participating in productive calls to engage with tactile and haptic rhetorics to contribute to alternate ways of knowing that might better “facilitate knowledge production in positive ways for marginalized people” (151).  As they assert, and as Arellano extends with her conception of feminist-materialist Quilting as Method (QAM), quilting in particular materially joins intellectual and creative labor, resulting in different kinds of knowledge production (Ruiz and Arellano 158). Peripheral materials such as selvedges, literally marginal to quilting, can contribute in small but significant ways to thinking about feminist material-rhetorical practices and the histories they invoke. I aim to showcase here how one example of textile making can engage in processes of reclamation—not of the histories of migrant laborers, as Ruiz and Arellano do—but of women and girls who disappear in recounting traditional history of the textile industry in contemporary documents, such as those that appear on websites and in marketing materials. 

This turn to craft as revealing important intersections between material, agency, power, and ethics is captured by Leigh Gruwell’s Making Matters: Craft, Ethics, and New Materialism, in which she turns to craftivism in particular to demonstrate the relationships between material, women, and political life. Craft, she argues—and more specifically, the agency that craft exerts on makers, technologies, artifacts, and relationships—serves to “illuminate the interdependence of materiality, power, and rhetorical action” (6). Thus, to engage seriously with scholars working in areas of both decolonial and new material theory, revisiting our methods and widening our approach to materials can be a careful extension of this line of thinking. 

I have argued elsewhere that examining an artifact not just as part of a system of things or a mediator of knowledge allows for “tactics for invention which emphasize networks over discrete discursive elements” (Clary-Lemon, “Museums”). Such a framework allows for an examination of the depth of textual circulation and emergent contexts, both present and past. I have also argued that materials themselves—like finding aids in archives—play a major agentive part in shaping our research questions and methods (Clary-Lemon, “Archival”). In other words, to borrow from Law’s epigraph, I’ve found it central in these cases to examine how stories perform themselves into the material world. In both cases I have found Vicki Tolar Burton’s notion of rhetorical accretion, adapted into a research method, particularly useful.  

Burton defines rhetorical accretion as “the process of layering additional texts over and around the original text” (547). Much as an oyster builds up accreted layers of nacre over an irritant to create a pearl, or the way layers of light gather around a black hole to create a luminous disk, allowing us to infer its existence, examining discursive-material artifacts like fabric selvedges in this way give us both a starting place and a methodological grounding to our analyses. We might read accreted layers around an object, like a fabric selvedge, that are myriad:  material (in the makeup of cotton, dye, and shuttle loom machinery), tactile (in the making and touching of a fabric project), affective (in our feelings as we engage in making or engage in research recovery), discursive (in the layers of new text, meaning, or context we discover), cultural and historical (in situating materials in a particular place and time), and social and embodied (in recognition of the relationships which make up the making and examination of the project). A scholar performing a material analysis might take any one of these layers as a way in to feminist recovery work. In the remainder of this piece, I forward an accretive analysis of one  particular selvedge in a single quilt square. 

Affective and Embodied Domains: Selvedge Meaning-Making 

To situate this discussion, I turn to the social, embodied, tactile, and affective domains of a selvedge project, and later turn to its historical and cultural traces. It begins with a 12-selvedge quilted square that was pieced and sewn by my mother, Ramona Mattix (see Figure 1). The amalgamated quilt square is made of twelve individual selvedges. While this short article examines only one selvedge in the square, it should be noted that there are countless ways that a researcher might examine such an artifact: 

Figure 1: 7×7 Quilted Selvedge Square Made from 12 Fabric Selvedges. Image description: a square of fabric selvedge strips. The strips are neutral colors (white, tan, beige, black) on top, with a colorful print strip toward the middle containing a line of 14 hearts, each in a color from the print, and more neutral selvedge strips in the bottom half in animal print. The lines of text on the selvedges read (from top to bottom) “Edwards of NORTHCOTT www.northcott.com,” “Timeless Treasures ® For Hi-Fashion Fabric,” “© All Rights Reserved PATT # WILD-C 2047,” and “Cranston Print Works Co. Printed in the U.S.A. www.cranstonvillage.” The rest of the URL is cut in order to fit the square

As I looked closely at each selvedge and used these pieces as an impetus for research, additional layers of rhetorical meaning emerged: company names and websites (“northcott.com”); copyrights and registered trademarks (©, ®); pattern numbers (“PATT # WILD-C 2047”); designers’ names (Judy & Judel Niemeyer”); and color registrations showing the numerical order in which the dye was applied to the fabric (“traffic lights” and rainbow hearts). While it is true that any number of these discursive details might be found, for example, in print documents—online advertisements, sewing or pattern booklets—my point here is to focus attention on the material itself. These are our finding tools of fabric archives, and a testament to material-discursive arguments.  

Any number of these clues might be taken up to “read” fabric in particular ways to understand the textual amalgamation and accreted rhetorical layers that make up this one, re-pieced square, yet it’s also important to note the research value of affectual proximity—what Solberg defines as “the intellectual and emotional investments and orientations that drive a researcher’s choice of topic” (67)—or what Sara Ahmed more eloquently describes in her article “Happy Objects,” as how we are “touched by what we are near” (30). Fabric—and those who work with it, bring it close, create with it and give it as gifts of love and labor—constructs a particular affectual proximity. I am close to this 7×7 inch square of fabric because I am close to my mother, and those proximities have relationally and affectively shaped my choice of research design. It affects why I sit writing this piece today, why I’m connecting it citationally to others the way that I am, and exerts a kind of “craft agency” (Gruwell 7) on me that both points me toward its most discursive bits, and allows for historical analysis to come.  As a rhetorician, I am drawn to the most discursive selvedge in the square, the bottom strip which reads “Cranston Print Works Co.,” which points me to a textile manufacturer located in Cranston, Rhode Island, and to a particular small piece of recovery work, which the next few pages reveal. 

Historical and Cultural Traces: Fabric as Archive 

Scholars doing work in the area of women’s labor history and early industrialization, particularly in New England, will be somewhat familiar with the role that the “Lowell Mills” of Massachusetts played in the American Industrial revolution. It gave rise to the “mill girls,” rural women who would move to cities to work in textile mills but had to spend most of their income on boardinghouse fees. These histories gave rise to some of the first female workers’ unions in the United States in the late 1840s. However, before the Waltham-Lowell power loom methods were adopted in Massachusetts, placing the entire process of textile manufacturing under one roof, there was an industrial precursor. That precursor existed in Rhode Island with the emigration of Samuel Slater from England in 1789. Slater, known as “Slater the traitor” in the UK for developing new spinning and carding techniques stolen from Richard Arkwright in England, owned many small mills (known later as “Slater Mills”) all over Rhode Island, one of which, the Old Green Mill, later became the Cranston Print Works Company (“Our History”). 

We collectively know that textile manufacturing has long been a feminized workplace of questionable safety.  The Rhode Island Slater mills, like the Cranston Print Works Company, show us a similarly problematic historic backbone to our love for warp and weft. Gail Fowler Mohanty notes that “the introduction of spinning, roving, and carding mechanisms in the late 18th century served as a catalyst for changes in workshop management” (5) and used spinning frames, namely the Arkwright model that Slater imported, with which to do so. The Rhode Island mills often relied on “hand-spun cotton, woolen, or linen warp” (6), and thus different parts of the carding, spinning, and weaving processes would take place in different locations, unlike large-scale manufacturing offered by the power loom. These two models manifested a long-seated rivalry between the Rhode Island and Massachusetts systems: the industrial water-powered mills in Massachusetts which had the capacity to run the power looms by women under one roof, and the smaller, dispersed cottage system of the Rhode Island mills. Thus in order to employ factory labor to run the various new machines in the Rhode Island system, Slater’s brainchild was to employ child labor, particularly children living in poverty between the ages of 7 and 12 working 12-16 hours a day, six days a week with a forced “Sunday School” on the 7th day (Tucker 22).  

The Slater Mills, and in particular the Cranston Print Works’ historical evolution from them, draws our attention from the common narrative of women working in large textile factories and instead toward rural poor children given room and board in lieu of wages and forced to attend religious school. Although histories of the industrial revolution suggest farm children were raised on hard work (see Simonds, Stearns), they were not in any way raised for exploitation. Like other histories of trauma and abuse that become paved over and sanitized in favor of master narrative of progress—Slater has been called the “father of the Industrial Revolution”— histories of capitalism and industrialization tend to tout the revolutionary nature of the power loom in manufacturing without actually touching a story of sending a seven-year-old child to work, often through the night, operating dangerous machinery. 

Of course, this system became untenable as families complained about the lack of wages and the treatment of their children, which included whipping and other corporeal punishment. Thus, Slater turned to what is now deemed the “family system” of labor, a deeply patriarchal system dependent on the notion of a male householder who “owns” familial women and children. Under the village, or “Rhode Island System,” a rather sanguine “Early Industrialization in the Northeast” open-access U.S. History text has this to say: 

…families were hired. The father was placed in charge of the family unit, and he directed the labor of his wife and children. Instead of being paid in cash, [often] the father was given “credit” equal to the extent of his family’s labor that could be redeemed in the form of rent (of company-owned housing) or goods from the company-owned store.  

Such compensation in the family system is represented by Figure 2, taken from Edith Abbot’s “A Study of the Early History of Child Labor in America,” which she culled from an 1815 manufacturing memorandum book from Poignaud and Plant Papers. 

Figure 2: Compensation from the Family System (Abbot 28) Image description: a written table of salaries for each member of a family. One section of the table is a list of salaries of a man and his children. The family members’ names, ages, and relations are written on the left side of each line, and a series of dots separates the person from the salary amount. The top section reads: Himself $5.00, His son Robert Rier, 10 years of age 0.83, Daughter Mary, 12 years of age 1.25, Son William, 13 years of age 1.50, Son Michael, 16 years of age 2.00. Underneath Michael’s salary is a line and the total for the family, 10.58. The bottom section reads: His sister, Abigail Smith 2.33, Her daughter Sally, 8 years of age 0.75, Son Samuel, 13 years of age 1.50. Underneath Samuel’s salary is a line and the total for Abigail and her children: 4.58.

While men were valued the most highly, they did not work alongside their children, but rather, negotiated terms of their employment and collected their wages (Tucker 22). In supplanting manufacturers’ discipline for fathers’ and husbands’, as Tucker notes, the Slater system “sought to strengthen patriarchy, not challenge it” (22). In 1817, ten years after what is now the Cranston Print Works Company opened, the Niles Register (a weekly national magazine of some import) noted that “the work of manufacture[r]s does not demand able-bodied men…but ‘is now better done by little girls from six to twelve years old’ (qtd. In Abbott 24). Because of the Slater village system, Rhode Island led the nation in child labor throughout the 19th century.i It should be noted, too, that before child labor laws were introduced, these children were whipped and slapped for failure to perform or for falling asleep in their 12-14 hour workday (which was often followed by household chores and evening school), often worked without access to bathrooms, and were not allowed to sit down while working (Tucker 23; Abbott 33). [1] 

Layers of Fabric, Layers of Meaning: A Conclusion 

So what impact does such a discursive-material rhetorical reading have on feminist rhetorical work? In part, it is central to recover the difficult histories of labor and who is affected by those untold stories that rest in materials in order to work against simple narratives of progress. The Cranston Print Works Company has a history, as all industrial textile mills do, that is obscured today. Its current company website lauds Slater’s life and work, highlighting words like “expansion” and “innovation;” yet a different story is made available by a particular kind of affective proximity to the material and an accretive research process. It also helps us recover specific directions for reconsideration of women’s histories and marginalized communities that add to our already existing rhetorical histories of labor mills and women’s work (see Propen; Cloud). Although many are familiar with contemporary and historical connections between the poor conditions of textile work and the living conditions of women (at least in the late 18th century and early 19th century) women had far more comparative agency than those who remain the most invisible and vulnerable in the histories of textile work: children, particularly those living in poverty, or, by the 1840s, immigrant children. What working with textiles and materials in the form of selvedges may allow us is a tactile entryway into a history of an industrial colonization of families and an extension and solidification of a dominating patriarchal system that preyed on the defenseless: children raised to be both obedient and deferent to those they trusted.  

My point is not to suggest that an examination of every selvedge, or every scrap, or every craft might necessarily lead to such recovery work. Still, the possibility of material agency’s exertion on rhetorical work—even in the smallest of artifacts—is nonetheless one worth reconsidering.  When we research such traces, such object-stories, we are brought closer to suffering, to outrage, to deep sadness. As Ahmed suggests, we are “moved by things” (33). What material-rhetorical research allows is an account of such movement; an account of how we might generate a small window into connecting present and past in the spirit of feminist recovery and reconsideration. In urges us to consider differently the layering together of subject and object, to ask complex questions of our research processes. For example, how might we use contemporary or historic selvedge fabrics as starting points to trace not only the histories of child labor in a patriarchal system, but the emergence and decline of textile manufacture as they responded to women’s rising power in production? How might we imagine selvedge and other fabric research as part of what might bring us closer to other recovered histories: of cotton dust into lungs, the affects of chemical carcinogens in dyes, of bodies maimed by roving frames? How might we use material to pay closer attention to bodies, material conditions, spaces, and women’s rhetorics? And how might this kind of research help us understand that there is no important difference between stories and materials? It is central to recover in these fabric archives the bodies who have labored to produce them. 

End Note 

[1]An 1831 Friends of Industry report chronicled that of 4,691 children working in cotton factories in New England, 3,472 of them were from Rhode Island (Abbott 30).  

Works Cited 

Abbott, Edith. “A Study of the Early History of Child Labor in America. American Journal of Sociology, vol. 14, no. 1, 1908, pp. 15-37. 

Ahmed, Sarah. “Happy Objects.” The Affect Theory Reader, edited by Melissa Gregg and  

Gregory J. Seigworth, Duke UP, 2010, pp. 29-51. 

Arellano, Sonia. “Quilting as a Qualitative, Feminist Research Method: Expanding Understandings of Migrant Deaths.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 41, no. 1, 2022, pp. 17-30. 

Burton (Collins), Vicki Tolar. “The Speaker Respoken: Material Rhetoric as Feminist Methodology.” College English, vol.  61, no. 5, 1999, pp. 545-73. 

Clary-Lemon, Jennifer. “Museums as Material: Experiential Landscapes and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.” Enculturation, vol. 20, December 2015, http://enculturation.net/museums-as-material  

—. “Archival Research Processes: A Case for Material Methods.” Rhetoric Review vol. 33, no. 4, 2014, pp. 381-402. 

Cloud, Dana L. “The Null Persona: Race and the Rhetoric of Silence in the Uprising of ’34.”  Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 2, no. 2, 1999, pp. 177-209. 

“Early Industrialization in the Northeast.” U.S History, OpenStax College. OSCRice University,  7 May 2014. http://pressbooks-dev.oer.hawaii.edu/ushistory/chapter/early-industrialization-in-the-northeast/  

Fleitz, Elizabeth. “Material” Key Concept Statement. Peitho, vol. 18, no. 1, 2015, pp. 34-8, https://cfshrc.org/article/material/. 

Goggin, Maureen Daly. “Visual Rhetoric in Pens of Steel and Inks of Silk: Challenging the Great Visual/Verbal divide.” Defining Visual Rhetorics, edited by Charles A. Hill and Marguerite Helmers, Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004, pp. 87-110. 

Gruwell, Leigh. Making Matters: Craft, Ethics, and New Materialist Rhetorics. Utah State UP, 2022.

Hallenback, Sarah. “Objects, Material Commonplaces, and the Invention of the ‘New Woman.’”  Rhetoric, through Everyday Things, edited by Scot Barnett and Casey Boyle, U of Alabama P, 2016, pp. 197-211. 

Kirtz, Jaime Lee. “Textiles and Technology: Needlework as Data Storage and Feminist Process.”  Feminist Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman and Lisa Rhody, U of Illinois P, 2022, in press. 

Law, John. “On the Subject of the Object: Narrative, Technology, and Interpellation.”  Configurations, vol. 8, no. 1, 2000, pp. 1-29. 

Minahan, Stella, and Julie Wolfram Cox. “Stitch’nBitch: Cyberfeminism, a Third Place and the New Materiality.” Journal of Material Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 5-21. 

Mohanty, Gail Fowler. “Experimentation in Textile Technology, 1788-1790, and its Impact on  Handloom Weaving and Weavers in Rhode Island.” Technology and Culture, vol. 29, no. 1, 1988, pp. 1-31. 

“Our History.” Cranston Print Works Company. 2019. http://cpw.com/sample-page/  

Propen, Amy D. “‘I Have Sometimes Seen the White Cloth Winding over the Rollers … And I Have Thought it Beautiful’: Reading the Mill Girls’ Narratives as Artifacts of Material Rhetoric.” Material Culture Review, vol. 77 78,  2013, pp. 107-122. 

Ruiz, Iris D., and Sonia C. Arellano. “La Cultura Nos Cura: Reclaiming Decolonial Epistemologies through Medicinal History and Quilting as Method.” Rhetorics Elsewhere and Otherwise: Contested Modernities, Decolonial Visions, edited by Romeo García and Damián Baca, NCTE, 2019, pp. 141-68. 

Simonds, Christopher. Samuel Slater’s Mill and the Industrial Revolution. Silver Burdett, 1990. 

Stearns, Peter N. The Industrial Revolution in World History. Westview, 2013.  

Solberg, Janine. “Googling the Archive: Digital Tools and the Practice of History.” Advances in the History of Rhetoric, vol. 15, no. 1, 2012, pp. 53-76.  

Shivers-McNair, Ann. Making, Marking, Mattering: What We Can Learn about Writing, Rhetoric, and Technology from a Makerspace. 2017. U of Washington, PhD Dissertation.  

Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. “But a Quilt is More: Recontextualizing the Discourse(s) of Gee’s Bend Quilts.” College English, vol. 77, no. 4, 2015, pp. 294-316. 

Tucker, Barbara M. “Liberty Is Exploitation: The Force of Tradition in Early Manufacturing.” OAH Magazine of History, vol. 19, no. 3, 2005, pp. 21-4. 

SCUM Manifesto as a Rhetoric of Domination

You are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it. -bell hooks 

Feminism has brought me language, liberation, and purpose. That’s not to say it doesn’t come with challenging questions and contradictions. Feminism continues to be a contentious ideology, within and beyond feminist discourse. If we are to understand and embody feminism as a politics of equity, I believe we need to sort out some baggage. This article responds to Sarah Ahmed’s call to think about feminist futures by tending to legacies of feminist pasts. For rhetoricians, reflecting on historic texts from a contemporary feminist viewpoint can create the space to consider how rhetorical and communicative choices align with or contradict the values of an ongoing movement. In this analysis, I consider the implications of positioning Solanas and the SCUM Manifesto as representatives of feminist resistance in contemporary critical feminist discourse. In what follows, I argue that this feminist rhetorical analysis of Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto [2] reveals ethical pitfalls for a rhetoric of feminist resistance. By enacting compliance, manipulation, rebellion, and withdrawal, the manifesto reproduces a rhetoric of domination that confirms, rather than challenges, the power of hegemony (Foss and Griffin). Solanas’ attempt to transpose oppression and dominance on the gender binary does not actually change the conditions of the social apparatus. Rather, it maintains violence and sexism as key organizing functions of society. This attempt to subvert the status quo is undone by the maintenance of a rhetoric of domination–she entangles her feminine rage with the persuasive power of oppressive linguistic practices. 

I come to SCUM Manifesto as a budding scholar interested in the space between feminism, femininity, and popular culture rhetorics. In contemporary mainstream media, Valerie Solanas has resurfaced as a feature and a historical reference in popular culture. Solanas was first immortalized in I Killed Andy Warhol, a film by Mary Harron first screened at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival and shown again at the 66th Berlin International Film Festival in February 2016. Lena Dunham played Solanas on an episode of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story: Cult (2017), entitled “Valerie Solanas Died for Your Sins: Scumbag,” where her character served as a plot device to expose the continued presence of feminist rage in the sociopolitical climate. Swedish author Sara Stridsberg published Valerie: or, The Faculty of Dreams: Amendment to the Theory of Sexuality (released in English in 2020), a historical fiction novel inspired by Solanas, preceded by a play entitled Valerie Jean Solanas for President of America (2006). Goodreads.com features SCUM Manifesto at number 81 in the list of top 100 “Best Feminist Books” among authors like Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Gloria Anzaldua, George Eliot, Audre Lorde, and Toni Morrison to name a few. Publishers continue to profit off of the manifesto with a celebratory tone. Avital Ronell’s reconsideration of the text was published by Verso Books in 2004, bringing SCUM into conversation with Derrida’s “The Ends of Man” (written in the same year) and Judith Butler’s Excitable Speech. AK Press published a version introduced by Michelle Tea in 2013 as “classic is a call to action.” Despite the fifty-year time lapse, Solanas continues to surface as an icon in contemporary feminist resistance efforts. 

As a result of her notoriety, SCUM[3] Manifesto has had a tumultuous rhetorical life, translated for global readership, heralded by some as and condemned by others. Valerie Solanas’ life was characterized by a series of extremes: She was abused by her parents and grandparents, became a truant, and had a child taken away by social services all before graduating high school (Latson; Ott). Carrying her traumas, she earned a psychology degree with honors from the University of Maryland and pursued some graduate school (Latson; Ott). Clearly, she was a person with intellect, ambition, and grit. If SCUM wasn’t complicated enough in its message, it was further complicated by Solanas’ attempted murder of Andy Warhol one year after its completion[4]. The attempt was informed in part by Solanas’ suspicion that Warhol was planning to plagiarize a screenplay she’d asked him to produce entitled Up Your Ass (Pruitt). Solanas’ message, tone, and her steadfast ownership of it had a polarizing effect on the Women’s Liberation movement and shaped the Radical Feminist Movement[5] (Fahs).  

Radical feminism became a social movement that advocated for a radical reconstitution of society and the elimination of male supremacy in all socioeconomic contexts. According to Ellen Willis, a prominent radical feminist activist and theorist, radical feminists understood society as inherently patriarchal. The objectives of radical feminism were to abolish patriarchy by pressurizing 1) capitalism as an institution and 2) the sexual objectification of women as a social norm. Tactics to reach the objectives included raising public awareness about issues such as rape and violence against women and to challenging the concept of gender roles so that anatomical differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally (Willis). With this in mind, this article comes from a question of values: How do strategies of communication affect the alignment of the message with the shared values of a social movement? What happens when the message is distorted by rhetorical choices? I believe it is important to check in with historical figures and artifacts as society learns (and unlearns). This practice is important for conscientious reproduction of rhetorical praxis and for determining how we construct a critical feminist lineage (Ahmed).  

I make a critical choice in my engagement with SCUM Manifesto by choosing to analyze it at face-value. That is, in a sea of satirical uptakes of the manifesto, this response operates from the perception of Solanas’ attempted assassination of Warhol, an influential male artist, as proof of her dedication to the beliefs represented in the document. If critics dismiss this event (perhaps in a case of “life imitating art”), it is possible to make arguments for the manifesto as a site of resistance through rhetorical tropes such as parrhesia and diatribe (Kennedy). Ahmed herself has appraised SCUM as a feminist snap, as an affective manifesto that draws power from its own literalism. But what’s missing from the analysis of language, form, and rhetoric within Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto is a sense of accountability from a feminist perspective—rather than the heterosexist, patriarchal dismissal of Solanas’ power and rage. On the contrary, this analysis is necessitated precisely because of Solanas’ powerful and influential rage, a rage that need not be undermined or diluted by layers of perceived irony and satire.  

Manifestos and Rage 

Sara Ahmed suggests the concept of a feminist snap as a requirement of feminist praxis—that feminists must utilize their rage to enact social change. “From a shattering,” she writes, “a story can be told, one that finds in fragility the source of a connection” (183). In other words, affinities may emerge from a snap. According to her, the snap may manifest as a willingness to snap bonds that no longer serve, a site of feminist work where the violences of experience become visible, and a form of optimism without attaching specific future outcomes (194). “We snap. We snap under the weight; things break. A manifesto is written out of feminist snap. A manifesto is feminist snap,” says Ahmed (255). Feminist movements have procured manifestos for the cause since the suffrage movement (Campbell 1989). If there was ever a time for Solanas to procure SCUM, it was the 1960’s, a time where manifestos were a main mode of feminist communication.  

