Men Who Love Bukowski: Hegemonic Masculinity, Online Dating, and the Aversion toward the Feminine


I encounter one profile on OkCupid where CHARLES BUKOWSKI in all caps sits atop a list of authors and books. In another profile, a user announces a favorite movie, noting his awareness of his own gendered consumption: “Fight Club (I am a guy, I believe it’s obligatory.).” Recently on Tinder, I have seen admonishments in male users’ short profiles against women posting pictures with “duckface” selfies; one user writes that profile pictures where the woman is posing with a duckface with “half-naked children” in the background are “not cute.”

After looking at profile after profile written by heterosexual men in their late twenties and thirties, something stood out: the men whose profiles I viewed did not seem to like women, or, rather, they did not seem to like femininity or activities and objects considered feminine. Their profiles were filled with rhetorical signs of their own masculinity and their love of all things masculine, including the somewhat surprising and recurring interest in beat poet and hyper-masculinist Charles Bukowski. It seemed to me that these men were not even writing their profiles for women, despite their professed interest in sexual relationships with women. They had created profiles on a dating site with the apparent intent to meet women, but they performed from a script of masculinity that requires a disavowal of all things feminine. These men were in a position fraught with contradiction.

In examining online dating profiles and considering scholarship on digital cultures, I have found a series of digital spaces that perpetuate orthodox and even toxic masculinity often among the same men who demonstrate performances of egalitarian or inclusive masculinity in offline settings. In this article, I suggest that there is something about what Adrienne Massanari calls “toxic technocultures” (330) that perpetuates hegemonic masculinity online, including on heterosexual dating sites. These findings run counter to the conclusions drawn by leading masculinities theorists Eric Anderson and Michael Kimmel, who claim that we are entering a new age of masculinity, defined by the triumph of inclusive masculinity over orthodox masculinity. Anderson and Kimmel, however, have not examined online settings, and I argue they overemphasize the importance that decreased homophobia plays in the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity. The masculinity upheld by Internet cultures is fueled by an aversion toward the feminine more than by homophobia.1 In what follows, I first discuss the concepts of orthodox and hegemonic masculinity and consider Kimmel and Anderson’s arguments about the rise of inclusive and egalitarian masculinities. Then, in response, I review the ways digital settings breed toxic masculinities by relying on an aversion toward the feminine.  I do so by examining a specific archive—OkCupid online dating profiles—as well as the work of other scholars on other online spaces.

This article has autoethnographic origins in my own forays into online dating while living in Philadelphia between the years 2005 and 2013.2 I started visiting online dating sites in a search for companionship or love, not as a research venture, but I returned to the archive as a feminist theorist to reread the profiles and to unearth trends in them. I use a mixed methods approach and engage in a textual analysis of online dating profiles through a feminist lens and employ empirical methods to examine trends in word choice and style in dating profiles. I also engage in an examination of the literature in media studies, digital and feminist rhetorics, communication studies, and masculinities studies, among other fields, to best approach the archive of online dating profiles and the larger archive of Internet social spaces.

Orthodox and Inclusive Masculinities and the Decline of Homophobia

Kimmel and Anderson strike a note of optimism when they write that we are witnessing the decline of the hegemony of orthodox masculinity. Yet, the archive of online dating profiles should give us reason to question that optimism. A survey of online dating profiles shows a continued ambivalence toward the feminine even among the men most likely to exhibit more inclusive masculinities and even alongside their own increased tolerance for gay male sexual orientation. The profiles I examined are written by men who sit atop the hierarchy of masculinity, the men whom Kimmel and Anderson see expressing more egalitarian masculinities. These are not the same men as those engaging in the Incel or Pickup Artist communities. They are men with more “masculine capital” than most and thus are allowed to transgress rules of orthodox masculinity with less threat of punishment (Anderson 41–43). Even as they are able to articulate more egalitarian positions and may very well do so quietly in their personal lives, they continue to exhibit an aversion toward the feminine, and we can see on their profiles the performative strength of the scripts of hegemonic masculinity.3

Anderson argues that hegemonic masculinity is not a good concept to understand masculinity today. The terms orthodox masculinity and hegemonic masculinity are often used interchangeably, but one concept includes a set of traits, and the other marks a relationship with other masculinities. Orthodox masculinity includes the traits required to live up to the archetype of masculinity in our era (Anderson 31), which Anderson lists as “not associating with homoxexuality or femininity, being a muscular leader, and reserving all acceptable emotions” (41). As hegemonic masculinity is relational, it involves a type of masculinity that has gained ascendency over others; it indicates a “social process of subordination and stratification” (Anderson 31). While one may follow all the rule of orthodox masculinity, they may fail to achieve hegemonic masculinity, as this requires possession of characteristics that fall outside one’s control, like race, height, class, and good lucks (Anderson 41). It is then maintained and vouchsafed through a man’s relation with other men. Other men might give him the camaraderie he needs, or they might expose him as a fraud.

