Review of Not One More! Feminicidio on the Border

Lozano, Nina Maria. Not One More! Feminicidio on the Border. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2019. 188 pages.

Not One More! Feminicidio on the Border, by Nina Maria Lozano, exemplifies the kind of scholarship that can emerge from in-depth, participatory field work. The book provides several site-based cases that engage a variety of materialisms—assemblages of things and their vitalities, but also the place-based materialisms of monuments and visual rhetorics employed by counterpublics and social movements—all couched within an historical materialist critique of neoliberalism. Lozano interanimates these different materialisms and, in so doing, adds much to our understanding of the ongoing feminicidios as complexly situated in the political, cultural, and economic intersections that frame agentive possibilities in border towns reinvented by neoliberalism. It is neither a coincidence nor a simple calculation that these feminicidios emerged in the 1990s at the dawn of NAFTA and its promotion of foreign factories—maquiladoras—along the Mexican border. Such free-trade zones have been disruptive politically, economically, and culturally as cities like Juárez were not infrastructurally designed to support large numbers of factory workers, the female labor force predominantly employed by these factories lefts gaps in the traditional family structures, powerful drug cartels already predominate these border sites, and the Mexican government appears compromised by both cartels and corporate power. Lozano captures this on-the-ground reality and its role in the ongoing feminicidios through a lens she calls border materialism, a theoretical framework that intersects new materialism with historical materialism. As she defines it, border materialism “retains the element of human agency, attunes carefully to the role of economic and cultural forces, and yet focuses on the importance of physical matter and the assemblages of things in relation to cultural phenomena” (8). Using this theoretical approach, the study grounds itself within neoliberal political economic structures and their assemblages in the border town of Juárez, Mexico.

In addition to this theoretical contribution, the book provides an important model for rhetorical field work. Rather than exploring advocacy efforts from a purportedly neutral, outside perspective, this method encourages “participatory rhetorical advocacy where the scholar-activist engages with community members” (11). Lozano has been actively engaged with local activists in both Juárez (the site of her case studies) and Chihuahua for over 15 years. During this time, she has participated first-hand in movement actions (protests and rastreos or searches), interviewed participants for a total of 423 transcript pages, organized and conducted an “alternative break trip” for students to visit these cities and learn from local activists, sponsored trips for the victims’ Mothers (a label she capitalizes to stress their centrality to the movement) to speak at her campus, and documented her experiences through photographs and video-recordings. This rich field documentation undergirds her case studies (selected to illuminate both the possibilities and limitations of using new materialist theory to study the complex relations that contribute to feminicidios) and enables her to “privilege the testimony from the Juárez families and activists” (11). Lozano avoids appropriation and misrepresentation by affording these numerous voices the same authority as any other primary text. Indeed, the detailed first-person accounts that anchor the case studies position this book differently than so many of its predecessors.

The staggering number of feminicidios along the Mexican border—nearly 2400 women have been killed and countless others are officially missing—has garnered significant attention. Overwhelmingly, however, these responses have faltered because they have not centered the Mothers and their organically produced groups such as Justicia Para Nuestras Hijas (Justice for our Daughters), Voces sin Echo (Voices without Echo), Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Bring our Daughters Home), and Mujeres de Negro (Women in Black). Without a strong, historical, and contextualized, local perspective, responses tend to view the feminicidios through a singular, and frequently narrow, lens that distorts the intersectional complexities contributing to the ongoing violence against women in this specific neoliberal location. This book, which has been in the making since Lozano began her activist work in 2003, does not fall into that trap as it both privileges local participants and analyzes their movement rhetorics through interlaced materialist theories that account for the many cultural, historical, political, and economic contingencies contributing to the feminicidios.

Lozano begins with an overview of the feminicidios that have been making news for nearly thirty years by sketching four historical waves. During the first wave, 1993-1998, activists, scholars, and family members became cognizant of and began to organize themselves in response to the surging violence against women. During the second wave, 1998-2010, these groups started “connecting the feminicidios to the larger neoliberal economic structures of Juárez” (21). This understanding pitted the Mothers (who opposed the changing neoliberal landscape) against a government that welcomed it. Fearing bad publicity for the burgeoning maquiladora industry, the government began to work against the activists. They falsified evidence, harassed protestors, and divided the Mothers by representing them as hysterical and the victims as promiscuous. These tactics, along with straightforward corruption, prevented investigations as well as interventions. Nevertheless, the movement pushed forward. Three cases were brought before the International Court of Human Rights on November 6, 2009, and the court ruled in their favor. Dubbed the “Cotton Field” ruling to denote the location where eight victims’ bodies were found, the decision mandated, among other things, that the government build a monument to memorialize the victims and assist in further investigations. After this landmark victory, the movement stalled for a short period. The activist efforts of wave three (2010-2014), identified as the lost years, were overshadowed by the face-off between an increasingly militarized government and the drug cartels. With government efforts targeting the so-called “narco war,” feminicidios continued virtually unnoticed. Explicitly designed to counter this invisibility, the fourth wave (2015-present) demonstrated a resurgence of feminist activism that, importantly, included a more visible role for men. The activist work of this wave, explored through a new materialist lens, provides the material for Lozano’s subsequent case studies.

As a challenge to new materialism’s emphasis on enchantment, chapter two examines the assemblage of things in border cities—including transnational products, maquiladora workers, a municipal infrastructure that privileges tourism over local workers, and female bodies both living and dead. As women have become the major workforce in maquiladora factories, there have been significant ruptures to the social and cultural fabric of Mexican families. Children are left without childcare, teenage girls travel unaccompanied to work (often in the middle of the night because of continuous shift production), and men feel emasculated without sufficient opportunities to provide for their families. Given this context, Lozano concludes that “the feminicidios in Juárez are structural, not individual crimes,” inasmuch as “women’s bodies are vulnerable precisely because of their relationship to the objects and things both within and outside the maquiladora sector’s free-trade zones” (60). This assemblage of things is “never neutral” and “cannot be isolated in its properties and impacts” (67). Whereas new materialism ignores historical, cultural, and economic contexts in its myopic focus on things, border materialisms, as Lozano envisions it, examines the conditions that enable things like dark roads, female bodies, and exported consumer items to form a particular assemblage. Moreover, she highlights the power of human agency in the neoliberal assemblage of things by studying the ecological toilets produced through the Las Hormigas project. Living in the outskirts of Juárez, far from the factories and the wealthier communities that surround them, workers have only intermittent access to running water; consequently, they use outhouses for toilets that, with reoccurring floods, send raw sewage into the streets. The interaction among this flooding landscape, the tipping toilets, and these female agents, combined to produce a new thing: ecological toilets for use and for sale. For Lozano, such contextualized analysis is imperative to border materialism, but frequently absent in new materialism.

Chapter three furthers this critique and extension of new materialism by focusing on thing power. Lozano compares the government monument (mandated by the Cotton Field decision) with the impromptu monuments produced by family members of the victims. Walled off from public view, the state monument contains misspelled, missing, or repeated names, suggesting that the victims are “not worthy of public remembrance” and that the feminicidios are part of the past rather than a contemporary urgency (73). Alternatively, the activist-produced memorials, located at strategic sites such as the state attorney’s office, shopping centers, bus stops, and border crossings are designed to garner attention for the ongoing importance of anti-feminicidio efforts. By continuing to place pink and black crosses (symbolizing women and loss) at the places where feminicidios occur as well as in areas where tourists frequent, activists construct memory by reshaping matter. This chapter accepts the thesis that things have power, but insists on human agency as a key factor that “affords matter and objects their ability to ‘kick back’ against neoliberal hegemonic logics” (86).  The power enacted by these different memorials derives simultaneously from their producers, locations, and symbolic features.

Perhaps the most intriguing of such oppositional assemblages, the “Faces of Feminicidio,” as chapter four details, serve vital affective and rhetorical ends. These murals represent individual identities whose faces “haunt, protect, and comfort vis-à-vis the public’s tactile interaction with the objects’ location” (102). The project organizers, graffiti artist Maclovio and Lluvia Rocho, interview the Mothers and family members to determine the design and site for each mural and work with the community to raise money for materials. Located in neighborhoods, on school grounds, and, in one case, on the side a family home, these murals contain identifying features like characteristic poses, jewelry, and musical instruments that stand in stark contrast to standardized government images “produced in assembly-line fashion—a face and a rose” that reveal nothing “of the face’s life—the face’s corporeal history” (104). Here and elsewhere, Lozano emphasizes the human mediated interactions among objects, bodies, and publics, arguing that “the affect emitted from the murals’ properties is deeply foregrounded in the ‘behind the scenes’ work that Maclovio and Lluvia painstakingly accomplish” and not from the inherent power of things themselves (105).

The final case study examines the new materialist concept of vibrant matter or the vitality to nonhuman things. This chapter explains how a main sense of justice for the victims’ families comes from retrieving their loved ones remains—clothing, bags, and especially bones. The case study focuses on remains from the Arroyo Del Navajo just outside of Juárez, considered the “dumping grounds” for many feminicidios. To date, the remains of 19 victims have been unearthed from this dried river bed. Endowed with DNA, skeletal remains identify themselves with specific victims and thus lend credence to the notion of vibrant matter. However, these remains must be collected and often that task falls to community groups rather than government officials. If these groups find anything, they hold press conferences and pressure the government to run DNA testing. Without such activist work, these bones would remain silent in the Arroyo where they were dumped, suggesting that the vibrancy within things “is always influenced by larger structural forces” (119). Because community-led restreos and state-sponsored forensic specialists form part of the human apparatus that determines whether or not human remains are worthy of speech, new materialist accounts should not, she argues, jettison human agency in their analysis of vibrant matter.

Through extensive primary data and carefully chosen case studies, Not One More! illustrates how neoliberalism structures gendered violence as well as the resistant practices pursued by Mothers and other family members against past and current feminicidios. Lozano’s conclusion reiterates her main critique: “new materialism’s decontextualization of matter, through its disavowal of the mediated properties of rhetoric and human agency, in conjunction with its lack of attention to the hegemonic and neoliberal forces” results in a theoretical approach in danger of slipping from posthumanism into antihumanism (134). Although the many new materialist proponents she cites might quibble with her reading of their work, it would be difficult to find a rhetorical theorist or critic willing to dismiss the asymmetrical power relations between the government, organized drug traffickers, and U.S. corporations on the one hand and poor, young, female workers on the other. Such power struggles call out for dynamic rhetorical solutions and the activist politics that have emerged in the face of this locally situated but globally structured feminicidio have much to teach us about the work of producing economic, political, and cultural justice.

Review of Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out

Lowry, Elizabeth Schleber. Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out. Palgrave, 2019. 85 pages.

Elizabeth Schleber Lowry’s book, Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out, situates Lucy Thompson as an important Indigenous rhetorician whose influence continues in contemporary Yurok culture through reclamation and revitalization efforts. Specifically, Lowry analyzes Thompson’s 1916 book, To the American Indian, which was the first book published in California by an Indigenous author, making it an important rhetorical and cultural artifact from a tumultuous time in American Indian history. In her first chapter, titled “Reminiscences,” Lowry explains that Thompson’s book can be read as autobiographical and is a prime example of nineteenth- and twentieth-century women’s “life writing” practices (6). At the same time, To the American Indian carefully mediates between celebrating daily Yurok life and deftly criticizing the colonial agenda of Euroamerican settlers. As Lowry points out, Thompson’s approach can be troubling to contemporary readers, especially as she invokes Christianity and employs discourse steeped ideas of the “savage” and “civilized” Native (16). While Lowry focuses on specific troubling passages in later chapters, she uses the first chapter to explore how Thompson’s life and her role as a Native woman married to a Euroamerican man shaped her as a rhetorician who was writing for a whiter audience during the early twentieth century. Building on the works of Malea Powell, Ernest Stromberg, and Gerald Vizenor, Lowry explains that Thompson’s writing had to “mediate between Native and Euroamerican worlds” (3). In doing so, Thompson developed rhetorical strategies of “survivance” that rejected victimhood and tragedy and recentered stories through continued existence. In order to highlight Thompson’s rhetorical practices as survivance, Lowry connects Thompson to other Native1 rhetors, such as Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, to highlight similarities in the ways that Native rhetors used biblical references to critique colonization and questioned Christianity’s role in so-called civilizing practices (17). Drawing on Cheryl Walker’s notion of “subjugated” rhetoric, a strategy Walker claims is typical of several nineteenth century Native writers, Lowry argues that Thompson’s goal was to invite a sense of “moral outrage” among her white audiences in order to bring sympathy and “recruit white allies”(14). 

In her second chapter, “The Sacred and the Profane,” Lowry addresses some controversial rhetorical moves that Thompson makes, such as describing an ancient race of Yurok demigods, known to the Yurok as wa-ga, as white. While some scholars have claimed that the describing the wa-ga as “white” was perhaps due to a lack of vocabulary, translation error, or “ill-considered metaphor,” Lowry contends that Thompson was deliberate in her choice of language. According to Lowry, Thompson diverges from the traditional Yurok creation story in order to “teach Euroamericans both about themselves and about Yurok culture” through illustrations of sacred behavior of the wa-ga and profane behavior by the ken-e-ah, the word the Yurok used for white colonizing foreigners. Lowry suggests that Thompson employs what Kenneth Burke calls a “perspective of incongruity,” which is “a rhetorical strategy wherein a word or term is decontextualized and placed in a new—and often unexpected—context” to draw the reader’s attention to the discrepancies in logic “undergirding problematic cultural assumptions” (27). In order to address Thompson’s controversial use of a racialized “white” status of Yurok demigods, Lowry reframes Thompson’s more troubling passages in To the American Indian by highlighting Thompson’s sharp distinction between the benevolent wa-ga and the malevolent ken-e-ah. By connecting the most prevalent profanities of colonialism—domestic abuse, alcoholism, violence, and epidemics—to the ken-e-ah, Thompson recalls the sacredness of the wa-ga, suggesting that there could be an alternate means of Yurok and white settler contact. Thompson’s rhetorical goal in drawing these parallels, according to Lowry, is to reveal to a white audience their own profanities without having to address them directly or alienate them as potential allies (37). Lowry explains that as Thompson negotiates potential cultural conflicts, she continually uses the distinctions between the wa-ga and ken-e-ah as a diplomatic negotiation that teaches white settlers Yurok etiquette while preserving the sacredness of Yurok culture and customs. 

In chapter three, “‘Christianizing’ and ‘Indigenizing,’” Lowry addresses yet another controversial aspect of To the American Indian—that of Christianizing Yurok mythology. Similar to her analysis in the previous chapter, Lowry analyzes the ways in which Thompson’s work uses Christianity to connect to a white audience. Lowry positions Thompson as a “cultural broker” who took on the role of convincing “white power elites that indigenous [sic] people were not an abstraction: they were real human beings who had suffered—and who continued to suffer—horribly as a result of colonialism” (41). Unlike Thomas Buckley, who argues that Thompson was appealing to a white audience by Christianizing Yurok myths, Lowry suggests that Thompson is perhaps doing the opposite in that she is “indigenizing” Christian myths. Furthermore, Lowry suggests that Thompson is not just appealing to a white audience, but is also trying to encourage Natives to question Christianity’s importance (42). In order to support her claims, Lowry turns to the work of Ernest Stromberg to draw comparisons between Thompson and the subversive rhetoric of Susan La Flesche, Sarah Winnamucca Hopkins, and Zitkala Sa, all of whom pointed to the hypocrisy of Christianity (42). According to Lowery, by emplacing Yurok spirituality and rituals into Christian myths, Thompson hope to show her people that their spirituality was complete and that they did not need Christianity to morally guide them. More specifically, Lowry analyzes three of Thompson’s myths—”Our Christ,” a myth about a young Yurok Christ-like figure; “The Deluge,” a tale of a flood; and “Our Sampson,” a retelling of the story of Sampson and Delilah through Yurok cultural references. Lowry explains that, in each of these myths, Thompson asserts her ethos as a Yurok author by illustrating her intimate knowledge of Yurok spiritual practices and landscapes in the supplanted details of each myth. Additionally, Lowry proposes, when read in the context of the full narrative of To the American Indian, these myths go beyond being both Christian and Yurok. Instead, Thompson’s retellings overturn assumptions about Indigenous peoples made by Euroamericans. Lowry ultimately shows that Thompson upheld Yurok spirituality as superior to Christianity and reaffirmed their spiritual connection to the landscape, recovering these landscapes from the Euroamerican claims of a “godless wilderness.” 

The notion of the “godless wilderness is taken up further in chapter four, “Wilderness and Civilization.” In this chapter, Lowry examines Thompson’s tales of “wild Indians” and “Indian Devils.” Much like the rhetorical balancing acts she contextualizes in previous chapters, Lowry addresses the ways that Thompson rhetorically confronts Euroamerican views of wilderness and its supposed counterpoint, civilization, by analyzing Thompson’s work alongside other narratives of “civilized” Natives. Specifically, by comparing Thompson’s narrative to Theodora Kroeber’s account of the “wildness” of Ishi, “the last of the Yahi people” (55), Lowry contextualizes Thompson’s writings as an early counter-narrative to the emerging representations of Natives as created by Euroamericans. Lowry explains how Euroamericans often romanticized Natives as primitive, childlike, and needing care like Ishi, and yet contradicted those views by associating the wilderness of “Indian land” with savagery, barbarism, heathenism, and waste (56-57). Lowry argues that Kroeber’s narrative of Ishi serves as a benchmark to help us understand Thompson’s writings. According the Lowry, Kroeber’s work is a compelling narrative suggests that the real “savage” were the Euroamerican people and that undermines cultural assumptions by celebrating Ishi as embodying the hardworking, polite, formal, respectful, and restrained character traits that are emblematic of the Yahi people and (64-65). Lowry argues that, whereas Kroeber’s narrative takes Ishi (and all Indigenous people by association) out of the “wilderness” and situates them as a “stranger in their own country,” Thompson’s work reminds readers that “white people are the true strangers, they are the ones who are displaced, and they are the ones who upset the world’s balance” (66). The boundaries of Thompson’s “wilderness” are reclaimed through her stories of Yurok community members taking back and recovering their culture from “Indian devils” and “wild Indians” in order to rebalance their lives. 