As a rhetorical genre, manifestos are commonly recognized as a declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of their creators. Other radical feminist texts include the New York Radical Feminists’ “Politics of the Ego: A Manifesto,” “Redstockings Manifesto,” and Kate Millet’s “Sexual Politics: A Manifesto for Revolution.” Interestingly, these examples are representations of a collective with a specific mission. Solanas’ individual enactment of the manifesto genre embodies a neoliberal, phallogocentric style of the manifesto misaligned with a satirical reading. With SCUM’s references to the status quo situated in 1967 U.S. society, principles for a new distribution of power pertaining only to women, and protocol for enforcement including murder of the non-compliant (Solanas 14), Solanas chose a form that would forward her ideas as social action (Miller).  

With Solanas composing in a genre used to inscribe patriarchy into society since the 1600’s, I note that her writing may be constrained by the genre of the manifesto itself–including the often hyperbolic tone that the genre engenders. Kimber C. Pearce argues that “generic appropriation” may constrain feminist rhetoric “to the prior discourse of the patriarchy to which they were opposed” (307). She uses generic appropriation here to mean “making over and setting apart” as one’s own substantive, stylistic, and situational rhetorical form (307). Through the notion of generic appropriation, I recognize that Solanas’ language may have been shaped by the conventions of the manifesto even if her intention was to diverge from them. In turn, Solanas makes an attempt to subvert the genre, yet employs rhetorical devices that preclude her intention to resist. While I recognize this aspect of generic constraints, they should not be cited as a means to see all rhetorical artifacts in a positive (or redeemable) light. It is important to listen beyond any shocking assertions in order to identify how the artifact functions as a product of patriarchy.  

As a feminist, I can understand how and why SCUM came into existence and recognize its power. In Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, Soraya Chemaly’s points to a commonality among women who experience rage: They have faced the phenomena of open dismissal and pathologization of their anger[6]. When men display anger, it reaffirms gender norms and traditional assumptions of masculinity—business as usual. What typically follows is rewards: men gain power from reproducing these assumptions of masculinity, often despite the effect of their anger on others. It follows that when women express anger, they transgress gender norms (defying the agreeable object role historically assigned to women), resulting in powerlessness. Feeling powerless is distressing, conditioning women against expressing their anger in the future and toward a mode of communication that prioritizes the comfort of others. Clearly, something has to change. This is the reason that feminist rage, along with feminine rage in general, needs to be visible and appreciated as a justified human reaction. Texts like SCUM provide rich ground to examine the presence of such feeling but, as a reader, I’m left wondering what I am supposed to take away from the text in terms of next steps for feminist activism. As a rhetorician, I have concerns about alienating potential allies and inspiring hatred.  

With a compassion for the personal and historical context in which Solanas authored SCUM, it is useful to frame the manifesto as an Ahmedian feminist snap. Solanas had endured long-spanning and varied trauma that shaped her perception of the world—and created within her a burning rage. As Ahmed states, ​​ “A [feminist] snap is not a starting point, but a snap can be the start of something” (194). Often met with violent consequences, physical or otherwise, women have come to understand the costs of displaying anger and are compelled to reconstitute, disregard, redirect, or minimize it. As an embodied experience, anger takes up cognitive real estate and will manifest in bodily reactions such as short temperedness, discontent, and an impairment of overall health. This “anger feedback loop” is often a direct implication of unacknowledged social injustice (Chemaly). All one has to do is wait for the…SNAP.  

Rhetoric of Domination   

As feminists, we are responsible for the circulation of our politics and we need to be aware of the ways in which our politics will be used against us. Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin reveal hermeneutic and ideological boundaries that limit the possibilities for rhetorical feminism (331). They understand Aristotelian rhetoric, or rhetoric-as-persuasion, as a conscious intent to change others, which is centered on competition and dominance. A rhetoric of domination constitutes patriarchy, where “some people are less valuable than others” (335). According to Foss and Griffin, patriarchy does not recognize inherent worth in people; value must be “earned, achieved, or granted” and is measured “only in relation to some outside standard” (336). That is, one’s adherence to the unwritten rules of belief, attitude, and behavior that constitute civility in patriarchy shapes the perception of the already raced, sexed, and gendered subject[7]. Critical to the functioning of patriarchy is a hierarchical structure that controls and oppresses ways of knowing and ways of being in the world (335). Foss and Griffin characterize a rhetoric of domination with four primary rhetorical strategies that “confirm the power of the system” (336): Compliance, manipulation, rebellion, and withdrawal. In what follows, I define and trace these rhetorical strategies to expose the way Solanas builds a rhetoric of domination in the SCUM Manifesto.  

While I explore the use of all four rhetorical strategies in the composition of the text, I do not believe they are all equally deployed or equally impactful. Rather, my goal is to thoroughly demonstrate a multitude of pitfalls that Solanas succumbs to in the making of the manifesto and the implications of uncritical subversion. It is also worth mentioning that this analysis does not take issue with the presence, the guiding light, of rage. After all, as Soraya Chemaly writes, “Anger isn’t what gets in our way — it is our way. All we have to do is own it.” This analysis hinges on a difference between leveraging rage toward patriarchy and condemning all male-presenting persons. It is possible to assess each instance of male subjugation as a critique of patriarchal values. However, without maintaining patriarchy as an institution that prescribes power dynamics between the genders, one would find themselves, as Solanas has, forwarding eugenics under the guise of a feminist snap. Feminist criticism hinges on an understanding of patriarchy as a cultural hegemony responsible for the systemic oppression of non-males[8], not simply an intentional and individualized domination of women (Becker; Freedman; Offen).  

Compliance 

Foss and Griffin define compliance in a rhetorical context as “acquiescence to the requirements of the system” (336). In other words, a compliant rhetor judges and responds to a rhetorical situation on the basis of patriarchal standards. In her attempt to persuade readers to join the SCUM movement, I identify argumentum ad hominem as one stylistic technique through which compliance operates. By personally attacking the interlocutor on the basis of perceived character, this technique represents compliance with patriarchy because it functions on the basis that there is a “better” sex and that there exists a male essence. Solanas’ attacks on her opposition preclude a possibility for her manifesto to embody the feminist value of equity by disenfranchising the entire male population through a definition of maleness as an irreparable, non-human condition.  

Argumentum ad hominem[9] (Greek; “argument to the person”) has a long history in the rhetorical tradition. While there are various forms that this device can take, such as circumstantial or tu quoque, the form of relevance to this assessment of the SCUM Manifesto is defined by Graciela M. Chichi as the abusive type. She writes, “the…‘abusive’ variant of the ad hominem-fallacy, which is a dialogue move, but not an argument” consists of a personal attack on the interlocutor (334). It is particularly striking that this rhetorical choice is not regarded as an argument, rather as a baseless attack on the opposition based on their perceived character or social group; in this case, the opposing argument is not considered at all (Chichi 342). Solanas may have relied on argumentum ad hominem as a persuasive strategy because she could not identify an argument that all individual male-presenting persons make. Rather than refer to patriarchy, an identifiable system of oppression, she essentializes “male” as the source of female oppression.  

There are several identifiable instances of argumentum ad hominem in the manifesto, especially in the introductory sections. Within her attacks, I identify exaggerated statements (hyperbole), that I imagine Solanas used to enhance her “argument.” However, rather than enhance her point, I argue that her employment of hyperbole in conjunction with argumentum ad hominem serves to essentialize her opposition (in this case, males). From a contemporary feminist standpoint, this move undercuts her credibility as a feminist rhetor and aligns her with a system that does not recognize inherent value in all beings. Solanas writes: 

The male is completely egocentric, trapped inside himself, incapable of empathizing or identifying with others, or love, friendship, affection of tenderness. He is a completely isolated unit, incapable of rapport with anyone. His responses are entirely visceral, not cerebral; his intelligence is a mere tool in the services of his drives and needs; he is incapable of mental passion, mental interaction; he can’t relate to anything other than his own physical sensations. (1)

In this section, she begins to describe the consequences of the “biological accident” that are males (1). Rather than defining “maleness” as a socially-constructed and performative identity category, she writes that “maleness is a deficiency disease and males are emotional cripples” (1).   It follows that her language in this passage would be constructed through the negative, or a lack, save for the use of the adverbs “completely” and “entirely.” I hear these adverbs as hyperbolic hinges for her prescribed constituents of maleness. If her manifesto was written as a response to patriarchy, she would be able to define it as a hegemonic power structure. However, since her manifesto is an opposition to all male-presenting persons, she binds herself by this definition that does not account for intersectional manifestations of personhood, a core value of contemporary feminist praxis—and one that applies to men!  

While intersectionality (Crenshaw) entered feminist discourse about twenty years after she wrote the manifesto, it is also useful to point to the way she bound herself in the context of radical feminism. Intersectionality conceived as theory, methodology, heuristic, or all three, has unleashed an astoundingly fertile and interdisciplinary archive of feminist critical inquiry at this new standard. Deborah L. Rhode’s “Feminist Critical Theories” identifies two central commitments addressed across feminist analytical frameworks: 1) They seek to promote equity between sexes and 2) they seek to identify the fundamental social transformations necessary for full equity between the sexes. Both Freedman and Rhode underscore values that, as Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin say, construct a feminist rhetorical theory which “challenge[s] the reality the system has created” (336). Rhode’s exploration is useful for contemporary feminist rhetorical analysis because her study was constructed to “underscore the importance of multiple frameworks that avoid universal or essentialist claims and that yield concrete strategies for social change” (619). By bringing together frameworks that maintain validation of subjectivity and recognition that identity comes from a matrix of systems, Freedman and Rhode’s thinking inform this study as an exigence to yield useful principles for intersectional feminist research that grapples with activism and social movements.  

If one objective of the radical feminist movement was to challenge the concept of gender roles so that genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally (Willis), a biologically-determined understanding of maleness serves to reify the position that sex and gender are genetic predispositions that determine personalities. With Solanas basing her argument on males as a biological accident from the beginning of the text, she continuously relies on the binary of female-male that, along with the normalization of gender roles and compulsory heteronormativity, is imbricated in patriarchy. Thus, I argue that the basis of her argument reifies the binary opposition that defines identity and relationships in patriarchal society. This compliance results in a failure to resist patriarchy and capitulates to anti-feminist rhetoric. 

Manipulation 

Foss and Griffin define manipulation in this context as a delusion of control when a rhetor believes they are not complying with the system, but still accept the system’s terms, unspoken rules, and values. In other words, a manipulative rhetor will attempt to redress the conditions of the system to suit their needs or desires. In this case, I identify dehumanization as a rhetorical device through which manipulation operates in the manifesto. For example, equating a person or population to pests, deadly animals, parasites, disease, filth, zombies, or demons would qualify as dehumanization (Szilagyi). By shifting a focus away from systemic inequity and oppression, onto males as non-human succubi, Solanas’ message preys on the reader’s capacity to empathize with male-presenting persons. Dehumanizing rhetoric employs terms that interpolate different groups of people as any number of non-human beings that have a particularly negative connotation.  

In SCUM, Solanas graduates from using animal metaphors, to genocide, and finally to eugenics as a means for social change. For example, Solanas writes: 

He is trapped in a twilight zone halfway between humans and apes, and is far worse off than the apes because, unlike the apes, he is capable of a large array of negative feelings—hate, jealousy, contempt, disgust, guilt, shame, doubt—and moreover, he is aware of what he is and what he isn’t. (1) 

In this passage, she makes the case that men are not apes because they possess a self-awareness and a nuanced emotional capacity. In general, this kind of rhetoric supports the diminishment of boundaries between verbal abuse and physical abuse by influencing the way people think and act toward each other. In fact, she draws comparisons between male-presenting persons and apes at three separate occasions throughout her manifesto. In some cases, she utilizes the metaphor to draw physical comparison; in other cases, she employs the metaphor to illustrate a minimized IQ. Another animal-based metaphor she takes up is comparing male-presenting persons to dogs at two occasions in her work. At one point, she writes: 

Just as humans have a prior right to existence over dogs by virtue of being more highly evolved and having a superior consciousness, so women have a prior right to existence over men. The elimination of any male is, therefore, a righteous and good act, an act highly beneficial to women as well as an act of mercy. (12) 

In this passage, she crosses the line from dehumanization to genocide. This statement blatantly forwards the superiority of one sex over the other as a way to disenfranchise that “lesser” sex. With one sex having the right to live over the other, Solanas frames genocide as an advisable path toward revolution. Implicit in this passage is the notion that this genocide would come from a place of compassion and charity. By laying out the groundwork that men are sub-human, she begins to reduce the ability for the reader to relate to the “apes” and “dogs” to which she refers. This manipulative language aims to deceive the reader from their own morality in order to justify SCUM’s agenda.  

Eventually, Solanas moves away from animal metaphors and speaks in terms of degeneration, referring to deterioration that can only be prevented through the eradication of the invasive actor (Szilagyi). Solanas posits: 

As for the issue of whether or not to continue to reproduce males, it doesn’t follow that because the male, like disease, has always existed among us that he should continue to exist. When genetic control is possible— and soon it will be—it goes without saying that we should produce only whole, complete beings, not physical defects of deficiencies, including emotional deficiencies, such as maleness. Just as the deliberate production of blind people would be highly immoral, so would be the deliberate production of emotional cripples. (12) 

In this passage, Solanas discusses the birth of male babies in terms of pathology, with eugenics as a viable cure for the degeneration of society. However, male presenting persons are not the only population implicated in the statement. By stating that “whole, complete beings” are the only ones with a right to life, she negates the worth of disabled persons. Solanas has demonstrated that she does not believe in the immanent worth of all people, and this section shows that she does not believe in a person’s right to life either. By devaluing subjectivities that stem from a diversity of lived experiences, Solanas aligns herself with patriarchal notions of abstract objectivity and ableism. In short, arguing for eugenics separates this work from artifacts that represent feminist ideology.  

Rebellion 

Foss and Griffin define rebellion in a rhetorical context as a refusal or challenge that counterproductively serves to harm the rebel, rather than the system (336). In Solanas’ endeavor to persuade readers that males are worthy only of extinction, I identify calls to violence as one way rebellion manifests in this particular case. In her attempt to justify genocide and eugenics, Solanas contradicts her own stance against violence that she frames as a rudimentary male stimulant. Throughout the manifesto, Solanas spends time condemning men for their obsession with violence as a phallocentric compensation for the sexual satisfaction they cannot attain as “incomplete females” (1). She writes: 

The male’s normal compensation for not being female, namely, getting his Big Gun off, is grossly inadequate, as he can get it off only a very limited number of times; so he gets it off on a really massive scale, and proves to the entire world that he’s a ‘Man’. Since he has no compassion or ability to empathize or identify, proving his manhood is worth an endless amount of mutilation and suffering and an endless number of lives, including his own—his own life being worthless, he would rather go out in a blaze of glory than to plod grimly on for fifty more years. (“War” 2).  

Since males are aware that “men are women and women are men” (2), Solanas argues that they are motivated to prove their manhood and choose violences as a means to do so. In protest, she frames compassion and relatability as valuable characteristics, which prevent the need for violence toward the self or others. Solanas argues that women are superior to men largely in part for their emotional competency, which I hear as an essential understanding of an affective female, or feminine, disposition. At any rate, SCUM forwards that males are “completely physical” (1) without these characteristics and seek to “get off” as a compulsory response to avoid passivity and their true womanhood (2). Her unproductive subversition of maleness and femaleness serves to reify the subjugated, subordinate, and inferior position of femaleness in the system of patriarchy. Thus, violence is a defense against the desire to be female. 

Later in the work, Solanas writes:  

The male is eaten up with tension, with frustration at not being female, at not being capable of ever achieving satisfaction or pleasure of any kind; eaten up with hate—not rational hate that is directed at those who abuse or insult you—but irrational, indiscriminate hate… hatred, at bottom, of his own worthless self. Gratuitous violence, besides ‘proving’ he’s a ‘Man’, serves as an outlet for his hate and, in addition—the male being capable only of sexual responses and needing very strong stimuli to stimulate his half-dead self—provides him with a little sexual thrill. (“Hatred and Violence” 11) 

In this section, she identifies “indiscriminate hate” born from self-loathing as the root of “gratuitous violence.” Throughout the manifesto, she juxtaposes the male or incomplete female to “groovy chicks” whose “function is to relate, groove, love and be herself, irreplaceable by anyone else” (5). I problematize her binary by extrapolating that if groovy chicks love themselves, then there is no need to turn to violence as an outlet for hate. If groovy chicks believe they are irreplaceable, then they won’t feel the need to “go out in a blaze of glory” (2). If her differentiation between male women and female men is based in self-worth, SCUM’s rebellion as a destructive killing mob collapses the opportunity for female empowerment outside of a patriarchal structure by adopting tactics that undermine her own categorical identifications. Of the revolution, she writes: 

SCUM will keep on destroying, looting, fucking-up and killing until the money-work system no longer exists and automation is completely instituted or until enough women cooperate with SCUM to make violence unnecessary to achieve these goals, that is, until enough women either unwork or quit work, start looting, leave men and refuse to obey all laws inappropriate to a truly civilized society. (15) 

In SCUM, she advocates for a completely automated society so that women won’t have to spend time doing mundane tasks. Yet, her calls to violence enact rebellion as a strategy of the rhetoric of domination. After spending the first thirteen pages establishing the frailty of males for their institution of violence as a means to compensate for their own passivity, she turns to those who would be her followers and asks them to take up the same contemptible violence to create a utopia. Turning “patriarchy” into “matriarchy” may seem like feminist revolution, but the power dynamic lives on through a patriarchal mode of communication that hinges on sex and gender roles. Based on the enactment of rebellion, I argue that taking up Solanas and SCUM as models for feminist resistance distorts the principles that guide contemporary feminist praxis.  

Withdrawal 

Foss and Griffin define withdrawal in this context as a separation between rhetors and information and/or resources vital to their freedom or survival (336). In other words, a withdrawn rhetor will remove herself from company that can benefit her well-being or the success of her message. In this case, Solanas embodies this rhetorical strategy in two ways: 1) by choosing not to address a feminist audience in her manifesto or aligning herself with a community, and 2) through her rejection of feminist aid during her trial for attempted murder. However, I must say that, both of these choices align with Foss and Griffin’s feminist rhetorical principle of self-determination in decision-making. While she made the decision for herself as to who would represent her and how she would represent her ideas, her choices manifest as a withdrawal that adds to the rhetoric of domination she built in her manifesto. 

Intriguingly, Solanas did not frame her manifesto as feminist. For example, the only appearance of the term “feminist” in the manifesto is in it’s antithetical form. Solanas writes, “‘Great Art’ proves that men are superior to women, […] being labeled ‘Great Art’, almost all of which, as the anti-feminists are fond of reminding us, was created by men.” In the construction of this passage, she refers to anti-feminists as “them” and aligns herself with “us,” which may be interpreted as “the feminists” or as “groovy chicks,” the latter of which she addresses repeatedly throughout her piece. While creating a new profile of womanhood is not explicitly anti-feminist, she implicitly denies association with feminists and creates an abstract category for the kind of women who are fit for the SCUM revolution.  

At the time of Solanas’ arrest, Ti-Grace Atkinson[10], then the president of the National Organization of Women (NOW), partnered with Flo Kennedy to form Solanas’ defense team in the Warhol case. Atkinson and Kennedy offered to take Solanas’ case despite instruction from Betty Friedan to distance herself from Solanas to avoid “connecting violence and feminism” (Fahs 577). Friedan declared, “desist immediately from linking NOW in any way with Valerie Solanas. Miss Solanas’ motives in [the] Warhol case [are] entirely irrelevant to NOW’s goals of full equality for women in truly equal partnership with men” (Pan). While Friedan became a controversial figure in her own right, she saw a danger in responding to Solanas as a soldier for the feminist cause. From jail, three months after her arrest, Solanas wrote to Atkinson,  

I know you, along with all the other professional parasites with nothing of their own going for them, are eagerly awaiting my commitment to the bughouse […] I want to make perfectly clear that I am not being committed because of my views or the “SCUM Manifesto” […] Nor do I want you to continue to mouth your cultivated banalities about my motive for shooting Warhol. Your gall in presuming to be competent to discourse on such a matter is beyond belief. In short, do not ever publicly discuss me, SCUM, or any aspect at all of my care. Just DON’T. (Pan) 

Clearly, Solanas had no interest in aligning with feminist leaders of her time.[11] These choices represent withdrawal because her rejection of legal counsel showed that she would rather risk conviction than accept free aid that may grant her freedom. However, Atkinson felt compelled to aid Solanas despite her initial refusal because “[Solanas] had done something appropriate to the feelings [women] were all having. She was fighting back” (Fahs 576). Here, Atkinson refers to the affective undercurrent of rage that maintains a presence in resistance efforts. Although, I am pressed to argue that not all resistance can be characterized as feminist resistance.  

Conclusion 

Despite her initial inclination to help Solanas get through her trial, Atkinson inevitably cut ties with Solanas. In an interview with Breanne Fahs, Atkinson said that Solanas’ interpersonal nature was to “dominate and abuse you and she was very manipulative” (578, my emphasis).[12] At least Valerie Solanas is consistent. At any rate, Atkinson’s ruminations on her time with Solanas and on the feminism of the 60’s and 70’s reflects the core of my argument in this study. When Fahs asked Atkinson if she felt that Solanas was a feminist; she answered a simple “no.” When asked to elaborate, Atkinson said: 

She’s part of my archive, but I don’t think of her as part of my feminist archive. 

She was a glitch, a mistake. The fact that she keeps coming up, you could say that means we as women, as feminists, yearn for some violence, or somebody to fight back, and she looked like she was fighting back. (Fahs 579; my emphasis) 

In her own words, Atkinson describes phenomena that wove SCUM into the tapestry of feminist history. Solanas was fighting back, but she wasn’t fighting a fight in the name of feminism. Her anger and her resistance gave the impression of a fight inspired by the feminist movement. By sacrificing the principles of feminist ideology, Solanas maintains a rhetoric of domination that becomes another cog in the wheel of systemic violence.  

This research responds to the call to extrapolate theoretical principles from the practices of women to suggest alternative ways of viewing rhetoric from specific historical periods and engaging with it from a contemporary standpoint (Colman). Revisiting artifacts with a tumultuous rhetorical life, such as SCUM, can help us reflect on the kind of legacy we want to create. In her interview with Breanne Fahs, Ti-Grace Atkinson shared: 

Later, I kept seeing people who were interested in Valerie and who responded with a kind of excitement. I asked this one woman, “Why does she attract you?” because I realized she really wasn’t interested in deep feminist questions. She said, “Well, she seems to have some panache, some style about it; you know, she shot somebody.” In a way I have to say that was probably what attracted me too. I was filled with rage and I thought it was somehow appropriate to “just shoot them all!” It certainly seemed deserved, but it was a misreading of what was going on. (Fahs 580) 

 As this exchange shows, Valerie Solanas and her SCUM Manifesto are lightning rods, stirring interest in change (to say the least) for five decades—and are prone to “misreadings”. Clearly, her commitment to her beliefs and demonstration of rage draw an audience to her. But as Atkinson observes, the excitement the rhetor and her rhetoric engender are not necessarily for the benefit of feminism. Working to eschew the trap of patriarchal rhetoric does not mean that feminist rhetoric should be left only with civility on one hand and confrontation avoidance on the other. In fact Nina M. Lozano-Reich & Dana L. Cloud point out that power imbalances in economic, political, and social context make these options quite difficult to adhere to (221). However, the question of audience becomes increasingly important here. Solanas is writing (in part) to an audience of females (based on her use of “we” and “females” throughout the manifesto), to bring them together to create the maleless utopia she illustrates. This subversion of the status quo is undone by the maintenance of a rhetoric of domination—she entangles her feminine rage with the persuasive power of oppressive linguistic practices. This is the hinge from which this assessment comes.  