Anderson argues that the notion of hegemonic masculinity fails to comprehend the terrain of masculinities in the 21st century.4 He claims that we are living in an age of decreased homohysteria, or homophobia (Anderson 7), and we are witnessing competing masculinities vie for a dominant position, rather than the hegemony of one type over all others. He believes orthodox masculinity is in competition with a new form of “inclusive masculinity.” Inclusive masculinity provides space for heterosexual men to demonstrate increased “emotional and physical homosocial proximity”; the inclusion of gay men; the inclusion of heterosexual men’s femininity; and decreased sexism (8-9). Anderson has claimed that at least white, university-attending men are losing orthodox gender patterns and are adopting what he calls “inclusive masculinities” (46). Anderson finds support for his position that inclusive masculinity now shares a position of prominence with orthodox masculinity through his ethnographies of athletes, in which he finds that many university-aged white men are demonstrating less homophobia, and he suggests that the change occurring among teamsport athletes should indicate a change occurring among non-athletes as well (16).

Kimmel agrees that a new type of masculinity is appearing in the United States and holds that what he calls the Self-Made Man is losing his hegemony. Like Anderson, Kimmel claims that there are two dominant forms of masculinity today. About half of men still subscribe to more traditional notions of masculinity, and half subscribe to the new, more egalitarian notions (Kimmel 288). He writes, “One of the hallmarks of that new, twenty-first-century masculinity is an increasing comfort with gender equality—both at home and at work” (Kimmel 295). According to Kimmel, the shift to a more egalitarian masculinity has been a quiet one. In homes across the United States, “the biggest shift in American masculinity has taken place quietly, with little fanfare and even less media coverage” (Kimmel 294). Kimmel suggests that while many men are angry over the challenge to what they considered their birthright provided by women in the workforce, “most men have simply accepted these changes. American men have quietly and relatively easily accommodated to the dual-career couple model that characterizes most marriages” (317).

The online dating profiles I reviewed did demonstrate the decrease in homophobia hinted by Kimmel and Anderson. I compared 50 profiles of white, heterosexual male users with post-graduate education between the ages of 27 and 37 in a 10-mile radius of Philadelphia with 50 profiles of heterosexual female users with the same education status, age, and geographical location. The post-graduate education filter is intended to demonstrate the persistence of the aversion toward the feminine among those men who are in a privileged social position. These users were selected at random.5 To emphasize that this population of OkCupid users generally self-reports as tolerant, I searched for their responses to the following OkCupid-generated questions: “Would you consider dating someone who has vocalized a strong negative bias toward a certain race of people?” and “Do you think homosexuality is a sin?” To the first question, 21 out of the 50 men responded. Only two said yes; two responded that it “depends on which race”; and the other 17 said no. These results make this sample set slightly less tolerant than OkCupid users in general, of whom 84% answered no to this question, but still comparable with 80% responding no. In response to the question regarding gay male sexual orientation, 27 men responded and only two said that it was a sin. The responses support Anderson’s position that we are living in an age of decreased homohysteria.6 The white, heterosexual, educated men in urban areas are the men Anderson claims are practicing more inclusive masculinities—liberal, open-minded, and comfortable with their gay friends. OkCupid founder Christian Rudder points out that “OkCupid users are, if anything, more urban, more educated and more progressive than the nation at large…Self-described liberals outnumber self-described conservatives more than two to one” (112).

However, the decline in homophobia does not necessarily mean that sexism is decreasing, nor does it mean that orthodox masculinity is losing its hegemony. When Kimmel notes that the acceptance of women into egalitarian positions takes place quietly, the fact that it occurs quietly should be telling. Not only does it take place quietly, but online cultures show us that it takes place alongside a contrary performance of inegalitarianism. Men who are more comfortable accepting women in equal positions in their private lives—sharing responsibilities, making decisions, and negotiating futures—are still adhering to scripts of orthodox masculinity in many settings, including online dating profiles and other Internet settings. The aversion to the feminine exhibited in these spaces calls the decline of hegemonic masculinity into question.

If Kimmel and Anderson are correct that masculinity has changed, why does the Internet, including online dating sites, fail to show it?7 Erving Goffman’s distinction between frontstage and backstage appearances proves helpful here. For Goffman, a front is a setting in which people offer performances that accord with various norms and standards (107). Here we give performances that are conscious of their audiences. Backstage, however, the performer “can relax; he can drop the front, forgo speaking his lines, and step out of character” (Goffman 112). What we see online is that in many men’s frontstage appearances, they exhibit a performance of orthodox masculinity defined by a continued expression of the aversion toward the feminine. In their backstage lives, however, men may very well be adopting more egalitarian masculinities. If the same men who are demonstrating egalitarian masculinity in some aspects of their lives are expressing orthodox masculinity in others, it seems optimistic to mark the end of hegemonic masculinity. The frontstage performances of orthodox masculinity remain almost compulsory, among heterosexual men who are ostensibly becoming more inclusive and among gay men as well.