In chapter five, “Regeneration,” Lowry considers the cultural importance and current impact of To the American Indian by situating the text within contemporary Yurok culture and argues that it is essential to the revitalization and regeneration of that culture. In order to discuss the legacy of Lucy Thompson as relevant to contemporary Yurok culture, Lowry contemplates the role of American Indian reservations on Indigenous rhetorics today. Building from the works of Lynn Huntsinger and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Lowry claims that “the reservations of today present indigenous communities with choices—deciding which ideas and practices from the past might be regenerated or consciously continued, and which could be left behind” (70). To the American Indian, Lowry explains, has become vital in the process of multifaceted regeneration work currently being undertaken by the contemporary Yurok community, work such as creating a traditional tribal village, participating in environmental strategies to reintroduce native plants and animals to Northern California, recovering traditional cultural practices, and developing a Yurok language curriculum aimed at language revitalization. In this final chapter, Lowry also argues that several aspects of Thompson’s text are still issues that the Yurok community is facing, including domestic violence against women and addiction to stimulants and alcohol. She applies Tuhiwai Smith’s postcolonial work on the Maori people to connect Thompson’s work to contemporary Yurok experiences. Despite being rejected by the Red Power movement in the 1960s as a “victim-blaming” text, To the American Indian discusses a healing process similar to current healing processes of Yurok community members facing the court systems on drug and alcohol related charges; for Lowry, this connection helps solidify the text’s legacy (72-74). Lowry also points out that Thompson’s desperate calls for balance in Yurok ways of life are mirrored by Susan Matsen, a former Yurok vice-chairperson, specifically with regards to the salmon restoration efforts underway in the Klamath River region (76). Lowry concludes her book by asking how Thompson would feel about the state of the Yurok people today, given the similarities between Thompson’s own reflections on the long-lasting impact of colonialism during the early twentieth century and the ways that colonialism still operates in the Klamath River region for the Yurok people today. Regardless, Lowry explains, the importance of To the American Indian is clear as it offers pathways to cultural reclamation through stories, practical advice, and ceremony, as much today as it did in 1916. 

While the book title is focused on nineteenth-century Indigenous rhetorics, it is perhaps more accurate to say that Lowry’s book focuses on the rhetorical strategies of Indigenous rhetors during the Era of Allotment and Assimilation, which spanned the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Federal policy at this time shifted from establishing treaties with sovereign Indigenous nations and enforcing removal policies and instead proceeded with the allotment of land for the purpose of assimilating Indigenous peoples. As American Indians were stripped of their culture, Indigenous authors, like Lucy Thompson, developed strategies of rhetorical sovereignty that had to navigate the reality of assimilation with the perseverance of their own cultural practices and community. As feminist historiography, Lowry’s book draws scholars’ attention to the importance of contextualizing American Indian rhetorics in relation to distinctly Indigenous experiences during an era of American Indian erasure. Her work highlights the importance of analyzing Indigenous rhetorics with the understanding that texts that were written with a nineteenth-century audience in mind, rather than analyzing them through a contemporary lens and contemporary audiences. Ultimately, Lowry’s book recovers and celebrates this complex rhetorical navigation and joins the conversation of other indigenous scholars in Rhetoric and Composition, such as Malea Powell, Scott Lyons, Rose Gubele, and Lisa King. While Lowry takes a pan-tribal approach to comparative analysis, Indigenous Rhetorics and Survival in the Nineteenth Century: A Yurok Woman Speaks Out is an important addition to the history of Indigenous rhetorics and is especially relevant to scholars interested in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Yurok rhetorics and the rhetorical histories of Northwest California Indigenous peoples. Additionally, Lowry situates Thompson’s writing as both Indigenous and feminist, providing rhetorical scholars with an intersectional lens to examine a critical area of recovery while acquainting them with an influential Indigenous woman who is an important addition to the list of celebrated women rhetors from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 


  1. Lowry uses “Native” to refer to Lucy Thompson and the Yurok people, and I will follow her terminology to remain consistent and avoid confusion. Other scholars may use “American Indian” or “Native American” when discussing the Indigenous peoples of the United States.

Works Cited

  • Gubele, Rose. “Unlearning the Pictures in Our Heads: Teaching the Cherokee Phoenix, Boudinot, and Cherokee History.” Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Edited by Lisa King, Rose Gubele, and Joyce Rain Anderson, Utah State UP, 2015. 96-115.
  • King, Lisa. “Sovereignty, Rhetorical Sovereignty, and Representation: Keywords for Teaching Indigenous Texts.” Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics. Edited by Lisa King, Rose Gubele, and Joyce Rain Anderson, Utah State UP, 2015. 17-34.
  • Lyons, Scott Richard. “Rhetorical Sovereignty: What Do American Indians Want from Writing?” College Composition and Communication, vol. 51, no. 3, 2000, pp. 447-468.

Review of Remembering Women Differently: Refiguring Rhetorical Work

Gaillet, Lynée Lewis and Helen Gaillet Bailey, editors. Remembering Women Differently: Refiguring Rhetorical Work. U of South Carolina P, 2019. 292 pages.

Within the rhetorical tradition, memory has a somewhat contradictory place; at various points it was eliminated from the canon entirely in favor of more highly valued dimensions of rhetoric, such as style and delivery (Pruchnic and Lacey). While memory is sometimes treated as a decontextualized skill by which individuals store and retrieve information, it is also a shared and communal phenomenon, an essential tool for understanding how we have arrived at a current cultural moment. As Hirsch and Smith put it, memory is “both public and private, both individual. . . and cultural” (2). In this framework, remembering the past becomes an act not just of retrieving facts or narrating events, but rather, negotiating meanings and representations (5). 

In their new collection, Remembering Women Differently: Refiguring Rhetorical Work, Lynée Lewis Gaillet and Helen Gaillet Bailey bring together these two conceptions of memory—the individual and the communal—presenting a series of essays that tell individual stories about significant women from the past, while collectively making an argument about how and why we should remember their contributions to intellectual and rhetorical history. The book invites us to rediscover women’s contributions to a range of disciplines through a rhetorical lens.

In the introduction, Letizia Guglielmo notes that remembering the past is a feminist act insofar as it “highlights the agency of both the recollector and the subject whose story is recovered or retold” (2). When we write women into rhetorical history, we typically do one of two things, either expanding our list of figures to be remembered, or broadening our definition of what counts as rhetoric. But a third kind of remembering is to offer alternative accounts that help us better understand existing narratives. The essays in this book perform all three functions, but the third, offering alternative accounts of how women have contributed to public discourse, is perhaps the most important contribution of this volume, which seeks to “[disrupt] seemingly stable, ‘disciplined’ memories of women’s lives and of cultural truths” (3). 

The book is divided into four parts. The first section, “Theoretical Frameworks,” offers new perspectives on recovery work, drawing from topics as wide-ranging as nineteenth and twentieth-century women in STEM, colonial and postcolonial feminism in Nigeria, and modern conceptions of Byzantine rhetoric. In their chapter, “Social Networks as a Powerful Force for Change: Women in the History of Medicine and Computing,” Gesa E. Kirsch and Patricia Fancher present case studies of “social circulation” by studying how women physicians and mathematicians/computer scientists used professional networks to share knowledge and resources. These case studies can not only help us understand women’s specific accomplishments but also help us to understand them “as actors in larger social circles whose ideas and actions shaped developments . . . that circulated across time, locations, and generations” (21). Kirsch and Fancher remind us that “social circulation is an analytical concept” (22) requiring that we ask “how [do] women collaborate, mentor one another, and share resources, knowledge, and everyday practices? What [is] the role of social and professional networks in allowing women to enter the workplace, navigate the public sphere, and advocate social change?” (22). 

Building on Kirsch and Fancher, subsequent essays in this section point to the need for non-western frameworks and for increased attention to the rhetorical work performed by texts such as biographies. In “From Erasure to Restoration: Rosalind Franklin and the Discovery of the DNA Structure,” Alice Johnston Myatt uses Franklin, a biologist, as a “case study for understanding [the] processes involved in restoration projects” (41). Franklin was written out of early accounts of the discovery of DNA but reclaimed in subsequent histories due to the rhetorical work of her biographers. A third essay in this section, “Taming Cerberus: Against Racism, Sexism, and Oppression in Colonial and Postcolonial Nigeria,” by Maria Martin, argues that we need non-western theories and approaches to understand global rhetorical movements such as that of the Nigerian women activists of her study. Martin advocates for “a more Africa-centered approach” to naming and defining women’s motives and movements”—one that “[comes] from the perspective of African women themselves” (58). Finally, “Afterlives of Anna Komnene: Moments in the History of History of Byzantium,” by Ellen Quandahl, looks at how modern writers have grappled with the legacy of Komnene, a Byzantine writer whose work is a primary historical text for the period of the first Crusade. Quandahl looks at how Komnene has been represented by three modern writers, whose “texts complicate the notion that writing women into our histories sufficiently challenges modes of interpretation that keep women apart from political and rhetorical history” (75). This chapter looks at the relationship between “individual remembering” and “broader practices by which people construct a past” (75). 

The book’s second section, “Erased Collaborators,” explores case studies of women whose partnerships with more prominent or powerful male figures have contributed to their being forgotten or silenced. In their essay, “Not Simply ‘Freeing the Men to Fight’: Rewriting the Reductive History of U.S. Military Women’s Achievements on and off the Battlefield,” Mariana Grohowski and Alexis Hart look at how women’s military history has been rhetorically constructed in such a way to frame women as serving a supporting role in relationship to men, rather than being important figures in their own right. They cite Kenneth Burke’s observation that “a way of seeing is a way of not seeing,” pointing out that previous ways of “seeing” women’s military history tended to make this history less visible and less important (99). They note that with changes in women’s military roles, and new, digital communities for women, there are now more avenues for women to share their stories and document their contributions. 

While Grohowski and Hart examine collective understandings of women’s military history, the next two essays focus on particular women at specific historical moments. An essay by Henrietta Nickels Shirk, “The Audubon-Martin Collaboration: An Exploration of Rhetorical Foreground and Background,” examines the contributions of Maria Martin, who was the background illustrator for Audubon’s famous photographs as well as an artist in her own right. The author places her within the Victorian “cult of true womanhood,” which encouraged women to embrace private and domestic roles. Shirk notes that while women are often rhetorically constructed as occupying a “background” position “where [they] use specific rhetorical techniques to free themselves from . . . oppression,” in Martin’s case, she served both metaphorically and literally in the background of Audubon’s work. 

Suzanne Bordelon’s chapter, “Please Cherish My Own Ideals and Dreams about the School of Expression”: The Erasure of Anna Baright Curry,” has a two-fold purpose: to draw attention to the nineteenth-century elocution school movement, an important site of rhetorical activity, and to understand how ethos is constructed—not just created by an author, but negotiated by an audience. Curry, the focus of the essay, collaborated with her husband to develop “a pedagogy that we would regard today as promoting reflection, critical thinking, [and] ‘deep’ reading. . . not simply artificial gestures and memorization” (119). Yet Curry’s contributions have largely been overlooked, as her husband received the primary credit for developing the institution and its pedagogical approach. One of Baright Curry’s important contributions to this approach was the emphasis placed on the reader’s role in responding to and interpreting texts. 

The third section of the book, “Overlooked Rhetors and Texts,” draws attention to women’s rhetorical practices that have been previously unnoticed or understudied. Kristie Fleckenstein’s engaging essay, “Remembering Women: Florence Smalley Babbit and the Victorian Family Photograph Album,” looks at family histories and albums as visual rhetoric. Fleckenstein notes that “previous attempts to write women into the history of rhetoric have focused on women as “wordsmiths” (139), but as curators of photographs, scrapbooks, and other visual texts, nineteenth-century women also practiced a form of vernacular and visual rhetoric (140). The mundane act of creating family albums relied on more than documents and artifacts alone; it involved creating a narrative and representing a “family ethos” (149). Fleckenstein cites Patricia Bizzell’s point that in order “to find women in the rhetorical tradition, we must look where those women were speaking and writing, even if those venues deviate from the traditional public sphere” (152). This search may take us into domestic spaces where women created public representations of their private lives. 

In their essay, “I Have Always Been Significant to Myself: Alice James’s Pragmatic Activism,” Hephzibah Roskelly and Kate Ronald examine the life and writing of Alice James, who was overshadowed by her male family members, Henry James Sr, a philosopher, William James, the founder of American psychology, and Henry James, the nineteenth-century American novelist. James was an intellectual woman silenced by the expectations of her time. The next chapter, Gail M. Presbey’s “Defying Stereotypes: An Indian Woman Freedom Fighter,” explores the contributions of Rukshmani Bhatia, an Indian freedom fighter and disciple of Ghandi. The chapter uses primary source interview material to understand “the concept of women’s power and the issue of the use of violence” for independence movements” (181). 

Finally, the fourth section of the book, “Disrupted Public Memory,” offers new or alternative accounts that build on existing narratives. Wendy Hayden’s work, “The Rhetorical Reputation of Forgotten Feminist Lois Waisbrooker,” treats Waisbrooker as a case study of activism outside the mainstream. Deviating from the nineteenth-century tradition in which women adopted the mantle of “respectability” to claim authority to speak, Waisbrooker delighted in shocking the public, cultivating an image that emphasized her working-class roots, lack of education, and status as a “fallen woman” (189). Her outsider identity allowed her to address topics, such as sexual freedom, that were considered radical in her day. Laurie A. Britt-Smith’s chapter, “Not So Easily Dismissed: The Intellectual Influences and Rhetorical Voice of Dorothy Day,” offers a valuable alternative narrative of a woman who is still well known today as a Catholic reformer and workers’ advocate. While Day has traditionally been understood in terms of how Catholicism influenced her, this essay offers a close analysis of her writing in order to understand what Day brought to Catholicism. Drawing from Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Britt-Smith places Day within a tradition of women’s protest rhetoric, a tradition that values the personal voice and the use of narrative, and one that “[invites] the audience to test its experiences against the experience of the speaker/author in order to achieve agreement through identification” (213). 

Similar to Wendy Hayden’s chapter, Amy Aronson’s piece, “Activist, Pacifist, Mother, Feminist, Wife: Private Interventions and the Public Memory of Crystal Eastman,” examines the erasure of a woman who was well-known during her lifetime. Eastman was active in the formation of the National Woman’s Party, the ERA, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the ACLU. However, over time she has been mostly forgotten. Aronson argues that this erasure occurred as a result of a complex “interplay between private life and public stature” (238). The reasons were partly methodological, having to do with how documents and records are preserved (or not). But they were also personal, suggesting the complex interactions between women’s private and public lives.  The final case study turns our attention back to rhetoric as a discipline, examining two rhetoric textbooks written by women. In “Turning Trends: Lockwood’s and Emerson’s Rhetoric Textbooks at the American Fin de Siecle,” Nancy Myers shows how these two writers established the importance of female teachers in a male-dominated publishing world, demonstrating that women teachers were at the forefront of pedagogical and curricular innovation. 

Taken one-by-one, the chapters in this volume contribute to intellectual histories across a range of disciplines, from science/STEM to rhetoric/education, history, religion, and more. They tell individual stories that are worth knowing and celebrating. Collectively, however, they invite us to think in new ways about how we remember women, and they point to the communal nature of women’s rhetorical history. They show us the means by which women have participated in public discourse, built and established ethos, and participated in intellectual and social movements. They invite us to consider why some women’s narratives have been preserved while others have been erased or only partially understood.  This collection raises questions about what counts as rhetoric and points to places where we might turn to continue expanding the body of scholarship on women’s public discourse. But it also presents a series of lively and engaging histories that are likely to be of interest to scholars across a range of fields, from rhetoric, to women’s studies, science, and history. 

Works Cited

  • Hirsch, Marianne, and Valerie Smith. “Feminism and Cultural Memory: An Introduction.” Signs vol. 28, no. 1, 2002, pp. 1-19.
  • Pruchnic, Jeff, and Kim Lacey. “The Future of Forgetting: Rhetoric, Memory, Affect.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly vol. 41, no. 5, 2011, pp. 472-494.

Review of Surrender: Feminist Rhetoric and Ethics in Love and Illness

Restaino, Jessica. Surrender: Feminist Rhetoric and Ethics in Love and Illness. Southern Illinois UP, 2019. 204 pages.