This analysis sought to unpack SCUM Manifesto by thinking through its claims with a contemporary feminist lens, resting on the notion that the affective undercurrent of anger and rage instantiated an alignment between Solanas’ rhetoric and the historical moment. Seemingly by virtue of kairos, this particular manifesto has been imbricated in the iconography of second-wave feminism and the radical feminist movement. This alignment misrepresents the ideological principles of equity that feminism seeks to generate. This misalignment adds to the symphony of observations that that the metaphor of feminist “waves” does a disservice to the understanding of the history of feminism. Lumping all woman-centered activism of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s into the “second-wave” of feminism represents all resistance efforts as a unified phenomenon. However, feminism is not an umbrella for all rhetorics of resistance and positioning it as such serves to distort the personal and political goals of a feminist ideology. In fact, this may be one of the only acknowledgeable examples of “reverse sexism,” which, without the backing of a system of institutional power, isn’t even a recognized prejudice in social justice discourse (Bearman).  

By reproducing a rhetoric of domination through the rhetorical strategies of compliance, manipulation, rebellion, and withdrawal, Solanas confirms, rather than challenges, the power of cultural hegemony over meaning-making (Foss). For one, the basis of her argument complies with the binary opposition that defines identity and relationships in patriarchal society—the reductive heteronormative ideology remains so when the sexes are reversed. While setting up her version of the binary, she employs hyperbolic language to dehumanize male-presenting persons in the effort to justify genocide and eugenics. However, reproducing linguistic violence as a condition to meet a desired end traps her message in the rhetoric of domination and separates her work from the trajectory of feminist resistance—and pits populations against each other. In other words, not all resistance should be thought of as feminist resistance if it forgoes feminist commitments in the in the process. If there is any takeaway from this particular manifesto for feminism, it is to maintain feminist integrity by avoiding assimilation to patriarchal rhetorics of domination.   

Future Research 

As alluded to earlier, this analysis is but one addition to the various readings of SCUM, and I suspect that many more will continue to emerge. Thinking ahead, what might we also gain from a distanced reading that considers affect and not pure intention? An interesting approach might be to analyze the manifesto as through a rhetoric of queer aesthetics. In The Queer Art of Failure, Jack Halberstam writes that “the queer art of failure turns on the impossible, the improbable, the unlikely, and the unremarkable. It quietly loses, and in losing it imagines other goals for life, for love, for art, and for being” (88). Failure gives an idea of what may not serve the cause, information that may ultimately aid in long-term or alternative successes. More information allows for critical decision-making and a reduction of risk. Deemed failures give an idea of what certain choices look like, what they reflect, and they demonstrate the parameters of a discourse community. These facets present the opportunity to reproduce the results or to shift direction. Solanas’ manifesto can be read as a failed feminist resistance because it capitulates to patriarchal rhetoric.  

A productive outcome from engaging with SCUM as a feminist rhetorician lies in its potentiality as a model by which one may appraise the imbrication of patriarchy in a seemingly anti-patriarchal text. This type of rhetorical failure of resistance is productive only when we are able to, as Ahmed writes, “accept our complicity,” “forgo any illusions of purity,” and “give up the safety of exteriority” (94). There were and there are versions of feminism that condone that “the elimination of any male is, therefore, a righteous and good act, an act highly beneficial to women as well as an act of mercy” (Solanas). That’s to say that we are responsible for the circulation of our politics and we need to be aware of the ways in which our politics will be used against us. How can we advocate for a more just future if we don’t question the lineage of the feminist standpoint? The failure is productive in that it gives us a location from which to critically curate a feminist rhetoric of accountability.

End Notes

[1]See Appendix A for a summary of the content in SCUM.

[2]See Appendix A for a summary of the content in SCUM.

[3]Solanas denied that SCUM was an acronym, rather that it refers to the hierarchical position women held in society (scum of the Earth). However, there has been speculation that it stood for the Society for Cutting Up Men.   

[4]When I approached this project, I had a few assumptions regarding uptake, especially that Solanas’ reputation would have become a terministic screen for interpreting the possibilities in the manifesto (rhetorical and otherwise); the screen could come from an understanding of Solanas as a heroine who embodied her beliefs or as a murderous paranoid schizophrenic who needed medical help.

[5]Apparent in the staunch stance against males as oppressors; a desire for more idealistic, psychologistic, and utopian philosophy; and stance against sex work. 

[6]This norm is experienced by and is commonly understood among different kinds of women, despite unique experiences of those multiply-marginalized.  

[7]Civility has been used as a form of racial, sexed, and gendered discipline. Examples include patriarchy’s framing of women as hysterical and unfit to participate in a public forum, to colonialism’s address of BIPOCs as uncivil savages, to heteronormative understandings of LGBTQIA+ sexualities as deviant. In each case, the idea of civility is reserved for the dominant class and is symbolically and materially unavailable to othered populations. For more on civility and inequality, see Cloud and Lozano.  

[8]With particular favor toward white, cisgendered, and able males. 

[9]Argumentum ad hominem ranks second-to-last in Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement just above “name-calling.” 

[10]While Atkinson’s relationship to Solanas helps me ground my argument in a historic context, I am compelled to disclose that she is an author of the “Forbidden Discourse: The Silencing of Feminist Criticism of ‘Gender’” statement. Written, signed, and circulated by Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs), this statement 1) argues for the exclusion of women who have undergone M>F transition from “RadFem” conferences and 2) undermines the validity of gender theory. Atkinson is cited in this article because her affiliation with Solanas during her trial makes her first-hand account a relevant perspective for the purposes of this article. 

[11]It is important to note that these leaders represented the women’s liberation movement, from which radical feminism derived.

[12]I can’t help but be amused by the coincidence in word choice here. 

 

Appendix A: Summary of SCUM 

SCUM Manifesto begins by urging “groovy chicks” to “overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation, and eliminate the male sex” (1). Then follows with a theory that males are deficient females through an identification of the Y chromosome as an incomplete X chromosome. It follows that the biological deficiency manifests in emotional incompetencies such as a lack of emotional intelligence and personal passions. Since males lack empathy and are unable to relate to anything or anyone, Solanas reads them as narcissists who cannot feel anything outside of their own physical sensations. She continues through a subverted Freudian analysis of “pussy envy” (which I discuss later), and posits that males spend their lives attempting to become female and overcome their inferiority. Due to the biological, emotional, and social inadequacies of the male sex, she identifies twenty-two socio-economic shortcomings of male-centered social systems (patriarchy, but never names it as such).  

The manifesto is broken into sections as follows: War; niceness, politeness, and “dignity;” money, marriage and prostitution, work and prevention of an automated society; fatherhood and mental illness (fear, cowardice, timidity, humility, insecurity, passivity); suppression of Individuality, animalism (domesticity and motherhood) and functionalism; prevention of privacy; isolation, suburbs and prevention of community; conformity; authority and government; philosophy, religion and morality based on sex; prejudice (racial, ethnic, religious, etc.); competition, prestige, status, formal education, ignorance and social and economic classes; prevention of conversation; prevention of friendship and love; “Great Art” and “Culture;” sexuality; boredom; secrecy, censorship, suppression of knowledge and ideas, and exposés; distrust; ugliness; hate and violence; and disease and death. She uses these sections to justify the elimination of the male sex. In order to accomplish these goals, Solanas proposes that a revolutionary vanguard of women be formed. This vanguard is referred to as SCUM, which “criminal disobedience” in order to destroy the system. The manifesto ends by describing a female-dominated utopian future in which, without men, violence will be rendered obsolete.

Works Cited

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Colman, Felicity. “Notes on the Feminist Manifesto: The Strategic Use of Hope.” Journal for Cultural Research, vol. 14, no. 4, 2010, pp. 375-92.  

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Fahs, Breanne. “Ti-Grace Atkinson and the Legacy of Radical Feminism.” Feminist Studies, vol. 37, no. 3, 2011, pp. 561-590. Web. 

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Freedman, Estelle B. No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women. New York: Ballantine, 2003. Print. 

hooks, bell. “Are You Still a Slave? Liberating the Black Female Body | Eugene Lang College.” YouTube, uploaded by The New School, 7 May 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJk0hNROvzs 

Kennedy, Kristen. “Cynic Rhetoric: The Ethics and Tactics of Resistance.” Rhetoric Review, vol. 18, no. 1, 1999, pp. 26-45. 

Latson, Jennifer. “Andy Warhol and Valerie Solanas: Why She Shot Him.” Time, Time, 3 June 2015, time.com/3901488/andy-warhol-valerie-solanas/. 

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Pan, J.C. “Thrasher Feminism: Valerie Solanas and Her Enemies.” Dissentmagazine.org, Dissent Magazine, 2014, www.dissentmagazine.org/article/trasher-feminism-valerie-solanas-and-her-enemies 

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Pruitt, Sarah. “Andy Warhol Was Shot by Valerie Solanas. It Killed Him 19 Years Later.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 31 May 2018, www.history.com/news/andy-warhol-shot-valerie-solanas-the-factory. 

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Solanas, Valerie. SCUM Manifesto. Olympia Press, 1967. Stridsberg, Sara. Valerie, Or, The Faculty of Dreams: Amendment to the Theory of Sexuality. 2019.

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Yogmaya Neupane: The Unknown Rhetorician and the Known Rebel

Yogmaya Neupane (1860-1941) was a feminist, activist, rebel, and political and social thinker in Nepal. As a thinker and an activist, she organized people and initiated awareness against stereotypes, superstitious religious practices, the caste system, child marriage, discriminatory treatments of women, corruption, and unequal distribution of wealth, among other issues. During the early 1900s, Nepal was ruled by Ranas, whose regimes are considered to be the dark period in the history of Nepal; their rigid adherence to Hindu systemic discrimination had perpetuated superstitious religious practices such as Sati— the practice of immolating the wife into the pyre of the husband after the husband dies. Yogmaya established Nari Samiti, the first women’s coalition in Nepal, around 1906 to fight against the injustices and discriminations against women, such as the practice of Sati (Aziz, Hutt, Yadav). Nari Samiti became a viable medium to officially pressure the governmental system which was exerting autocratic power. Through political activism and social awareness approaches, she forced the then government to eradicate the system of Sati from the country.  

But a system of Sati was not the only trial of Nepalese women during that period. Women and girls in Nepal during the 1900s were considered second-class citizens: they were secluded from political and legal rights and subject to polygamous marriage and widow discriminations. In addition, child marriages were prevalent practices, which were legally and morally sanctioned under the Hindu legal system (Muluki Ain 1854). Yogmaya fought for “alms for righteous governance”—a system of government based on justice and truth, in her words (Aziz 59). After spending more than thirty decades on activism and revolution, when she discovered that Ranas’ systems of autocracy were adamant about secluding women and other marginalized castes, she decided to sacrifice her life to threaten the government. Because murdering a Brahmin or forcing a Brahmin to take her life was considered a sin in Hindu philosophy and was also punishable by the Nepali civil code (Muluki Ain 1854), she used the threat of ending her life as a resistance technique to shake the government. Being from a so-called pious Brahmin family, whose harm was considered as harm to God, she used her embodiment to threaten the government and political system.  She arranged self-immolation by fire in 1938 along with 204 followers, but she was instead arrested and put in prison. After spending more than three months in prison, she again marched for self-immolation, this time in the water. On July 5, 1941, she threw herself into the river Arun, where she died. Sixty-seven of her followers also followed her path and jumped into the Arun. 

Before dying, Yogmaya had composed Sarvartha Yogbani, which includes her teachings and philosophies. Even after her death, most of her living followers regarded her book as their fundamental tenet. In the Yogbani, she denounced the caste system, subordination of women, economic disenfranchisement of working-class people and appeals for establishing justice. It is an enriching resource for social activists, philosophers, and writers. However, the book was banned in Nepal until 2000. Not only were her activities considered blasphemous by misogynist patriarchal values, but she was also vilified as a prostitute, wayward, mad, and crazy by the patriarchal norms. As a result, official Nepalese history did not account for the name of Yogmaya even after half of the century of her death. After the death of Yogmaya, Nepal went through great political reformations and enjoyed a vibrant period of democracy that was largely critical of the Rana regime, the legacy of the eradication of the Sati system from Nepal remained credited to Rana rulers, and the erasure of Yogmaya was perpetuated. This is to say, regardless of the political system that was in power, females have continued to be politically marginalized while Yogmaya’s contributions have failed to be realized in official history. While there were records of Yogmaya’s existence, nonetheless, the records of her contributions were “burned for fuel on some chilly winter nights” (Aziz 68).  

Remembering Yogmaya 

As a young girl growing up in Nepal, I heard about the system of Sati before I “heard” about Yogmaya, who had forced the government to ban it. I first learned about the system of Sati in the Nepali Literature class around seventh grade. When my Nepali literature teacher, a bold and vocal woman, talked about the custom of burning women in the pyre of their husbands. Goosebumps came all over my body. For the first time in my childhood years, I became afraid of being female. I became afraid of being female before I realized I am a female.  Even scarier was to think about my grandmother, my mother’s sister, and other women whom I had seen without husbands throughout my life. How did they escape that fate after their husbands died?  That day after school, I went straight to my mother’s sister’s home, who used to live a couple of houses away from my parent’s home. I asked my mother’s sister, who was born in the early 1900s, was married at the age of seven and became a widow at the age of nine, “हजुर चै सति किन नजानुभको ?” translated in English as “why did you not go Sati?” Her response was, “They did not ask me to”.  Who did not “ask” her? Who would have had the power to force her to Sati and, in contrast, who emancipated her? Did she know 

Like Yogmaya, my mother’s sister was married at the age of seven to a boy who was nine. She was allowed to live in her parents’ home until she reached the age when she could do errands herself. But when she was nine, her husband, along with most of his family members, died due to the cholera epidemic. She became a widow at the age of nine for a husband she barely knew. Although my mother’s sister did not have to go Sati, she sacrificed her whole life for the husband who died when she was only nine. She never wore colorful clothes, never went to public places without accompanying the male family members and lived a secluded life. The reply that I got from her, “They did not ask me to”, becomes meaningful only now as I am strategically contemplating the life she lived alongside the life and contributions of Yogmaya. I realize that my mother’s sister was not forced to go to Sati only because of Yogmaya’s contributions. Did she know that she and many like her were fortunately absolved from duty of Sati because of Yogmaya? Most probably not!  

My mother’s sister wanted to believe, like my schoolteacher, that she was absolved from her duty of Sati by Prime Minister Chandra Shamsher Rana (1901-1929), on 8th July 1920.  Her generation was raised to doubt that an average Nepali woman like herself could be courageous enough to challenge the patriarchal structure. And it was hard to imagine the ramifications of doing so.  Since repressive erasure of Yogmaya’s contributions past almost three generations and the oral history about her was limited to women in the Arun River Valley only, it was discomforting for the women of my mother’s generation to challenge official narrations (Connerton; Hamilton,and Shopes). It took my entire school years and even prior years at the university to convince myself that what my schoolteacher told me was only a version of official history.  

Context for Feminist Rhetorical Recovery 

Others have tried to research Yogmaya before me. Yogmaya Neupane has been extensively studied from anthropological, sociological, literary and historical perspectives. In anthropological and sociological study, Yogmaya and her works are considered rebellious and revolutionary, aiming to bring social change (Aziz; Hutt). First among them is an ethnographic account produced by Barbara Nimri Aziz, whose work is iconic in studying and recovering the story of Yogmaya as a rebel. Aziz’s work is revolutionary also because she compiled the collections of her poems in her book Heir to silent Song Two Rebel Women of Nepal, which would otherwise be banned by the government. Yogmaya is also portrayed alongside the Hindu mythic figures and her works have largely been analyzed from a Hindu Vedic perspective (Neupane, Bhandari, Shrestha). In addition, feminist and historians like to date her social movement practices as some of the first feminist movements in Nepal representing her as a first feminist (Yadav, Lama, Karki, Shrestha). Similarly, in most of the literary references to her, such as in works by home-grown writers such as Uttam Prasad Panta and Lekhnath Bhandari, she is highlighted as a literary figure and her poems as radical.  As Michael Hutt opines in his critical analysis of the “forcible forgetting” of the history of Yogmaya in “nationalist and teleological history” (Hutt 383) and the recent narrativist revival of her in ahistorical accounts and studies, literary studies of Yogmaya were a prominent factor for her recent revival in Nepal. Referring to Uttam Prasad Panta’s article on the literary contributions of Yogmaya, at one point, he recognizes that literary identification of her was the safest way of seeking public recognition —”an initiative that enriched the literary pedigree of the national language and identified new icons to enhance the kingdom’s Hindu identity that? would not be frowned upon” (Hutt 349). However, even critical research such as this represents her as a female ascetic, political revolutionary, feminist, and literary artist only. Although historical, sociological, anthropological, feminist and literary methodology have immensely contributed in establishing and recovering her works and contributions, which would have been erased, lost, forgotten and repressed. But looking at the past and reconstructing it in a crude academic fashion may not be enough for recuperating feminist rhetorical practices, let alone rewriting the feminist contributions in the history. In the case of Yogmaya, her recovery efforts have largely been concentrated in recovering her rather than recovering her practices—consequently, erasing the revolutionary practices of her along with a large number of her followers whose contributions were equally important. In addition, recuperating efforts may require us to theorize her practices; in another words, redesigning her practices as what decolonial feminists want to call “praxis” (hooks)  

A Transnational Feminist Rhetorical Practice for Recovering Yogmaya 

I want to add one more historiographical account along this line: Yogmaya is the first female rhetorician of Nepal. Reading anthropological and historical research on Yogmaya, while providing greater possibilities, was still generally reductive, reading more like a fairytale for women of the democratic era to believe that a woman could jump into the river for a greater good, let alone burning into the pyre of a husband following the traditions. Based on the description of her in the first half of the essay, I want to reiterate 1) the initiative that she took for female liberation, 2) her teachings and philosophies in Sarvartha Yogbani, and, finally 3) her embodied resistance through the practice of Jal Samadhi (mass immolation in water) expounds her rhetorical skills and strategies. For me, these feminist principles rest on how I envision my locality through the feminist rhetorical perspective, for instance, imagining critically into questions such as what forced Yogmaya to jump into the river? Or what saved my mother’s sister from being Sati? In this case, imagining critically means to rhetorically envision local feminist efforts of Yogmaya by examining the history lived by her and women like her, further pondering rhetorically into the reason she chose her rhetorical practices or the reason she chose a particular rhetorical practice. However, this is a complex endeavor given that it invites more questions than answering one. For example, the question that made me numb was what am I to write about a woman who flowed herself into the thundering Arun River, never to return, for a cause which was then called fanatical? What am I to say, about a woman whose history was never talked about and even forbidden in my culture? Legacy is not a word that was made to suit her in history; she was ostracized, defamed, and vilified. Further, the history writers cleansed, dumped, forbade, and erased her. Opening her story is like excavating a memory that has now become a myth. Ashes were rare things, and an archive is impossible for her archaeology. In fact, the effort to recover the feminist rhetor in the culture where rhetoric is yet to be defined in western academic terminology is an innovative process for the reason that it helps in designing a new methodology or employ the foreign methodology in a new way.  

To begin this recovery effort, I contacted Barbara Nimri Aziz, who pioneered Yogmaya among scholarly circles. I scheduled a couple of meetings with her, which she affirmed and appreciated with intellectual wit. In our first phone conversations, she recalled her 1980’s visit to Nepal— where Yogmaya had lived, preached, and performed her resistance and protest in the 1900s. She had visited the place nearly forty years after the death of Yogmaya. In our extensive phone conversation, she shared that it was like finding her own foremothers’ stories. Being a daughter of Arab immigrants, she found her affinities and shared values as soon as she discovered Yogmaya’s contributions. In her book, Heir to Silent Song: Two Rebel Women of Nepal, she writes “I didn’t imagine in Nepal I might find activists similar to Mother Jones and Sojourner Truth… How could a woman raised in America and England, even though she was of Arab origin, imagine she might find her true ancestors in Nepal?” (Aziz 28) 

When Barbara visited Nepal, she met Manamaya, the pupil of Yogmaya and a respondent in Barbara’s research who is also, along with a number of other followers, used to reciting the verses from the book Sarvartha Yogbani. This recitation was private, and Barbara writes, “I noted how, when either Manamaya or Bhaktini Aama sang [them] for me, they did so in the privacy of their small dwellings, and at night” (Aziz 39). But those brave followers of Yogmaya wanted the message to be spread and the story to be heard by all the people. So, Manamaya invited Barbara into her small hut one night and handed the book which she had wrapped in a cloth-like “sepia brown booklet” and kept inside the bed mattress (Aziz 39-40). In my research process, when I was searching for the original book of Yogmaya and asked Barbara about it she wrote me, “The entire set of available Yogbani is included as an appendix to my book Heir to Silent Song: Two Women Rebels of Nepal. It represents the only written collection yet available of Yogbani. Such a treasure to be given to me in 1981 to share with all. These conversations between Barbara and me, two feminist researchers distanced by generation and nationality but made closer by rhetorical ethos— the ethos of care and humility— helped me to engage in a compassionate argument, collaborative practice, and negotiation. At one of our conversations, she explicitly advised me that a Nepali woman should study and explore on Yogmaya. Perhaps, while saying this, Aziz listened to Patricia Sutherland who advises that the feminist methodology of primary research is garnered from women’s primary experiences. It encouraged me to commemorate my position as a researcher and to navigate my gendered and transnational experience. 

This authentication of Yogmaya as a rhetorician was possible through juxtaposing my narrative, which explored and discloses attachment, about how the history of Yogmaya was deleted from the public narrative. For doing this, I have relied extensively on feminist rhetorical practices to weave my personal experience of Yogmaya and the women’s issues she advocated for with my recovery of her rhetorical work. The gap of nearly a half-century after her death (the anniversary of which elapsed without mentioning her name), wherein the country went from the autocratic system of Rana to democracy, and from a British system of the monarchy to a quasi-Chinese system of federalism, was possible to recuperate through decolonial feminist methodologies that debunk traditional objective methodological practice ( Bizzel’s ‘function of emotion,” Royster’s “storytelling and telling history,” Kirsch and Royster “critical imagination, strategic contemplation, and social circulation,” Sutherland “primacy of gendered experience,” Enoch “local narrative,” Garcia’s “community listening”). Employing these methodologies was challenging because it helped in closely examining the research around her, requiring answers in regard to coherence in translations and interpretations. For example, in Aziz’s works one of her bani (verse) from Sarvatha Yogbani is translated as “Though I am the one who is despised by society, and discarded I have to prove my innocence” (Aziz XV). The original verse was “ भगवन हैन, समाजले तिरषकार धृणा गरेको नारी हु ।“ (Aziz 57). The question that one can raise in the translated version is: did she really believe that she needs to “prove” her innocence?  As feminist researcher in Nepal, Kumari Lama, notes,  

Yogmaya develops immense rebellious feelings towards discriminatory Brahmanic social values since her young age. She executes her dissenting characteristics very gracefully in her life. She challenges Hindu religious authority eloping with a man she loves despite being a child-widow. Undoubtedly, her elopement exhibits her resistance as well as her strong punch against patriarchal authority that incarcerates women’s freedom. (Lama 18) 

Reading the above translations (rather mistranslation) of her bani alongside the examination of her feminist practice gives the dual picture of her feminist efforts as someone who wants to “prove” her innocence to the social practices against which she had relentlessly fought. I find the translation problematic, an inaccurate version of how she was, in contrast to how she was interpreted.  In fact, if this would have been translated by any Nepali feminist, they would translate it along the lines, “I am the one who is despised and discarded by society, God I am not”. Given that original translations if kept intact would seriously counter all her sacrifice and contributions, it is also important to examine the way an inaccuracy in translation represents another kind of erasure. 