The Aversion Toward the Feminine

Hegemonic masculinity defines itself in large part by emphasizing what it is not: femininity. Masculinity has always been something that has “had to be constantly demonstrated, the attainment of which was forever in question—lest the man be undone by a perception of being too feminine” (Kimmel 89). One of the ways this manifests itself in online dating profiles is through expression of interests.

On many men’s profiles, I found lists of interests that included literature, movies, and music that were not only explicitly masculine, but were often expressly anti-feminine. Consider the literature lists of two different male users:

Literature – Fight Club, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, anything by Carl Sagan, Charles Bukowski, LOTR, I hope they serve beer in Hell, Hunter S. Thompson, 1985, Battle Royale, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ender’s Game, etc. Comics and Manga.

CHARLES BUKOWSKI, Nelson Algren, Henry Miller, Tennessee Williams, Roberto Bolano, Iris Murdock, BAUDELAIRE, nick Hornby, Jonathan Franzen

On the first list, we see a juxtaposition of Bukowski and Tucker Max, whose autobiographical I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell chronicles his sexual exploits. A NY Times book review suggests that “[i]ncorrigible womanizers will see him as a hero” (Schillinger). Max’s character is a twenty-first-century Henry Chinaski, Bukowski’s alter ego, without the mid-century grit and charm. The second list includes a more surprising cast of characters. Some fit together: Jonathan Franzen has been accused of presenting sexist themes in his novels (Sittenfeld), as has Bukowski. Iris Murdoch appears as a possible outlier, as the only female author on the list. However, Murdoch is a philosopher and novelist whose themes can hardly be called unambiguously feminine or feminist (Hämäläinen).

As we see on these lists, gender identity is often represented through cultural references as our consumption patterns often represent gendered interests. Melonie Fullick examines profiles on the dating site, focusing on how users expressed their gender identity, and concludes that “gender identity is ‘indexed’ primarily through references to other, lifestyle-affiliated categories as well as through more direct discursive cues,” including “signification of lifestyle through references to activities and practices, consumer items (such as food, technology), and culture (books, music, films)” (546).

The profiles I examined also represent gender identity through cultural consumption. The central characters in frequently mentioned books on men’s lists reinforce scripts of hegemonic masculinity. For instance, there is significant enthusiasm for beat poet and novelist Charles Bukowski, as we can see in the examples above. In a search on OkCupid of heterosexual male users between the ages of 27 and 37 in a 100-mile radius of Philadelphia, 3.4 times as many men than women indicated an interest in Bukowski.8 This is not to say that an interest in Bukowski’s work is an illegitimate interest or that Bukowski was not a talented writer. But when Bukowski appears repeatedly, especially alongside other writers like Hemingway, Palahniuk, and Tucker Max and on lists without any female writers, the rhetorical force of Bukowski’s name indicates a fascination with a certain rugged, individualistic masculinity—one exhibited by the type of man who does not need women, who disposes of women in a series of one-night stands, who may not even like women. The prevalence of authors like Bukowski on such lists indicates at least that the aversion toward the feminine in the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity remains firmly in place.

Another favorite author of the twenty-seven to thirty-seven-year-old users whose profiles I reviewed is Jack Kerouac, whom 2.4 as many men than women stated as an interest. Stephen M. Whitehead describes Kerouac as embodying the mythical image of the man as adventurer and explorer: the myth of man leaving home, rejecting the private sphere, distancing himself from the feminine (Men and Masculinities 118), a theme that Kimmel also addresses at length as he discusses the Self-Made Man (11–31). Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty epitomizes this hero. Whitehead quotes Dean Moriarty: “I’ll tell you Sal, straight, no matter where I live, my trunk’s always sticking out from under the bed, I’m ready to leave or get thrown out” (119). Moriarty is an image of a man always ready to leave, who seeks to disentangle himself, to get away from his emotional attachments.

Beyond their stated interests in authors like Palahniuk, Bukowski, and Kerouac, male users are more likely than female users to list only male authors and musical artists. Male users were much less likely to list female authors, books written by women, and female musical artists on their lists. Books written by women or names of female authors comprised 35% of the female users’ lists, but only 17% of the male users’ lists. The average length of female users’ musical interests was shorter than the male users’ lists, but women mentioned 1.7 times more female solo artists and all-women bands. Both men and women listed more male authors and musicians, but women included a higher percentage of female artists on their lists.9

The fear of feminization is deeply sedimented and reinforced by both men and women. It also continues to exist alongside appearances of egalitarianism and inclusivity. In an offline example, in one study of parents of preschool-aged children, many parents appeared to accept some expressions of gender nonconformity by their children (Kane). Several had positive reactions, for instance, to their sons playing with typical feminine toys that emphasized “domestic skills, nurturance, and/or empathy” (Kane 158). Mothers expressed less ambivalence towards these toys, such as dolls and kitchen sets, than heterosexual fathers did, but many fathers also indicated tolerance for these toys. Anderson and Kimmel might take this as indicating the encouragement of a more inclusive or egalitarian type of masculinity.