Feminist rhetorical scholars have long been concerned with critically examining how care and love can be used as guiding forces in rhetorical methodologies (see Royster & Kirsch, Schell, Lunsford & Ede, among others). In Surrender: Feminist Rhetoric and Ethics in Love and Illness, Jessica Restaino revives and extends these concerns. Restaino grapples with questions such as, “What might research and writing look like, and how might knowledge take shape, in a practice (method) of intimacy as epistemology, as a way of writing through otherwise unspoken, even frightening, questions?” (9). She complicates notions of care and reflexivity in feminist rhetorical methods by considering how we might occupy a “space of misfit”—the space in between established ways of doing research and that which is unutterable and inexplicable, such as love and loss (85). She asks us, as practitioners of language, what do we do when our breath, and our words, are taken away? 

Surrender is an ethnography from Restaino’s two-year collaboration and friendship with Susan Lundy Maute who died of stage IV breast cancer. Restaino asks audiences interested in doing their own feminist scholarship around “unspoken, even frightening questions” to consider what new research questions and methods spaces of illness, love, and loss might present if we take those spaces as ones fit for academic, as well as personal, analysis. She writes, “What is lost when we ‘discipline’ the personal?” (3). She dwells in the multitude of written artifacts that remain after Sue’s death and grapples with the ethical questions of how and why to represent the language work that remains after the final years of Sue’s life. She considers what rhetorical work happened in the collaborative space of love and terminal illness that existed between her and Sue. Restaino calls for us to push beyond known methods, set research questions, articulable research-participants dynamics, and spaces of comfort in order to embrace “dark, uncertain spaces” such as the one she occupied with Sue as she loved and wrote with her through her illness (99). In this space with Sue, Restaino finds shifting notions of herself and her healthy body in relation to Sue’s ill body, altered and sometimes reversed researcher-participant dynamics, and a tension between known research tools and expectations and the lived experiences that cannot be fully articulated. She writes, “this book marks my own effort to stay in the work that overwhelms me, that pushes me to confront my own humanity and my capacity for pain and for love as rhetorical work. . . . I am most interested in exploring the ways in which personal and professional transformation is foundational to such projects and thus argue for working ‘imperfectly,’ honoring the limits as new forms of knowing” (7). In so doing, Restaino offers us a model for staying in the work that overwhelms us. 

Restaino’s vulnerable, beautiful work offers feminist researchers both an inspiration and model for going into the territories of our lives that might traditionally be considered seperate from or not fitting for research—the spaces that scare us, the moments that baffle us, the human interactions that might take our breath away—to look for how and why language works there and to consider new methods for working with language that such spaces call for. Restaino extends notions of care in feminist rhetoric by providing a model of intimacy as methodology. The concept of intimacy “invite[s] us to think of blurred boundaries, of being even dangerously close to each other: collapsed walls between the personal, the academic, and the analytic” (9). By taking care and loss as generative spaces fit for academic analysis, Surrender shows us the value of studying how language works in spaces where language may fail—spaces of death, love, and friendship. 

Restaino titles that chapters of the book in this order: “Stage IV,” “Stage III,” “Stage II,” “Stage I,” and “In Situ.” The chapter names represent the different diagnoses of breast cancer, but, because she “seeks to invert or disrupt our expectations,” the stages regress rather than progress as the book develops (6). Between each chapter, Restaino includes primary materials from her writing and collaboration with Sue, such as screenshots of text message conversations and Sue’s own writing. These inter-chapters, titled “Bloodwork” to signify a common process for cancer patients, allow readers to see firsthand the ways that language failed to relate Sue’s experience and body to Restaino while also showing us how Sue used language to document her wishes and to articulate her sense of loss. 

In “Stage IV,” Restaino calls for feminist rhetoricians to work with qualitative data in ways that “use our own porousness as an agent of knowledge making,” ways that acknolwedge the academic work we do as “part of our human growth” (41). Through collaboration and friendship, Sue used the rhetorical space between her and Restaino to come to terms with the end of her life. In this chapter, Restaino hopes that her own involvement in Sue’s language work might “serve as a testament to initmate human struggle as methodological and to the capacity of feminist rhetorical practices in allowing and generating spaces in which transformation can occur. Such transformation, when we use the frame of terminal illness, . . . marks a way to render ourselves as writing and thinking subjects and to subsequently destabilize the texts we produce” (41-2). Restaino’s alternative way of thinking of ourselves as writer-researchers, a way of thinking that embraces the deepest human vulnerability as a guiding methodology for the language work that we observe, allows those experiences like love and loss not traditionally thought of as academic work to be processes that use language in transformative ways.

 In “Stage III,” Restaino draws on the concept of “surrender,” which she defines as “a way of continually insisting on a kind of letting go . . . not only of what we already know how to do (practice) and what we think we know (epistemology) but also of our subjectivit(ies) as writers and researchers” (13). A practice of surrender called for Restaino to be continually remade by her dynamic with Sue. She explains, “As I served as her witness, her recorder, her scribe,…I was both rendered anew within our dynamic while also reoriented to my own body and mind” (48). Restaino offer feminist researchers an example of letting go completely to the work that we do—a testament to the usefulness of letting our ideas of ourselves continually change in relationship to our research collabroaters. Restaino and her work in Surrender are changed by loss, as she explains that “the impossibility of saving took on both practical and conceptual meanings, as I could not save [Sue] from dying—no one could—nor can I presently save or even replicate her through textual representation in our work following her death” (49). As Restaino illustrates when she describes a moment in which she dictated Sue’s wishes three weeks before her death, the ability to put words and material to the impending loss that they both felt was something that changed both of them—a moment which could not be fully realized without the practice of surrendering to what we think of as the limits of feminist research. Restaino shows us how instances of loss, friendship, and emotion that may not traditionally seem relevant to research may actually show us what language can do in moments that do not seem articulable. 

In “Stage II,” Restaino critiques Peter Smagorisnky’s notion that “studies work best when an author poses a limited set of answerable questions and then designs the paper around them” (14). Instead, she suggests that we embrace a tension between expectations for research findings and a “gut sense or force that exceeds capture. . . . In the context of my role as researcher-writer, these tensions represent a coming-into-agency, into an identity and methodology defined by movement and uncertainty and by my own material experience as witness [to Sue’s illness]” (84). The tension between a “hope for cohesiveness” and the “illegible status of lived experience” is a tension that Restaino calls us to embrace in our research methodologies. We must surrender to the questions that the work asks in order to fully embrace lived experience. For their collaboration, this meant that “unknowing [Sue]…meant treading out into the dark imagination where she resided with that which was not cured but also not immediately measurable: her cancer and its status as terminal . . . the utterly ungraspable sense of time and rationality, of how or when or why” (88). One method that Restaino used in their collaboration that is a written reflection in which the researcher and participant review the interviewer/researcher’s reactions to the audio recordings together and discuss any further questions (99). This practice, in particular, is one that feminist researchers might use to open a space of collaboration and reflexivity with participants while also creating a space for the shared project of articulating that which is not completely knowable, such as loss. 

In “Stage I,” Restaino thinks about rhetorical touch by considering the “rhetorical transaction uniquely possible between bodies, healthy and ill, in the dying process” (15). Restaino describes the eventual acceptance in decline that Sue’s condition that her physically deteriorating body forced them both into as an example of a “gathering around” that “exceeds earlier feminist notions of care and that demands instead radical sharing, at once threatening and comforting, housed in materiality” (106). Restaino’s caring for Sue’s body made the distance between their healthy and ill bodies visible while also drawing Restaino, as a person with a body also capable of illness, closer to Sue. Restaino provides a model of a researcher-participant dynamis from this experience of shared and divergent materiality with Sue. This dynamis includes: “1. I (participant) need you (researcher) to feel this in your body so you can understand. 2. I (researcher) need to feel that I can’t understand your (participant) experience. 3. I (participant) need you (researcher) to take care of my body  so I (as represented by the body) am safe and valued” (108). The dynamis that Restaino creates here provides a new way of thinking about care as both collaborative and material in feminist research. Though Restaino discovers this bodily codependence and collaboration as a part of meaning-making through the context of terminal illness, this model is particularly useful for feminist researchers in many other vulnerable research contexts. 

In the final chapter, Restaino draws on Jim Corder to consider the role of love in rhetorical work, as love reveals the lover “broken and incomplete but also, as such, evolving, and thus the researcher-who-loves-as-human, confused, fraught and generative.” Restaino advocates for the importance of work “that fails to protect us from pain or loss” (15). Restaino reminds us that our research might “unhinge us from our traditional expectations about time…and what it might yield,” as time, particularly in the context of terminal illness, is often out of the researcher’s control. Restaino also invites us to “integrate into our efforts at knowledge making the kinds of data that confound, frighten, or even repulse us.” In her case, this meant accepting her body as capable of the illness she observed in Sue’s, which is “not the same as living another’s experience. Rather, this is a methodological move that welcomes uncertainty, weakness, or even awfulness as valued, usable data” (148). Lastly, Restaino reminds us that if we are working in the “dark, uncertain spaces,” our traditional research tools will not work. In her own example, her audio recorder functioned as both a symbol of importance in traditional thoughts about research, but it simultaneously, contradictorily, functioned as agentive for Sue, as she describes how Sue often asked if she had “gotten that down” and, on one occasion, offered her bloodwork results to write on the back of when Restaino had forgotten her notebook and recorder. We must embrace that traditional research tools, like Restaino’s recorder,  might not work or we must let them work differently as we are moved by “dark, uncertain spaces” (152). Throughout the book, and in this chapter in particular, Restaino provides a vulnerable, visceral model of how we might do the work that frightens and pains us, and how the questions and tools that we use may shift as we venture into the most human of research spaces— the spaces with sometimes unanswerable questions and bodies that we both know and cannot know. 

Restaino leaves us with a sense that we must work within the spaces where language cannot fully succeed, such as in articulating the lived experience of terminal illness, to continue feminist work on care and embodiment. Scholars of feminist rhetoric can take up Restaino’s concept of intimacy as methodology as they move into their own spaces of discomfit, exploring the ways that language works in times of extreme human emotion, of loss and love. We must do the work that blurs the boundaries between personal, academic, and analytic—the work that scares us. 

Works Cited

  • Kirsch, Gesa and Jacqueline Jones Royster. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Southern Illinois UP, 2012.
  • Lunsford, Andrea and Lisa Ede. Writing Together: Collaboration in Theory and Practice. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011.
  • Schell, Eileen and K.J. Rawson, editors. Rhetorica in Motion: Feminist Rhetorical Methods and Methodologies, U of Pittsburgh P, 2010

Review of My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement

Baker, Rene Billups (with Keith D. Miller). My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement. Phoenix: Peacock Proud Press, 2019. 110 pages.

“Sometimes I would be my daddy’s mouthpiece,” remembers Rene Billups Baker within the pages of My Life with Charles Billups and Martin Luther King: Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement (9). Over fifty years after her father’s tragic death, Billups Baker found supportive encouragement in civil rights movement scholar Keith D. Miller and she summoned the courage to speak for her father once more. In recovering her father’s activism and in telling her own story, Billups Baker speaks back to oversimplified popular narratives of the civil rights movement in a manner that provides both an enriched version of American history and valuable lessons for America’s contemporary political context. 

My Life provides readers a firsthand account of the mid-twentieth-century civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, which was vital to the strategies and successes of the larger black freedom struggle. Billups Baker’s memoir also grants readers a detailed introduction to her father, Charles Billups, a decorated WWII veteran and civil rights movement foot soldier whose activism warrants much further study. Billups pastored the New Pilgrim Church in Birmingham, which his daughter characterizes as a “big spark plug for the movement” (12). In many respects, New Pilgrim was the cornerstone of black life in the city—providing weekly sermons that fortified parishioners who daily struggled against the all-pervasive injustices and indignities of the Jim Crow South; New Pilgrim also provided a daycare center, a credit union, and free Monday night dinners for the community. The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (ACMHR), which Billups helped found in 1956, sponsored these Monday night dinners that turned into political rallies. The ACMHR was comprised of a core group of local ministers and parishioners who held their leadership sessions at New Pilgrim and also held their rallies there each week, enlisting the “movement choir” to help inspire Birmingham residents to “join the struggle to eliminate racial segregation” (12). As a core ACMHR organizer and a pastor at New Pilgrim, Billups worked alongside better-known movement greats like Reverends Fred Shuttlesworth, E.D. Nixon, and Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, as Billups’ daughter recalls, King so respected her father’s leadership that he enlisted Billups in his inner circle when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) centered their nonviolent protest movement in Birmingham in the Spring of 1963. Three years later, when the SCLC launched their Chicago Freedom Movement campaign, moreover, King recruited Billups to that northern city to help coordinate the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket initiative.

Written as equal parts memoir, organizational history, and biography, My Life includes rare photographs, historical news clippings, and never-before-published movement memoranda. Billups Baker pairs these valuable primary sources with her own intimate account, informed by eyewitness experiences and the stories passed down within her family about Billups, King, and pivotal moments within the larger movement for civil rights. Scholars interested in the rhetoric of nonviolent social change, for instance, will find Billups Baker’s account of the Miracle March that her father led particularly valuable. As she recounts, on Sunday May 5, 1963, after Birmingham police arrested the white folk singers and civil rights supporters, Guy Carawan and Candy Carawan, Billups led thousands of black parishioners—adults and children all dressed in their Sunday’s best—on a half-mile march toward the jail. Once there, they gathered on the jailhouse lawn, kneeling, praying, and singing movement anthems in solidarity with the Carawans. Bull Connor, the arch segregationist city commissioner, ordered Birmingham’s firefighters to turn their hoses on the protestors and the police to sic their dogs on the kneeling parishioners. “Turn on the hoses! Turn loose the dogs! We will stay here ‘til we die!” Billups defiantly responded to Connor’s orders (Billups qtd. in Billups Baker 56).  At that, the firefighters put down their hoses; the police kept their dogs on leash. Connor commanded them again and again, cursing the first responders, and ordering them to attack the protestors. They refused. Eventually Billups led the peaceful protestors (without incident) from the jailhouse lawn, right by the firefighters and police officers, back toward New Pilgrim. 

The Miracle March deeply affected King, who referred to it as “one of the most fantastic events of the Birmingham story,” from which he felt “for the first time the pride and power of nonviolence” in Birmingham (King qtd. in Billups Baker 56-57). The Birmingham story, moreover, was a pivotal force in the overall movement for nonviolent social, political, and economic change. As famed performer and ardent movement supporter, Harry Belafonte proclaimed: “For the civil rights effort in America, Birmingham was the turning point . . . it was the most astonishing victory of nonviolent action that any of us had even seen” (Belafonte qtd. in Billups Baker 61). Within the pages of My Life, Billups Baker details the national and international attention the nonviolent movement for civil rights in Birmingham received. She also connects its success to nonviolent demonstrations across the South and even to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Through his dedicated activism in Birmingham, Charles Billups became a trusted advisor to King. Andrew Young referred to Billups as “one of the most faithful and fearless leaders of the old ACMHR,” and Billups Baker recalls the long nights her father spent strategizing with King, the SCLC, and local leaders in Birmingham’s Gaston Motel (57). In 1966, when King announced the SCLC’s Chicago Freedom Movement campaign, therefore, it was not surprising that he recruited Billups to help with the effort. Moving to Chicago was exciting for Billups Baker, then just a teenager. For two years, her father supported the SCLC’s Operation Breadbasket in Chicago. Shortly after King was assassinated in Memphis, however, Billups was shot in the chest and killed in Chicago. “The police never arrested anyone for murdering my father,” Billups Baker laments, “and the case was never solved” (82). For a time, the authorities suspected that Billups’s murder was tied to King’s assassination. Fearing more violence, they closely guarded the Billups family, but officials eventually reasoned that Charles Billups was likely the victim of a random armed robbery and essentially dropped the case. The grieving and fearful Billups family—Rene, her mother, Almarie, and two sisters, Charlotte and Lisa—moved back to Birmingham and distanced themselves from the movement. 

“I hated the civil rights movement” recalls Billups Baker, “because it had simply meant trouble and pain for me” (90). This through line, encapsulated by the book title’s post colon emphasis, “Trauma and the Civil Rights Movement,” will likely be of particular interest to Peitho’s readers. Billups Baker’s memoir offers a first-hand feminist history of her experience growing from a black child into a black woman, all the while navigating the trauma and grief wrought by white supremacy. The long nights her father spent strategizing with King and other movement leaders in the Gaston Motel, for instance, are particularly memorable for Billups Baker because her mother worked the graveyard shift at a hospital and so her father would bring her and her sisters to those meetings. Unlike the family-friendly atmosphere of contemporary Black Lives Matter meetings, wherein activists are encouraged to “fully participate with their children,” the Billups children were not welcome in the Gaston Motel strategy sessions (Black Lives Matter, “What We Believe”). Their father would, thus, leave Charlotte, Rene, and Lisa in the family’s car, parked under a streetlight outside the motel. Their teachers complained about how tired the children seemed at school on the days following these late night meetings. The teacher complaints created tension in the Billupses’ marriage. Billups Baker remembers her mother, fed up with the strain that the movement placed upon their family, taking the girls and leaving her father on more than one occasion. It wasn’t just the time Billups Baker’s father spent organizing for civil rights that her mother found difficult to bear; it was also the harassment and violence his activism engendered. The Klan burned crosses in the family’s front yard; the homes of their activist friends were bombed; and their neighbors shunned the Billups out of fear that their activism put the entire neighborhood in danger of white supremacist retaliation. 