Secondly, examining her rhetorical practices helps in authenticating feminist praxis in Nepal within the larger spectrum of global feminist practice. Until now, answering the question in regard to feminist praxis in Nepal is hard since one has to either rely on western feminism or the feminism in the border.  Even growing up outside of the West, I heard of Yogmaya long after I was introduced with Simone De Beauvoir, Helene Cixous, Betty Friedan — however, the feminist movement led by Yogmaya preceded them. In fact, Yogmaya’s contemporaries were suffragists in the United States. With a deep sense of humility, before writing this paper, I contemplated all those dormant periods of my academic life—periods when I used to feel that the feminist revolution is western conduct and periods when I lived in oblivion, with the assumption that the Sati system was eradicated by the Ranas in Nepal— When reading canonical scholarship in feminism and rhetoric, I would think of Beauvoirian ideas from the perspective of my mother’s sister, and sometimes even Spivak and hooks from the perspective of Yogmaya. Meanwhile, Indian feminists, close to home, even the one who decried the western feminist portrayal of “Indian Suttee” (Narayana) are as distant as any other western feminist given that Nepali feminist fought different battles and employed different resistance principles (Mohanty; Spivak). In Yogbani, Yogmaya criticizes the structure of patriarchy and systemic inequality. She diatribes against the caste system, corruption, Brahmin value, and huge economic disparity among people. In one of her bani, she declares her denouncement of caste by saying,  

Before I owned a caste 

Belonging to the Brahmin clan. 

Now look, I have no caste. 

Ho, I chucked it there in the hearth (Aziz 60) 

In the above lines, Yogmaya declares the renouncement of her Brahmin caste. Symbolically, her practice of renouncing caste, is a denunciation of entire Brahminism which has played a vital role in exerting power politically, socially, and economically. Her rhetorical tool of anti-brahminism bespeaks about her feminist praxis which distinguish her from feminist across culture. Similarly, her relentless appeals to dharmarajya (Alms for righteous government) shows that her resistance praxis are borne locally. Below, she decries government corruption and appeals for restorations of justice. She says, 

Kill the corrupt; behead the thief. 

Judge with virtue, eliminate lies. 

When our charioteer arrives, truth will reign. 

And smash kings and courtiers too. (Aziz 68) 

Finally, recovering and rewriting the rhetorical practice of feminism in the global south requires deep personal reflections alongside bringing the solidarity amongst the feminist across borders. As a Nepali woman, I grew up listening to the tale of my mother’s sister. When I listened to Barbara and her ethnographic account, it overlaps with listening to my mother’s sister along with my personal reflections to my own contemplative witness of her life that I saw as a kid. The collage of listening and mindful contemplation allowed me to think ‘dialectically and dialogically, to use tension, conflict, balances, and counterbalances as critical opportunities” (Krisch and Royster 652). In another word, listening to Barbara layered and broadened with listening to my mother and her sister, which became more viable when I collaged what Romeo Garcia calls community listening.  For me, community listening is listening to my mother’s sister, whose experiences were relational if not akin to the subject in question, made me feel that these women have stories to tell which I can never find in the history books. Through the practice of collaging, merging, and juxtaposing of different methodologies into one, I find that in a uniquely transnational situation like this one, methodological experimentation and conflict necessitates and procures recoveries and reconsideration of feminist rhetoricians. In another word, in the course of this research, I often intersect Garcia’s community listening and Sutherlands’ advice for negotiation and collaboration, and subsequently look to these methods from Kirsch and Royster’s idea of critical imagination and strategic contemplation; examining alone through one of these techniques deeply hinder (and sometimes limits) the possibility of reestablishing Yogmaya, whose rhetorical history lies under the teleological history of Nepal, the false lesson that was “asked” to transfer to me through my school teacher, and perhaps in the anecdote of my mother’s sister. 

**Acknowledgement: This paper went through the several phases of thinking, thinking the “thinking,” researching, writing, and revision. This work would not have been possible without the valuable comments and feedback from my mentor, Amy Lueck, associate professor at Santa Clara University, in all these phases of writing.

Footnotes

  1. In Nepali language, Sati is referred as both noun and verb. While using it as a noun, usually, during the time of Sati system, a woman would become Sati after their husband died. In that case, like widow, women would be referred as Sati. Sati is also used by referring to a practice, a verb. While, in both of these usages, “S” is capitalized.  
  2. I prefer to use the word Nepali (नेपाली) to Nepalese while referring to the people from Nepal. Nepali is directly derived from Nepali language, where it is called. In contrast, Nepalese is a word refer to people from Nepal usually by the British.  

Works Cited 

Aziz, Barbara Nimri. Heir to a Silent Song: Two Rebel Women of Nepal. Center for  Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS), 2001. 

—. Message to Asmita Ghimire, Messenger, 16 August, 2020. 

—. Yogmaya & Durga Devi: Rebel Women of Nepal. Mandala Book Points, 2020. 

Bhandari, Lekhnath. “साहसिक सुधारक” [Courageous Reformer]. Kantipur, 2013. 

Bhandari, Lekhnath.“ त्य पहिलो विद्रोहिणी योगमाया” [Yogmaya, the First Woman Rebel], 2057 B.S, 34–39. Asmita Publication, Nepal.  

Bizzell, Patricia. “Feminist Methods of Research in the History of Rhetoric: What Difference Do They Make?” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 4, 2000, pp. 5-17. 

Chapagain, Ninu. “प्रसिद्ध कवि योगमायाको ल्याकन[An Evaluation of the Progressive Poet Yogmaya]. In सामाजिक जागरणमा महिला विद्रोहको प्रस्थान [The Starting Point of Women’s Rebellion in Social Awakening], edited by Lekhnath Bhandari, 2003: i–ix. Kathmandu: Vivek Sirjansil Prakashan. 

Connerton, Paul. “Seven Types of Forgetting.” The Present Word Culture, Society and the Site of Literature, edited by John Walker, Routledge, 2017, pp. 150-65. 

Enoch, Jessica. “Changing Research Methods, Changing History: A Reflection on Language, Location, and Archive.” The Best of the Independent Rhetoric and Composition Journals 2011, Parlor Press, 2013, pp. 119-49. 

García, Romeo. “Creating Presence from Absence and Sound from Silence.” Community Literacy Journal, vol. 13, no. 1, 2018, pp. 7-15. 

Hamilton, Paula, and Linda Shopes, editors. Oral History and Public Memories. TempleUniversity Press, 2009. 

hooks, bell. Teaching to Transgress. 1994. Routledge, 2014. 

Hutt, Michael. “The Disappearance and Reappearance of Yogmaya: Recovering a Nepali Revolutionary Icon.” Contemporary South Asia, vol. 21, no. 4, 2013, pp. 382-97. 

Karki, Govindamansingh. “समाजसुधारक योगमाया” [The Social Reformer Yogmaya]. Kathmandu: Sajha Prakashan (B.S. 2069). 

Karki Niharika, Neelam. Yogmaya. Sangri-La Books, 2018. 

Kirsch, Gesa E., and Jacqueline J. Royster. “Feminist Rhetorical Practices: In Search of Excellence.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 61, no. 4, 2010, pp. 640-72. 

Lama, Kumari. “Yogmaya and Durga Devi: Different Modes of Resistance to Patriarchy.” The Outlook: Journal of English Studies, vol. 12, 2021, pp. 16-23. 

Mohanty, Chandra. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.”Feminist Review, vol. 30, no. 1, 1988, pp. 61-88. 

Narayan, Uma. “Essence of Culture and a Sense of History: A Feminist Critique of Cultural Essentialism.” Hypatia, vol. 13, no. 2, 1998, pp. 86-106. 

Neupane, Dipesh. Amar Jyoti Yogmaya. Kathmandu, Yogmaya Foundation, 2018. 

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 47, no. 1, 1996, pp. 29-40. 

Shrestha, Mathura Prasad. “योगमायाबिर्सिन नसकिने/ बिर्सिन नहुने एक ीरांगना.”[Yogmaya: Unforgettable Rebel] सामाजिक आन्दोलनकी अग्रणी तथा कवि : योगमाया, edited by Matrika Timsina et.al., Nepal Adhyan Kendra, (B.S. 2057): 175-178. 

Shrestha, Tina. “The Life and Work of Yogmaya Neupane: A Representation of a Historical, Non-Secular and Political Subject.” Social Sciences in a Multicultural World, edited by K. N. Pyakuryal, B. K. Acharya, B. Timseena, G. Chhetri, M. Uprety, and D.P. Chapagain, Kathamandu, SASON, 2008, pp. 206-18. 

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?.”Die Philosophin, vol. 14, no. 27, 2003, pp. 42-58. 

Sutherland, Christine Mason. “Feminist Historiography: Research Methods in Rhetoric.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 1, 2002, pp. 109-22. 

Timsina, Matrika. नेपालको सामाजिक राजनीतिक आन्दोलनमा योगमाया [Yogmaya in Nepal’s Social–Political Movement]. In सामाजिक आन्दोलनकी अग्रणी तथा आदिकवि योगमाया [Yogmaya, Leader of a Social Movement and Founder Poet], edited by Matrika Timsina, L. S. Kunwar, (B.S 2057): 138–166. Kathmandu: Adhyayan Kendra. 

Upreti, Bishnu R., Drishti Upreti, and Yamuna Ghale. “Nepali Women in Politics: Success and Challenges.” Journal of International Women’s Studies, vol. 21, no. 2, 2020, pp. 76-93. 

Yadav, Punam. “White Sari—Transforming Widowhood in Nepal.” Gender, Technology and Development, vol. 20, no. 1, 2016, pp. 1-24. 

Overlooked Sources of Feminist Material in Unlikely Archival Collections: Recoveries and Reconsiderations of Writer Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’ (1844-1911) Letters to 19th Century Physician S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914)

Highly successful 19th century physician S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) is known in feminist circles for his development of the controversial rest cure for hysteria, which evolved from his work with malingering soldiers during the Civil War to whom he would assign “the most disagreeable jobs, so that after a few weeks in the latrines they were eager to return to the front” (Showalter 298).  Mitchell recognized that women were “house caged,” but his rest cure still “prescribed obedience and sent them home[2]” (Cervetti 91). Mitchell believed that a woman would happily return to the mundane circumstances of her day-to-day life after being forced to spend weeks in utter boredom. Mitchell, a leading specialist on injuries of the nerves, worked with Civil War amputees at Turner’s Lane hospital in Philadelphia and maintained a clinical practice along with his son John in the same city. He also was well-known for his work with women with mysterious mental health conditions (Schuster).  

American writer and novelist Charlotte Perkins Gilman was, arguably, the most famous patient to undergo the rest cure—a treatment she found much more harmful than helpful. In a letter which Gilman poignantly and hopefully wrote to Mitchell to seek out his help, she wrote, “I understand you are the first authority on nervous diseases. Are you on brain troubles too? There is something the matter with my head.  No one here knows or believes or cares.  Of course, they can’t care for what they don’t believe. But you will know” (Knight 274).  Gilman sensed that she was suffering from something that was “brain”-based.  She was quite right; if we were to venture a contemporary guess: Gilman had postpartum depression. Unsurprisingly, the rest cure made her feel much worse. 

Feminist researchers have found women’s contributions in archival collections that are largely dedicated to preserving the life and work of male family members and friends. Mitchell’s archives, though, would not be an obvious source of feminist material since he is a known misogynist. In this essay, we ask readers to reconsider Mitchell’s archives via letters a strong feminist woman—American writer and intellectual Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911)—wrote to him. These letters show how a woman responded to and interacted with Mitchell’s notoriously misogynistic notions of women’s worth. In so doing, we seek to offer a description and contextualization of specific material in an archival collection that we believe could be of potential interest to Peitho readers.  

Using Phelps’s letters as a case study, we argue that notoriously misogynistic historical figures’ archival collections might house important material for feminist researchers and that these texts should be recovered and reconsidered for their value in potentially identifying previously unknown or unacknowledged roots of contemporary feminist theories and terminologies. That is, feminist researchers might overlook the papers of figures such as Mitchell as potential sites of feminist work due to their notorious misogyny, yet such collections may house remnants of little-known resistance to that misogyny. Mitchell often turned to women for emotional support (Cervetti 225), especially to published writers who could offer feedback on his own writing endeavors; among them was American author and intellectual Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911). Phelps leaves compelling nine letters only behind in Mitchell’s archives (1884-1897), yet we focus here on Phelps as her letters present a clear and assertive feminist engagement challenging Mitchell’s problematic views on women; these extant letters are ultimately a reflection of a 25-year friendship of equals. Phelps’ letters to Mitchell, along with letters from other women (such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman or Anne K. Williams Mitchell, his daughter-in-law), are part of the archival material housed in the Mitchell Papers, at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Below, we offer samplings from Phelps’ impressive feminist texts to show how even archival collections that would seem to be mere celebrations of dominant misogynistic figures could house women’s relevant articulations of independent (and early) feminist stances. We hope readers are encouraged to seek out similar texts in other unlikely collections.  

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911): The “Professional Invalid” 

Born in Boston in 1844 to a religious father and a literary author mother, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps was a prolific fiction writer whose work explores a transitional period in women’s lives—a departure from Victorian models, and an opening of professional spaces for women during the second half of the 19th century (Stansell; Tuttle). When she began to write back-and-forth with Mitchell, the forty year-old author was already a self-determined “professional invalid” with an established literary career. Activist, intellectual, frail, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps became a keen observer of her social experiences. Importantly, her health informed her fictional and personal writings as well as her friendships. While she regarded Mitchell on occasion as an acquaintance only, Phelps’ friendship with Mitchell as it comes across in her letters to him reveal her efforts to assert her worth and the validity of her embodied knowledges of health via the relationship.  

While Phelps’ letters persistently portray the author as sickly, she draws from these and other embodied experiences—frail health and bouts of insomnia included—to inform her foremost intellectual self. Her exchanges with Mitchell are sustained peer engagements in which she makes sense of her own condition (or rather surrenders to it and counters his claims to have treatments that could help her) and articulates the difficulties of a professional career in writing for women. She does so while offering Mitchell praise and criticism on his fictional characters and responding to his comments on her work with either gratitude or vigorous distance. Her willingness to engage in a professional literary friendship through letters with this man is an exercise in the art of “personal comprehension between a man and a woman” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, Thanksgiving Day, 1884)—a rare occurrence and a modeling of gender equality on her part, and a much-needed intellectual practice between the genders, so she thought. Their professional friendship—her literary feedback, his medical interest in her health—continued for 25 years, until her death in 1911. 

In her letters to Mitchell, Phelps pushed back against his misogynistic views of women in three ways: through articulations of her embodied experiences of constant weakness, exhaustion, and insomnia, which only she could comprehend; via feedback on Mitchell’s fiction; and through the creation of an ideal care provider in the form of the protagonist and title character in her novel Dr. Zay. Far from merely a fictional character, though, Dr. Zay was an aspirational figure she hoped to make manifest in a specific way—a truth that comes through in her references to her attendant habit of giving financial support to women in medical schools. Indeed, Phelps’ references to her patronage of young, aspiring female doctors alongside her polite refusals to succumb to Mitchell’s brand of treatment—allopathic—stake out strong feminist positions worthy of recovery and reconsideration.  

Phelps’ Embodied Experiences  

Sometimes deferent to her physician friend, Phelps nonetheless manages to articulate a complex identity in her letters to Mitchell—at once health broken, yet determined and confident in the validity of her observations, both medical and literary. One kind of awareness—her health—is not severed from her professional awareness—her writing and reviewer sage. In one letter, she claims to have an appreciation of Mitchell’s medical training, yet she is clear that she also has a great deal of medical knowledge “from [her] long, varied, and more or less intimate acquaintance with [his] profession” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, January 25, 1884). Repeatedly, too, she asserts her authority as a woman who, though enduring a “pretty serious” condition (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, November 18, 1884), acts upon her patient status rather than solely being acted upon. While she acknowledges, for instance, that drugs have indeed been prescribed, she is clear that she knows they won’t help her. In one letter, for example, she makes it clear that while a prescription medication may help her debilitating insomnia, she nonetheless won’t take them. As she puts it to Mitchell, “Thank you for your kind wish to do something for me. The main trouble with that is that I am a devout homeopathist … I do not think it right (for me) to take drugs … I have been torn to shreds by insomnia.” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, February 3, 1884).   

Ahead of her time, Phelps was well aware that her condition was likely chronic and that she would not see a cure in her lifetime. Her letters make it clear that Mitchell continually offers to treat her and believes he can help her, yet she consistently shows her confidence in her own self-knowledge when she makes it clear that she will not be cured via his methods and that she does not fully trust his type of medical authority. Phelps tells Mitchell: “I thank you for your kind offer of medical help. It is good in you, and I have meant to say so before now (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, February 16, 1884). She is clear, then, that she will not be availing herself of his medical help and that the nature of the correspondence is not that of a doctor-patient, but of literary and intellectual peers.

Feedback on Mitchell’s Fiction  

In her letter dated February 27, 1884, it is clear that the exchanges back-and-forth began not with an understanding of her need for his medical help, but with plans to exchange manuscripts for literary feedback. In her notes to Mitchell on how the relationships between men and women should be represented in fiction, she is clear in her desire to offer him feedback on his writing and to do so from her vantage point as a woman. As she notes, “The novelist, especially, needs ample room for his hero and heroine to develop that most difficult of arts—personal comprehension between a man and a woman. I think it very rare—very rare; and the lack of it is the saddest thing in the world; especially in women’s worlds” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, Thanksgiving Day, 1884).  

Ever the intellect, Phelps read not only Mitchell’s fiction, but also his work published in medical journals. Phelps offers comments about this man’s medical stories (per his request), yet is careful to bolster the validity of her observations on Mitchell’s fictional writing—especially his characterization of women—by referring to her embodied experiences in health and medical settings:  “I greatly enjoy the vividness of your characterizations and balance of constructions, and the result of the special training brought to bear upon your material. This last I can perhaps peculiarly appreciate, from a long, varied, and more or less intimate acquaintance with your profession” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, January 25, 1884). As she also notes, “Having been a ‘professional invalid’ in ‘good and regular standing’ for almost half my life, I have a realizing sense of the ‘points’ in a well-drawn Doctor, and am rather alive both to the weaknesses and the nobility of the race” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, January 25, 1884). 

Phelps also is careful to buffer her observations with deference to Mitchell’s status as a doctor, yet she still makes space to assert the criticisms in her observations; as she wrote: “The saddest thing about the profession is that it inculcates a kind of self-defence, that may be almost brutal in the tenderest man; to save himself from being spent and wrecked by sympathy, or its correlative thoughtfulness, he may force himself into a coat-of-male that bruises—if not kills—a patient. But what a lecture on the profession. I should beg your pardon” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, November 18, 1884).  

In response to a critical review of his work, Mitchell must have said that he should not write any more fictional accounts of doctors, to which Phelps replied with encouragement to simply vary his representations: “So. Do not say you will write no more doctors. Write the Other kind of a Doctor. Analyze a nobler one—Say some things no one but a Doctor can say” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, November 18, 1884). In all of her correspondence related to his literary works, Phelps is clear that she considers herself his peer in writing and that while she does respect his authority as a medical doctor, she suggests that he should, likewise, respect her authority as longtime consumer of medical care.  

The Creation of Dr. Zay  

As is clear above, resistance, awareness, and agency took the form of her treatment choices—she trusted homeopathy, a practice which allowed her to merge her life with her writing. Phelps also displayed these strong traits in her fiction writing, perhaps most notably in her most known novel.  Phelps’ novel Doctor Zay was published in 1882 as was well-received, and she used references to her strong female character to further assert her value in her letters to Mitchell. “Touching the doctors of fiction,” as she put it, Phelps introduces Mitchell to her fictional character Doctor Zay, a physician, a woman, a homeopathistRhetorically, using knowledge of her condition, and her acquaintance with male and female doctors, both allopathic and homeopathic—she crafts a woman doctor, doctor Zay, which in the eyes of an ill, male, fictional patient appears to have strong, yet feminine hands. The patient perceives “… a woman of medium height, with a well-shaped head. … [and] … dress and carriage of a lady” (Phelps, Doctor Zay, p. 44). Confused, ill, posing no further resistance, the patient yields, “I am in a woman’s hands!” (Phelps, Doctor Zay, p. 44). 

Mitchell’s reception of Doctor Zay must have been carping. Phelps was equally blunt. In a letter to Mitchell dated November 18, 1884, not only does she disapprove of his comment, but she points to his male ways of knowing. In a related correspondence, she observes: 

As to Doctor Zay … Were I an old friend, instead of a very new one—or, I ought rather to say, new acquaintance—I should take you to task a little for what you say of women physicians. It doesn’t seem to me quite fair; or else you really don’t know! … and most men Doctors do not. I know women physicians thoroughly. For some years my most intimate friend was one of them. I know the career from matriculation to success or failure. I have directly, or indirectly, been the means of putting four [our emphasis] young women into the profession; who have all honored it, so far.  (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, November 18, 1884) 

Phelps defends women physicians from experience, as patient, observer, and, as she makes clear in this letter, a financial supporter.  

She argues rigorously for Mitchell to accept the authenticity of the representation in the form of Dr. Zay: “Although a woman and a homeopathist, you will be liberal enough to grant her professional courtesy, I think” (Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, February 3, 1884). Her insistence on the validity of Dr. Zay as a representation of a medical professional alongside her support of women wishing to become medical doctors impart her strong feminist views in letters written to a man who’d not, by all accounts, held women in very high esteem in professional spaces, and in particular, in medical professions.  

Conclusion 

Overall, we contend Elizabeth Stuart Phelps—the “professional invalid,” the constant patient—embodies ways of pushing back against medical authority and mainstream medicine and uses writing—novels and letters—to advocate for alternative perspectives. Phelps expressed her dissatisfaction with public medical discourse and practice through her critique of Mitchell’s literary works. Beyond simply resisting traditional medical advice, Phelps reconfigures it to suit her needs in her creation of Dr. Zay and attendant financial support of women in medical schools. Phelps’ letters are, thus, examples of early feminist work in agency, in professional and personal authority stemming from marginalized persons’ knowledge of their own embodied experiences and intellect. Phelps’s writing is likewise invitational, visionary, stubborn. She breaks through Victorian “morals” and writes her voice into science. Rather than staying mute, Phelps engaged in an epistolary professional friendship with Mitchell to articulate an alternative experience. In Phelps, readers will find a strong writer who challenges a then-prominent medical doctor on medical and literary grounds. The existence of these letters point to important recovery work for contemporary archival feminism—to identify notorious patriarchs and misogynists and to elevate the voices of the women in their lives who dared to challenge and resist their ideologies. After all, it is misogyny and patriarchy we have to blame for the fact that Mitchell is most remembered, quoted, celebrated, and reviled from the 19th century letter writers represented in his archives. We, thus, ask Peitho readers: 

  • What other feminist texts might be hidden in notoriously misogynistic male archival collections, and how can these texts be identified and recovered? 
  • How might epistolary exchanges and other ephemeral sources of feminist activism inform contemporary practices of feminist scholarship? 
  • How might archival materials like these help scholars to recover a fuller feminist timeline such that it could inform a more robust set of contemporary feminist archival methodologies? 

End notes

[1]Charlotte Perkins Gilman, of course, was arguably the most famous patient to undergo the rest cure—a treatment she found much more harmful than helpful. In a letter Gilman poignantly and hopefully wrote to Mitchell to seek out his help, she wrote, “I understand you are the first authority on nervous diseases. Are you on brain troubles too? There is something the matter with my head.  No one here knows or believes or cares.  Of course they can’t care for what they don’t believe. But you will know” (Knight 274).  Gilman sensed that she was suffering from something that was “brain”—based.  She was quite right, if we were to venture a contemporary guess: Gilman had postpartum depression. Unsurprisingly, the rest cure made her feel much worse. 

  

[2]As Mitchell put it in his 1877 volume Fat and Blood, “When they are bidden to stay in bed a month, and neither to read, write, nor sew, and have one nurse—who is not a relative—then rest becomes for some women a rather bitter medicine, and they are glad enough to accept the order to rise and go about when the doctor issues a mandate which has become pleasantly welcome and eagerly looked for” (41). 

Works Cited 

Cervetti, Nancy. S. Weir Mitchell, 1829–1914: Philadelphia’s Literary Physician. State Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. Print. 

Knight, Denise D. “‘All the Facts of the Case’: Gilman’s Lost Letter to Dr. S. Weir Mitchell.” American Literary Realism 37.3 (2005): 259-77. Print. 