However, the parents expressed less tolerance for their sons playing with, wearing, or participating in what Emily W. Kane calls “icons of femininity,” including pink or frilly clothing, nail polish, ballet dance, and Barbie dolls (160). Both mothers and fathers steered their sons away from these objects and activities, reminding them that these things are “for girls.” One parent compromised and got her son a “NASCAR Barbie”; another was comforted that his son, when playing with Barbie dolls with his sister, was more interested in the Ken doll (Kane 161). Kane concludes that parents across racial, class, and sexual orientation categories enforced hegemonic masculinity in their sons by encouraging their sons to distance themselves from feminine objects and activities, especially objects and activities that had been deeply associated with femininity (162). 

While this does not map neatly onto Goffman’s distinction, it nonetheless indicates a tension between commitments held by these parents. Fathers who had tolerated their sons playing with certain traditionally feminine toys likely were committed to norms of equality, but they still required to perform a certain script of masculinity that says enough is enough, Barbie is a step too far. It is not as if they are acting disingenuously, however, when they say that playing Barbie has crossed a line; the script of hegemonic masculinity has been so well sedimented that their aversion to these icons of femininity is visceral. Mothers also discouraged their sons from associating with these toys, indicating that they too understood, whether consciously or not, the importance of adhering to hegemonic masculinity for their sons.

Just as the aversion toward femininity is also expressed by women, it is also expressed by gay men. Culling the written portions of 385 profiles of heterosexual and gay men on, Lisa L. Walker and Jackie L. Eller observe that gay male sexual orientation does not bar entrance into dominant masculinities. What heterosexual and gay men share in common is an aversion to the feminine that they express online. While heterosexual men have more flexibility both to “claim and temporarily distance themselves from masculine dominance” (and thus express more egalitarian masculinities), gay men “approri[ate]…many of the same orthodox symbols used by heterosexual men to increase masculine capital and subordinate femininity” (Walker and Eller 43). Gay men can benefit from hegemonic masculinity, though they have to do more work to distance themselves from femininity in order to do so. They must “exercise greater caution to avoid associating themselves with traits that signify femininity” (50). But, like heterosexual men, they “capitalize on the simple man demeanor to reinforce an ideal masculinity that is emotionally durable, as opposed to the fragility and complications they associate with femininity” (50). Many gay men also explicitly describe themselves as masculine and describe masculinity as a trait they desire in a partner, indicating their aversion toward the feminine. They are looking for “other men who…do not disrupt the dominance of masculinity. In other words, gay men wanted partners whose gender identity also reinforced men’s entitlement to the benefits of hegemonic masculinity” (59). Walker and Eller explicitly reject Anderson’s claim that hegemonic masculinity as a theory no longer serves us because of the decline of homophobia. Rather, they emphasize the continued importance of the concept of hegemonic masculinity, insofar as they show that “as homosexuality, alone, does not appear to bar gay men from participating in dominant masculinities…it is still femininity itself that stigmatizes some gay men, while its avoidance allows some gay men and straight men in general, to benefit from masculinity’s hegemony” (44). The tent of dominant masculinity might extend to include more men, but it maintains its hegemony over femininity, which keeps women in a second-tier position in society.

Homosociality and Geek Masculinity

Scripts of hegemonic masculinity on online dating sites do not depend only on content, but also on the cultivation of particular rhetorical styles. Luce Irigaray argues that the feminine differs from the masculine insofar as it is characterized by indirectness and a tendency toward proximity rather than mastery (25–29). Evidence for this view has been found by feminists in the social sciences who have shown that women’s speech aims at building connections and distancing itself from authority (Fishman 254–55). An analysis of the styles in male users’ online dating profiles exhibits a masculine form of communication, which indicates a concern for expertise and mastery and a conception of knowledge as acquisitive.

One of the ways male users signal their expertise is by directly acknowledging the breadth and depth of their knowledge. Among the profiles I studied, one male user, before listing his favorite directors and films, writes: “Too many movies to name.” Then, at the end of a list of 48 musical artists and genre, he closes with “etc., etc., etc.” He also shares that he had not “listened to broadcast radio music in probably 20 years,” emphasizing that his knowledge went far beyond the mainstream. Another user ends his list of 19 books and authors with “and on and on and on,” indicating his encyclopedic interest in literature. In fact, a higher percentage of male users than female users report themselves to be “geniuses” (39% compared to 30% of female users) (OkCupid).

Male users also mark themselves as experts by simply including long lists of their favorite things. Of the profiles I examined, while more women made lists, men’s lists of favorite things were longer. The median list length of movies/actors/directors, musicians/albums, and television shows, for instance, was longer for men. The median number of movies, directors, and actors listed by male users was 10 and for female users was 3.5; the median number of musical artists, bands, and songs was 11 for men and 8 for women; and the median number of television shows was 6 for men and 4.5 for women. The median length of books and/or authors and favorite foods were the same for men and women at four and three respectively. These figures indicate gendered approaches to the expression of interests, and more work could be done exploring which areas had more significant gaps and which areas did not have any gaps. I suggest that men’s longer lists indicate a desire to express expertise, which is often associated with masculinity, and as we have seen that men are more likely to do on Wikipedia and on other niche sites. Female users, on the other hand, seem to be sharing their interests to invite conversation, seek common ground, and indicate that they are well-rounded or open to new things.10