Among Billups Baker’s most haunting childhood memories was the time her father narrowly escaped a Ku Klux Klan lynching. On the evening of April 10, 1959, Billups was returning from his job as an airplane mechanic when he was forced at gunpoint into a Klansman’s truck, taken into the woods, tied to a tree, and lashed by a white mob. Billups Baker recounts how her father prayed aloud and “asked God to care for the children of these men who were cruelly beating him and were about to murder him”; she characterized her father as a “deeply Christian man, a nonviolent man,” who “didn’t want any revenge” (21). Her father’s vocal prayers spared his life, according to Billups Baker. Moved by the power of Billups’ words, the Klansman who had driven the mob into the woods decided not to kill Billups and the other Klansmen fled the scene along with their leader. After being rejected from a nearby veterans’ hospital, Billups finally received lifesaving treatment for his severe wounds. Billups Baker recalls that he “looked a horrifying sight! Nobody wants to see their father or mother looking like that!” (23). Nor should any child have to live with the reminders of this white supremacist brutality. For the rest of his life, Charles Billups would “get frantic if anyone touched him in certain places . . . the Klan scarred him and left their souvenirs on his body” (24).

“I spent my childhood living in fear, always living in fear,” Billups Baker remembers (42). Fear that the Klan would try again to lynch her father, fear that the police would once again arrest him, and fear that their house would be firebombed never left her mind when she was a child. All of this fear engendered deep anger and distrust toward white people. After Billups narrowly escaped the Klan lynching, for example, a young Rene told her father that she “would get a double-barreled shotgun and kill all the white people” (33). Her father scolded her for this idea and Dr. King said, “I would hate to see her grow up with hate in her heart” (33). They took her on peaceful marches, which she enjoyed, until the sight of the police dogs brought fearful tears to her young eyes. “If you cry, you can’t go with me,” Billups Baker remembers her father telling her. “Because I wanted to go with him, I stopped crying,” she writes (34). 

After her father died, remembers Billups Baker, “I wanted to commit suicide . . . It was just terrible, just awful! Mama ordered me to say nothing about the murder. Because we didn’t know who murdered him or why they did that, she worried that our lives might also be endangered” (82). Grieving for her father and terrified that her own life was in danger, a teen-aged Rene repressed her feelings, just as she had been forced to do as a young child marching for civil rights. It wasn’t until years later, after her mother and older sister died, after years of encouragement by her supportive partner, Winston Baker, and after she recovered—against all odds—from cancer surgery, that Billups Baker decided: “God left me here for a reason. I am speaking and writing about my father because the world needs to know about Charles Billups” (101). 

In the process of remembering, writing, and speaking about her father, Billups Baker appears to have found some peace. “In some ways, our family life during my childhood was terrible. Just awful, over and over! We had to live in so much fear! In other ways,” she recalls now, “life was rich and wonderful. My daddy and I had lots of good times over fifteen years. He told me not to hate white people. He told me to forgive” (98). While refusing to be consumed by hatred and promoting the type of forgiveness that lightens one’s own emotional burden are doubtlessly healthy attitudes to model, the way in which black forgiveness of white supremacist-inflicted tragedy has become an expected social script is highly problematic. Widely lauded statements of forgiveness by black people following the Charleston massacre and the murder of Botham Jean, for instance, have compelled cultural critics to wonder: are some actions too horrific to forgive? Does black forgiveness let white people off of the hook, divesting them of responsibility for the lethal effects of white supremacy? How can our nation heal from wounds we refuse to acknowledge, much less treat? Billups Baker’s recurrent reflections on her own fear, anger, and the compulsion to forgive encourage readers to think more deeply, and perhaps differently, about the expectation of forgiveness in the process of racial reconciliation.

Billups Baker’s description of the Children’s Crusade that her father organized and her account of her own childhood activism similarly compelled me to consider the climate change and gun violence activism spearheaded by children in our current political moment. While adults widely praise the child-activists’ bravery and leadership on issues that we have failed to confront ourselves, Billups Baker’s vivid descriptions of childhood trauma should give us all pause. Are we matching our encouraging gestures and words of praise for these young activists with mentorship and mental health support? Billups Baker’s experiences suggest the importance of validating not only the trauma that sparked the activism, but also the importance of working through the trauma of the activism itself. 

My Life provides a localized history that demonstrates the complexity of activist struggle and centers previously overlooked participants. More than this, though, Billups Baker’s memoir raises difficult questions and proffers thoughtful answers drawn from the crucible of her experience. My Life imbues civil rights history with much-needed humanity, vividly compelling readers to experience the toll that civil rights activism exacted from devoted families. Billups Baker’s memoir aptly demonstrates that localized histories, bravely told by survivors who have overcome trauma’s propensity to silence, provide significant counterpoints to oversimplified popular narratives of the civil rights movement even as accounts such as My Life share important lessons to inform contemporary activism.

Review of Glenn and Mountford’s Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics

Glenn, Cheryl and Roxanne Mountford, editors. Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics. Southern Illinois UP, 2017. 320 pages.

Book cover of Glenn and Mountford's edited collection. Feature three stacked ampersands in different shades of blue on a yellow background. The title text is in yellow typeface toward the bottom-left side of the cover.
Image from Southern Illinois University Press website.

In the game of chess, the queen is often valued for being the most versatile figure on the board; she can move in any direction, and unlike her royal counterpart, she’s not confined to moving one space at a time. As a young person learning the game, I did whatever it took to get her off the back row in the hopes that once free, she would whip around the board, taking out my opponent’s pawns, knights, and bishops. For many in our field over the last several decades, Andrea Abernathy Lunsford has often played a similar role: a brilliant and agile scholar with eclectic interests, Lunsford authored many of the first articles in our field on major topics from assessment and basic writing, to feminist rhetorics and historiography, to new media composing. When I was a new graduate student and teacher 25 years ago, “Lunsford” felt like an indexical shortcut for finding research and scholarship that could help me out on just about any topic.

The power of Glenn and Mountford’s collection Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century, a collection that reads like a festschrift in honor of Lunsford’s varied contributions to our field, lies in the nimble way that the writers engage one of the matriarchs of our field in order to imagine what teaching and scholarship in the 21st century might look like. While Lunsford’s work on collaboration and co-authorship suggests that she might object to the royal appointment my chess metaphor enacts, the fact remains that the work she has done over her distinguished career has opened many areas of study for the new and experienced scholar-teachers alike. In this collection, we see how several of these areas of study continue to be central to our shared work in rhetoric and writing studies. The first half of this collection focuses on student writing and literacy, while the latter half asks us to pay attention to rhetorical histories, both ancient and modern; throughout, however, the authors challenge us to imagine what is different about writing and rhetoric in the 21st century—and what tools we may have to better understand shifts in language, composition, and politics.

In Part One, several authors take up Lunsford’s foundational work on authorship and collaboration, and raise important questions about how authorship might continue to figure into contemporary beliefs and practices involving literacy. In “Troubling the Waters: Religious Persuasion and Social Activism,” Shirley Wilson Logan looks back at the writings of Amanda Berry Smith, a nineteenth century evangelist and missionary who traveled extensively to teach people from India and West Africa about her religion. In writing about her travels and experiences, Smith blends “religious and social activism in various evangelical settings” in ways that demonstrate an “awareness of racial and gender differences, especially in her own country” (41). Through her reading of Smith’s work, Logan asks us to consider why Smith and similar authors have not been included in our anthologies of black women writers, and how we might bring them together with the writers of slave narratives and abolitionist speeches from the same time in order to have a more complete understanding of the rhetorical dimensions of nineteenth-century authorship.

The other two essays in this section explore the intersections of collaboration and authorship in order to query how we understand these concepts in two very different contexts. In “Collaboration, Authorship, and the Resistance to Change,” Lisa Ede asks us to explore what, if anything, has changed around our notions of collaborative writing, particularly in how academic institutions understand this work. Reflecting on the collaborative work she and Lunsford did in the 1980s and 1990s, Ede notes that “at the level of pedagogical and scholarly practice resistance to significant change surrounding issues of collaboration and authorship is much more powerful, and much more entrenched, than we ever could have imagined when we began our work thirty years ago” (49). Ede leaves us with a significant challenge: she recognizes that our disciplinary expertise and research should make us “acutely aware of the extent to which academic assumptions, practices, and structures work against collaboration” (52), yet we also know how important this collaborative work is. So what can we do about this problem? How do we advocate for our colleagues and the academy to value the richness and complexity that emerges from collaborative authorship? And what might that look like if we did?

Shirley Brice Heath approaches this dilemma differently in “When Not to Write: Reflections on Words, Books, and Authors.” Like Ede, Heath initially offers an important critique of how the modern academy has made little progress in recognizing and valuing the ways that authorship and collaboration have changed dramatically in the last one hundred years:  “academic assessments rarely tap into any of these ‘new’ ways of talking, reading, and writing among today’s teenagers. What is demanded in these assessments comes from assumptions regarding the dominance of information presented in extended texts, interactive deliberative discourse, and means of expression tied to academic subjects and ways of reasoning, comparing, and analyzing” (31). At the same time, Heath seems far less open to new ways of reading, writing, and thinking than this initial critique suggests. Instead, she falls back on unsubstantiated “kids today” commentary about “‘swiping’ replac[ing] keyboarding” with the result that “language will increasingly decline as the way into informational access” (35). Lunsford’s work on new media composing practices, however, challenged us to imagine young people as composers who bring with them a host of innovative ways for engaging and producing texts, even as they benefit from open and engaging mentors who can challenge them to bring together old and new ways of making meaning.

In Part Two, Glenn and Mountford provide chapters from contributors who take student writing both as something to respond to and as something to study, a move that Lunsford and others helped to initiate and which now seems foundational to Rhetoric and Composition as a field. Key to this work is a recognition that the traditional genres of student writing, formalized historically in the various methods of exposition that remain a common textbook framework, have given way somewhat—and should—to projects that are “remixed, mashed up, and code-meshed” (7). Suellynn Duffey’s “Teaching in Place: A Crucial Connection between the English Department and Its Community” reminds us how much our work in Writing Studies has often been shaped by our local conditions. By focusing on students as writers, or developing basic writing programs like Lunsford did early in her career, or by shifting our attention to the digitally mediated methods of communication we see young people around us engaging in, we pay attention to concerns that are both hyper-local and yet also connected across broader networks of communicative practices that seem continually to be shifting and changing around us. For Duffy, attention to the ways that graduate students are learning to teach writing—and what “writing” means in the 21st century—has reminded her about the value of local, connected, and material inquiry as a way to shape our research and our discipline, maintaining those powerful links among theory, research, and pedagogy that are hallmarks of our field.

In taking the visually-inspired work of student composers seriously, Alysa J. O’Brien asks in “Visual Rhetoric, Intercultural Writers: The University’s Turn” that we make yet another shift as a discipline, “this time to look outward and foster intercultural writing practices” (87). Building on Lunsford’s ideas around secondary literacies in Writing Matters, O’Brien offers the concept of “tertiary literacies” in order to argue that “academic institutions need to foster …‘intercultural writers’ who are able to communicate globally and across cultural differences through ‘multimediated’ writing” (83). While it is not necessarily clear in this chapter how universities will foster this sort of writer, it is intriguing to imagine how O’Brien’s tertiary literacies might engage teachers and students in recognizing how our primary and secondary literacy practices intersect and inter-animate each other and thus enable something new to happen. Melissa A. Goldthwaite asks us to make a similar shift in “Pushing Generic Boundaries in Rhetoric and Composition: Three Sites, One Reader’s Response.” She writes, “By experimenting with form, ethos, and style—by pushing generic boundaries and engaging in serious play—writers and scholars can expand not only their own rhetorical options and tools but also open up new spaces for reader response, reflection, and appreciation” (121-22). Both O’Brien and Goldthwaite have taken up Lunsford’s work on multimodality and digital composing practices and moved it forward to ask engaging questions about how we understand, value, and respond to this work when we see it from students—and what steps we might still need to make as teachers in order to evoke differently mediated compositions.

For readers familiar with the breadth of Lunsford’s work and her commitments to social and restorative justice, Part Three: “The Politics of Rhetoric, Composition, and Writing in the Academy” will come as no surprise. The essays in this section engage the ways that rhetorical and civic education are interconnected projects, commitments that have been central to much of Lunsford’s research, scholarship, teaching, and mentoring. In “Citizenship, Rhetoric, and Pedagogy,” Gerard A. Hauser makes the case for rhetoric as a central part of higher education: “By helping [students] to develop rhetorical competence, rhetorical education also plays a major role in helping students understand civic responsibility, act responsibly, and, we hope, grow in performances of citizenship as public work” (138-39). Hauser goes on to argue for “civic professionalism,” which involves the intersections of two traditional ethical frameworks—“do no harm” and “is it safe?”—with a third framework, to “advance the public good”: “Civic commitment is not an inherent part of the disciplines; it comes from regard for the intersection of disciplinary practices with the well-being of those in the larger communities they touch” (139). Hauser offers three “modest” but important proposals if we want to maintain the civic values that have been central to rhetorical education in the West. One, we should “rethink the professional part of graduate education” in order to remember the interconnected role that citizenship and rhetoric have always had (142). Second, we should be expanding, rather than narrowing, “opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to engage in public rhetoric” (143). Finally, Hauser asks that we turn our own and our students’ attention to texts that he calls “the canon of American democracy,” among which he lists texts like the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, Anthony’s “Women’s Right to the Suffrage,” and King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Likewise, for John J. Ruszkiewicz and Davida Charney, larger questions like the ones Hauser poses about civic and rhetorical education should be central to our thinking about the rhetoric majors we develop. In “Who, Then, Is the Rhetoric Major?” they suggest that current scholarship on our majors “treat[s] the students themselves only indirectly or instrumentally” (154) and they argue that our prospective students are “seeking a major more aspirational than those driven chiefly by job market skill—important as they are. They appreciate the intellectual skills and perceptions that a broad-based, intellectually challenging program in writing and rhetoric provides” (156). Both of these contributions remind us that the work of rhetoric is not simply instrumentalist or utilitarian; rhetoric is a world-making project that can excite our students and empower them to be agents of change in the work-a-day worlds they are currently or will soon be part of when they graduate.

Mountford and Glenn’s contribution to this collection, “Networked Feminism: Mentoring in the New Economy,” engages issues of justice and rhetoric by focusing on the ways that we can develop more effective mentoring frameworks for ourselves, our students, and our larger discipline. Mountford and Glenn look first to their own feminist mentor models, Andrea Lunsford and Lisa Ede, to highlight how feminist engagements with mentoring might look different from the top-down models that have traditionally dominated the academy, and Western rhetorical traditions more generally. Recognizing that “many women want mutually nourishing relationships with their mentors” (177), they unpack that concept to recognize what feminist mentoring can mean: “to cooperate without domination or submission; to respect and work with our mutual strengths, perceptions, and vulnerabilities; and, therefore, to stimulate the formulation of new ways of working together in the fields of rhetoric and writing” (177). Highlighting the limitations of mentoring frameworks like the “feminist-guru” model and the generational model, they instead advocate for a network model, one which recognizes “the constellations of connections among individuals, [among the] generations of individuals, scholarship, and information that comprise the field of rhetoric and writing studies” (187). Ultimately, the networks they envision are about both “in-reach” and “out-reach”: “Our hope for the future of rhetoric and writing studies is that we create a network of feminist mentoring that pays forward, backwards, sideways, and diagonally at the same time that it frames a scholarly and humane model of high expectations, rigorous preparation and execution, and (always) open communication” (191).

In the final section of this collection, “The Impermanence of a Canon,” two of the authors engage with feminist historiography, following the path that Lunsford encouraged in Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Specifically, Susan C. Jarratt’s “The Empress and the Sophist: Power and Artistry in Third-Century Greek Rhetoric” works to recover the rhetorical contributions of Julia Domna, whose Eastern/Syrian identity and place in rhetorical history have been effectively erased for centuries. Domna, Jarratt argues, demonstrates “that any easy dismissal of ancient rhetoric as ‘Western’ and ‘male’ is a mischaracterization” (201), but a story of rhetorical history that we continue to tell despite the growing evidence of alternative traditions and figures in the ancient world. Moving to more recent history, Nan Johnson’s “Rhetorical Education at Catholic Colleges for Women in Ohio 1925-1940” examines “a clear increase in [the] number and range of rhetoric, writing, and public speaking courses” during the years between the two world wars. Johnson’s study adds to the growing historical scholarship which disrupts the once-dominant narrative that very little was happening at this time within rhetorical education beyond strict textbook formulas and an obsession with grammatical correctness.

The other authors in this section engage with transnational rhetorical perspectives in order to challenge the rhetorical canons that remain part of our discipline. Elizabeth A. Flynn’s “Feminist Perspectives on Postcolonial Rhetorical Practices: Spivak’s Cosmopolitan Erudition and Nazer’s Surveilled Silence” challenges readers to re-imagine a postcolonial and transnational feminist rhetoric, one which recognizes a need in our scholarship to disrupt the simplistic canon-building of star scholars by integrating the voices of those less often heard or recognized. In this chapter, for example, Flynn reads Spivak’s theoretical work on subalternity with and against Nazer and Lewis’s Slave: The True Story of a Girl’s Lost Childhood and Her Fight for Survival in order to “focus on women from diverse backgrounds,” which “mitigates the tendency to place any one woman at the center and thus the tendency to iconize individual women” (245). Finally, Bo Wang’s “Translating Nora: Chinese Feminism and Global Rhetoric” makes a similar sort of transnational move by exploring how Ibsen’s A Doll’s House has been translated and produced in contemporary China, juxtaposing a classic of Western theatre with transnational analytical frameworks. For Wang, “Nora’s many trips to China illuminate the discursive relationship between China and the West in the modern and contemporary period” (256). Wang challenges our discipline to engage in “transrhetorical practice” in order to “think about the question of ‘speaking from’ and [to] consider native, noneuroamerican rhetorics as coeval contributions to a globalized canon” (270).