Mitchell, Silas Weir. Fat and Blood. Philadelphia: J.P. Lippincott, 1893. Print. 

Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart. Doctor Zay: Afterwards by Michael Sartisky. New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 1993. Print. 

Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart. Letters to S. Weir Mitchell, 1884, 1887, 1897. Series 4.3, Box 9, Folder 278. Silas Weir Mitchell Papers MSS 2/0241-03. Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

Showalter, Elaine. Hysteria Beyond Freud. Oakland: University of California Press, 1993. Print. 

Schuster, David. “Personalizing Illness and Modernity: S. Weir Mitchell, Literary Women, and Neurasthenia, 1870-1914.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 79.4 (2005): 695-722. Print. 

Stansell, Christine. “Elizabeth Stuart Phelps: A Study in Female Rebellion.” The Massachusetts Review 13.5 (1972): 239-256. Print. 

Tuttle, Jennifer. “Letters from Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (Ward) to S. Weir Mitchell, M.D., 1884-1897.” Legacy 17.1 (2000): 83-94. Print.  

Recoveries and Reconsiderations: Feminist Coworking Spaces as New Sites for Feminist Rhetorical Inquiry

Introduction  

I walked into The Riveter, a coworking space “built by women for everyone,” and took a deep, calming breath as natural light poured in from the floor to ceiling windows that made up one wall of the two-story, loft-like space. I felt a sense of relief as I took the tour of their flagship location, realizing that the combination of a supportive community and inclusive-oriented space could be the jumpstart I needed for my dissertation. Though I had finished data collection a month before, a combination of anxiety, depression, and imposter syndrome had paralyzed my writing progress; I needed a change of pace. The Riveter, my tour guide explained, approaches coworking spaces differently, re-imagining the working body as a woman. She pointed out things that are purposefully designed to empower working women: artwork of women by women, conference rooms named after feminists, bathrooms with free menstrual products, showers with cruelty free products and blow-dryers, a yoga studio available for personal use and classes, healthy snacks and sparkling water, a meditation room, etc. As we walked from the main floor—an open concept kitchen, community tables, call rooms, and conference spaces—to the lower level—individual and small group offices, community couches, a kitchenette, meditation room, a yoga room—I realized that this was the first workspace where I felt like I belong, like the space was designed with my needs in mind. In the next three months of dissertation writing, fueled by engaging conversations with members, inspiring self-care classes, and energizing meditation and yoga breaks, I became enamored with a space that felt so completely made for me—and interested in how I could replicate its strengths when I returned to the university setting. But, now, as I sit writing this article, considering how coworking spaces like The Riveter might be a new site for feminist rhetorical inquiry, I wonder: would I have felt that deep sense of belonging at the Riveter if I was a woman of color, of a different socioeconomic background, or inhabiting a differently abled body?[1]   

My experience at The Riveter led me investigate what I have identified as “feminist coworking spaces,” or the growing collection of coworking spaces that are designed to support the needs of working women and their allies. I identify them as feminist, which I interpret as the “movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (hooks 1). I conducted this preliminary research in the hopes that I might better understand how to change my pedagogy to be more inclusive—and to advocate for the thoughtful design of spaces on our college campus. Though the coworking spaces I identify in this project often invoke feminist rhetorics of women empowerment, equity, and access, the vast majority do not self-identify as explicitly “feminist.” Therefore, I adopt Royster and Kirsch’s methodology of “critical imagination,” looking for feminist activity “in places at which we have not looked seriously or methodically before” (72) by considering how some niche coworking spaces function as incubators for feminist activity.   

Rhetoricians have studied coworking spaces (Spinuzzi, “Working Alone Together”; Spinuzzi et al) and workplaces more broadly (Spinuzzi, “All Edge”), along with the rhetorical practices of working women (Applegarth; Enoch; Gold; Jack; Skinner; Wells) and work-related rhetorics more broadly (Hallenbeck and Smith)—but none to date have considered the rhetorics of spaces that I identify as “feminist coworking spaces,” or coworking spaces that name and practice values of bell hooks’ interpretation of feminism in their conceptualization and design[2]. These coworking spaces are important sites of inquiry for rhetorical feminists because they can give more insight into the way feminism can imbue the rhetorics of a workplace while providing models that can inspire the design of our classroom and university workplace settings. Rhetorical feminists have done the important work of acknowledging how “work, workspaces, and work training are extremely important dimensions of the rhetorical life of women” (Hallenbeck and Smith 206), but work-related rhetorics remain an under-represented area of inquiry in feminist rhetorics and coworking spaces have yet to be studied by feminist rhetoricians. In this Recoveries and Reconsiderations article, I present feminist coworking spaces as a new area of inquiry for feminist rhetorics, mapping the topoi of why these feminist coworking spaces exist— community, inclusivity, and empowerment—while giving insight into future research related to each topos. I conclude with lingering questions about the extent to which these spaces might give insight into how to use classrooms and other university settings to create equitable work environments for undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty.  

Feminist Coworking Spaces: A New Site of Inquiry  

Because of the increasing need for office space that caters to remote employees, start-up companies with limited employees, and freelancers, coworking spaces are the newest iteration of office space (Davis, Sundararajan); they are “shared working environments in which independent knowledge workers gather to create knowledge and benefit from it” (Spinuzzi et al. 113), or put more simply, a place where people gather to “work alone together” (Spinuzzi 229). Coworking spaces first emerged in 2005, beginning with a space in San Francisco that Brad Neuberg created as a way for independent workers to gather in a community to work (Jones et al.). The number of coworking spaces has grown rapidly since 2005 with 15,500 coworking sites reported in 2017  (2018 Coworking Forecast) and a projected growth to 40,000 coworking spaces worldwide by 2024 (Global Coworking Growth Study 2020).[3] Though there are no demographic statistics available of who makes up the population of coworkers, the general coworking population is typically thought of as white and male; though, the “overall population of freelance workers is growing…with black workers making up just under four percent of that population of both incorporated and unincorporated self-employed workers” (Dorsey). In 2020, only 14% of U.S.-based coworking spaces were black-owned, but “black women, for example, are currently the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in America—so are spaces for them” (Garrett). Though coworking owners are predominantly white, black-owned coworking spaces are a growing group of coworking spaces, and they tend to be located in diverse neighborhoods and designed to support people of color’s needs and interests (Wingard).  

As coworking spaces have become more popular, some owners have chosen to design and cater to a specific interest or demographic like women, working parents, the LGBTQ community, or artists—creating an influx of niche coworking spaces that “some feel are the future of coworking because of the other services they offer” (Coworking Resources). In 2011, Herahub emerged as the first international women-only coworking space, and other coworking spaces quickly emerged. One such U.S.-based women-only coworking space, The Wing, has gotten so popular that its members are well-known in their industries, its social media following attracts the likes of modern feminist icons, and its community events attract presidential candidates (Riley); journalists have gone so far to suggest The Wing, and other coworking spaces like it, function like a modern-day version of women’s clubs (North and Lieber). Feminist rhetoricians are uniquely poised to consider historical archives alongside artifacts of these coworking spaces to consider the validity of these claims—and I encourage future researchers to consider that noteworthy project. This Recoveries and Reconsiderations project serves as a mere conversation starter to this topic of feminist coworking spaces: I introduce feminist rhetoricians to coworking spaces as a site of inquiry while illuminating the topoi for why feminist coworking spaces exist so that we might emulate their successes in our own feminist pedagogies.   

To do this research, I began by investigating U.S.-based coworking spaces that limit membership to women allies[4]. Though all of the coworking spaces I have selected for this study name and practice values of feminism, it is important to recognize that not all of these coworking spaces are indeed successful at their goals at embodying intersectional feminism[5]. The Wing, for example, has functioned as a safe haven for many working women worldwide and has diversity and inclusion initiatives—and yet is often critiqued as elitist and overwhelmingly white, with racist behavior reported from members of colors (Reghay). LC Johnson, founder of Zora’s House (a black-owned, women-owned feminist coworking space in Central Ohio) whose website proclaims it helps women of color and their allies “to live their best lives and do their best work” argues that coworking spaces can function as what she calls “fourth places” or “a community gathering space that centers the ideas and identities of a particularly marginalized group” (Johnson). In her TED Talk, Johnson discusses how she hopes that Zora’s House and spaces like it will help alleviate what she calls the “brain drain,” or the mental energy subconsciously used from POC who are the only (or the few) in the room—mental energy that could be used innovating. Therefore this article specifically includes research on the budding group of U.S.-located, black-owned feminist coworking spaces found through researching each of The Plug’s List of Black Co-Working Spaces to find the women-owned coworking spaces (Blackbird, Browngirl Project, Camp Workspace, Ethel’s Club, and Zora’s House), along with sampling twelve U.S.-located feminist leaning coworking spaces found through researching women-owned and women-only coworking spaces (AllBright, Circle+Moon, EvolveHer, HeraHub, Sesh, The Assembly, The Coven, The Hivery, The Perlene, The Riveter, The Treasury, and The Wing). Upon selecting these 17 sites, I modeled my methodology after work-related rhetoricians Sarah Hallenbeck and Michelle Smith, who used topoi to trace reasonings for why people work, and developed new topoi to describe the lines of argument for why these feminist coworking spaces emerged, using the homepages and “about us” sections on the seventeen coworking websites. Preliminary findings suggest that feminist coworking spaces use the following topoi: community, inclusivity, and empowerment. To better situate my findings with the lived experiences of people designing and working within those spaces, I then surveyed leaders and/or members of the different feminist coworking spaces from the list above. The next section details my findings, while suggesting lingering questions that feminist rhetoricians might take up in future research.  

Tracing Rhetorical Topoi and Considering Implications

Research shows that community in coworking spaces are “driven by the logic of the market” (Spinuzzi et al, 133), and coworking spaces are built as places for solo-workers to gather “with an explicit purpose of social belonging” (Garrett et al. 822). At feminist coworking spaces, community seems to be for more than “social belonging” but for empowerment. Preliminary analysis suggests that what sets feminist coworking spaces apart is how they define community (as inclusive)—and what they hope that community will help folks do (empower women). The Treasury, for example, markets themselves as “a community of women who believe we are successful when we support each other,” which indicates that the community is for networking and sharing expertise so the community as a whole can succeed. The Coven explains, “We hold space for the magic women, non-binary and trans folks create when they come together as their whole-selves” (The Coven). In their mission, we see a commitment to an inclusive community— in the hopes that the collaboration between members will lead to “magic,” or the betterment of themselves (and perhaps others).   

Black-owned coworking spaces, in particular, “[center] access and cultural consciousness” (Martinez), and initial findings indicate that feminism imbues black-owned, women-owned coworking spaces. The New Women’s Space announces, “We envision a world where all people—regardless of their color, culture, gender identity, expression or presentation— are affirmed with dignity, respect and are given abundant access to the resources and opportunities they need to prosper and thrive”and Brown Girl Project’s about us section explains, “For Black women, community is often paramount as we navigate life in predominantly white, and inherently anti-Black, spaces” (Brown Girl Project). For these coworking spaces, community empowers women in the coworking space but also works to uplift the broader neighborhood or the WOC community more generally. Given that feminist coworking spaces have not been studied by rhetoricians yet, I posit more research into these topoi of community, inclusivity, and empowerment at feminist coworking spaces could complicate findings about the purpose of community and collaboration in coworking spaces. Feminist rhetoricians could gain insight into how the rhetorics of feminism shape the rhetorics of community and collaboration in a workplace.  

Feminist coworking spaces support community-building by organizing collaborative activities like mentorship events, self-help workshops, or online message boards that are central to the coworking space (Shaver et al.). In interviews, many members suggested that feminist practitioners should employ similar tactics in their classrooms by “fostering inspiration through collaboration” and creating “event-based activities” where students could learn from each other and/or invited community members. This suggestion to make collaboration central to pedagogy makes sense; fifteen of the seventeen feminist coworking spaces that I researched offer a membership for people who do not need the coworking space, but still want access to the in person and/or virtual community. Though feminist rhetoricians have already suggested “horizontal mentoring” as useful for professionalization in university settings (VanHaitsma and Ceraso), perhaps more research into the success of feminist coworking spaces’ mentoring could give even more insight into how to better institute formalized community mentoring.   

The kind of community that feminist coworking sites strive to curate are inclusive, leading me to locate the second topos as “inclusivity.” Though feminist coworking spaces intend to be inclusive, I am not trying to suggest that they always succeed in that goal. Feminist rhetoricians can and should do more research into the membership of these feminist coworking spaces when investigating this topos further: we should research the demographic diversity of these self-proclaimed inclusive coworking spaces’ membership and compare to other coworking spaces without an inclusivity commitment and/or to companies of similar size. As another leadership interviewee explained, she was a member of a women-only coworking space and “quickly learned that [she] was not their target audience,” so she decided to open her coworking space because “women, especially women of color need to feel empowered, seen, supported, and safe.”  Feminist coworking spaces clearly indicate their goal of inclusivity; for example, Ethel’s Club’s promises of “no ‘-ists,’ ‘-isms,’ or ‘-phobias,” and The Riveter’s proclamations that “equity of opportunity should be a reality, not a promise” (The Riveter). Though this move towards inclusivity is a purposeful choice, only one of the seventeen spaces listed accessibility specifications for differently abled folks. It seems, instead, like the main focus is on diversity as it pertains to race, culture, sexuality, and gender-expression. As one leadership interviewee explained, “coworking spaces generally, much like academic spaces, have been critiqued as white-washed spaces—and with their kegs and ping pong tables, it was just another boys club.  

We’re hoping to do something different; something where folks who are underrepresented and othered in the workforce—like people of color or LGBT or gender non-conforming folks—might find a safe and supportive environment.” Member interviewees valued inclusive workspaces so much that they suggested, we, in our role as teachers, could “[bring] in a diverse set of practitioners to speak to students to foster discussion” and “[create] spaces that are both independent and collaborative [because it] allows for people with different abilities to be comfortable.” Because office space design reflects industry and workplace values (Ashkanasy et al.), we could also consider how the spatial rhetorics of feminist coworking spaces are indeed inclusive of both the needs of their intended membership population and the population that the coworking space actually attracted. For example, efficiency and cost-saving values are present in cubicle set ups while networked-thought is valued in office space with movable furniture (Dennis). A spatial rhetorical analysis of feminist coworking spaces could help illuminate if the projected value of inclusivity was one echoed in the spaces’ design—or if other values seem to be indicated. Though universal design might be outside of our traditional purview as feminist rhetoricians, it raises the question of whether feminist rhetoricians might lobby for more inclusive classroom and university workspace design.  

Feminist coworking spaces often tied their missions to a topos can be broadly defined as empowerment. For example, Blackbird claims that “creating positive change in the world requires a balanced approach to life and work,” and Camp Workspace shares a quote from the founder, stating “The mission is simple: to create a world where people understand their influence, and know that it can be used to sustain their lifestyle and help them accomplish their wildest dreams.” This attention to the relationship between self-actualization and community activism might be an interesting site of inquiry for those interested in shifting topoi of work-related rhetorics. Further research into this topos might help us understand the growing trends of healthy food in workplaces, gym-membership discounts, and onsite child care—and the rhetorics that surround them. Perhaps popularized rhetorics of self-care have become intertwined with work-related rhetorics. It certainly seems to be the case in these coworking spaces, who claim to support both “working and personal lives” (Sesh) with one feminist coworking space going so far as calling itself a “wellness club” (The Assembly) rather than a coworking space. Perhaps feminist rhetoricians could consider the extent to which these spaces attention on self-care and community-activism does indeed contribute to the empowerment of the members and the surrounding community.   

Though these topoi are new contributions to rhetorical feminist scholarship, the seventeen coworking spaces that I investigated for these preliminary findings are not comprehensive of the multitude of feminist coworking spaces that exist, and therefore the topoi presented and research suggestions are merely preliminary findings presented to inspire conversation and future research. I am hopeful feminist rhetoricians will take up the multiple projects I have suggested: archival projects considering the connection between women’s clubs and feminist coworking spaces; case studies that consider the extent to which feminist coworking spaces are the inclusive, empowering workplaces they claim to be; rhetorical analysis of how feminist coworking space’s community events shift national and local conversations about women’s issues, mental health, and politics in work places. Regardless of what kinds of research projects ensue, I project that future research into feminist coworking spaces might have important ramifications for feminist pedagogy, much like how research in makerspaces has influenced composition pedagogy (Kaupf), along with implications for workplace design in our university settings. Research studies on feminist coworking spaces has the potential to be a robust area of scholarship, and I look forward to the ways that research about feminist coworking spaces will contribute to feminist rhetorical scholarship, and in turn our pedagogies and workspaces. 

End notes

[1]I am indebted to a reviewer of this article, whose critical questions about my experience at The Riveter as being so comfortable because of the body I inhabit, helped me consider this question. This reviewer not only shifted my thoughts about why I felt comfortable in this space, but also re-shaped the scope of this project, making the discussion of race and class at the forefront of the analysis in this Recoveries and Reconsiderations article.  

[2]When I use “feminism” in this essay, I draw from bell hooks’ commonly cited interpretation of feminism that I cite earlier: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (1).  

[3]Though Covid-19 has affected the coworking industry and caused some to close their doors, many have shifted to lower capacity protocols or digital memberships that incorporate online networking and virtual events to remain in business.  

[4]For the sake of brevity, I narrowed my sites to coworking spaces that had U.S. locations (perhaps in addition to other European locations), but future research can and should be done on feminist coworking spaces with attention to a more representative global sampling. Feminist coworking spaces are a global phenomenon.

[5]Like the feminist movement in general, the feminism that is practiced in coworking spaces can be flawed. Some of the coworking spaces can attract and work best for white, upper-class, able-bodied, neurotypical women. I chose to study them anyway because they do try to function as intersectional feminists: they value diversity and try to support it by having scholarship options for members; invite speakers of color and/or inhabiting queer and differently abled bodies; and work hard to listen to their members to fix their accidental but still not excusable incidents of racism, classism, homophobia, or discrimination.   

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Research on the Literate Practices of Field Matrons on the Hopi Reservation

Figure 1: “View of lower village road” (Idella Hahn) with her shadow c. 1913-14. Image description: a wide shot of flat land with short shrubs. In the foreground is a shadow of a woman in a long dress.


This is a research story about my great-great grandmother, who was a field matron on the Hopi reservation in the early 1900s. The field matron program was part of the colonial project that the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs instituted to culturally assimilate Indigenous peoples. Other such programs included native children’s forced attendance at boarding schools, the reservation system itself that supported landholding and property concepts, and farming/employment programs that disrupted traditional activities and lifeways. Although government intentions were framed as benevolent in public discourse, and some employees who implemented these programs might have believed that their actions were coming from the best intentions, the effect that they had was to destroy native culture. This colonial project served to support the dominance of white culture in the United States, which benefits white people such as myself to this day. I am a white female scholar, writing about my white female ancestor and her relationship with the Hopi people she worked with on the reservation. I feel obligated to tell this story because I feel that such destructive governmental programs should not be allowed to exist – that if the history of the field matron program is forgotten, it could be repeated, and that if there is any chance for restitution and reconciliation with Indigenous people, it is important to have this conversation.   

I grew up hearing fantastic stories about my great-great grandmother Idella Senour Hahn (1869-1969), who worked as a field matron on the Hopi reservation in Arizona in the early 1900s. She left her midwestern home in Bourbon, Indiana, after the untimely death of her husband Daniel Hahn from tuberculosis on May 9, 1909, and the death of her mother Sophia Baylor one year later. Idella had two young sons, 13-year-old Harold and 10-year-old Donald. They moved west to Dickinson, North Dakota, where Idella’s brother George A. Senour lived. Idella supposedly inherited land there, but her sons were too young to work the farm. She also was trained to give music lessons and thought of opening a music store, but there was not much interest in music in the rural town. 

Figure 2: Idella Hahn c. 1913. Image description: a headshot of Idella Hahn, who would have been in her mid-40s. She has short curly hair and is dressed in a white blouse with a dark bow at the throat. She is looking directly into the camera with a serious expression.

So, her brother recommended that she seek work with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as the Sioux and Mandan Indians had settlements nearby. She passed the Civil Service Field Matron Examination on September 10, 1913, which included home economics subjects such as “keeping accounts,” “elementary sewing,” “cooking and general household management,” “sanitation, hygiene, care of the sick, care and feeding of children,” “home gardening and poultry raising,” and “methods of social work” (U.S. Civil Service Commission). She hoped to be assigned work nearby in North Dakota, but she was instead given a post at the Moqui[1]  Agency at Stearns Canyon, Arizona, and she was notified that “This Agency is remote from the Railroad and there are no school facilities for your sons,” despite the fact that there was a school on the reservation for the Hopis, which was not considered suitable for her children (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, “Education – Appointments”). Idella would be paid $660 a year (which was equivalent to about $18,000 in 2021 purchasing power), but she was responsible for paying her own way to the reservation, which would include travel by train, car, and then buckboard or stagecoach (U.S. Dept. of the Interior, “Education – Employees”). 

When my family would tell her story, they would bring out an old photo album, newspaper clippings, and other documents that gave evidence and context to Idella’s life. They had a box of Indian artifacts that Idella had collected, either given to her as gifts (as I was told) or purchased, including moccasins, a braided rug, and woven baskets. Idella donated many pieces to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History after it was founded in 1920. My family sold some of the pieces when I was a child, but some are still in boxes in my possession or stored by other family members. I considered donating the items that I had to the natural history museum, some arrowheads and a rug, but then learned about the Hopi reclamation efforts, especially of kachina dolls, from museums around the country and world when I visited the Hopi reservation. The repatriation of such artifacts is important to the Hopi people, and so returning them to the ancestors of the people who made them is a step toward restoration of Indigenous sovereignty. 

My family also had essays that Idella had written about the Hopi snake dance, the naming of a Hopi baby, and her “Plea for the Indian” that sought the right for the Hopi to continue their dances and cultural practices (Hahn, “Description,” “The Naming,” and “Plea”). My family characterized her work by claiming that “she was a teacher” on the reservation, or that “she taught at a school” there. They also said that she wrote one of the first Hopi-English dictionaries, and that it was kept in the Library of Congress or records of the Bureau of the Interior[2]. These artifacts and stories made me curious about Idella’s life and work. 

When I decided to write a biography of Idella Hahn in 2015 and started researching the field matrons and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, I found a very different view of their work in the history books. Field matrons were employed by the U.S. government to conduct the cultural assimilation of Native American women (Emmerich “Right in the Midst,” “Marguerite Laflesche Diddock”; Simonsen “‘Object Lessons,’” “Making Home Work”). They were supposed to help improve sanitary conditions and aid in medical matters, but most were not nurses. They taught Native American women how to cook, clean, sew, and act like American farm women (Bryson & Hansen). Field matrons were not formally trained, but instead brought their own understanding of their role to the job and received guidance from “circulars” and letters sent from their supervisors. The program, although ostensibly acting as a form of social work to aid Indigenous peoples, resulted in the further destruction of native culture (after their land was taken and they were moved onto reservations) and created a rift between native women and their communities. For almost 50 years, mostly white field matrons were sent to Indian reservations around the country in the hopes that by assimilating native women in the home through normative domestic practices, native children and the community would also be more easily assimilated. 

Field matrons were the embodiment of the program created by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to help solve the Indian “problem,” having direct contact with the targeted population, and so their writings provide a window into the moral struggle that they must have felt when they became the instrument of forced assimilation. They joined the service with a Christian missionary spirit to help and “civilize” tribal women, but when they realized the results of their work, and saw the hardships and reality of life on the reservation for Native women, many quickly left their job (Hancock, Trennert, Wunder). This was considered “women’s work,” with field matrons primarily focused on Native women’s housekeeping, childbirth, and health care practices. Not all the work that field matrons did was bad for Indigenous people – they helped take care of sick family members, assisted in childbirth, and showed Native women ways that their handiwork could improve their homes and provide extra income for their families. Some features of this education would have been useful to women who wanted to assimilate to dominant white settler ways of life. However, the forced nature of this education on Indigenous women was unethical. How field matrons’ writings changed over time, during their tenure on the reservation, shows an evolving understanding of their purpose and the role set out by the government. The changing focus of correspondence between field matrons and their supervisors over time also shows the development of the program’s goals and ultimately its discontinuation in favor of providing general nursing assistance. 