Wikipedia, for example, a site that welcomes volunteer authors to contribute entries on topics on which they consider themselves expert, is written almost entirely by men. An internal 2011 study estimated that over 90% of Wikipedia editors are men, and a University of Minnesota study in 2011 found that just 6% of contributors of articles that have more than five hundred edits are women (Paling). In her research on Wikipedia’s gender imbalance, Leigh Gruwell argued that “[a]lthough Wikipedia endorses an ‘encyclopedic style’ that presupposes objectivity and claims to be open to everyone (part of its appeal is the supposed ‘democratization of knowledge’), I argue that it, in fact, privileges patriarchal methodologies and epistemologies” (118). Gruwell argues that the neutral point of view advocated by Wikipedia ends up privileging a sort of “objective” point of view, despite Wikipedia’s claims to the contrary, insofar as its “style policy actively discourages any show of embodied positionality” (122). This style is far from neutral, Gruwell argues, calling on feminist standpoint theory, as it denies the rich history of situated knowledges advocated by theorists like Donna Haraway (122). In addition, when asked why they thought women were less likely to participate as writers and editors on Wikipedia, participants in Gruwell’s study cited three main reasons: “women’s lack of time, Wikipedia’s interface, and, perhaps most significantly, the norms and standards of its discourse community” (Gruwell 124).

By establishing themselves as experts in such a way, men are participating in what some call “geek masculinity.” The terms geek and nerd are overdetermined and are used as both insults and badges of honor. I use the terms interchangeably and not disparagingly. Rather, geek or nerd indicates someone who, as Massanari claims, “valorize[s] expertise and specialized knowledge and geek culture revolves around the acquisition, sharing, and distribution of this knowledge with others” (332). There is nothing inherently masculine about these qualities, but women are less often conditioned to be geeks, so geek cultures often become masculine cultures.

Geek masculinity has a fraught relationship with hegemonic masculinity. Massanari writes:

So to discuss geek and nerd culture is to discuss masculinity—in particular, white male masculinity…[I]t both repudiates and reifies elements of hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). For example, geek masculinity often embraces facets of hypermasculinity by valorizing intellect over social or emotional intelligence. At the same time, geek masculinity rejects other hypermasculine traits, as “the geek” may show little interest in physical sports and may also demonstrate awkwardness regarding sexual/romantic relationships.


Those who express geek masculinity exhibit some but not all characteristics of orthodox masculinity, and many of those exhibiting geek masculinity may lack the necessary attributes that allow them to exercise hegemonic masculinity. The geek, for instance, is often not the most athletic or best-looking man. The men who inhabit geek cultures are often not those who exercise hegemonic masculinity, but they nonetheless end up upholding it.

Geek masculinity often upholds hegemonic masculinity through the maintenance of homosocial spaces.11 These spaces vary significantly from apparently innocuous sites for male bonding over shared interests to communities that breed explicit calls for violence against women. In her ethnography of the multi-user domain, online forum BlueSky, Lori Kendall discusses how the “cultural connections on BlueSky among work, masculinities, computer use, and sociability ensure a male-dominated atmosphere regardless of the number of women present…[BlueSky participants] relate to each other in ways that support heterosexual masculinity (although not all identify as heterosexual) and in the process continue to objectify women” (Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub 107).  The users on BlueSky often chat about computers themselves, which tends to create a “geek culture” that excludes women. In addition, hegemonic masculinity is supported through objectifying women, even if the objectifying is not an intentional or malicious act. For example, Kendall describes an ironic refrain of “didja spike her?” on BlueSky when users mentioned women in whom they were romantically interested outside of the group, followed by a more reflexive conversation in which one user commented that “the SPIKE stuff wouldn’t be funny if there was any chance in hell that anyone ever would” (“‘Oh No! I’m a Nerd!’” 264). In this case, the user seemed quite aware of a split between his frontstage performance that upholds hegemonic masculinity and a deeper backstage commitment to egalitarianism, which he wished would be apparent so his joke would be clear.

Kendall also reports several of the self-identified heterosexual men whom she studied on BlueSky had also admitted to being celibate for a period of years and had reported that they had “given up” on women (“‘Oh No! I’m a Nerd!’” 266). In their online discussions of their celibacy, they cite the reason as their nonhegemonic status (266). “Although they designate more sexually successful men as (by definition) ‘jerks,’” Kendall explains, “their discussion implies that the real problem is not with ‘assholish’ men but rather with the women who like the abuse they get from such men” (267).  They indicate a resentment toward the women whom they perceive to be more attracted to the hegemonic men, and they understand themselves to be the disadvantaged nice guys.