In closing this collection with a version of his powerful CCCC address from 2015, Adam J. Banks, in “Ain’t No Walls Behind the Sky, Baby! Funk, Flight, Freedom,” reminds us of a powerful critique of the ways that disciplinarity can become sedimented and stale, when rhetoric’s power should remain in its “funk,” in the ways that language at its best can be disruptive, unsettling, and powerfully anti-normative:

I want funk to be our guide not just because the rest of the academy feels too clean and too serene to me but because intellectual life is funky. It is messy. […] I want funk to be our guide because that is the only way we can close the huge gaps that exist between our professed ideals and our practice, the only way we can own our privilege within oppressive spaces. […] Funk means we are willing to deal with messiness and complexity. (282)

The spirit of resistance that Banks embodies in this piece is reminiscent of the ways that Andrea Lunsford has worked both to engage and resist the very field for which she is typically seen as a founding member. As one of the “queens” of Rhetoric and Composition, Lunsford helped create many of the programs, practices, and theories that established our field, and which now several generations of emerging scholars have challenged, critiqued, and revised in their efforts to move us forward. For those of us who have continued to pay attention to what Lunsford is doing, we’ve also seen a scholar-mentor who not only welcomes those critiques but who also continues to encourage a diverse group of new talent to push our collective thinking further. The essays that Glenn and Mountford have collected in Rhetoric and Writing Studies in the New Century: Historiography, Pedagogy, and Politics engage many of Andrea Lunsford’s important contributions to our discipline, but they do so not merely to praise her. By picking up important threads from her career-spanning scholarship, the authors here show us how their own work breaks new ground, often because of those important earlier contributions. Readers will find in this collection a beautiful diversity of perspectives and projects, and an important reminder, ultimately, of how much our field’s current trajectories are indebted to the careful scholarship and hard work of women like Andrea Lunsford. This collection is a festschrift in the best sense of that term, a festival of writing that will no doubt encourage even more people to read and engage with Lunsford’s impressive corpus of work.

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Review of Elizabeth A. Flynn and Tiffany Bourelle (Eds.), Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition: Choice, Chance, & Serendipity

Flynn, Elizabeth A. and Tiffany Bourelle, editors. Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition: Choice, Chance, & Serendipity. Ohio State UP, 2018. 286 pages.

Book cover of Flynn and Bourelle's edited collection. The title text is written on college-ruled notebook paper, and there is a colorful floral-like design made from the outlines of women's bodies in the center of the cover.
Image from The Ohio State University Press website.

When we decided to review Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition, it was not without a certain bitter taste leftover from our previous realization that certain voices are amplified (and others are not, like those who are multiply marginalized) within the working lives of women in rhetoric and composition. We learned this when we wrote “Sisyphus Rolls On: Reframing Women’s Ways of ‘Making It’ in Rhetoric and Composition” (Bivens, et al.). However, in Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition, there is a shift from a focus on an ideal tenure track career to the realities that pervade most of our working lives. The chapters in this collection do not focus on or establish a “normal” career path. Instead, the contributors emphasize how they navigated a career path or multiple career paths that include twists, turns, challenges, and, as editors Elizabeth A. Flynn and Tiffany Bourelle write in the introduction, “serendipity.” Although we have no criticism to offer the impressive selection of women and what they share about their remarkable lives in the volume, we were reminded that a print book limits inclusivity for projects like these. As we discuss later, if rhetoric and composition scholars want to represent career paths in the field and what the profession resembles then and now, we suggest that they turn to other venues that do not include word count limits, chapter limits, and design limits in quite the same ways that print texts do. The ability to inclusively showcase what women’s professional lives might look like at multiple levels, in multiple venues, and in ways that consider the current political, economic, and arguably anti-intellectual, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ climate is of tantamount importance for those individuals up and coming in academic culture.

Before offering our review of the chapters, first a note on the editing. A skilled scholar with experience editing volumes can do wonders for readers in terms of maintaining an argument thread throughout a collection. Flynn and Bourelle do this skilled editorial work in framing Women’s Professional Lives in Rhetoric & Composition by focusing the collection on serendipity. In fact, Flynn and Bourelle point out, “Our collection differs…in that it places emphasis on the convergences of choice, chance, and serendipity in the professional lives of women with diverse backgrounds and situated in diverse locations within the field of rhetoric and composition” (3). Given that this thread, as well as references to each other’s narratives, is apparent throughout the collection, it is clear that the editors encouraged authors to explore serendipitous moments in their professional lives and to engage with each others’ experiences as appropriate. From start to finish, each narrative coherently and effortlessly exists within the frame Flynn and Bourelle introduce and maintain throughout the collection, resulting in an expertly edited volume that contributes to the discourses (and details) of women’s working lives.

Details allow readers to personalize these stories of serendipity and, as many of these women point out, the resiliency Flynn, Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady collected and theorized in Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. If we accept Kenneth Burke’s idea that identification precedes persuasion, then to be persuaded or moved, readers need these narratives’ details so readers can identify with these exemplary women. And the details, in almost all cases, are ample and persuasive. For instance, the details shared by Lisa Ede about her collaborations with Andrea Lunsford resonated with us because we, too, have collaborated on multiple texts. Flynn’s narrative helped us to trace and understand her feminism, its lineage, and its legacy at Michigan Technological University. Anne Ruggles Gere’s chapter highlights the necessary legacy of interdisciplinarity that grounds our field and the ways in which navigating various forms of writing, literacy, and rhetoric can open kairotic space along a career path that does not seem, at first, traditional. Her chapter also reflects the necessary though largely ignored role that care work and personal relationships have in our working lives. The vast majority of us will care for a young person or an ailing parent at some point in our lives, and Gere (as well as other contributors) seamlessly blends the discussion of her life with her career. It is a necessary example of the ways in which our personal lives powerfully factor into our professions and should be acknowledged as such.

Lynn Z. Bloom’s narrative reminds us to be flexible with our knowledge and consider deploying it to help others in telling their stories. Libby Falk Jones’s chapter is simply melodic in its organization and representation of her story through various lenses, while her discussion of mêtis and the ways closings and openings complement that melody and the pacing of her story’s presentation. Suellyn Duffy also draws upon the mêtis thread to frame her chapter. In it, she voices what many do not or cannot—that if she followed the scripts and the advice about how to make it as an academic she would judge herself as less than, or she would have to maintain an oppositional stance, neither of which are useful as we strive forward in our careers. Instead, she invites readers into an embodied feminist resilience that powerfully reminds us that there are times in which less than ideal circumstances allow for freedom—of movement, of choice, of direction. Malea Powell’s chapter is a story, and like Duffy, she reflects on her career through art. She gives us a narrative framed by beadwork. Her writing is tactical, physical, personal, instructional. Powell uses the weaving of beadwork to reflect on the network of relationships, the accumulations (385), that led to her professional choices. Powell’s work is a reflection on a career that necessarily indicates the continuing focus on settler colonialism on authenticity—a demand of our indigenous colleagues for a “real” identity that is unnecessary and, frankly, racist. Powell reminds us that as scholars in a diverse field we must do our part to consciously make the academy livable for those it was built to exclude and marginalize.

Linda Adler-Kassner’s chapter on scrappiness is the perfect corollary to the chapters that draw on mêtis, that write through art and expression. She uses the threshold concept of troublesome knowledge to frame herself as a “scrapper”—someone who looks for opportunity or “cracks” and moves to enter (350). As she deconstructs her reflection on her career path, she recognizes the ways in which the troublesome, the disappointing, and the seemingly insurmountable became serendipitous and led to a knowledge of self and scrappiness that propelled her forward in her career. This combination of determination and resilience is something that Holly Hassel and Kirsti Cole highlight in their 2017 collection, Surviving Sexism in Academia. Many of the contributors in that volume also found agency in spaces that ignored or dismissed them, and they leveraged those spaces to forge connections with people around them who were interested in building something new, in moving past outmoded and outdated notions of who belongs in our academic spaces. Resilience, then, is as deeply practical as it is creative. Resilience is how these women get things done.

Jacqueline Rhodes begins her narrative reflecting on depression and queer time through resilience. She writes, “Our strength comes through these fractured moments of influence and narrative, fleeting intensities, years of immediacy. And strength too comes from a balancing of choice and chance, of wave and field” (451). Class, identity, and intimacy intersect in Rhodes’s chapter as she writes about the vulnerabilities of coming from a working-class family, living the academic life with depression, and finding her identity as a queer scholar. Beth L. Hewett, who, like Bivens, taught for the City Colleges of Chicago for a period of time, shares her experiences with grief, loss, and challenges that ultimately led her research to focus on collaboration. Though she writes about serendipity, hers is certainly a career that exemplifies resilience, ultimately revealing that “…when a person has more than one deep interest and a compelling sense of obligation and motivation in different areas, one may never feel complete on any one path” (170). One of those areas includes bereavement training and grief coaching, or acting as a mentor for those experiencing loss. Rhodes and Hewett both draw attention to the intersections of affect and personal-professional lives, while challenging our notions of what it means to live an academic life.

The chapters in this collection are interconnected, and Bourelle illustrates the predominant ways in which they are interconnected. Her chapter acknowledges her influences and notes how her mentors “had guided [her] to find [her] own voice and to make [her] own decisions,” (179) which is a welcome nod toward personal agency—a rhetorical concept that serendipity seemingly excludes, especially for the inexperienced and uninitiated. Iklim Goksel relies on kismet (or destiny) for the choice, chance, and serendipity her story reveals; it is a breath of fresh air in the collection with its references to non-western traditions (e.g., Rumi, Yunus Emre) and a beautifully-written chapter whose narrative roams the globe from Sweden to Turkey to the United States. Bourelle’s serendipity and Goksel’s kismet use the frame Flynn and Bourelle craft in the introduction skillfully.

It is important to acknowledge, however, the ways in which serendipity could potentially limit agency. Sharon Crowley noted this in her profile in Women’s Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition (Ballif, Davis, and Mountford). She says, “We did what we were told, and it did seem like serendipity if things happened for us. Or we were taught to rationalize it as serendipity. If we made it happen, we told ourselves it was luck” (218). However, Flynn and Bourelle note that their use of serendipity as a frame is not just “luck but the willingness to act on hunches or trust one’s own intuition—to learn from one’s experience” (Flynn and Bourelle 5). When trade presses focus on issues such as imposter syndrome and an unstable job market, trusting one’s intuition may seem, well, Sisyphean. But the collected chapters in this text demonstrate clearly that even seemingly impossible tasks are doable, and that voices that are not often heard can find a venue if individuals are willing to prepare themselves in their field, take on challenges, and navigate opportunities that seem, at first, like luck or chance. Or, as Bloom writes, “Making good choices positions you to take advantage of serendipity” (103). The process of making choices demonstrated throughout this collection is one motivated by the personal—something the contributors reference in each chapter. These are works of powerful vulnerability and making the most of it.

This kind of professional vulnerability is demonstrated in Irene Papoulis’s chapter. Those off the tenure track or not teaching at their ideal institutions—or those with feelings of “status anxiety” (202)—will find a similar, newfangled representation, like Goksel’s chapter, of the working lives of those who rely on contingent teaching assignments, while also living life as a single mother dealing with “considerable psychological stress” (13). Papoulis organizes her chapter around the elements of her life that have contributed to her “shame-inducing anxieties” (210), including being a lecturer, composition studies itself, and her scholarly dedication to expressivism. As readers and writing teachers, we found much to identify with in her chapter, especially in the chapter’s final paragraph, when Papoulis writes, “The antidotes to academic shame begin with acknowledging what the feeling is and how our institutions foster it” (216).

The remaining chapters in the collection, written by Natasha Jones and Shirley Rose, tackle the ways that institutional forces shape us and how we must work to shape them. As a single mother, Jones experienced a transformative commitment to social justice when her daughter was born. Jones cites inspiration from a keynote by Dr. Angela Davis at the Conference on College Communication and Composition in 2014—an inspiration that Jones responds to through her social justice scholarship in technical and professional communication. She writes, “simply that [her] personal and academic career goals are one in the same—to embrace change and to empower others and [herself] to be resilient and strong” (232). In the final chapter of the collection, Rose directs readers to our professional focus: teaching students to write. Rose starts with the acknowledgment that she is in the “last verse of her professional work” (244). She reminds readers of the vulnerability of learning and what we ask our students to do in unfamiliar educational territory. Rose frames her narrative with her experiences being a member of the Scottsdale Chorus. She reminds us of effective teaching practices, like being patient with students’ questions that we think we’ve answered already (239) and even “singing out” or taking the chance of making a mistake or doing something wrong (241). The latter reminds readers of agency and the power we find in making choices regarding our professional lives.

In this collection, Flynn and Bourelle include voices that remind us that our professional lives, at whatever stage, are necessarily grounded in our personal experiences, past histories, pains, and joys. One of the more powerful aspects of this volume is that the contributors tell their personal stories as they discuss their careers. Another unique aspect is that there are women in this volume that are no longer in academia, as well as women who served, at some point, in non-tenure track jobs at many Carnegie classification types of schools. For us, this collection serves as an important reminder to think strategically about the role of composition in the university and the role of those who teach it. Compositionists know the business of the university, perhaps better than people in any other discipline. However, knowing the business of the university requires a certain kind of permanence and stability. Without it, without the agency provided by tenure and tenure-track jobs, transience and insecurity interfere with our ability to focus on the spaces in which we work because we are forced to simply focus on whether or not we will work. The strength of a text such as this is that it opens space within precarious employment circumstances for individuals to leverage longitudinal knowledge and understand the systems in which we labor. In this way, resilience through mêtis is a key theme of Women’s Professional Lives. This book reflects a reality that many find themselves in—and asks readers to identify and take up the various pathways showcased as possibilities for moving through an academic career well. The problem is that the landscape that maps academic, career, and good navigation thereof are all shifting at an accelerated rate.

Regarding editorial savvy and the structure of the collection, we found great (and quite frankly, surprising) joy reading the endnotes of several chapters. For example, Ede, Flynn, Bloom, Duffey, Adler-Kassner, and Powell provide details that add depth to their professional lives’ narratives in these endnotes. In fact, Powell’s 29 endnotes read like a worthy history lesson for the uninitiated. Relatedly, Bloom adds depth and details to her work as a biographer with historical tidbits like “the international dateline determines whether December 7 or 8 is the date ‘which will live in infamy’” (72). It is because of these footnotes, as well as the limitations endemic to print books, that we recommend that works like these be moved to digital spaces. In our estimation, the metadiscourse found in these footnotes would benefit from a series of hyperlinked pages.1 By moving to digital spaces, not only can more narratives be included, but more details about those narratives can be included, too. Ultimately, although we find the book format limiting for works that describe women’s working lives in rhetoric and composition, the showcase of scholars, teachers, and workers here is extensive and inclusive. This collection is an exemplar in a small but significant group of texts that place under the microscope the demonstrably different and shockingly similar ways people come to and live in academia. However, if projects like this are to be more inclusive and welcoming for the diversity of those who teach rhetoric and composition, we suggest that these works transition to open access and be housed in digital spaces. The project of storytelling and reflecting on the serendipitous choices and chances of an academic career is, perhaps, more important than ever as the seemingly traditional career paths are disappearing, but in order to engage in this project and provide a blueprint or a way forward for up-and-coming people in the field, we must carefully consider how we access the stories that might provide insight and guidance along our own circuitous, contingent, caregiving, serendipitous professional paths.


  1. In fact, our work on the (now defunct) CCC Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession (CSWP) tried to do similar work, Story Corps-style, nearly ten years ago by working with Cindy Selfe’s Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN). In this project, a handful of women were interviewed for the Women’s Lives in the Profession Project under Eileen Schell’s chairing of the CSWP. Two interviews remain online: a video interview with Gwendolyn Pugh and a text self-interview of Bivens.

Works Cited

Ballif, Michelle, Diane Davis, and Roxanne Mountford, editors. Women’s Ways of Making It in Rhetoric and Composition. Routledge Press, 2008.

Bivens, Kristin, et al. “Sisyphus Rolls on: Reframing Women’s Ways of ‘Making It’ in Rhetoric and Composition.” Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion, vol. 1, no. 10, 2013.

Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives. University of California Press, 1969.

Flynn, Elizabeth A., Patricia Sotirin, and Ann Brady, editors. Feminist Rhetorical Resilience. University Press of Colorado, 2012.

Hassel, Holly and Kirsti Cole, editors. Surviving Sexism in Academia. Routledge Press, 2017.

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“Like Regular Underwear, But So Much Better”: How Thinx Can Create Feminist Embodied Subjects through the Enduring Legacy of OBOS

Underwear for People Who Menstruate

Across time and cultures, women have used and continue to use a variety of products for catching menstrual flow. The choice often comes down to comfort, availability, convenience, and price. You might find the perfect match right away, or you might try different options, looking for more comfort or a better fit.