Representing Indigenous versus Assimilating Rhetoric 

U.S. government policy, as enacted by field matrons, forced Native women against their will to accept the dominant culture and ways of acting. However, as Scott Lyons asks, “What do Indians want from writing?” He says, rhetorical sovereignty: “the inherent right and ability of peoples to determine their own communicative needs and desires in this pursuit, to decide for themselves the goals, modes, styles, and languages of public discourse (449–450). He shows this by relating the history of Native American use of rhetorical sovereignty to create laws and treaties to govern their lands and claims that one “pillar of sovereignty” is self-government (457). This is important because “Indigenous people … may constitute the world’s most adamant refusal of current expansions of global capitalism and imperialism that plagues many and benefit so few” (462). He calls for prioritization of the study of American Indian rhetoric (and that of other minorities) in curriculum, including their treaties and laws, both historical and contemporary, with an eye toward social change. 

Malea Powell asks how Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins and Charles Alexander Eastman, two Native Americans, used language to survive and resist colonialization. The problem, she sees, is the “Western Eurocentric focus of the American academy” (“Rhetorics of Survivance” 398). She calls for an “imaginative liberation of indigenous peoples from the stories being told about them that insist on nobility or ignobility, that cannot afford to see Indian peoples as humans” (399). She answers her question by giving some historical background and “critically engaging with Native texts,” two memoirs written respectively by Hopkins and Eastman: Life Among the Piutes (1883) and From the Deep Woods to Civilization (1916). Powell states that “I pay close attention to the language of survivance (survival + resistance) that they, consciously or unconsciously, use in order to reimagine and, literally, reconfigure “the Indian” (400). She says that “my hope is that we can begin to reimagine ourselves, our pedagogies, our scholarship, our discipline in relation to a long and sordid history of American imperialism (428). Powell seeks a critical reimagining of the field of rhetoric and composition to right the colonial wrongs that have been done to many peoples. 

Alanna Frost asks how Dakelh (British Columbia, Canada, Native Americans) literacy practices can inform the field of rhetoric and composition. She studies the lifework of two prominent Dakelh “literacy stewards,” Mary John and Doreen Patrick, includes a brief history, and comments on their practices in their communities. Frost states, “This term, literacy steward, can be applied to any individual who demonstrates persistent dedication to the practice or promotion of a literacy considered traditionally important to his or her community (56). She uses the term steward instead of Brandt’s sponsorship because with sponsorship, a “dependence on funding sources has implications for how and when cultural composing happens” (56) and is limited by the sponsor’s agenda and is market-based. She finds that the “Dakelh use of memory-in-place offers an example of alternative ontologies that directly relate to literacy practices with which community members engage during public and private affairs” (61) in a traditional survivance practice. Literacy stewards are interested in the grassroots development of noncommodified resources. 

Malea Powell also writes about Susan La Flesche Picotte (Omaha), asking how Native Americans have used language to navigate relationships with European Americans. She answers this question by recounting history and evaluating La Flesche’s writing, stating that “La Flesche’s way of dealing with European Americans … is, for me, powerfully persuasive evidence of the alliance and adaptation tactics some Native people engaged in … (“Down by the River, 49). Powell takes up the term primacy, or status given to “official” (dominant) viewpoints in relation to the devalued “practices of the everyday, and the knowledge of those who function in this context” (Royster & Williams qtd. in Powell 42). She believes that learning about La Flesche’s literary tactics can help rhetoric and composition scholars form an alliance against the “prime” narrative of Western Eurocentric ideology. 

These scholars study the rhetoric of Indigenous authors to define their methods of resisting colonization by European Americans. They make these Native people’s lives visible and reproduce the meanings of their texts to both preserve the history of their culture and add to the field of rhetoric and composition’s knowledge base. In the discipline of literacy, rhetoric, and composition and academia in general, minorities have not been well represented, and their cultural practices have not been as valued in research and pedagogy. In the struggle to address Western ethnocentrism, gender bias, and ableism, there have been recent moves to recover minority and non-Western writings from the archives that were not previously noted or recorded (Wu, Takayoshi). In a feminist methodological response to erasure of women’s experience from the archives, I am recovering the experiences of these field matrons and bringing them to light. I hope that study of the writings of field matrons will lead to greater understanding of assimilation processes in society so that they can be dismantled and avoided. 

Feminism in the Archives 

Feminist methodology is central to this type of research, and there are certain aspects of this broad methodology to unpack (Enoch and Bessette; Bizzell). First, is the epistemological stance of studying women’s history. The researcher wants to bring greater historical context and coverage to the history of women; therefore, the choice of the subject of study reflects this focus. This is the systematic recovery of historical information that would otherwise go untold or become lost in the archives. This research also helps tell the story of field matrons’ relations with Indigenous peoples and the Hopi tribe, a group that has experienced systematic discrimination from the U.S. government. Therefore, the site of research is also reflective of a focus on a marginalized population living on the fringes of U.S. society. 

Taking this feminist methodology also means acknowledging the role that participants play in developing the knowledge that is obtained from the research and including them in the interpretation of the data (Powell and Takayoshi). Anything that is learned should be reciprocally shared with participants and the researcher should do whatever is possible to return the favor of their time and effort on the project. It is also imperative to be self-reflexive—keenly aware of personal biases and background in the understanding of events from the past and how the researcher’s status as influenced by their identity plays into their research design, data collection, and evaluation of results. This can be done by reflectively analyzing interpretations critically for faults in logic because of misconceptions or assumptions (Kirsch and Rohan). 

This methodology is also generative, where one piece of information will lead to another important piece of the puzzle, because rebuilding historical information is a constructivist process. The meaning of events from the past can only be understood through the contextualization of social situations from history, but these are also negotiated by present-day ideologies in the representation of knowledge (Cushman, Gaillet, Gold). This methodology takes an interdisciplinary approach, combining rhetoric and composition, archival historical research, sociology, and ethnography. 

The Journey

I started out collecting information about Idella Hahn from my family, and then I looked to external sources. First, I traveled to Bourbon, Indiana, and Chicago in February 2016 to see where Idella grew up and went to school. Then, I traveled to the Hopi reservation that Marchwhere spent 5 days tracing the steps of my great-great grandmother and visited the places she had likely been, locating scenery in photographs that she had taken and speaking with residents. I wanted to get a sense of what it must have been like for her to move all the way from Indiana to Arizona, leave her children behind, and work with Native people. had contacted the Hopi Office of Cultural Preservation to ask the tribe for their permission to use my great-great grandmothers’ writings and photos about life on the reservation in the biography. I was invited to meet with legal researcher at the Office of Cultural Preservation Terry Morgart, on the reservation in Arizona, where I also met the Hopi archivist and ethnohistorian Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa, who agreed that the project should proceed, and that they would be willing to work with me on it[1].

Figure 3: “My house Oraibi” (Idella Hahn) c. 1913-14. Image description: a long, one-story ranch style house seen from far away on flat land with a fence and a line of trees in front. On the left is another structure: another house or a barn. In front of the fence are three adult women and a child.

I had many questions about ethics to consider because thedid not want my research to impinge on their cultural privacy. The Hopis do not allow photography on their reservation, and they informed me that some of the ceremonies described in Idella’s essays were not usually open to outsiders. Some of the ceremonies described in her writings were not appropriate for Hopi children to read about until they were adultsIn addition, I could not speak reliably about their culture while in the process of writing the biography of a field matron because I am not a Hopi. So, I asked Mr. Koyiyumptewa to work collaboratively with me on the project on sensitive cultural issues. He asked in return if I would share my photographs with him, and so I gave him a USB drive with digital copies of all the photographs that Idella had taken and the notes that she had written on them about location and date. I also offered to give 10% of any proceeds if the biography was published to the Hopi Education Endowment Fund, which Mr. Koyiyumptewa found to my surprise is still housed in a building that existed near where Idella lived on the reservation.[3] 

Figure 4: “Looking north view from my front gate. The Drs. house. I made an X on the sheep corral up on the side of the hill. It is quite steep” (Idella Hahn) c. 1913-14. Image description: a small one-story house with a large rock formation behind the house in the background.

In my search for archival records, I was told that most of the historical documents about the Hopi reservation that would have been kept at the local Keams Canyon office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs had been moved to the National Archives at Riverside, California. There were some documents available at the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, so I traveled there to read correspondence between the superintendent dated around 1906–09 (Moqui Indian Agency [Ariz.]). These documents show how schoolteacher Elizabeth Stanley and field matron Miltona Keith acted as intermediaries to try and defuse the “trouble” at Oraibi, when the government forced parents to send children in the village to a boarding school and caused a split between parents who agreed to send their children (called “friendlies”), and those who refused (“unfriendlies” or “hostiles”). There was an armed uprising, during which many Hopis were captured and imprisoned on Alcatraz Island. The event caused a split in the community, with the unfriendlies moving to the nearby town of Hotevilla in the canyon, and the friendlies staying in Oraibi. Stanley says in her report to Commissioner of Indian Affairs Francis E. Leupp, “My school is nearly all over in the Hostile camp. I am thinking of turning hostile myself, and then maybe you will put me with them. It is hard to give them all up but I hope to stay at Oraibi.” History books that describe these events (of which there are not many) do not usually discuss the role that these women played. This split in the community still existed when Idella arrived in Oraibi in 1914. 

In 2019, I traveled to the National Archives in Riverside, California, after receiving funding through a Graduate Student Research Award from Kent State University. I digitized the correspondence of several field matrons and documents pertaining to their service in the early 1900s (U.S. National Archives “75.4 General Records,” “75.19.46 Records”). The documents that I collected at the National Archives are the official records of their field reports and the journals and correspondence with their supervisors. These are called “Circulars” because some of the messages were circulated throughout the reservations toward the management of operations by the Superintendent in charge. They show a progressive professionalization of the field matron job through imposition of a uniform (that each field matron had to sew out of bolts of fabric provided by the BIA), an increasing number of circulars describing how they should do their jobs, and training programs provided at weeklong conferences across the west. On the reservation, there was no running water and “traditional” white settler ways of farming and crops were forced on a land that could not sustain it. This greatly reduced the community’s food sovereignty, which put stress on the reservation’s ability to feed its people independently, and resulted in further dependence on government assistance through supplemental food rationing (Wilbur, “Food Sovereignty”). There is mention of how the field matrons should keep track of Hopi births and deaths, a pamphlet called “Indian Babies – How to Keep Them Well” (1916), and correspondence about a “baby contest” meant to showcase their work with Hopi mothers that had to be canceled last minute because of an outbreak of disease on the reservation. The difficulties of various epidemics and World War I are evident from circulars that describe food shortages, prescribe quarantine procedures, and institute a ban on the government employment of U.S. citizens with German heritage in 1917. 

Although Idella did not have a German background, her husband’s family did, so because of her husband’s last name that she still carried (Hahn) she was forced to resign her duties in 1918. This was particularly ironic because both of her sons served in World War I, and her job as a cultural assimilator ended because her personal cultural heritage was invalidated by the very government that had hired her. As recorded on her “Efficiency Report” dated April 25, 1918: 

Mrs. Hahn apparently is loosing [sic] interest, evidently largely due to the fact that she expects to leave the service on or before the coming July 1st. She has two sons in the America [sic] army, now in France. She is American, regrets the handicap, as she expresses it, her German name, her deceased husband having been a German. (Nat. Archives at St. Louis) 

It is now 2021, and I feel that having just lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, I have even greater empathy for my great-grandmother’s loss of her husband to tuberculosis, the difficulties dealing with epidemics on the reservations, and how she patented a design for burial clothes in 1940. Before this year, I thought the last fact strange, but now I can see how there would be a need for this, especially living through the last great influenza pandemic and between the two world wars. I hope that over time, I will develop an even greater understanding of what her life was like and what it means. 

In contemporary society, there are a multitude of social service programs that intrude on the home life and privacy of citizens, especially for those who receive government assistance. These types of intrusions, especially regarding medical health tracking, have become increasingly common through modern technological advancements for people at all socioeconomic levels of society. While there are no more field matrons sent out to assimilate people in the United States, many Native people who live on reservations still receive government assistance and social services, and experience high poverty rates. Understanding how intrusive government policies become normalized in historical women’s discourse will help reveal the process of policy formation and social norm formation so that such invasive and damaging programs can be dismantled and avoided in the future. 

Questions

How did American women who worked as field matrons for the Bureau of Indian Affairs react to the colonizing forces of their job assignments? What did the field matrons experience on the job, and how did they justify their work to themselves and their superiors? How did they reconcile the underlying ideology of ethnocentricity with the purported aims of improving living conditions of Hopis on the reservation? 

What are the ethics of working with archives of groups that the researcher is not a part of? What are the ethical practices for working with culturally sensitive materials? How do we approach working with rhetorical materials that may represent oppressive/colonialist views, especially when the author might be perceived as sharing the same cultural/racial identity as the colonizers? 

In what ways does the recovery of women’s writing from the archives change the cultural memory of historical events and social processes? Aside from increasing the perceived value of women’s writings and traditionally feminine topics, does a contemporary change in ideology that increasingly values women’s work also call for an adjustment in the historical record? Or does it simply fill in the gaps where knowledge was missing, to reinforce history as it is already understood? 

How can family stories and histories, passed down from generation to generation, add to our shared cultural heritage and understanding of history writ large? The genre is usually viewed as subjective and potentially inaccurate, but when women’s stories are so often erased from the written record, family lore is an important way to transmit historical information about women. How can accuracy be ensured, or at least attempted, in the changing oral stories of family members?

Endnotes 

[1]The word Moqui was originally used by the Spanish to denote the Hopi people, but the word came to be pronounced in a way that means “dead” in the Hopi language, and is therefore seen as derogatory by the Hopi, although it was used by the U.S. Department of the Interior to refer to the Hopi until 1930.

[2] I have been unable to find a copy of, or official reference to, this dictionary. It is possible that it was redacted from government records because of the use of the Navajo language (which is similar in etymology to Hopi) as a secret code during World War II.

[3] Special thanks to Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa for reviewing this article for accuracy and cultural sensitivity before publication. 

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DIY Invitational Rhetoric: Engaging with the Past, Promoting Ongoing Dialogues, and Combating Racism

Although invitational rhetoric’s roots reach back to 1995 when Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin published “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric,” invitational rhetoric merits only a brief mention in many composition and communication publications. In fact, Susan Kirtley noted that “for all of its value, invitational rhetoric rarely appears in composition textbooks. When it does come into focus, it is highlighted only briefly as an alternative to argument, and sometimes, in contrast with Foss and Griffin’s description, as merely a less adversarial argument” (340).  Foss and Griffin define invitational rhetoric as a type of rhetoric grounded in “equality, immanent value, and self-determination” that involves audience members “listening to and trying to understand the rhetor’s perspective and then presenting their own” (5). The goal is not simply to exchange ideas. Ideally, “the rhetor and the audience alike contribute to the thinking about an issue so that everyone involved gains a greater understanding of the issue in its subtlety, richness, and complexity (Foss and Griffin 5). As a result, rhetors do not assume their position is superior to their audience’s beliefs. In fact, rhetors “view the choices selected by audience members as right for them at that particular time, based on their own abilities to make those decisions” (Foss and Griffin 6).

Despite invitational rhetoric’s steps toward peaceful communication, two major obstacles diminish the effectiveness of dialogues via invitational rhetoric. The first obstacle involves a lack of engagement with past rhetors. Invitational rhetoric focuses only on present dialogue between living rhetors. Without engaging the past, dialogues remain within the bounds of living rhetors’ knowledge and experiences. Contentious issues often rooted in the past require rhetors to engage with the past to be well informed of the history of an issue. A failure to engage with past rhetors diminishes diverse perspectives that fuel the meaning making process of invitational rhetoric.

The second challenge is a lack of a mechanism to generate ongoing dialogues. Contentious issues deserve more than a “one and done” approach to dialogue. By making private dialogues public, rhetors foster ongoing dialogues that extend beyond their social circles. Diversity resulting from an ongoing dialogue with an increasing number of participants multiplies perspectives while amplifying understanding and meaning making. Ongoing dialogues taking place over a long period of time allow for reflection periods between dialogues. The cumulative dialogues over a long period assist rhetors in articulating their position in the current time and permit them to shift positions as they uncover new meanings in future dialogues.

With the aforementioned challenges in mind, in this article, I argue for a more useful type of invitational rhetoric as I reconsider Foss and Griffin’s theory of invitational rhetoric through a new application that I refer to as DIY invitational rhetoric and utilize Jasmine Sanders’s New York Times article “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” to illustrate DIY invitational rhetoric’s efficacy. In the concluding section, I highlight DIY invitational rhetoric’s value as a feminist rhetorical strategy for combating racism.

Defining DIY Rhetoric

So, how is DIY invitational rhetoric different from Foss and Griffin’s invitational rhetoric? Underscoring the significance of DIY, I build on Foss and Griffin’s theory by adding two new steps that emphasize actions individual rhetors complete before and after dialogues, Before engaging in a dialogue on a specific topic, individual rhetors engage in dialogues with past rhetors through what Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch refer to as “critical imagination” (71 (1)). To describe critical imagination in action, Royster and Kirsch provide the example of engaging with historical women: “. . . this process involves interrogating the contexts, conditions, lives, and practices of women who are no longer alive to speak directly on their own behalf. We use critical imagination as a tool to engage, as it were, in hypothesizing, in what might be called ‘educated guessing,’ as a means for searching methodically, not so much for immutable truth but instead for what is likely or possible, given the facts in hand” (71 (2)). Using critical imagination, rhetors engage in primary research to listen to the voices of past rhetors as well as formulate questions and possibilities while linking the past with the present. Critical imagination as a DIY process serves as a type of self-education. Questions, patterns, and understandings that emerge through critical imagination unleash fruitful insights that prove useful in dialogues with living rhetors.

Extending the definition of DIY rhetoric, I note the final DIY step I have added to Foss and Griffin’s invitational rhetoric. To promote ongoing dialogue, private dialogues must be made public in order to reach beyond the social circles of a small group of rhetors. For scholars, professional publications serve as outlets for sharing dialogues with a large group of readers that possess the potential to keep the dialogue going orally with their colleagues and in a public written response. For those inside and outside of academia, social media, blogs, podcasts, online videos, and websites serve as mechanism for cascading conversations. Online outlets provide an asynchronous space for rhetors to reflect on cumulative dialogues that have taken place over a long period to arrive at new understandings and maintain a fluid position that continues to evolve with each new dialogue.

Applying DIY Invitational Rhetoric

I now turn to Jasmine Sanders’s “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” to illustrate the efficacy of DIY invitational rhetoric. During an interview with NPR’s Robin Young, Sanders recognizes a need for dialogue. Considering she will one day inherit furs, Sanders contemplates how she will feel about owning her mother’s elegant, beloved fur coats during a time when PETA’s powerful antifur messages permeate social media and television. She recalls the words of her mother, Vivian Jarrett-Irving: “We live on the south side of Chicago. I don’t see those people [PETA] here. They don’t seem to want to be speaking to me anyway” (Sanders, “The Significance”(1)). Sanders echoes her mother’s sentiments by citing a quote from Paul Marie Seniors’s mother: “As soon as black women could afford to buy mink coats, white society and white women said fur was all wrong, verboten, passé” (“A Black Legacy,” D1(1)). The two mothers’ comments illustrate a lack of communication between some African American women, PETA, and others in white communities who hold strong positions related to using animal fur in fashion. In reality, it seems impossible for Sanders to bring the diverse parties together for an actual dialogue, so she engages in invitational rhetoric as she holds her own discussions with African Americans, PETA, and the Zimbals, Wisconsin mink farm owners. Throughout her individual dialogues with the aforementioned groups, Sanders practices Foss and Griffin’s theory of invitational rhetoric as she and her fellow rhetors engage in listening, presenting their positions, trying to understand each other’s perspectives while refraining from persuading with the intention to change the others’ perspectives (5). To illustrate DIY invitational rhetoric’s efficacy, I will focus on Sanders’s use of two DIY steps: engaging with past rhetors via critical imagination and making private dialogues public for ongoing dialogue and meaning making amongst a large group of diverse rhetors.

Prior to engaging in dialogues with PETA and mink farmers, Sanders engages with the past rhetors. Sanders’s mother, Vivian Jarrett-Irving, provides a starting place for Sanders’s research as she reveals the cultural significance of fur for many African American women. For Jarrett-Irving, fur coats, imbued with cultural significance for many African American women, served as a “personal luxury item,” “an important investment,” and reminder of the “six million black migrants who were propelled north by the tenuous hope of something better” (Sanders, “A Black Legacy” D1(2)). Jarrett-Irving, remembering her own mother’s inability to own a home in the early nineteenth century, states, “Federal housing codes that barred fair loans from being offered to black people, as well as other forms of housing discrimination, rendered home-ownership impossible for many black families, and arduous for those who could attain it. So money was put toward other markers of personal prosperity, the kind that retained value and could be passed down to the next generation” (Sanders, “A Black Legacy,” D1(3)). Like houses and land, fur became a vehicle for social mobility in its representation of prosperity that could be passed down to future generations.

To further illuminate her understanding of many African Americans’ position on fur, Sanders explores eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth-century resources and employs critical imagination to uncover questions and possibilities that enrich her understanding and transform her into an informed rhetor. From her research, Sanders learns about the role enslaved and freedmen played in the fur economy and notes fur’s significance in the Harlem Renaissance and its worth in terms of self-expression for modern famous public figures such as Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin (“A Black Legacy” D1(4)). Sanders unearths past voices to deepen her understanding.

Delving into the past through critical imagination allows Sanders to “interrogat[e] the contexts, conditions, lives, and practices” of past Africans Americans’ connections with fur (Royster and Kirsch 71(3)). Through Sanders interrogation of the past rhetors, she uncovers racist practices in the fashion industry. As noted above, Sanders recalls Paul Marie Seniors’s mother saying, “As soon as black women could afford to buy mink coats, white society and white women said fur was all wrong, verboten, passé” (“A Black Legacy” D1(5)). The abrupt shift in fashion trends moving away from fur highlights the role racism plays in fashion. Fashion serves as a dividing force that separates people of color from whites, and sudden changes in fashion prevent many women of color and lower-class women from wearing the latest fashions. The fashion industry through price and frequent shifts in fashion control what people of color wear and the meanings attached to their clothed bodies.

Through uncovering past racist practices via critical imagination, Sanders becomes an informed rhetor equipped with a foundation for improving her understanding of complex present perspectives and practices. In “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” Sanders addresses PETA’s position as she recounts footage from their advertisements and includes the following statement from PETA’s past senior international media director, Ben Williamson: “We like to think of ourselves as P.R. for animals” (Sanders, “A Black Legacy” D1(6)). Although Sanders disapproves of PETA’s cruel letter to Aretha Franklin for wearing fur and their juxtaposition of marginalized people’s suffering and animals’ suffering in commercials, Sanders communicates her understanding of PETA’s position. In turn, PETA expresses an interest in Sanders’ position, so Sanders meets with a spokesperson from PETA to discuss her position. She tells PETA’s spokesperson as well as NPR’s Robin Young that she is “fur ambiguous” (Sanders, “The Significance”(2)). Justifiably, Sanders’s “fur ambiguous” position stems from her acknowledgement of the complexity of the issue (“The Significance”(2)).  As a person who values conservation and veganism, Sanders could easily assume an anti-fur position, but through critical imagination and dialogue, she recognizes the complexity of the issue.

In applying the final DIY strategy, making private dialogues public, Sanders ensures dialogues continue with diverse groups. Sanders shares information about her dialogues in “A Black Legacy, Wrapped Up in Fur” in The New York Times and in an NPR interview with Robin Young. NPR invited listeners to voice their perspectives on NPR’s online forum. By making private dialogues public through publication and providing an online forum for ongoing dialogue, Sanders exemplifies DIY invitational rhetoric’s relevance in twenty-first century. Dialogue involving contentious issues deserves more than a “one and done” approach. Ongoing dialogue amongst diverse improves rhetors’ understanding of complex issues.