The men on BlueSky blamed women for their celibacy, but also wanted to be clear that the “didja spike her?” comment was a joke which was not to be taken seriously, and in fact only “parody” (264). One user insightfully noted that the joke “brings up the whole ‘women as conquest’ idea” (264), and the users in the conversation did not want to be associated with such a trope. However, their playful use of this concept in a homosocial online setting is at one end of a spectrum, with the conversation held by members of groups like the Incel movement on the other end. While geek masculinity can be but is not necessarily inhospitable to women, the Incel movement’s response to femininity is overtly hostile in all respects, such that it is an expression of toxic masculinity. Masculinity becomes toxic when it is “threatened by anything associated with femininity” (Banet-Weiser and Miltner 171) and when it “encourage(s) men to be sexually aggressive, to value dominance and control, and to position women as inferior, especially in digital spaces” (Hess and Flores 4). The Incel movement is a clear example of toxic masculinity. Those who identify as Incels, short for involuntary celibate, do not allow women into their ranks, since, they argue, women’s celibacy is never involuntary. The Incel community has thrived on the Internet, beginning as a subreddit called r/Incels, which was banned by Reddit, a news aggregator and discussion site where users post content, in November 2017 (Hauser). Incels continue to gather on forums such as 4chan’s /r9k/, Reddit’s r/ForeverAlone, and (Dewey). At the time of the writing of this article, the most popular post on r/Braincel was about the poster’s disappointment that he is “so ugly that no women is attracted to [him]” (“R/Braincels”). The Incel community refer to an “80:20 rule” that disadvantages them in contemporary society, and many call for its abolition through enforced monogamy: “the most attractive 20 per cent of men are said to be sought after by the most attractive 80 per cent of women, with the least attractive 80 per cent of men left to compete for the remaining 20 per cent of women” (Myers). They refer to women as “femoids” or “foids,” which is short for female humanoid, denoting that women are less than human, and describe them as manipulative and conniving, driven by their biology to reproduce with the most attractive man they can secure.

Other groups who have created toxic subcultures online include Men’s Rights Activists and Pick Up Artists. Men’s Rights Activists organize online on sites such as A Voice for Men, which cites as part of its mission to “reject the unhealthy demands of gynocentrism in all its forms” (“Mission Statement”), and on subreddits such as r/MensRights. Pickup Artists promise to turn frustrated men into cassanovas. Their methods include

“peacocking” (wearing crazy clothing, like a red cowboy hat—yes, truly—to stand out), “group theory” (charming the desired woman’s friends before making a move on her) and the “neg” (a subtle dig disguised as a compliment—“I love your eyelashes, are they real?”—to disarm women they believed had grown immune to flattery).


Sarah Banet-Weiser and Kate M. Miltner venture that the men comprising these groups are also not those exercising hegemonic masculinity but are rather men who would typically fall into the “geek/nerd” category (172). They followed the rules and did not get the rewards that they felt entitled to (beautiful wife, a particular lifestyle). Their resentment echoes on the Internet and is directed toward women.

Geek masculinity is exacerbated in some spaces when content and structural elements collude to make a space even less hospitable for women. On Reddit, for instance, on the level of content, the forum is comprised of several subreddits, each devoted to a particular niche interest, which attracts those who consider themselves experts or who seek to have specialized knowledge in one particular area. Massanari writes, “Spaces dedicated to geek culture and STEM interests (like Reddit) may exhibit the tendency to view women as either objects of sexual desire or unwelcome interlopers or both—making them doubly unwelcoming for women (Varma, 2007)” (332-33). She then determines that it “serves as a nexus for various toxic technocultures to thrive” (333). Some of these cultures include the culture around #GamerGate and the culture around /r/thefappening, which included posts of hacked, private photographs of actor Jennifer Lawrence (335-36).

At the structural level, Reddit has safeguards to ensure its homosociality is maintained and that its male users to fight against what Banet-Weiser and Miltner call “female encroachment” (173). Massanari characterizes the non-interventionist approach of the site’s administrators (331) as well as the site’s “karma” system, wherein certain posts and comments are upvoted and appear first to readers (337), as two of the key structural problems of Reddit. Minority views or views posted by women have less of a chance of gaining purchase on the site. She believes that these structural issues result in a site that ends up “reif[ying] the desires of certain groups (often young, white, cis-gendered [sic], heterosexual males) while ignoring and marginalizing others” (A. Massanari 330).

While objectification and exclusion are certainly types of violence, violence toward women also occurs in more explicit ways in homosocial online settings. The #GamerGate scandal, for instance, involved threats of rape and death against female gamer and designer Zoë Quinn and feminist blogger and gamer Anita Sarkeesian. Even prior to #GamerGate, Quinn had received death threats, ostensibly for her incursion into a male-dominated space through her production of a text-based video game called Depression Quest (A. L. Massanari 316–17). Despite the critical praise she received for her game, she received what Emma Jane calls “e-bile” from other gamers, who articulated displeasure with its political nature (Salter 43). Jane explains that instances of e-bile typically have the following characteristics: 

they target a woman who is, for one reason or another, visible in the public sphere; their authors are anonymous or otherwise difficult to identify; their sexually explicit rhetoric includes homophobic and misogynist epithets; they prescribe coerced sex acts as all-purpose correctives; they pass scathing, appearance-related judgments and they rely on ad hominem invective.