(Our Bodies, Ourselves, 2011)

From its conception in 1969 at a Women’s Liberation Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS) has been committed to informing its audience about topics of health and the body through feminist perspectives. While OBOS began as a text targeted toward straight middle class white women, each update has been more inclusive of different bodies and identities. Although the production and printing of OBOS has been discontinued, OBOS creates a tangible legacy for future feminist health literacies and technologies. In this way, OBOS provides a means to compare and measure other feminist health texts and objects. In this article, I use that legacy to explore the implications of Thinx panties, which are underwear that can be worn during the menstrual cycle sans other menstrual products, or as a backup to other menstrual products. While Thinx panties were not invented before the last printing of OBOS in 2011, their products represent the kinds of technologies OBOS contributors would showcase in their feminist health text, which is evidenced in the current OBOS blog. In 2015, OBOS contributor Miriam Zoila Pérez published a blog post detailing Thinx as a menstrual product that is both innovative and more sustainable than other menstrual products.

Thinx was founded by Antonia Saint Dunbar and sisters Miki and Radha Agrawal in 2011, and they began selling their menstrual products in 2014. This company provides people who menstruate with underwear that can be worn during the menstruation cycle sans other menstruation products, or as a backup to other menstruation products. In product advertisements, Thinx boasts that their “period panties” have a patented four-layer technology that is supposed to allow the wearer to move through their day without the interruptions that other menstruation products can cause. Wearing these undergarments may limit the interactivity a menstruator might normally have with other menstrual products (i.e. tampons, pads, menstruation cups, etc.), as wearers might have less need to check the fullness of the undergarment and actual menstrual byproducts are potentially more fully concealed through this technology. Because OBOS and Thinx are part of an evolving ecology of lived practical experiences centered around feminist reproductive health and feminine coded bodies, I consider the following questions in this article:

  1. how might a feminist health literacy text like OBOS inform how we think about products like Thinx?
  2. what do both OBOS and Thinx underwear suggest in terms of assumptions made about the size, shape, and movement of menstruating bodies?
  3. how does the case study of Thinx underwear as a feminist wearable technology become important for the future of feminist health literacies?

To answer these questions, this article makes a case for Thinx underwear as a wearable technology by expanding upon feminist rhetorical research that considers technological objects from an embodied perspective. Positioning OBOS as an agentive prior text, this article shows how OBOS has, through its many editions, strived to be inclusive not only of different bodies and identities but also of multiple approaches to reproductive healthcare technologies and activism. Drawing on this foundation, I conduct a materialist rhetorical analysis of Thinx underwear in connection to OBOS using Jordynn Jack’s feminist wearable technology framework. This article explores how Thinx panties can become a structure of feminist meaning-making that is transmitted through bodies, analyzes the assumptions that this technology makes about menstruating bodies, and argues in the spirit of OBOS that powerful agencies are invented in the collaboration among Thinx underwear and menstruating bodies. The concluding discussion focuses on how continued feminist rhetorics of embodiment and wearable technologies are important for the future of feminist health literacies, for complicating Thinx underwear, and for the enduring legacy of OBOS.

Feminist Rhetorics of Embodiment and Wearable Technologies

Feminist Rhetorics of Embodiment

OBOS and Thinx both have the potential to empower bodies through feminist rhetorical action; as a result, turning to feminist rhetorics of embodiment can help us better understand their interrelation. Through our embodied choices, we have the agency to create rhetorical action that can empower or disempower our bodies. For example, Maria Novotny and Katie Manthey position the journey of coming to understand and embrace their bodies as a feminist rhetorical act. More directly, Manthey explains, “How I manage my body and specifically, how I present it to other people through dress practices including clothing that hides or reveals my flesh, is a feminist rhetorical move” (11). A number of feminist scholars have correspondingly illustrated that the intersection between bodies and the everyday is a deeply rhetorical space (Johnson et al.; Molloy et al.). Feminist rhetorics of embodiment can also focus on the agency bodies can have with and through technological objects. In this regard, Lisa Melonçon states, “The instrumental nature of technology means that human bodies exist as tool-beings that use a variety of equipment, or technology, to move through each day” (71). In further drawing from this point, Jack asserts, “…the ways that we live in and through our bodies are inextricable from the technologies we use” (209). Because we are inextricably linked to technologies through our bodies and lived practical experiences an expanded understanding of what counts as a technology is necessary if we want to fully consider the embodied potential of technologies.

Feminist Rhetorics of Technology

Thinx underwear is a wearable technology: a product or material that provides a means to assist the wearer in everyday life. They are, however, an unusual wearable technology in that they challenge the predominant notion of how wearable technologies are currently understood. To better understand Thinx underwear as a wearable technology, we need a broader conception of technology use, particularly within a feminist rhetorical framework. Specifically, we need to consider Thinx and other menstruation technologies from a feminist rhetorical framework that, as Jack contends, considers these objects as “everyday rhetorics” (208). Arguing for a feminist rhetoric of technology, Amy Koerber expands the definition of technology based on feminist observations that address how previous definitions of technology, “…have evolved in a way that excludes the historical contributions of women” (60). Her expanded definitions by contrast “enrich[es] the rhetoric of technology…by revealing the blind spots inherent in narrow definitions” (60). Jessica Enoch similarly explains that we should open more paths in feminist rhetorical research through “scholarly interventions” that invite more scholars to “push the boundaries of feminist research” (438). However, pathways that push the boundaries of feminist perspectives of technologies must not only consider broader definitions of technologies but also reconsider the rhetorical implications that are disseminated through technological artifacts. For example, Sarah Hallenbeck articulates the idea that “everyday practices gain strength and traction as rhetorical actions through their articulations within the networks that support or subvert them” (22). Feminist rhetorical studies of technological objects, then, should consider and reinvent how technologies enact or subvert imbalanced power relations, binary understandings of gender, and divisions in social categories.

Jenny Edbauer’s work offers an important method for analyzing the relationships between technologies and rhetorical effects and affects. In her proposed reconfiguration of the rhetorical situation, Edbauer suggests a strategy for theorizing rhetorics as “a circulating ecology of effects, enactments, and events by shifting the lines of focus from rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies” (9). A rhetorical ecology recognizes how texts and objects circulate and transform those who interact with them. An analysis of Thinx’s “period panties” as a technological artifact should position these objects in a developing ecology of lived practical experiences centered around reproductive health and menstruating bodies.

Feminist Wearable Technologies

While popular definitions of wearable technologies tend to be understood through ubiquitous computing and the ability to collect and track quantifiable data, in this article I take the position that wearable technologies can include a wide range of objects and artifacts that people can wear. Clothing and shoes, for example, provide a layer of protection from natural and synthetic elements. I further argue that it is a feminist rhetorical practice to redefine understandings of technologies to be more inclusive of marginalized experiences that are lived through these technologies. Continually, it seems, broad understandings of technologies often only consider innovative technologies in their definitions. For instance, dominant understandings of wearable technologies commonly connect closely to cutting-edge digital technologies. When the term “wearable technology” is used, many might call to mind images of Apple iWatches, FitBits, GoPros, smart glasses, etc. Isabel Pedersen refers to this type of technology as “wearable computers,” and explains them as “…computers that you strap to the body and ‘wear’” (183). However, a wearable technology does not necessarily have to be understood as a digital gadget.

Thinx underwear can provide the function of protection from the messes that menstrual periods have the potential to cause, and they can also allow the wearer to move more freely throughout the day. Before the invention of commercialized menstrual products, menstruators used objects like cloth rags, cotton, sheep’s wool, handed knitted pads, or even animal furs and plants like grass to stifle blood flow. With the evolution of menstrual products, a menstruator’s ability to exist in the world during a menstrual cycle has become easier to manage. Like most menstrual technologies, Thinx stifles a menstruator’s blood flow so they are able to move more easily through their day. While these undergarments do not rely on ubiquitous computing technology and do not collect or track data in the usual sense, they do, I argue, have the potential to assist the wearer in their everyday lives. Following Jack’s emphasis for further research of wearable technologies that takes up a feminist perspectives of rhetorical embodiment more directly, in my analysis I further explore how wearing Thinx underwear can become a rhetorical act that encourages a feminist embodied subject who can participate in knowledge creation. In order to move forward in this analysis, I now turn to OBOS as a forerunner in providing increased agency to menstruators and their bodies.

OBOS and Practices of Inclusion

My understanding of Thinx panties as related to the legacy of OBOS is primarily positioned in the ninth edition published in 2011, and I want to start by considering how this feminist health literacy text is situated in a feminist history of inclusion. Different iterations of OBOS show how contributors have strived to be more inclusive of different bodies, identities, technologies, and activist movements. As Heather Stephenson, Zobeida Bonilla, Elizabeth Sarah Linsey, and Marianne McPhearson trace in a 2005 special issue for the journal for the National Women’s Studies Association Journal themed around the update and revision of the eighth edition of OBOS, inclusivity, attention to current reproductive health issues, and the desire to stay relevant through technological advances have long been at the core of the driving beliefs behind OBOS. Stephenson, who led the revisions project for the eighth edition update published in 2005, describes how her revisions speak to new and different generations of women. Stephenson explains, “Our aim has been to reach the next generation while retaining the essential strengths that make the book beloved by longtime fans” (173). This commitment to generational inclusion that Stephenson describes is part of what makes OBOS a legacy text against which to compare and measure other feminist health texts and technologies.

Inclusion of Language and Identity

The inclusion of marginalized voices and experiences extends to language use within OBOS. Bonilla, for example, focuses on the struggle for OBOS to continue to be inclusive through the use of the “royal we,” how inclusive pronouns are used, and the constructions of the Other in the text. Bonilla explains, “The use of the word ‘we’ in OBOS has been a fundamental feature of the book, which has given OBOS an accessible and caring tone and a more inviting and embracing voice” (176). She further explains how in the early iterations of OBOS the “royal we” did not necessarily include everyone. This point is evidenced in Linsey’s article in the same special issue. Linsey discusses her experience with updating the gender and sexuality chapter for the eighth edition of OBOS. In doing so she describes how as an “anti-authoritarian African American high femme dyke from a working poor family,” she did not feel she fit into the intended audience for OBOS, which she describes as white middle class women. However, she states, “When Heather [Stephenson] asked me to write this chapter, I tearfully accepted because I realized that OBOS was committed to expanding the breadth and depth of its audience by becoming more inclusive of young women, women of color, and trans and queer people” (184). Through Linsey’s example, we can see how OBOS has recently attempted to expand its conception of who counts as “we.”

Inclusion of Technologies

In various updates through the years, OBOS has also worked to include new and emerging technologies and the discussions around them as a means to keep their readers informed about feminist healthcare practices. McPhearson discusses the importance of updating OBOS through revising the “textbook feel,” updating the anatomy chapter to be more supportive of vulvovaginal self-examinations, and the challenges of including hot topic reproductive issues in such a way for them to remain relevant in print. In particular, McPhearson concentrates on the eighth edition update of OBOS by giving attention to menstrual suppression through the technological advancements of the birth control pill. In explaining her rhetorical decisions on how best to address menstrual suppression, McPhearson states, “Many other public spheres give attention to menstrual suppression drugs. I thought that OBOS could be a space for a broader debate about suppression in a feminist voice, both in terms of safety and desirability” (194). This shows the attention paid not only to including new technologies within OBOS updates, but also to the importance of including the debates, opinions, and information that surrounds these technologies.

Inclusion of Activist Movements

The inclusivity that OBOS has strived for is also apparent in the relationship variations of the text have had with feminist activist movements like that of menstrual activism. Through tracing the history of menstrual activism via key events, Chris Bobel argues that menstrual activism in the 1970s began with gratitude, seeing menstrual products as conveniences; however, due to the rise of Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) in 1971 to 1992, that gratitude transformed into skepticism. Through the discussion of key events in the history of menstrual activism, Bobel explains how the Boston Women’s Health Collective marked transformations and updates to each edition of their health literacy text and how menstrual activism has shaped the progression of OBOS as a text. Today, Thinx is arguably at the forefront of the modern menstrual activist movement because of the company’s commitment to inclusivity and dedication to challenging pervasive menstrual stigma.

The Embodied Feminist Subject

Texts like OBOS have the potential to create what Kathy Davis describes as feminist embodied subjects. More specifically, she states that OBOS creates an “embodied, situated subject who can actively participate in the feminist knowledge project that it represents” (142). Through Dorothy Smith’s “sociologically informed methodology” (143) for text analysis, Davis explains that there is “…the active and constitutive relationship between texts and readers, as well as the role texts play in organizing and regulating power relations” (143). This type of analysis, Davis states, provides a way to understand OBOS in terms of how it “activates readers” to become embodied subjects who are situated in such a way as to participate in “feminist politics aimed at empowering women in matters concerning their bodies and health” (143). For example, Davis illustrates this argument through her focus on how the first chapter of the ninth edition of OBOS, “Understanding Our Bodies: Sexual Anatomy, Reproduction, and the Menstrual Cycle,” hails the reader. This chapter calls a reader to action in exploring their anatomical parts via a mirror, rather than just explaining female sexual anatomy to the reader through medical information and depictions about and of bodies.

OBOS includes detailed diagrams to provide readers with visuals as a point of reference. These particular visuals are interesting in comparison to visuals one might see in other health resources because they depart from a sterilized depiction of female sexual anatomy. Instead, the renderings are based in realism and provide details of female sexual anatomy that often go unnoticed. With one depiction in particular, the reader has access to a labeled diagram of human vaginal anatomy, but the visualization also demonstrates using a mirror in a way that will allow a person to explore and examine their own reproductive parts. Again, the text invites the reader to be an active participant in understanding the body, rather than a passive recipient of information about it. Additionally, OBOS includes anecdotal accounts of women describing their experiences with exploring their own bodies. These accounts include multiple experiences, including those that might be positioned as non-normative. For instance, among the anecdotes included in OBOS one states:

I don’t menstruate, and have actually always felt kind of alienated by the way in which female experiences are sometimes centered around menstruation—the idea that menstruation makes someone a “real” woman for example, or that menstruation is such a quintessential experience that if you haven’t menstruated, you don’t know what it’s like to be a woman.


Narrative accounts like this one further invite readers to actively participate in exploring their own bodies alongside reading trusted medical information. The text encourages a reader not just to absorb the text, but to experience their body through it.

In addition to inviting readers to learn and explore female sexual anatomy, the first chapter in OBOS describes the menstrual cycle in great detail, covering everything from menarche to details about ovulation, ovaries, and the cervix. This chapter also briefly covers certain menstrual products that can be used to catch blood flow. One section in particular, however, specifically covers the stigma around periods. In this subsection entitled “It’s Your Period–How Do You Own It?” the editors state, “We may hear jokes about it on television, or we may see advertisements for menstrual products, but rarely is menstruation talked about in honest terms.” Further they ask, “When’s the last time you heard menstrual blood even mentioned?” and they state, “Being ‘fresh’ or ‘clean’ is emphasized, and the fact that we menstruate is hidden” (22). Through deep descriptions, direct statements, and bold questions, OBOS challenges menstrual stigma to encourage an agency amongst its readers.

Like OBOS, Thinx engenders this agency through challenging menstrual stigma. We can see this in Thinx ad campaigns, and in their ability to collaborate with users and other like-minded organizations both nationally and abroad to assemble and mobilize their aims and goals. In their ad campaigns, Thinx does not avoid using images of real blood, and they take on direct discussions of menstruation via their website. This agency can also be constructed through the wearing of Thinx’s menstrual products, which I argue in accordance with Davis creates embodied feminist subjects. In the next section of this article I want to further expand upon how wearing Thinx underwear can aid in the creation of an embodied feminist subject.

Understanding Thinx as a Feminist Embodied Rhetoric

In this section I use Jack’s framework to analyze Thinx underwear as a wearable technology. I expand on these three factors to setup a framework for considering Thinx panties as a wearable technology. In drawing from Pedersen’s framework for analyzing wearable technologies Jack explains that the following three qualities to consider are movement, interactivity, and beingness.


Jack states that movement requires that a wearable run constantly in the background but not interfere with our day-to-day activity. With the “signature leak-fighting tech” that Thinx boasts, these undergarments have the potential to augment a wearer’s experience by stifling blood flow and odor, and through limiting trips to the bathroom for the purpose of checking or changing filled menstrual products. As advertised on their website, Thinx claims that every pair of underwear is made with their “…signature 4-layer technology for ultimate period protection” (Thinx). Fig. 1 shows how this technology works together by way of a moisture-wicking layer, an anti-microbial lining layer, a super-absorbent fabric layer, and finally a leak-resistant barrier layer. Each layer of the underwear takes on a specific aspect of combating the elements of menstruation that have moored menstruators historically and still do presently. In this sense, Thinx underwear as a wearable technology can allow for free movement and unwanted interruptions during a menstrual cycle just like any other menstrual product promises.

Fig. 1. Thinx’s patented four-layered technology. (Image courtesy Thinx, Inc.).


Interactivity in terms of wearable technologies, Jack explains, requires that technologies become present when we call upon them, otherwise they should exist in the background without much notice. With menstruating bodies there is a probability that these undergarments can become present much more frequently than a wearer might like. Often, menstrual cycles cause the stress and worry of leakage and with this stress comes the thought of protection against it. Because of this stress, there is a likelihood that this technology is called upon more times than the wearer might want, especially if a wearer is experiencing this technology for the first time, or has a flow that cannot be accommodated by Thinx’s patented technology alone. In this sense, the interactivity of Thinx underwear as a wearable technology becomes complicated. Interactivity differs in the context of wearable technologies and menstruating bodies because menstrual fluid can function as a catalyst that frequently calls attention to the technology. The involuntary experience of menstruating can be physically felt throughout the day as the menstrual fluid exits the body. This sensation is a consistent reminder that forces a menstruator to consider the level of fullness a menstrual wearable might have.