As diverse rhetors listen and contribute their own perspectives, the online forum serves as a space for “giving the world a chance to explain itself” (Barrett 147). In this example of DIY invitational rhetoric, Sanders’s readers and listeners are invited to enter multiple rhetors’ worlds to enhance their understanding and share their own perspectives in NPR’s online forum. Dialogues taking place amongst listeners around the world in the online forum showcase a diverse range of truths as rhetors articulate their positions regarding racism and fashion, animal cruelty, and environmental concerns related to the faux fur production. With each new post, rhetors weave together new strands of discourse as their positions and understandings continue to evolve.

Closing Remarks

To conclude, I want to recognize two ways that DIY invitational rhetoric serves as a vehicle for feminist intervention in the deteriorating public discourse of our time by combating racism.

Ethical Representation and Giving Voice to the Oppressed 

DIY invitational rhetoric’s emphasis on engaging with past rhetors via critical imagination and making private dialogues public for ongoing conversations provides an opening for rhetors to ethically represent the oppressed and fight racism. As mentioned earlier, Sanders’s mother along with other African American women were never afforded the opportunity to explain to those outside of their culture why they wear and value fur. Invitational rhetoric allowed Sanders to listen and attempt to understand her mother’s position as well as past rhetors’ positions. Through her work, Sanders serves as a “negotiator, someone who can cross boundaries and serve as a guide and translator for Others” (Royster 34). As a translator, her work with DIY invitational rhetoric helps to produce ethical representations of communities misrepresented due to racism. To outsiders, African American fur enthusiasts appear as proponents of animal cruelty. However, Sanders’s research and dialogues disclose many African Americans’ historical ties to fur as tool for social mobility in a racist world that impeded their social mobility. Through a published dialogue and interview, Sanders, as a negotiator, crosses boundaries as she translates African Americans’ connection to fur for readers outside of African American communities.

Self-Education 

Helping to combat racism, DIY invitational rhetoric’s emphasis on engaging with the past assists white rhetors in self-education prior to engaging in dialogues related to race. In “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle to Master’s House,” Audre Lorde emphasizes the need for self-education: “Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women . . .” (113). Lorde underscores the need for individuals, specifically white men and women, to do their own racial and cultural work, meaning work to educate themselves instead of relying on others to serve as educators. Engaging with past rhetors via critical imagination gives current rhetors valuable insight prior to engaging in dialogues centered on race.

Works Cited

  • Barrett, Harold. Rhetoric and Civility: Human Development, Narcissism, and the Good Audience. State U of New York P, 1991.     –return to text
  • Foss, Sonja K., and Cindy L. Griffin. “Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric. Communication Monographs, vol. 62, no. 1, 1995, pp. 2-18.     –return to text
  • Lorde, Audre. “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Crossing Press, 1984, pp. 110-13.     –return to text
  • Kirtley, Susan. Considering the Alternative in Composition Pedagogy: Teaching Invitational Rhetoric with Lynda Barry’s What It Is. Women’s Studies in Communication, vol. 37, no. 3, 2014, pp. 339-57.     –return to text
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear is not Your Own.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 47, no. 1, 1996, pp. 29–40.     –return to text
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois UP, 2012.     –return to text (1), (2), or (3)
  • Sanders, Jasmine. “A Black Legacy, Wrapped in Fur.” New York Times. 4 Mar. 2019, p. D1. http://www.nytimes.com      –return to text (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), or (6)
  • —. “The Significance of Black Women Owning Fur.” Interview by Robin Young. WBUR, 4 Mar. 2019, http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/03/04/sanders-black-women-owning-fur      –return to text (1) or (2)

Disturbing White Perfectionism in the Graduate Student Habitus

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally—our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time. (Margaret Wheatley 34)

It may be easy for antiracist feminist graduate students and faculty to agree with the opening epigraph, even to feel its truth deeply. Yet, for graduate students especially, in a university context whose primary function in society is to house and produce knowledge, “admitting we don’t know” and allowing ourselves to “be confused for a time” can be challenging to embody. Despite important feminist epistemological interventions that have challenged academic norms of objectivity, impartiality, and certainty (Wynter and McKittrick, Collins, Haraway) and despite the simple fact that being a scholar should imply a positive stance towards lifelong learning, contemporary academic cultural norms still demand the steady performance of mastery and certainty. Navigating one’s performance within this paradox can be especially difficult for the university’s newest professional initiates, the graduate students. In a recent study investigating impediments to success in the field of composition, Dana Lynn Driscoll, S. Rebecca Leigh, and Nadia Francine Zamin found that despite not asking interviewees about imposter syndrome directly, over 40% volunteered their (negative) experiences of it. To survive an intimidating environment, graduate students learn to hide away vulnerability and present a knowledgeable front while striving for perfection.

The problem that occupies this short essay is that perfectionism in the graduate classroom1 impedes graduate students’ ability to engage in the vulnerable, imperfect, often deeply uncomfortable self-work of antiracist personal transformation. There is a growing body of scholarship that seeks to make antiracist transformation in higher education not only theoretically acceptable, but actionable (see Condon and Young). This essay invites consideration of actionable transformation at the level of the graduate student habitus, an area that is undertheorized in the larger feminist project of institutional transformation for justice. I will briefly demonstrate the connection between perfectionism and White2 supremacy culture before considering what it might entail for the feminist faculty of rhetoric and composition to disentangle (White) perfectionism from its complicated place in the graduate student habitus.

White Supremacy Culture in the University Habitus

White supremacy culture has always been the dominant culture in the United States and thus has also dominated within United States institutions of higher education. Dismantling Racism Works defines “White supremacy” as “the idea (ideology) that White people and the ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions of White people are superior to People of Color and their ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and actions.” With White supremacy culture’s immanent presence in the United States, those residing in its spaces absorb its beliefs, suspicions, preferences, and “intuitions” inescapably and continuously with varying degrees of awareness. The university offers no escape. At the university, as Barbara Tomlinson writes in Undermining Intersectionality,racist premises and perceptions are always at work, operating “invisibly and institutionally through a series of taken-for-granted procedures and commonsense positions” (24). These “taken-for-granted procedures” and “commonsense positions” help to produce the habitus, a concept I draw from Pierre Bourdieu to reference the always-in-process interaction and interconnection of culture, normalized behaviors, habits, dispositions, ideology and even the socialization of emotions. I maintain that engaging in antiracist transformation is extremely difficult for individuals to do when White norms continue to dominate their community’s habitus. Thus, I argue, an important step in facilitating the conditions for antiracist transformation in the field of rhetoric and composition requires disentangling White norms like perfectionism from its habitus.

Practicing White Perfectionism in the Graduate Classroom

While critiques of perfectionism are likely familiar to feminist scholars, the re-vision for which this essay advocates entails understanding perfectionism as specifically White—a pillar of White supremacy culture—and recognizing how normalizing perfectionism obstructs antiracist transformation in the graduate student habitus.

As a graduate student myself, one especially influential site where I see (White) perfectionism cultivated in ways that forestall antiracist transformation is in the kind of criticism graduate students often learn to practice in the graduate classroom. I suggest that there is a connection between the normalization of what Karen Barad describes as a “destructive” rather than “deconstructive” practice of academic criticism and the perfectionistic lens through which graduate students learn to critique themselves and others. In New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, when asked “Why has critique run out of steam?,” Barad responds:

Critique is all too often not a deconstructive practice, that is, a practice of reading for the constitutive exclusions of those ideas we cannot do without, but a destructive practice meant to dismiss, to turn aside, to put someone or something down—another scholar, another feminist, a discipline, an approach, et cetera. (Dolphijn and van der Tuin 49)

While it is unlikely that graduate educators intentionally teach destructive practices of criticism, in the absence of explicit “deconstructivist” instruction, and perhaps also because of contemporary “cancel culture”3 outside the classroom, graduate students often resort to finding fault with assigned texts. In Tomlinson’s words, problematic practices of criticism contribute to the “unarticulated fears and social dangers” that “pervade academic culture,” as “graduate students learn to rely on reading practices that attack and disparage texts rather than analyze them” (11). Reading to find fault with the text is White perfectionism as practiced through reading.

Destructive criticism easily transfers to other perfectionistic habits of mind that perpetuate White supremacy culture in graduate student contexts. In “White Supremacy Culture,” an antiracist transformation guide for organizations, Tema Okun explains that in institutions where perfectionism dominates, “little appreciation [is] expressed among people for the work that others are doing.” What is “more common is to point out either how the person or work is inadequate.” Further, “mistakes are seen as personal…i.e. they reflect badly on the person making them as opposed to being seen for what they are – mistakes.” When graduate students apply this thinking to themselves and others, consciously and/or subconsciously, it obstructs collective sociality, preserves existing norms and hierarchies, and prevents students from being willing to make the inevitable mistakes required to unlearn internalized racism in community with each other. Damaging in part because they are “used as norms and standards without being pro-actively named” (Okun), naming White supremacy characteristics in the graduate classroom is an important first step towards challenging them. What would happen if faculty invited discussion of these perfectionistic practices and challenged their place in academic norms?

Left unnamed, destructive criticism enables and feeds off “white fragility.” Robin DiAngelo defines white fragility as a “state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves” (103). The perfectionistic classroom practices described above—being hyper critical of one’s self and others, looking for fault, confusing “making a mistake” with “being a mistake,” and the threat of being defined by one’s ignorance—breed, I argue, precisely this fragility. Fragility then shows up in the room as defensiveness and as emotional intolerance for “being wrong,” which prevents the norms themselves from being challenged. Though it may not be visible to faculty, graduate students are often tense in the classroom, hypervigilant of how they suspect others are judging their and everyone else’s contributions. Unfortunately for antiracist transformation, hypervigilance and the willingness to be disturbed are mutually exclusive mentalities. One cannot approach the deeply uncomfortable work of introspecting on one’s White supremacist socialization from the perfectionist, competitive, fragile, and fearful disposition that graduate culture often engenders.

Proposing An Anti-Perfectionism Intervention

To dismantle White perfectionism’s long-standing place in the academic habitus, graduate educators will need to reconsider revered concepts like criticism, productivity, and mastery. In what follows, I propose four ideas for how graduate faculty might disturb the grip of perfectionism and instead cultivate conditions that would enable students and by extension, departments, to undertake antiracist transformation.

To counter White perfectionism, Okun proposes cultivating a culture of appreciation. Patriarchy may have coded the concept of “appreciation” as feminine, soft, frivolous, and unacademic in its binary opposition with the tough, cool, masculine rationality of “criticism,” but perhaps for this very reason an appreciation of appreciation may be the antidote feminist academics need to cultivate in a historically patriarchal institution. While the suggestion may seem elementary to seasoned feminist educators, what may be new is the connection between appreciation and antiracist transformation. To read “for the constitutive exclusions of those ideas we cannot do without,” as Barad suggests, faculty could guide graduate students to first summarize and discuss aspects of the text they find useful and only then consider how scholars might build on the work. Historicizing readings for how they contributed in their original context can help students see the processual, always-ongoing nature of scholarly production as well. Students who internalize the practices of a culture of appreciation rather than perfection will likely feel less defensive or “fragile” when confronting their complicity in a problematic system.

If another driving force of perfectionistic culture is faculty’s sense of obligation to help students gain “mastery over” a subject area, perhaps the concept of “mastery” deserves reconsideration. I suggest faculty re-imagine “mastery” to reflect existing feminist scholarship about the importance of positionality and partiality to knowledge production and acquisition. Feminist faculty often already teach graduate students the importance of continually interrogating how their positionalities influence their research perspectives. How might faculty apply this existing praxis to revise what “mastery” means in their department? What if the how of approaching scholarship became as important as the what a graduate student must know? Once subject area mastery requires graduate students to demonstrate a thoughtful, nuanced understanding of their own positionality with respect to their subject area to avoid reproducing oppressive structures, then antiracist training could become a more exigent part of graduate training.

Disentangling perfectionism from graduate culture to enable antiracist work might also be aided by bringing mindfulness into the graduate classroom. The work of transformation, whether in the classroom or outside of it, requires individuals to sit with the discomfort of having longstanding, internalized hegemonic ideologies disturbed. Mindfulness practices can cultivate the conditions necessary to sit with discomfort. Similar to “appreciation,” the language of “mindfulness” might raise the hackles of those who have been enculturated to prize “rigor” and “rationality.”4 But I would argue that a mindful approach to learning and being in the classroom enhances one’s ability to think “rationally” and “rigorously” about one’s positionality and the epistemological frameworks in which they have been conditioned to think.

In addition to mindfulness, explicitly championing a “growth mindset” is another way graduate faculty might actively foster a disposition necessary to engage in personal antiracist transformation. A growth mindset sees making mistakes and getting things wrong as necessary to the messy process of learning and growth (Dweck). The contrasting “fixed” mindset that typically results from the American education system prioritizes being or looking “right” over taking the risks required to learn and grow. Imposter syndrome combined with a fixed mindset can leave graduate students unwilling to reveal what they don’t know for fear of exposing themselves as “frauds”. Naming the importance of growth mindset in the graduate classroom could help impart positive affect rather than fear to students’ willingness to “be disturbed,” to engage in difficult conversations, and to interrogate their own complicity in structural harm. In short, growth mindset can help make the classroom a space of antiracist transformative potential.

An Invitation for Further (Re)Consideration

My goal throughout this essay has been to consider how the conditions for antiracist transformation can be created in an environment (the university) whose habitus of perfectionism normally prevents students from being able to take on antiracist transformation as individuals, scholars, and educators. While I hope to have offered some meaningful suggestions to these questions throughout this short essay, my goal, as the call for this subsection of Peitho suggests, is not so much to answer the questions I raise as to provoke their further (re)consideration.

Given that perfectionism functions as a pillar of White supremacy culture, what would it mean for each of us, as scholars, leaders, and educators, to actively push back against our internalized perfectionism in an institution that demands perfectionistic habits? How can graduate programs cultivate in graduate students the humility, the willingness to be vulnerable in community, and the “willingness to be disturbed” that is required for the imperfect process of antiracist transformation?

End Notes

  1. In this essay, I refer primarily to “the graduate classroom” as a shorthand for all of the spaces and sites where graduate students’ academic habitus forms. I encourage readers to consider spaces outside the classroom that contribute to the perpetuation of perfectionism as well. -return to text
  2. In this essay, I capitalize the “W” of “White” to signal that despite perhaps well-meaning intentions to downplay the presence of a coherent White culture, White culture indeed exists and its norms usually dominate in traditionally White institutions like the university. This paper hopes to make the connection between White supremacy culture and the White norms of American universities clear and to provoke readers to challenge White norms that perpetuate White supremacy in American universities. By capitalizing the “w”, I underscore that Whiteness and White ideology are not neutral and require confronting. -return to text
  3. “Cancel culture” is the contemporary American cultural practice of shaming and/or ostracizing a member of the public or of a particular community– professional or otherwise– for making offensive remarks, for engaging in offensive behavior, or for having remarked or behaved offensively in the past, whether intentionally or not. Social media has made it possible for anyone with a social media account to “cancel” anyone else publicly at an unprecedented pace and scale and with an unprecedented permanence. I believe this pervasive cultural practice has seeped into the collective consciousness of at least the current generation of graduate students who may consciously or not self-censor remarks that they fear may be perceived as offensive rather than risk the danger of saying the wrong thing in front of classmates. This also means that making remarks that “cancel” is safer than making remarks that risk being canceled. Cancel culture has quite suddenly made the stakes of even inadvertently offensive speech dire, particularly in professional settings. To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that offensive remarks should go unchallenged, only that they should be treated as useful opportunities for learning and dialogue, rather than result in immediate ostracism. The process of learning requires that learners can become aware of what they don’t know and interrogate their existing understandings in order to reconsider and come into better understanding. Cancel culture, in my opinion, hinders learning, growth, and dialogue. -return to text
  4. I enclose these favorite terms of academic culture within quotation marks in order to trouble commonsense assumptions about their meaning and value. -return to text

Works Cited

  • Bourdieu, Pierre. “Structures, habitus, practices.” The logic of practice (1990): 52-65. -return to text
  • Collins, Patricia Hill. Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. routledge, 2002. -return to text
  • Condon, Frankie and Vershawn Ashanti Young, editors. Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication. WAC Clearinghouse, 2017. -return to text
  • Diab, Rasha, Thomas Ferrel, and Beth Godbee. “Making commitments to racial justice actionable.” Condon, Frankie, and Vershawn Ashanti Young, editors. Performing Antiracist Pedagogy in Rhetoric, Writing, and Communication. WAC Clearinghouse, 2017. -return to text
  • DiAngelo, Robin. White fragility: Why it’s so hard for White people to talk about racism. Beacon Press, 2018. -return to text
  • Dismantling Racism Works, DRworksBook, www.dismantlingracism.org/. -return to text
  • Dolphijn, Rick & Iris van der Tuin. “Interview with Karen Barad.” New materialism: Interviews and cartographies (2012): 48-70. -return to text
  • Driscoll, Dana Lynn, S. Rebecca Leigh, and Nadia Francine Zamin. “Self-Care as Professionalization: A Case for Ethical Doctoral Education in Composition Studies.” College Composition and Communication 71.3 (2020): 453. -return to text
  • Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House Digital, Inc., 2008. -return to text
  • Haraway, Donna. “Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective.” Feminist studies 14.3 (1988): 575-599. -return to text
  • Okun, Tema. “White Supremacy Culture Characteristics.” DRworksBook, http://www.dismantlingracism.org/White-supremacy-culture.html. -return to text
  • Tomlinson, Barbara. Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism. Temple University Press, 2018. -return to text 1 or 2
  • Wheatley, Margaret. (2002). Turning to one another: Simple conversations to restore hope to the future. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers. -return to text
  • Wynter, Sylvia, and Katherine McKittrick. “Unparalleled catastrophe for our species? Or, to give humanness a different future: Conversations.” Sylvia Wynter: On being human as praxis (2015): 9-89. -return to text

Hitting the Limits of Feminist Rhetorical Listening in the Era of Donald Trump

Research on women’s rhetorics has tended to center on women whose beliefs align with contemporary liberal feminist politics—usually historical figures such as suffragettes, female preachers, and union organizers—and eliding the rhetoric of conservative women. Back in 2002, Carol Mattingly noted that feminist scholars tended to seek out the rhetoric of groups that “most resemble academic feminists” ideologically regardless of the actual scope of their influence (101). For example, feminist scholars “praise” the leaders of the National Woman Suffrage Association because of its liberal values over the more conservative Women’s Christian Temperance Union, although the latter had significantly greater membership (Mattingly 102). In their 2012 survey of the field of feminist rhetorical criticism, Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa Kirsch noted the field’s continued focus on liberal women and stressed the importance of a broader, deeper, and more inclusive view of women’s rhetoric. Royster and Kirsch recommend looking at “places at which we have not looked seriously or methodically before” in the hopes that such analysis will help feminist rhetorical scholars “think again about what women’s patterns of action seem to suggest about rhetoric, writing, leadership, activism, and rhetorical expertise” (72). And yet, in in her review of the field written 13 years after Mattingly’s work and three years after Royster and Kirsch’s, Charlotte Hogg finds, “a continued reluctance to engage conservative women who fall outside our feminist frameworks even as we celebrate the field’s multiplicity and continue calls for further breadth” (393). As a result, Hogg asks, “What can be learned from rhetorical practices that don’t forward the kind of radical women’s agendas that have permeated our scholarship?” (392) Ideally, this research would lead to a more capacious and inclusive definition of feminism.

Inspired by these calls, my intended sabbatical project was to conduct 20 long-form, semi-structured interviews with women ages 19-25, who identified as conservative and religious. I wanted to know: How do these women articulate the intersection of their female, religious, and conservative identities? When I began talking about this project, people warned me that the interviews would be too hard to listen to, or that students would refuse to talk to me at all because I have a reputation as a “liberal” or “feminist” professor (true). Nevertheless, I persisted, because I had done this before. Previously, I did a yearlong ethnography of a sorority on my campus, where I heard a variety of things I disagreed with on a visceral level and I was able to listen with an open mind. All my publications were ethnographies rooted in interview data; I knew how to get an interviewee to open up and how to shift directions when an interview was not going well. I had a semester-long sabbatical yawning before me to figure out how I wanted to analyze and frame my data.

And yet, in the fall of 2019, after conducting only eleven out of the twenty interviews I had planned, I stopped interviewing.

I quit, I think, because I was unprepared for the physical and emotional experience of listening. Please listen with me to a segment from an interview. I invite you to also pay attention to your own physical, embodied experience of listening to this segment.

Interviewer: Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

Madison: I don’t know if I fully understand the whole definition of what being a feminist is. I am completely for women standing up and making change. And I think, for me, being the president of College Republicans, that was one reason. The [past president] was male, and he came to me and he said, “When I was thinking about who I wanted [to be president], essentially, the president of College Republicans is the face of the GOP here on campus. That’s who we are.” And he said, “I couldn’t think of anybody else that would uphold it better than you, which is why I’m asking you to do it.” And so I very firmly believe in women stepping up and moving this country forward, I think that we’ve played a huge role. And I think that a lot of times, it is undermined. And sometimes I’ve wondered about that too, saying that I’m a woman and I’m the president of College Republicans. How I feel sometimes, that if someone stood up and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m a woman and I’m the president of College Democrats,” that would be applauded. But if I say that I’m a woman and I’m the president of College Republicans, I feel like that’s going to get downplayed. Again, why would you want to do that? [Because Republicans] don’t believe in progressivism for women? And that’s really not true, they do. We do. And I think that’s very much emphasized in the fact in Trump’s cabinet, I think if you look at it, he has a lot of women that are working for him. . . Back when he was initially starting up his real estate business, he had a lot of women who were sitting in positions for his business. And when he decided to take over as President of the United States, he made Ivanka the head of Trump International. And I think that’s huge, because here we are, here we have the President of the United States, here is a man that is considered the leader of the free world, and he’s stepping up and saying, “I want a woman to take over what I have to leave in order to lead this country.” And I think that that was something that was very powerful. And I wish people understood that a little bit more and understood and saw how many women he has employed for him too, because I think that that would lead them to say he does believe in women and having equality for women.

In Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness, Krista Ratcliffe stresses the importance of listening for “cultural logics,” or the way someone makes sense of the world (26). This segment presents much to analyze in terms of cultural logics. For Madison, Trump’s promotion of women to positions of power is enough to label him as an advocate for women, setting aside the beliefs Donald Trump may have about women or other ways he has treated them. She also believes that a woman in power should not be criticized because she does not hold a specific set of beliefs, but rather that all women should be honored for their achievements. Madison advocates for a kind of conservative feminism where men in power appoint women to powerful positions, paralleling the president of the College Republicans who asked her to be the future president, and Trump’s appointment of Ivanka Trump to lead Trump International.

The analysis I’ve just done, however, is the easy part. This analysis was also completed from the comfortable remove of my home office, on sabbatical, in slippers and stretchy pants while the kids were at daycare.

The reason I quit interviewing was not this privileged moment of scholarly remove: it was in the moment. The hard part was the discomforts and tensions I experienced sitting across from Madison and the other women I interviewed. In the moment of listening—the face-to-face embodied experience—my face gets hot. I feel panicky. My hands get sweaty. As Laura Micciche writes, “The extralinguistic quality of emotion leads to messier, harder-to-clutch meanings that circulate around and through texts, people, classrooms and cultures—a set of meanings best accessed through a conjoined emphasis on performativity and embodiment, because the body is the site through which emotions are imbued with liveness” (51). The “liveness” of my emotions on my body overrides other parts of my brain telling me that I need to continue the interview, be a good listener, and keep an open mind. Reviewing my transcripts, I can see how often I change the topic when I begin to feel this way or I end the interview entirely.