(Jane 560)

E-bile is largely a response to a fear of female encroachment, especially insofar as it increases as a feminist response to it occurs (Jane 563). This occurred in Quinn’s case. She spoke out against her harassment, and the calls for violence increased. At this point, she was doxed, that is, her home address was shared publicly, and she was forced to leave to protect herself.  Feminist blogger and gamer Anita Sarkeesian, who had already received violent backlash after posting short films about sexism in video games on her blog Feminist Frequency, became implicated in the #GamerGate scandal, as well, and also received e-bile in the form of death and rape threats (A. L. Massanari 316–18). Sarkeesian was also doxed and forced to leave her home.

Women have received e-bile on sites that seem unlikely to foster homosocial relationships, as well. One Instagram account, Tinder Nightmares, documents that e-bile in the form of screenshots of various users’ experiences of toxic masculinity on Tinder, an app-based dating service. Aaron Hess and Carlos Flores find the site to be rife with “heterosexist performances,” including phenomena like “failed pickup lines, hypersexual declarations, and objectification through consumption” (8). However, they note that such heterosexist performances are typically displayed in public where men use them as a homosocial tool and can hide behind the anonymity of a group. A clear example would be catcalling. Tinder, on the other hand, is “relatively private (user-to-user) [and] lacks a group bonding context” (Hess and Flores 4). If men recite from heterosexist scripts primarily for homosocial reasons, why would they do so when no other men can see them? The authors hypothesize that the heterosexist performances are nonetheless “guided by larger heterosexist gender scripts—both online and offline—…that invite misogyny” (4). That is, in online contexts, the men are not reciting the script for homosocial reasons, but rather because they cannot help but recite the script no matter the context. In addition, Tinder Nightmares exists precisely because the people who manage the site assume that the toxic frontstage or online performances of Tinder users might contradict their backstage performances. “The original posting of the Tinder screenshot,” Hess and Flores write, “reinforces the idea that men who engage in hypermasculine performances should be publicly disciplined for their performance” (12). Individuals are tagged in the comments and this serves as a way to warn potential offenders (12). Even if they have not behaved badly yet, they should know there will be consequences for doing so.


Anderson is able to be optimistic about the inclusive masculinities in our current epoch primarily because he prioritizes the role of homohysteria in orthodox masculinity. He argues that “the reason for this underlying discontent of femininity is because effeminacy among men is correlated with homosexuality” (Anderson 34). He recognizes the important role sexism plays in orthodox masculinity, but since he believes it is caused by homohysteria, he can be optimistic that in an age of decreased homohysteria, sexism will decline. This position is not supported by the behavior of men on online dating sites where many heterosexual men who subscribe to what Anderson would call more inclusive masculinities and what Kimmel would call egalitarian masculinity still demonstrate a problematic aversion toward the feminine in their cultural (e.g. literary and musical) icons and rhetorical style. The persistence of this aversion toward the feminine does not motivate confidence that this phenomenon will decrease as homohysteria decreases or as economic shifts lead to a different division of labor in the household, as Kimmel suggests.

Online dating sites might seem a peculiar space for encountering an aversion toward the feminine. Their primary purpose is for people to meet partners. In fact, research estimates that 5% of married couples in 2015 met through online dating sites, and that percentage promises to rise as one in five adults between the ages of 25 and 34 have used online dating sites (Smith and Anderson). Online dating users are diverse, and their profiles indicate a wide array of interests, but anyone scrolling through profiles will observe a difference between heterosexual women’s and heterosexual men’s interests.

The aversion toward the feminine that appears on online dating profiles points toward the strength of hegemonic masculinity today and how it is bolstered in online contexts. This aversion is not the same as the outright resentment and disdain toward women that occurs in other digital contexts, including app-based dating sites, but when users project an image of someone who is more interested in masculine things than in feminine things in a profile that is created to meet and even engage in long-term relationships with women, we can note the severity of the compulsion to appear masculine at all costs and at all times.

In addition, the Internet has functioned as a site for bolstering toxic masculinity and thus perpetuating the hegemony of orthodox masculinity. All expressions of orthodox or hegemonic masculinity are not necessarily toxic, though one might be able to make a case to the contrary. Orthodox masculinity becomes toxic, at least, when its performance moves beyond a simple aversion to the feminine to an outright disdain for the feminine usually accompanied by calls for violence toward women. In these digital contexts, such as various Reddit and 4chan threads, and especially among communities like the Incels and Men’s Rights Activities, we see more than an aversion toward the feminine and actual women; we witness disdain and violence towards them. While those exercising hegemonic masculinity do not necessarily participate in these cultures, those who do prop up and support hegemonic masculinity.