Jack explains the quality of beingness through how wearable technologies allow us to exist in the world. Along with this comes the question of whether these technologies are helpful or harmful. For this final criterion Jack specifically states, “…one might consider how a wearable technology becomes  akin to an additional bodily organ that functions automatically” (209). For this, she draws on Pedersen’s example of “breathing, swallowing, or perspiring” (194). In this article I add bleeding to the list just as Jack added breast milk. The question here, then, becomes about how wearable technologies are attuned to bodies, or how bodies attune to the act of wearing the object. With Thinx underwear in particular we should consider how the act of menstruating is often described in terms of being uncomfortable, an annoyance, or painful. Discomfort and annoyance from menstruation, in part, comes from levels of menstrual flow, constantly tracking the fullness of menstrual products, and the fear of leakages. Because of these negative experiences the state of beingness a menstruator could achieve when wearing Thinx technology has different potentials depending on how a person’s menstrual flow allows them to move or interact in and with the underwear.

Micro-performances of Gender, Status, and Identity

In addition to the qualities of movement, interactivity, and beingness, Jack further argues that wearable technologies can enable micro-performances of gender, status, and identity (209). Although it is a natural bodily function that can be a signifier for healthy bodies, menstruation has historically been an involuntary act that has held back those who menstruate. How menstruation has held people back varies between negative social constructions of feminine coded bodies and actual physical disadvantages that can come with menstruation. In terms of physical disadvantages, menstruators have always had to deal with the pain and overall negative bodily feeling that can accompany a person’s menstrual cycle, but menstruators have also always had to deal with how they might move through their everyday lives without bleeding through their clothing and onto furniture and other objects.

Understanding this often-fraught experience of menstruation is one that requires us not only to analyze its texts, but also its technologies and their ecologies. Hallenbeck claims that a feminist rhetorical project “…ought to undertake the work of identifying the impacts of material arrangements and seemingly nondeliberate arhetorical embodied activities on gender norms” (12). While we have typically studied written and spoken communication, Jack contends, “It is not only ideas and beliefs that must change, but also material arrangement of bodies, spaces, and time” (300). To this end, I argue that both objects and textual artifacts must be studied more closely in order to understand the arrangement of bodies, spaces, and time that affect the experience of menstruation in everyday life. Because products like Thinx underwear and texts like OBOS allow menstruators to actualize their bodies and bodily functions in more positive ways, an understanding of these artifacts in terms of micro performances of gender is paramount. This type of understanding is particularly important for menstrual technologies because of the long and persisting stigma that surrounds the involuntary bodily practice.

Menstrual stigma is often used to other menstruating bodies. For example, Janice Delaney, et al. in their 1979 book The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, point out that menstruation has been stigmatized, undervalued, and all together erased from cultural histories. They state, “In our own culture…women continue to suffer the taboos of centuries. Law, medicine, religion, and psychology have isolated and devalued the menstruating woman” (2). Delaney, et al. additionally discuss the deeply embedded cultural stereotypes that exist around the figure of the menstruating woman. They contend that, “Women who experience the debilitating mental or physical pain of menstruation are made prototype for all; and in the face of statistics to the contrary, women are still considered unreliable workers and unstable human beings at that time of the month” (2). In these descriptions Delaney, et al. show how ingrained cultural understandings of micro-performances of gender, status, and identity can come to be. Hallenbeck, in relation to this argument, explains that we ought to begin our, “…investigations with an everyday practice because the mundane nature of many everyday practices means they are likely to become naturalized activities that escape human scrutiny in their role of re-inscribing or challenging gender norms” (22). By examining Thinx and other technological objects through their use in practice, we can highlight how technologies are responsible for enacting or subverting power relations, binary gender distinctions, and problematic social categories.

How Thinx Extends the Legacy of OBOS

As with the commitment OBOS had to accounting for change with each update, it is apparent that Thinx is similarly committed to accounting for the consistent changes and updates that relate to feminist healthcare needs. Taking on a responsibility like this requires that the creators and designers regularly reconsider what types of bodies their technologies must accommodate. Thinx’s commitment to striving for accessibility for bodies of all types is evidenced in the varied styles of underwear that range in levels of absorbability and through the sizes they offer for each style of underwear, which range from XS to 3XL. The dedication Thinx has to inclusion is evidenced in their Thinx BTWN line, developed especially for new and young menstruators (see Fig. 2). This example in particular also highlights the commitment Thinx has to encouraging positive body literacy from a young age.

Fig. 2. Thinx underwear styles. (Image courtesy Thinx, Inc.).
Fig. 3. Thinx advertisement featuring transgender model Sawyer Devuyst. (Image courtesy Thinx, Inc.).

Moreover, attentiveness to body literacy and inclusion can be recognized in the introduction of their boy shorts style, which was released in honor of Transgender Awareness Week and advertised by Sawyer Devuyst, a transgender model who menstruates (see Fig. 3). With the assortment of styles and sizes that Thinx offers for their underwear and their attention to bodies, it can be argued that Thinx’s products are both well designed technologically and in terms of recognizing the potentiality for the multitude of shapes and sizes among menstruators. With this potentiality there is the chance to refigure assumptions about who menstruators are and what their needs might be. Further, the inclusivity commitment of Thinx is not just related to exploring the body but also to interacting with bodies through extensions that value how wearable technologies work with bodies.

Complicating Thinx as an Extension of OBOS

Even after its discontinuation, OBOS survives as a text that encourages its readers to have agency over their bodies both personally and politically. However, while the Boston Women’s Health Collective, who helped in the authorship and printing of OBOS, has always been a nonprofit organization, Thinx has been since its inception a for profit company. Thinx may offer a reusable and sustainable product, which is unlike disposable tampons and pads, but their garments are costly nonetheless. With expensive wearable technologies like Thinx underwear, it is not uncommon for potential users to be priced out of the possibilities for experiencing more positive ways of movement, interactivity, and beingness. The expense of these products can also hinder menstruators’ abilities to learn about their bodies and about different experiences surrounding reproductive health because of how these educational practices are so deeply embedded in the market practices of companies like Thinx, as a for profit company that has an interest in education and issues of social change. Additionally, while Thinx has from the beginning been controversial due to their products, advertisements, and overtly feminist commitment to supporting menstrual equality around the world, the company has also been met with controversy brought on by potentially problematic practices of their former “SHE-eo” Miki Agrawal. Amid allegations of sexual harassment, workplace nudity, and claims of creating a hostile work environment, Agrawal stepped down as the CEO of the company in 2016. These allegations brought against Agrawal highlight how dissonance between the feminist values associated with a brand and potentially problematic leaders in companies can arise.

While it might seem like people have so much more at their fingertips than they did in the past in terms of body literacy, Thinx shows that issues of feminist health literacy access are not necessarily diminishing, but rather are changing form. Thinking about menstrual wearable technologies in relation to these ideas is crucial to better understand the consideration of the lived experiences of menstruation. While OBOS has influenced bodily literacy practices for the past forty-five years, moving forward, we need more research that not only helps individuals to better understand the experience of using wearable menstrual technologies, but also research that helps menstruators to understand how the presence and use of wearable technologies can shape how people come to understand their own bodies. Feminist rhetorical perspectives can help inform a more critical approach in this area by making room for tracing the complicated connections between (dis)empowerment that might be created through the use of wearable menstrual technologies.

When reading texts like OBOS or in wearing products like Thinx, there is the potential to construct an embodied, situated feminist subject who can actively participate in the knowledge production of their own bodies; however, health texts or health technologies also have the potential to create obverse affects. Further research in this area might draw upon critical, rhetorically informed qualitative approaches to studying menstruation technologies in use. This kind of research should contribute to the idea that for genuine inclusivity to occur in the context of feminist rhetorical research practices we need a broader conception of the kinds of technological artifacts that can be studied from an embodied perspective. We also need an expanded conception of what a wearable technology is and how these technologies can both encourage and complicate knowledge production about feminine coded bodies. What this allows for is work that considers rhetorical artifacts old and new from a mediated technological perspective that takes up matters of movement, interactivity, and beingness.

In doing this work, we can trace what has and has not counted as technology through a feminist perspective as a way to point out how menstruation technologies have not gained the same recognition, respect, and attention that other technologies have. Katherine T. Durack makes a similar point when she states that because scientific inquiry and technological innovation have primarily been the work of men the “contributions of women have consequently been subsumed, lost, or overlooked” (250). In each of its iterations, OBOS has been committed to recognizing menstruation technologies as a way to inform readers about feminist healthcare practices. But in the discontinuation of OBOS, we must constantly reconsider both what we deem as an important and innovative technology and what impact and power these technologies can have on our bodies and in our everyday lives.

Works Cited

Bobel, C. “From Convenience to Hazard: A Short History of the Emergence of the Menstrual Activism Movement, 1971–1992.” Health Care for Women International, 29, 2008, 738-754. Print.

Bonilla, J. “Including Every Woman: The All-Embracing ‘We’ of Our Bodies, Ourselves.” National Women’s Studies Association Journal, 17.1, 2005, 175-183. 

Boston Women’s Health Collective. Our Bodies, Ourselves. Simon & Schuster, 2011. Print.

Davis, Kathy. The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves. “Creating Feminist Subjects: The Reader and the Text.” Duke University Press: Durham, 2007. Print.

Delaney, Janice, Lupton, Mary Jane & Toth, Emily. The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., INC, 1979. Print.

Durack, Katherine T. “Gender, Technology, and the History of Technical Communication.” Central Works in Technical Communication 6.3, 249-260, 1997.

Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing models of public distribution: From rhetorical situation to rhetorical ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 35:4, 2005, 5-24. Print.

Enoch, Jessica. “There’s No Place Like the Childcare Center: A Feminist Analysis of <Home> in the World War II Era.” Rhetoric Review, 31.4, 2012, 422-442. Print.

Hallenbeck, Sarah. “Toward a Posthuman Perspective: Feminist Rhetorical Methodologies and Everyday Practices.” Advances in the History of Rhetoric, 15, 2012, 9-27. Print.

Jack, Jordynn. “Acts of Institution: Embodying Feminist Rhetorical Methodologies in Space and Time.” Rhetoric Review, 28.3, 2009, 285-303. Print.

—. “The Leviathan and the Breast Pump: Toward an Embodied Rhetoric of Wearable Technology.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 46.3, 2016, 207-221. Print.

Johnson, Maureen, Levy, Daisy, Manthey, Katie & Novotny, Maria. “Embodiment: Embodying Feminist Rhetorics.” Peitho, 18.1, 2016, 39-44. Print.

Koerber, Amy. “Toward a Feminist Rhetoric of Technology.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 14.1, 2000, 58-73. Print.

Manthey, Katie, & Novotny, Maria. “Telling Our Stories: Women’s Studies and Embodied Rhetorical Subjectivities.” Feminist Spaces, 1.1, 2014, 8-13. Print.

McPhearson, M. “Breasts, Blood, and the Royal V: Challenges of Revising Anatomy and Periods for the 2005 Edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves.” National Women’s Studies Association Journal, 17.1, 2005, 190-196. Print.

Melonçon, Lisa. “Toward a Theory of Technological Embodiment.” Rhetorical Accessibility: At the Intersection of Technical Communication and Disability Studies. Ed. Lisa Meloncon. Amityville: Baywood, 2013. 67–82. Print.

Molloy, Cathryn, et al. “A Dialogue on Possibilities for Embodied Methodologies in the Rhetoric of Health & Medicine.” Rhetoric of Health & Medicine, 1.3 & 4, 2018, 349-371. Print.

Pedersen, Isabel. “A Semiotics of Human Actions for Wearable Augmented Reality Interfaces.” Semiotica, 155, 1.4, 2005, 183-200. Print.

Pérez, Miriam Z. (2015). “These Underwear are Trying to Make Managing Your Period More Sustainable.” Our Bodies, Our Blog. Web.

Stephenson, Heather. “Our Bodies, Ourselves for a New Generation: Revising a Feminist Classic.” National Women’s Studies Association Journal, 17.1, 2005, 173-174. Print.

Thinx. THINX Inc, 2019. Web.

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Review of Robbins’s Learning Legacies: Archive to Action through Women’s Cross-Cultural Exchange

Robbins, Sarah Ruffing. Learning Legacies: Archive to Action through Women’s Cross-Cultural Exchange. U of Michigan P, 2017. 372 pages.

Cover of Robbins's book. The background is black with the title in red and subtitle in yellow bold typeface. The top half features an on old photograph of women and men who are wearing dresses, hats, and suits and standing along a brick wall. The bottom half features a more recent-looking photograph of three African American young women wearing dresses and aprons and posing together.
Image from University of Michigan Press website.

Part of my work as a writing program administrator at my institution over the past year has been to lead a committee in which our goal is to reinvent our first-year writing course so that it better and more capaciously engages issues of diversity and inclusion and prompts students towards community engagement and social justice. It’s an exciting, and, I’ll admit, intimidating task, as I will spend the next few terms working with instructors in my program thinking about how our students can and should explore perspectives other than their own, interrogate their standpoints, and consider how they might become active participants in their worlds. As I toggle between composing this review and thinking through the work ahead of me, I realize how fortuitous it is that I have had the opportunity to read Sarah Ruffing Robbins’s excellent book Learning Legacies: Archive to Action though Women’s Cross-Cultural Exchange. Her book is just the text I need, and that I’d wager many Peitho readers need, as we redouble our scholarly, administrative, and pedagogical efforts to make diversity and inclusion central to our work and to embolden our dedication to social justice.

The main project of Learning Legacies is to consider how pedagogical pasts have, can, and should inflect our pedagogical present and future. Robbins’s main chapters examine three turn-of-the-twentieth century educational sites: the HBCU Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia; Jane Addams’s Hull-House settlement in Chicago, Illinois; and the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Throughout her chapters, Robbins investigates the pedagogical activism that took place at these sites, exploring the cross-cultural teaching and learning that happened between (often) white women educators and African American, immigrant, and Native students. Critical to note, and as I discuss below, Robbins frames the case studies of Spelman and Hull-House as positive examples of intercultural teaching and learning, and Carlisle as a negative example of an assimilationist educational program that Native teachers like Zitkala-Ša resisted. Robbins does not, however, isolate and study these moments only within their historical context. Rather, Robbins’s goal is to trace how these moments have become “legacies” for those who followed, tracking interlocutors’ engagements with these teaching moments and the “meaningful intercultural work” they created in response (5). That is, her goal is to investigate how legacies are not just made but also how they are received, considering the ways the “self-conscious heirs” to these historical narratives have taken up these stories of teaching and learning, reanimating them for their own purposes (5).

Important for Peitho readers, Learning Legacies is decidedly feminist in its orientation. To be sure, Robbins’s historiographic focus is on sites where women teachers engaged in cross-cultural teaching and learning with their marginalized students. More specifically, Robbins highlights Sophia Packard and Harriet Giles from Spelman, Jane Addams at Hull-House, and, as noted, Zitkala-Ša at Carlisle. But Robbins’s feminist project goes much deeper than her treatment of these women as historical subjects. Critically, and what I found be to most compellingly, Robbins adopts a feminist research method of narrative inquiry and performs a feminist rhetoric of collaboration in her writing. Readers discern her research method of narrative inquiry through Robbins’s work to identify, craft, and reflect on the layered storytelling that stands at the center of the book’s work. As she notes, each case study has three narrative layers: “a historical narrative about a specific learning legacy”; “a story about how those cultural resources are being used in social action today”; and a “personal narrative about [her] own learning process” (6). Thus, Robbins’s investigation hinges on the stories that have been told at and about Spelman, Hull-House, and Carlisle, as well as the story of her own research and writing—stories marked by Robbins’s critical reflection on her role as the storyteller.

By telling these stories in this way, Robbins carries out the imperatives of feminist standpoint theory, articulated by figures such as Adrienne Rich and Jacqueline Jones Royster, in which the scholar does not pretend that their research is objective or conducted by an all-knowing, omniscient observer, but instead the scholar makes clear how the research is produced by a human agent whose identificatory categories inflect what they see (and do not see), what they find important, and what they interpret and how. Robbins marks her interpretive position as a white woman educator throughout all of her chapters, by stepping back and articulating how her standpoint shapes her analyses and argument. As Robbins makes her presence and practice known throughout Learning Legacies, she also and importantly includes aspects of her research that often go unarticulated in scholarly writing: conversations with archivists and museum curators as well as scholars and teachers within and outside rhetorical studies.

This latter point leads to yet another major benefit of Robbins’s method of narrative inquiry: her explicit discussions of the deep and necessary collaborations that sit at the heart of cross-cultural research and pedagogy. Robbins’s writing demonstrates what she calls the “epistemic value of collaboration,” as she describes in great detail how her large- and small-scale interactions have enabled and guided her work as a scholar and as a teacher (231). Robbins’s overt explication of her collaborative work with archivists and museum curators, as well as scholars, teachers, and students, also indicates the pivotal role that deep listening, self-reflexivity, empathy, and humility play when researchers both investigate intercultural learning legacies and respond to them by creating teaching practices of their own.