I turn to other ethnographers who have dealt with the problem of listening to disagreeable voices, but there too I find a kind of safe theoretical distancing that doesn’t tell me what to do in the moment. In Angels’ Town: Chero Ways, Gang Life, and the Rhetorics of Everyday, Ralph Cintron argues that “an ethnography of emotions would [assume] that emotions have a public dimension, that anger and nastiness, say, do not well up from the interior of a person but are distinctly shaped along systemic lines” (130). Cintron’s solution is to avoid looking at “nasty” individuals, and instead to look at the “ideologies that shaped their conditions, beliefs, and action” (130-131). This is a gracious way to theorize a difficult interviewee from the comfortable remove of the ethnographic write-up, but I’m still caught in the moment of sitting across from this person (and I’m thinking about how the word “nasty” has a dramatically different resonance in 2020 than it did for Cintron in 1998). In her 2008 article about racism in an all-white high school, Jennifer Seibel Trainor argues that some of the students’ racist beliefs aren’t about race at all, but that “school scaffolds the emotioned frameworks within which racist discourses become persuasive” (85). Like Cintron, Trainor looks at the systemic lines that shape her interviewee’s belief systems, noting how these systems support and feed racist beliefs.

Both Cintron and Trainor strike me as inordinately generous to their interviewees, an emotion that feels like it was in abundance before 2016. Being able to analyze your data with some remove implies that you survived the interview in the first place. Both Cintron and Trainor acknowledge these in-the-moment feelings but seem to be able to persist beyond them because they are able to look at where these emotions come from. But I am not inspired to persevere and keep analyzing, because these conservative discourses join the conservative discourses that we have been awash in for the last four years.

Returning to Ratcliffe for help, I find that listening is described as a largely pleasant experience. Ratcliffe calls it “a stance of openness” (1), like a yoga pose. She talks about listening to both “harmony and discordant notes”(25), as though listening to conservative political rhetoric is similar to listening to my 4-year-old sing “Let It Go” charmingly off-key. Ratcliffe inverts the common idea of “understanding” to standing under—“Standing under discourses means letting the discourses wash over, through, and around us and then letting them lie there to inform our politics and ethics” (205)—as if listening is like lying on the beach and letting waves wash over you. At worst, Ratcliffe writes that listening may make us “uncomfortable” but that is “good” because “such discomfort simply signifies already existing problems and underscores the need for standing under the discourses of ourselves and others—and listening” (210).

But ever since 2016, conservative discourses are not washing over me; I am drowning in them. My phone’s “push” notifications sometimes feel like someone is actually shoving me. “Uncomfortable” is how I feel in my overheated office in the dead of winter; “running away and joining a commune” is where I’m at now. In The Cultural Politics of Emotion, Sara Ahmed argues that “emotions can move through the movement or circulations of objects. Such objects become sticky, or saturated with affect, as sites of personal and social tension” (11). In the current political climate, conservative discourses have become so fully “saturated” with intense negative affect for me that the “personal and social tension” I feel when hearing more conservative discourses becomes overwhelming.

Previous scholars tackling conservative discourse have done so from the safe remove of archives or other secondary sources (see for example McRae). While these constitute a type of rhetorical listening, historical scholars do not experience the in-the-moment anxieties I experienced (nor are the voices they are listening to likely to vote in the next election).

As a white woman, I’m also aware that my whiteness, as well as my position as a heterosexual, married, middle-class mother of two, offers me what Charles Gallagher calls “methodological capital,” which builds trust and cooperation and encourages the women I interviewed—all of whom were white—to speak to me frankly about their political beliefs. In “White Ethnography: (Un)comfortable Conveniences and Shared Privileges in Field-Work with Swedish Migrant Women,” Catrin Lundström writes of her own whiteness as methodological capital that “was not necessarily a spoken characteristic, but still constituted a feeling of something we had in common, and could be seen as a prerequisite for telling ‘white stories’.” (76). Lundström expresses concern that interviewing spaces where “white stories” are told have the potential for merely reproducing hegemonic beliefs rather than critiquing them (76).

In my interviews, I too heard “white stories” because regardless of my actual beliefs or my reputation on campus, my whiteness created a safe space for these women expressing the white narratives of anti-immigrant sentiment or defense of police officers. Ethnographer Amy Best argues that whiteness is an “ongoing interactional achievement” because the ethnographic is interview is an “interactional context through which the researcher’s racial identity and the racial identities of those under study are actively managed, negotiated, and solidified” (897). My whiteness, which offers me the methodological capital to conduct the interview in the first place, also allows in the rhetoric of whiteness, which exhausts me. In the interviewing moment, I am using my whiteness as a tool to get my interviewees to open up to me, but when they do, I realize I don’t want to engage in their particular brand of whiteness talk. Thus, I want to quit everything.

I ask myself: Who else is going to listen to conservative women if not me as a privileged, post-tenure white woman? If I bail on this, am I becoming the privileged white men in my department who delight in refusing to do service work, oblivious to the fact that that work still has to get done and likely will be done by junior faculty, often a woman or person of color? Is this just more white fragility? If so, do I just “tough it out”?

If we are going to be responsible feminist rhetoricians in the present and future political climate, we need to be able to see conservative women in their contradictions and complexities without canceling them. Feminist standpoint theory has taught us to embrace the many lived experiences of women for all of their complexity because “a representation of reality from the standpoint of women must draw on the variety of all women’s experiences” (Jagger 64). So here are the question I pose to feminist scholars:

  • If certain discourses become saturated with negative affect, how can we listen anew and fresh? To work the metaphor, how do we wring out the sponge?
  • How do we listen to discourses that don’t just make us “uncomfortable” but which trigger anger or pain? Or exhaustion and frustration?
  • How do we use our privilege responsibly to listen to “white stories” and how do we write about them in a way that does not merely maintain their hegemony?

I will offer one small success here, which, for me, has entailed abandoning the idea of interviewing as peaceful communion. Qualitative researcher Douglas Ezzy offers the metaphor of “communion” for understanding the goal of a qualitative interview. In communion, the interview is “largely based on an understanding of friendly feelings and intimacy, to optimize cooperative, mutual disclosure and a creative search for mutual understanding” (164). Post-2016, the new “communion” might be bonding over things that really piss us off and reminding ourselves and each other that the patriarchy is the reason we are mad. Since the election of Donald Trump, I have made a concerted effort to introduce gender as a factor when women share their frustrations with me about being the only competent one at their office, or having work dumped on them, or worrying about their appearance, the tone of their emails, or that they’re coming off as bossy. “Men never worry about that,” I say. I did so in an interview with Hannah, a senior psychology major enrolled in ROTC who identifies as “Republican” and “personally very conservative, but also . . . socially more liberal and economically more conservative.”

Interviewer: Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: Okay. Tell me about that.

Hannah: I think the term feminism is under attack because . . . everyone should be a feminist because the definition is equal rights and it’s not against men in any way. But definitely being in male-dominated organizations such as ROTC, [my feminism has] gotten much stronger since I started [in] that organization because I realize the power dynamic between men and women and the issues that causes for women.

Interviewer: Can you give me an example of that?

Hannah: Yeah. So, just . . . There’s a big issue in the army and ROTC with sexual harassment and assault. I think, especially with the Me Too movement, things like that, men are very wary of their interactions with women. So, male cadres [supervising officers] have different interactions [with female cadets] than they do with the male cadets. So, that kind of gives the male cadets a leg up because they’re able to interact with them in a more personal level without offending them in any way.

Interviewer: Well, that’s crap.

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: Oh, okay. So, they’re more cautious around you?

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: Interesting. And you can tell this?

Hannah: Yes.

Interviewer: It’s just like the vibe you get, or . . .

Hannah: Right.

Interviewer: Okay.

Hannah: And then, I also call it the bro culture. The army has been called a lot of times a “boys club” because they . . . There’s the more innocent end of making sports references and things like that, to the more extreme end of just straight up favoritism . . . If there’s a really great performing male cadet and female cadet, the male cadet will be ranked higher. If there’s a really poor performing male and female cadet, the male cadet will be ranked higher, and people tend to agree with this trend.

Interviewer: I’m sorry that happened.

In this embodied moment, I was able to validate Hannah’s frustration, and (I hope) offer her an outlet for someone who would listen and believe her. And we share an eye roll together, and that’s a real moment of communion. In Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Rebecca Traister writes that one of anger’s most important role’s is as “a mode of connection, a way for women to find each other and realize that their struggles and their frustrations are shared, that they are not alone, not crazy” (230). I worry that as an ethnographer, as a rhetorical listener, and as a woman, I have been conditioned to tamp down my anger in the name of fostering “friendly feelings and intimacy” (Ezzy 164). This is unhealthy for me, but it also disconnects me from other women, like Hannah, who are also mad but conditioned to tamp down their anger as well. Maybe the one thing that unites us as women is that we’re pissed.

Works Cited

  • Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004. -return to text
  • Ezzy, Douglas. “Qualitative Interviewing as an Embodied Emotional Performance.” Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 16, no. 3, 2010, pp. 163-70. -return to text
  • Gallagher, Charles A. “White like me? Methods, meaning, and manipulation in the field of white studies.” Racing Research, Researching Race. Methodological Dilemmas in Critical Race Studies, edited by France Winddance Twine and Jonathan W. Warren, New York University Press, 2000, pp. 67–92. -return to text
  • Hogg, Charlotte. “Including Conservative Women’s Rhetorics in an ‘Ethics of Hope and Care’,” Rhetoric Review, vol. 34, no. 4, 2015, pp. 391-408. -return to text
  • Jagger, Alison M. “Feminist Politics and Epistemology.” The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. Sandra Harding, ed. New York, Routledge, 2004. pp. 55-66. -return to text
  • Lundström, Catrin. “White Ethnography: (Un)comfortable Conveniences and Shared Privileges in Field-Work with Swedish Migrant Women.” NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, vol. 18, no. 2, 2010, pp. 70-87. -return to text
  • Mattingly, Carol. “Telling Evidence: Rethinking What Counts in Rhetoric,” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 1, 2002, pp. 99-108. -return to text
  • McRae, Elizabeth Gillespie. Mothers of Massive Resistance: White Women and the Politics of White Supremacy. New York, Oxford University Press, 2018. -return to text
  • Micciche, Laura. Doing Emotion: Rhetoric, Writing, Teaching. Portsmouth, Boynton/Cook, 2007. -return to text
  • Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 2005. -return to text 1 -return to text 2
  • Royster, Jacqueline Jones, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. -return to text
  • Trainor, Jennifer Seibel. “The Emotioned Power of Racism: An Ethnographic Portrait of an All-­White High School.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 60, no. 1, 2008, pp. 82­-112.
    -return to text
  • Traister, Rebecca. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2018. -return to text

 

The Praxis of Listening in Feminist-Relational Research

I sat in a circle of women I had never met before. Strangers to each other, we had gathered to sample a themed writing course about women and aging at a non-profit communal writing center called Women Writing for (a) Change® (WW). We engaged in freewriting about our current and future lives, or simply followed our muse, and then shared passages with the group who were encouraged to take notes. Listening to women’s reflections—for example, how life was supposed to be about them, their dreams, even as they shared life with others—and noting the phrases that resonated within the group created an intellectual and emotional connectivity among us (Blewett and Boehr 24-5). In reading back, women collectively crafted a new text woven from shared experiences. Intrigued by this dynamic relational environment, I decided to dedicate my dissertation research to explore women’s motivations, experiences, and responses to writing in a gendered community (Enabling Spaces 22(1)). Focusing on three women who had suffered traumatic experiences, I knew that the praxis of engaged listening needed to build the framework of my methodology (75).

As a non-native speaker of English who has lived in different countries, I am sensitive to difference and change. I was curious to examine what writing towards change can mean to individuals and how it may connect with rhetorical practices and surroundings at WW. As a participant observer, I engaged in class activities and conducted semi-structured interviews with ten selected participants, eager to learn about their responses to practices and interactions. Specifically, I wished to excavate women’s voices from enforced or chosen silences and make them heard (10-1).

Writing scholars Beth Daniell and Peter Mortensen posit that research as an “accumulation of knowledge about gendered literacy is not aimed at constructing generalizations about women . . . [but] about putting diverse representations of women’s literacy practice on display so that we can begin to understand how literacy rewards women and what it costs them” (emphasis original, 31). To me, “and” was the operative word. To reveal the many aspects of gendered literacy, particularly to recover and amplify women’s voices, we need to listen closely and empathically. In this essay, I reflect on my experience using Carol Gilligan’s(1) voice-centered Listening Guide (LG) as an analytical method to deeply engage in listening to women’s stories and remain alert to contextual elements and my own positionality.

Psychologists Jeanne Marecek, Michelle Fine, and Luise Kidder suggest that qualitative research aims to “unravel mysteries, to be surprised and jostled by what turns up . . . embark[ing] on an intellectual adventure without a map or even a clear destination” (31). As I unraveled the stories of participants in this study, I was moved by the intensity with which women relived their stories and lifted the protective layers from their truths about audience, environment, and change—dimensions that proved important across all participants. I felt empathy and bewilderment, even irritation, during these interviews. Inhabiting the roles of a participant, interviewer, and analyzer taught me to listen with attention, care, and critical self-reflection.

I remember sympathizing with one woman as she talked about loss—her absentee father, her self-value, and ultimately her physical voice as a psychosomatic reaction (Enabling Spaces 143(2)). I recall becoming distracted, even irritated, as another participant kept interrupting and talking over my voice (148). I realized that I physically shifted away from one interviewee and needed to remind myself to keep an open mind while she expressed her conservative political beliefs and controversial view of feminism in what I perceived as an aggressive manner (100). Using Gilligan’s(2) LG as an analytical method helped me to probe into women’s stories and examine the different dimensions of voice in a relational and sociocultural context. Paying attention to these dimensions enriched my stance of empathy and engaged openness as a feminist-relational researcher (Schultz 2003; Ratcliffe 2005) and guided me towards a deeper connectivity and understanding, particularly in difficult and controversial communications.1

A Polyphonic Relational Method

After each class session, I wrote reflective personal vignettes to maintain a record of my observations, emotions, and positionality. I also kept a journal to help me organize my thoughts and keep track of arising questions and concerns. Jotting down random notes and documenting the decisions I made along the way helped me to funnel my emotional reactions to women’s stories and make meaning. After the 2016 presidential election, I wrote about the “shock, disbelief, and a highly emotional atmosphere . . . One woman cried and articulated her shock and grief about the situation . . . . [while another] expressed discomfort with last week’s discussion about the two presidential candidates. She wrote that as a Republican, whose views about candidates and politics differed from most women’s, she had felt lectured and disenfranchised. She had kept her silence. I asked myself whether this particular woman had not felt safe and trusting enough in the circle as a container or safe holding space of their words to speak out against others, to speak a different truth” (Personal Vignette).

In the 1980s, Gilligan’s LG was designed as a feminist relational method to surface the voices of those who had been muffled or silenced by socio-cultural contexts. As my research focused on three women who had survived traumatic experiences, I was particularly interested in exploring what helped them break their silences and embrace change (75-6). Gilligan, et al. emphasize that the LG “is a method of psychological analysis that draws on voice, resonance, and relationships as ports of entry into the human psyche” (“On the Listening” 157). While paying attention to presence, silences, suggestions, and interruptions in interview situations represents good practice in qualitative research (Lucas and Strain 269), tuning into the nuances of participants’ articulations of self in connection to others challenges a researcher to further engage with the whole person in context. This associative approach expands the notion of voice as it analyzes narrative “for understanding the ways research participants make meaning of their experiences” and surroundings (Sorsoli and Tolman 497(1)). Specifically, Gilligan aimed to establish a non-binary, not masculine gendered, approach to examine voice in its complexity so that researchers can explore the interactive dynamic of emotion and reason, self and others, seclusion and context. Analyzing voice as a multilayered and corporeal form of communication allowed me to tune into women’s realities, revealing the interconnection between different voices, and how they may align, contradict, “interrupt or silence one another or weave in and out . . . in counterpoint” in their struggle to make sense of the world (“The Listening Guide” 70(3)). Engaged and mindful listening helped me to follow this meandering path, while its recursive and rigorous process demanded my full attention on a psychological, intellectual, and emotional level.

For the semi-guided interviews, I had prepared an Interview Guide that focused on my overarching research question broken into smaller, open-ended ones “to orient the interviewee and engage . . . her with . . . [my] research interest” and make her feel comfortable (Josselson 41). Taking handwritten notes of reoccurring terms and phrases helped me to stay focused and develop further, “experience-near” questions that evolved from each situation (47).

Analytical Rigor as Feminist Ethos

The LG(4) demands a minimum of four successive readings, called listenings, of each verbatim transcribed interview. Each listening focuses on a different lens to illuminate the dimensions of participants’ inner thoughts, feelings, and reactions to reliving events and the interview situation.2 In the first listening for the plot, I aimed to identify major themes that emerged from the narrative. Leaning on entries in my journal, I reflected on the relational aspects that framed the interviews to remain critically aware of my own emotions and stance. This listening served as a critical apparatus to support a feminist-relational approach and limit the risk of overlaying the interviewee’s voice with mine. Its self-reflective mode and attention to contextual elements prepared further interpretative entry points to make audible the different strands of identified voices. As I was reading, I color coded line by line what I heard as evolving and reoccurring topics. I marked key words and added comments in the margins as to how topics may connect to my research interest and develop into major themes. Transferring these color-coded and loosely grouped dimensions to a different sheet of paper served as a mnemonic visualization, a colorful map to detect places of interest for further analysis.

In the second listening, I focused on distilling participants’ I-voices from the text as a representation of self in context. According to Gilligan, “voice is embodied and resides in language . . . ground[ing] psychological inquiry in physical and cultural space” (“The Listening Guide” 69(5)). In other words, voice provides ways to explore how a person experiences the self in relation to surroundings, documenting “the interplay of inner and outer worlds” in their complexities (69(5)). Extracting each I-phrase (pronoun and verb) and “record[ing] these phrases in the order of their appearances in the passage” created an associative path of the individual psyche (Gilligan and Eddy 78). The distillation of self from other voices also helped to identify competing positions that might warrant further exploration. Re-reading my color-coded lines and following each voice strand at a time, I then marked other pronouns and their respective verbs in the passage. In so doing, I followed the I-voice, or “self voice,” alongside a potentially contemplative or outreaching You-voice and other personal pronouns and documented them in separate lines (Sorsoli and Tolman 502(2)). The resulting I-poems verbally and visually revealed women’s presentations of self in relation to others. For example, as Anne talked about her depression and writing as a lifeline within her isolation, the corresponding I-poem visualized her solitude in one singular column of I-phrases: “I lived alone/I felt/I felt terrible/I had no voice/I had no audience” (lines 529-31(1)). In contrast, when talking about a receptive audience and writing in community, she shifted to present tense, and her words exude joy and anticipation: “I can play/I can create/I can design words/I can feel good” (lines 556-60(1)). Probing deeper into aspects of community, her depiction of self becomes more nuanced, shifting from a reflective self voice, “I have to go back/I have a feeling/. . ./I think” (lines 694-704(1)), to desiring a space in which women can grow together: “We are connected/We live in community/We all are programmed/We need other people” (lines 697-8(1)).

Tuning into the rhythm, moves, and use of pronouns in women’s voices during the third (and fourth) listening for counterpoint, I followed their close dance in relation to my research interest. Innovative to the LG, this step employs “the musical aspect of listening . . . for nuance, for modulations and silences” to complicate findings and validate complexity (“The Listening Guide” 72(6)). Focusing on passages with multilayered strands of identified voices, I re-listened to one at a time for potential tensions and contradictions between them. This phase challenged me the most as I felt drawn into women’s stories. Anne’s emotional intensity still resonated within me, and I wrestled with her words to make meaning, reflecting that “writing is a tool, but a receptive audience is an umbilical cord to the world . . . Despite my temporary disconnection, or rather irritation because of being talked over, I feel deeply connected when she describes her suffering in loneliness, writing to her self, feeling almost schizophrenic, and hoping that God—someone—would listen” (lines 531-2(2); Personal Journal).

In Anne’s story, the first listening had identified three major thematic voices: breaking isolation, writing as a journey towards self-discovery, and change. The second listening had confirmed her goal to escape physical and emotional seclusion and the joyful experience of a new-found receptive audience. Writing was her lifesaver, and she seemed ready to experiment with language and share her stories with a wider audience. However, I sensed a tension in her voice of change as it remained intertwined with the strands of self-discovery, the need for a non-judgmental audience, and issues of gender. The contrapuntal listening revealed that she still needed the safety of a gendered space to continue on her journey and strengthen her confidence to, eventually, reach outward.

Listening and Change

As I worked on the final cross-case analysis, I realized a change in my sensitivity to the words of others and reflected how the LG might be used in other interactions and research. Listening repetitively made me re-think my positionality, question preconceived notions, and double-check associations. In what other situations might learning to listen instill this urgency to remain open and connected to women’s different truths as a manifestation of respect? How else might we use recursive listening to explore the interconnection between women’s self-portrayals, silences, and experiences of self among others? What other possibilities might this method offer for difficult kinds of communication?

I realize that without listening for tension in intersecting voices, I would have missed important insights, such as Anne’s need for the shelter of a women-only space, or another woman’s vulnerability and self-deprecation veiled by what I had initially interpreted as aggressiveness. I encourage others to explore how the praxis of listening offers socio-political agency and propels feminist research to make heard the voices of marginalized populations and reveal opportunities for growth deriving from difference.

End Notes

  1. See Enabling Spaces, pp. 106-60, for the in-depth analyses of three women; see pp. 161-207 for the analysis across participants. -return to text
  2. See Enabling Spaces, pp. 67-105, for methodology. -return to text

Works Cited

  • Anne (pseudonym). Personal Interview. 5 December 2016. -return to text (1) or (2)
  • Blewett, Kelly, and Christiane Boehr. “Women Writing for (a) Change: Nurturing Voices, Enriching Lives.” 3 December 2014. Topics in Composition, U of Cincinnati, Student Paper. -return to text
  • Boehr, Christiane. Enabling Spaces: A Rhetorical Exploration of Women Writing in Community. 2019. University of Cincinnati, PhD dissertation. OhioLINK Electronic Theses & Dissertations Center. http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=ucin15535133573856. -return to text (1) or (2)
  • —. Personal Journal. 26 May 2017. -return to text
  • —. Personal Vignette. 14 Nov. 2016. -return to text
  • Daniell, Beth, and Peter Mortensen, editors. Women and Literacy: Local and Global Inquiries for a New Century. Taylor and Francis, 2007. -return to text
  • Gilligan, Carol. “The Listening Guide Method of Psychological Inquiry.” Qualitative Psychology, vol. 2, no. 3, 2015, pp. 69-77. doi: 10.1037/qup0000023 -return to text (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), or (6)
  • —, et al. “On the Listening Guide: A Voice-Centered Relational Method.” Qualitative Research in Psychology: Expanding Perspectives in Methodology and Design, edited by Paul M. Camic, Jean E. Rhodes, and Lucy Yardley, American Psychological Association, 2003, pp. 157-72. -return to text
  • —, and Jessica Eddy. “Listening as a Path to Psychological Discovery: An Introduction to the Listening Guide.” Perspectives on Medical Education, vol. 6, no. 2, 2017, pp. 76-81. doi: 10.1007/s40037-017-0335-3 -return to text
  • Josselson, Ruthellen. Interviewing for Qualitative Inquiry. The Guilford Press, 2013. -return to text
  • Lucas, Brad, and Margaret M. Strain. “Keeping the Conversation Going: The Archive Thrives on Interviews and Oral History.” Working in the Archives. Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition, edited by Alex Ramsey et al., SIUP, 2010, pp. 259-77. -return to text
  • Marecek, Jeanne, Michelle Fine, and Louise Kidder. “Working between Two Worlds.” From Subjects to Subjectivities, edited by Deborah L. Tolman and Mary Brydon Miller, New York UP, 2001, pp. 29-41. -return to text
  • Ratcliffe, Krista. Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness. SIUP, 2005. -return to text
  • Schultz, Katherine. Listening. A Framework for Teaching Across Differences. Teachers College Columbia UP, 2003. -return to text
  • Sorsoli, Lynn, and Deborah L. Tolman. “Hearing Voices. Listening for Multiplicity and Movement in Interview Data.” Handbook of Emergent Methods, edited by Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber and Patricia Leavy, The Guildford Press, 2008, pp. 495-515. -return to text (1) or (2)