The main chapters of Robbins’s book dive into the specific case studies and the learning legacies they inspired. After a thorough and thoughtful introduction to the project of the book in chapter one, chapter two, “‘That my work may speak well for Spelman’: Messengers Recording History and Performing Uplift,” engages Spelman College as a revolutionary example of an HBCU dedicated to black women’s education. Here, Robbins tells the story of how her collaborations with Spelman archivists Deborah Mitchell and Taronda Spencer enabled her to examine the efforts of Packard, Giles, and their Spelman students to enact a “cross-racial, cross-gender, and cross-region partnership” that cultivated the school’s growth “despite structural forces aligned against them” (44). Robbins uncovers these partnerships through her close reading of Spelman’s newspaper the Messenger, exploring how this text did the work of addressing external audiences (50), identifying Spelman’s own celebrities (55), and enabling communal agency (61). To conclude the chapter, Robbins traces how these early efforts created a legacy for those who followed, including Robbins herself. For example, Robbins examines Founders’ Day celebrations in the 2010s in which Spelman teachers and students commemorated the transformative work of the college’s early years with the goal of directing and inspiring their contemporary work. Robbins also moves on to “illustrat[e] in the concrete terms of syllabus construction” how she has brought the Spelman archival documents and the Messenger into her classroom at Texas Christian University (75). Robbins prompts her students to conduct intersectional feminist analysis by asking them to read and juxtapose contemporaneous writings by collegiate women. Students thus analyze and compare the narratives found in the Messenger with a collection of poems by a TCU teacher—Ida Jarvis’s Texas Poems (1895) (75). Robbins explains that through this pedagogy she “think[s] critically about how [she] can teach those texts comparatively, including highlighting white privilege inherent in the TCU-based woman writer of the same era as the Messenger authors” (75).

In chapter three, “Collaborative Writing as Jane Addams’s Hull-House Legacy,” Robbins turns attention to Jane Addams’s settlement that created collaborative opportunities between middle-class white and working-class immigrant women living in Chicago. Robbins studies the stories Addams told about Hull-House work through examining understudied texts such as My Friend, Julia Lathrop (1935). These overlooked texts reveal how middle-class leaders of the settlement house “supported the growth and agency of working-class women” (106) and how both groups of women took part in “collaborative knowledge-making” (89). Acknowledging critiques of Addams and her Hull-House endeavors, Robbins does not pretend the settlement project was perfect, but instead explores how those who followed Addams have engaged, remembered, and built on the work of the Hull-House. Robbins turns attention to the present-day efforts of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, under the direction of Lisa Lee, Lisa Junkin Lopez, and Heather Radke, and the collection Jane Addams in the Classroom, with David Schaafsma and Todd Stigter serving as editors. Here, Robbins explicates in rich detail how both the museum and the teachers cited in the collection have built inventive practices from Addams’s investment in “collaboration, shared learning, community-building, [and] intercultural work” (132). Of particular note is Lee’s “Rethinking Soup” program at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum. This program invites the public not just to remember how Addams “welcomed…diverse visitors” to dine, discuss, and debate contemporary concerns at Hull-House but also to participate in similar kinds of conversation and connection in the contemporary museum space (123).

Chapters four and five examine the learning legacies generated from the assimilationist teaching at the Carlisle Indian School in particular and off-reservation boarding schools for Native students more generally. Chapter 4 “Reclaiming Voices from Indian Boarding School Narratives” examines how Carlisle promoted its assimilationist program through its own publications, Indian Helper and Red Man, as well as through publishing essays like “Indian Education” (1884) in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Magazine and novels such as Stiya: A Carlisle Indian Girl at Home, Founded on the Author’s Actual Observations (1891). Robbins then explores how teachers and writers responded to this debilitating propaganda for Native students through composing counternarratives that protested boarding school culture. Robbins examines criticisms contemporary to Carlisle’s time such as Native teacher Zitkala-Ša’s autobiographical essays published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1900 as well as more contemporary responses to Carlisle’s educational program such as Esther G. Belin’s From the Belly of My Beauty (1999), Laura Tohe’s No Parole Today (1999), and N. Scott Momaday’s play “The Indolent Boys” (2007).

Chapter five “Learning from Natives’ Cross-Cultural Teaching” considers responses to Carlisle’s educational program that move beyond critique to examine “positive counter-narrative[s] of intercultural learning” and identify “cross-cultural alliance builders” (183). Robbins focuses attention on sites like the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) and the activist work of such figures as K. Tsianina Lomawaima and Teresa L. McCarty (To Remain an Indian, 1995), Diane Wilson (Beloved Child: A Dakota Way of Life, 2011), Amanda J. Cobb (Listening to Our Grandmother’s Stories, 2000), Ruth Maskrat Bronson (Indians Are People Too, 1944),as well as Lisa King, Rose Gubele, and Joyce Rain Anderson (Survivance, Sovereignty, and Story: Teaching American Indian Rhetorics, 2015). To conclude the chapter, Robbins circles back to her own pedagogical responsibility to “draw on studies of that painful history” of Native schooling and “build alliances with accomplished Native educators today” as a way “to improve [her] own cross-cultural work” (191). Robbins here underscores the value of listening to Native teachers and taking in their expert teaching practices. Specifically citing the excellent work and insights of figures like King, Namorah Byrd, Kimberli Lee, and Malea Powell, Robbins highlights the pedagogical goals of scholar-teachers like Powell who teach with the aim of “carrying tradition” (224). As Powell notes in an interview with Robbins, Powell’s goal is to “pass culture on” through teaching Native rhetorics and other “practices of making” so that these practices are “useful for the future generations” (223).

I cannot close this review without highlighting two final critical aspects of Learning Legacies. First, as should be clear from this review, Robbins’s investment in collaboration and listening is made real through her citation practices and her deep engagement in the work of others. Throughout the book, Robbins shines light on and explores an amazing array of scholars and scholarship, modeling for all of us what it means to build on the work others in positive and productive ways. Second, throughout all of her chapters, Robbins identifies the key role the archive plays in creating possibilities for cross-cultural teaching and learning. As this review should indicate, Robbins consults not only primary texts like the Messenger; My Friend, Julia Lathrop; and Indian Helper but she also showcases and analyzes those “texts”—from performances and museum exhibits to edited collections and novels—that have responded to these original materials by articulating and enacting new forms of activism. Key features of this book, then,are both the robust archive Robbins builds as she studies and tracks legacies of learning as well as her demonstration of the critical part archives play in catalyzing pedagogical endeavors aimed at social change. The subtitle of her book promises, and Robbins demonstrates this critical connection through each chapter, that we can move from archive to action.

Thus, as I take on my administrative work and endeavor to deepen pedagogical connections at my institution among writing, diversity, community engagement, and social change, I am invigorated by Robbins’s excellent book, Learning Legacies. She makes clear how examples from the past have inspired pedagogical practices aimed at social justice for those who followed. Indeed, what is likely the most important aspect of Robbins’s book is her implicit invitation for readers like me to become part of the intercultural learning legacies she showcases in her book. I’ll do my best to accept this invitation, and I hope other Peitho readers do as well. We should all craft our own unique responses to these pedagogical examples, participating in and perpetuating the learning legacies Robbins cites.

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Review of Shaver’s Reforming Women: The Rhetorical Tactics of the American Female Moral Reform Society, 1834-1854

Shaver, Lisa. Reforming Women: The Rhetorical Tactics of the American Female Moral Reform Society, 1834-1854. U of Pittsburgh P, 2018. 184 pages.

Cover of Shaver's book. The top half features artwork of 1800s women waiting in line outside a wine and liquor store. The bottom half has the title written in decorate white and yellow typeface on a green background.
Image from University of Pittsburgh Press website.

Since the publication of Carol Mattingly’s Well Tempered Women, feminist rhetoricians have begun to appreciate the discourse of women who engaged in reform that might not seem appealing through a 21st century lens. Though female temperance advocates might, at first glance, seem to be finger-wagging intolerants worthy of mockery, Mattingly convincingly illustrates how these women used their credibility to address the abuses of alcohol that were wreaking havoc on the lives of women and children. So, too, does Lisa Shaver bring into focus another such group, the American Female Moral Reform Society (AFMRS), a group that condemned forms of sexuality that harmed women. Though these women, too, could be perceived as self-righteous moralists, Shaver convincingly brings to light the important rhetorical work done by the organization and its leaders who took on the task of ending both prostitution and the double standards that punished women, but not men, for their sexuality.

Shaver’s focus answers Lindal Buchanan’s call for further recognition of specifically feminine methods of delivery by outlining ways in which leaders of AFMRS used and taught their members to use a variety of resources and strategies—including gender, the periodical, anger, presence, auxiliary societies, and institutional rhetoric—to achieve their ends. Noting, as does Wendy Sharer, that much scholarship on women’s organizations has privileged the individual speaker without exploring how collectives functioned, Shaver makes clear that the strong women who led AFMRS had a huge impact on white, middle-class American women. With over 50,000 members (including Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, and Antoinette Brown Blackwell) and with its publication being one of the most widely distributed reform periodicals, AFMRS most likely influenced the rhetoric of many other nineteenth-century reformers.

Shaver demonstrates that, unlike previous organizations that had addressed licentiousness, AFMRS was more than a benevolent society that tried to fix the harms done by society: AFMRS worked to address systemic problems. In so doing, AFMRS confronted enormous resistance, and, ultimately, their rhetoric did not achieve the members’ goals. Shaver makes this lack of success clear from her introduction’s epigraph—citing the sixth resolution of the Seneca Falls’ Declaration of Sentiments that observes the double standard for men’s and women’s “transgressions” of “virtue, delicacy, and refinement of behavior”—to the book’s conclusion, which repeats the resolution. With Shaver’s emphasis on this persistent contradiction, Shaver makes two important points:

  1. rhetoric that may not have been “successful” in achieving its purpose has nonetheless been influential and is worthy study, and
  2. women of the 21st century could learn much from the rhetorical approaches of AFMRS.

A running theme within Shaver’s analysis is her exploration of what she terms “gendering”: “women’s strategic use of societal gender distinctions assigned to them to garner ethos and power” (14). From AFMRS’s inception, its members used gendering to directly address the taboo subjects of sexuality and prostitution. AFMRS called out men who patronized brothels even as they ventured into the brothels, tracked men from brothels to their homes or places of business, rebuked those civic and religious leaders who refused to condemn these men, and even lambasted women who continued to support them. When censured for venturing into territory improper for women, members of AFMRS claimed their moral superiority: if no one else was going to address the problem, they had to in order to preserve women’s virtue. Claiming they took on the task of reform reluctantly and using the appropriately feminine medium of the periodical, members argued that it was their womanly Christian duty to protect society and women from widespread licentiousness. Additionally, Shaver discusses how AFMRS used “righteous anger” as a rhetorical tactic. While discussion of licentiousness in order to rid the world of it might be considered appropriately feminine, anger was usually denied women. However, with licentiousness run rampant, AFMRS argued that women had the exigence to get angry.

Another tactic Shaver discusses is “presence,” by which she means the strategy of inhabiting unlikely places and thus drawing societal attention to these places. Focusing within the third chapter on AFMRS first female missionary, Margaret Prior, Shaver illustrates how Prior’s background within the Methodist church gave her a situated ethos that enabled her to participate in the typically feminine practice of “visiting” homes. Though this chapter spotlights an individual, Shaver’s purpose is to use existent texts to extrapolate common practices within AFMRS. She argues that AFMRS members’ presence in places where “good” women would not normally venture enabled these women to hear and see the realities of licentiousness’s evils and report on them; specifically, Prior wrote regularly on these evils via AFMRS’s various publications. In other words, women’s situated ethos allowed AFMRS to extend its credibility by giving its members the means to report firsthand on these evils.

Shaver also discusses AFMRS’s use of auxiliary societies. These organizations, which were typically developed to support men’s organizations, served various rhetorical purposes for AFMRS. In the first place, these auxiliaries provided AFMRS with additional means of advocacy and financial assistance. Perhaps more importantly, they provided the auxiliary members a kind rhetorical education. With leaders in the national organization acting as mentors, auxiliary members were taught how to campaign door-to-door, petition, engage in correspondence regarding organization business, compose constitutions, present essays on the topic, and lead discussions about morality.

Within her analysis of this rhetorical education, as well as of Prior’s and other AFMRS member’s rhetoric, Shaver notes how AFMRS continually used pathos in combination with ethos to move audiences. The more heart-rending the tale of victims of prostitution, the more likely it would move a reader and give AFMRS legitimacy for venturing into otherwise inappropriate territory. In its efforts to educate audiences about the many snares awaiting innocent women, AFMRS preferred telling of long-suffering women and children instead of happy resolutions that resulted from AFMRS’s efforts: the tales of suffering garnered more support than did those of success.

Though these rhetorical tactics granted women ethical means to discuss debauchery, Shaver makes clear AFMRS was not terribly successful in achieving its ends. Particularly troubling to AFMRS was the use of the word “morality” and the word’s implied self-righteousness. As Shaver lays out, the organization changed both its name and approaches in the latter part of its existence. Morphing into the American Female Guardian Society, the organization focused less on moral reform than on providing direct aid to victims of prostitution. Establishing the Home for the Friendless, this new organization continued many of its previous tactics but abandoned righteous anger and confrontation as it gained support from people who had shied away before. The new logic of the organization was that the Home could prevent moral corruption of innocent women and children. As institutional managers of the Home, the organization continued to tell pathetic tales of hardship as it also attempted to save the innocent—but it no longer confronted members of society about their hypocrisies. However, the organization did not entirely abandon an activist role, as it argued for more employment opportunities for women and for the protection of street children.

Within her discussions of the problems with AFMRS’s views of morality, one area that Shaver might have explored further is how the rhetorical tactics utilized by AFMRS were not only gendered but clearly reflected middle-class, Christian, white perspectives. While Shaver does acknowledge that she is examining the “rhetorical means available to white, middle-class women” (7), she does not sufficiently consider how their discourse impacted non-white, non-Christian women. For example, in discussing the institutionalized rhetoric of AFMRS after it morphed into the American Female Guardian Society, Shaver observes that an African American woman sought the advice of the organization when she was forced to give up her children. According to Shaver, the woman was advised that she could turn to the Colored Orphan Asylum, but Shaver does not explore what it meant for a black woman to give up her children when slave kidnappers where a constant threat to antebellum people of color in the Northern states. Similarly, in discussing how the Home for the Friendless enhanced its ethos by assisting women “worthy of assistance,” Shaver does note the fraught nature of determining such a characteristic; however, she could further explore how this judgment impacted non-white, non-Christian women. For instance, did AFMRS consider the many nineteenth-century Asian women who lived in New York as “worthy of assistance,” or did the societal hyper-sexualization of these women limit the aid they could receive from AFMRS because of their perceived unworthiness? Another element that would be worth exploring is the rhetoric AFMRS members utilized in their discussions of “worthiness.”

AFMRS’s move to utilize institutional rhetoric also raises the question of whether the organization continued to be one that required tactics rather than strategies. Throughout the text, Shaver relies on deCerteau’s distinctions between tactics and strategies, observing how the women within AFMRS were without power and therefore needed to find means to adapt the structures created by those with more power. In other words, they relied on tactics rather than strategies. However, with AFMRS’s move to institutional rhetoric and its practice of defining whom was “worthy of assistance,” the organization appears to have become a part of hegemonic power structures and its rhetoric less “timely, opportunistic, and agile” (7). Shaver’s use of deCerteau’s definitions, therefore, would be more compelling with an exploration of how an organization’s status moves its tactics to more hegemonic and less agile strategies.

Shaver’s discussion of an ethos of presence is one of the most unique contributions of this book, and it fits well with recent theories regarding feminist ecological rhetoric. According to Shaver, AFMRS missionary Margaret Prior best exemplifies this ethos of presence as Prior utilized and built on her credibility by going to physical locations where other white, middle-class women were loath to go. Prior’s goal of bringing Christian assistance to these locations legitimized both her visits to these places and her explicit descriptions of what she observed there. While Shaver’s analysis of Prior’s ethos is important, that analysis at times seems to grant Prior too much credibility. For example, in noting Prior’s attempts to build her ethos and garner emotional support for the women she served, Shaver quotes from Prior’s memoir where Prior describes her attempts to convert a man to Christianity. After Prior tries and seems to fail with the conversion, she notes that “on opening the door, the conviction was so strong that the Lord would have me pray with him,” and when she returned a few days later, the man had totally changed and repented (81). Certainly, this example illustrates how an ethos of presence legitimized such narratives: Prior was in the location with the man so people should believe what she said. However, Shaver’s discussion of Prior’s successes seems to grant too much credibility to Prior’s “conversion,” when Shaver could instead acknowledge how the narrative, with its ethical and pathetic elements, was constructed strategically to persuade Prior’s contemporaries.

Despite these concerns, Shaver’s text is a welcome addition to the growing literature on previously unconsidered groups of women who used “available means” of persuasion to advance their goals. Shaver’s book is especially compelling at this kairotic moment, as women again need to use all available means to address the systemic incongruities that limit women and their bodies even as men are granted license to women’s bodies. Though the rhetoric of AFMRS may not have succeeded, rhetoricians of the modern day can learn from Shaver’s analysis as they consider how to modify AFMRS’s rhetoric and continue the work of our brave foremothers.

Works Cited

Buchanan, Lindal. Regendering Delivery: The Fifth Canon and Antebellum Women Rhetors. Southern Illinois UP, 2005.

Mattingly, Carol. Well-Tempered Women: Nineteenth-Century Temperance Rhetoric. Southern Illinois UP, 1998.

Sharer, Wendy B. Vote and Voice: Women’s Organizations and Political Literacy, 1915-1930. Southern Illinois UP, 2004.

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