Certainly, there is a difference between Incels and men who like Beat poets who are attempting to date women through OkCupid. But there is also a difference between many of the latter and true egalitarians. The discrepancy between online and offline performances does not show us that the online performances are a farce and that the people encountered online are in fact egalitarians forced to enact hegemonic masculinity because of deeply sedimented cultural norms. It is one thing to become more accepting of the individual people in one’s life and to want partnerships with spouses or equal opportunities for female children. It is quite another to accept femininity as a viable mode of expression and being in the world or to challenge the dominance of traditional, orthodox masculinity. The disdain for the feminine remains the most intractable element of orthodox masculinities that continues to pervade even apparently more inclusive masculinities.


  1. I follow Luce Irigaray and Raewyn Connell in using the term “the feminine” to refer to the covered over, occluded, denied ways of being. As Connell explains, one form of femininity has not achieved hegemony in the way the dominant form of masculinity has. She writes, “[T]he French analyst Luce Irigaray…has emphasized the absence of any clear-cut definition for women’s eroticism and imagination in a patriarchal society” (Connell 183). These covered over ways are probably manifold and plural—but we do not have an adequate language to address them. The term “the feminine” functions as a sort of placeholder.
  2. Other feminist digital scholarship regarding misogyny has autoethnographic origins as well. Emma Alice Jane, for instance, discusses the autoethnographic roots of her research on “e-bile” in her article “‘Back to the kitchen, cunt’: Speaking the unspeakable about online misogyny” (559). Leigh Gruwell also discusses how her own experiences as a “faithful and regular (female) reader” of Wikipedia inspired her interest in Wikipedia as an area of academic research (122).
  3. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for framing it in this language.
  4. For the term’s creators’ response to criticisms, see Connell and Messerschmidt.
  5. When searching for matches on OkCupid, one can sort them by Match %, which indicates how much they have in common with the user’s answers to various questions; distance; “who’s new”; when they were last online; “Enemy %,” which indicates how much their responses to various questions differ from the user’s; and “Special Blend,” which is the closest to a random search as possible. I therefore searched by “Special Blend.”
  6. Thirty-four of the 50 women surveyed answered the question on race, and all answered in the negative. Thirty-eight of the 50 women surveyed answered the question regarding gay male sexual orientation, and all answered in the negative.
  7. I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for helping me formulate this question.
  8. To access the heterosexual women’s profiles in order to make relevant comparisons, I made a blank profile as a heterosexual male user.
  9. Of the 50 men, 20 listed specific books and authors in their lists of favorite things, with an average list length of 6.8 and a combined total of 136 authors and book titles. Only 18 of the 136 items on their lists were women authors or books written by women. Fourteen users compiled lists of their favorite albums, songs, and/or musicians, with an average list length of 11.5 items for a total of 161 of albums, songs and/or musicians. Of the 161 items, only 13 female solo artists or all-female bands were listed, and 25 other items were bands with female members in them. On the other hand, of the 50 female users, 31 listed specific books and authors, with an average list length of 4.3 and a total of 131 items. On the women’s lists, 47 of the 133 items on the list were female authors or books written by women. Fifteen women compiled lists of bands, albums, songs, and/or musicians, with an average list length of 7.9 and a total of 118 items. Of the 118, 22 were female solo artists or all-female bands, and 11 were bands with women in them.
  10. Other research has historically found similar gender differences in Internet use. Studies indicate that men use the Internet more for information gathering, while women use it primarily for communication. Men use the Internet to search more, and women use e-mail more (Jackson et al. 372). Studies of Web 2.0, the more dynamic stage of the Internet dominated by user-generated content in the form of wikis and blogs, have yielded similar results. Women tend to use Facebook for communication more than men do (Junco). Women spend more time on Facebook and are more likely to think about their posts later in the day; they are also more likely to update their statuses, read their friends’ posts, and post their own media content (Shepherd 18–19).

Works Cited

Anderson, Eric. Inclusive Masculinity: The Changing Nature of Masculinities. Routledge, 2009.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah, and Kate M. Miltner. “#MasculinitySoFragile: Culture, Structure, and Networked Misogyny.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, 2016, pp. 171–74.

Connell, R. W. Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Stanford University Press, 1987.

Connell, R. W., and James W. Messerschmidt. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept.” Gender and Society, vol. 19, no. 6, 2005, pp. 829–59.

Dewey, Caitlyn. “Incels, 4chan and the Beta Uprising: Making Sense of One of the Internet’s Most-Reviled Subcultures.Washington Post, 7 Oct. 2015.

Ellison, Nicole, et al. “Managing Impressions Online: Self-Presentation Processes in the Online Dating Environment.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 11, no. 2, 2006, pp. 415–41.

Fishman, Pamela. “Conversational Insecurity.” The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader, edited by Deborah Cameron, 2nd ed., Routledge, 1998, pp. 253–58.

Fullick, Melonie. “‘Gendering’ the Self in Online Dating Discourse.” Canadian Journal of Communication, vol. 38, 2013, pp. 545–62.

Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Doubleday, 1959.

Gruwell, Leigh. “Wikipedia’s Politics of Exclusion: Gender, Epistemology, and Feminist Rhetorical (In)Action.” Computers and Composition, vol. 37, 2015, pp. 117–31.

Hämäläinen, Nora. Review of Iris Murdoch, Gender and Philosophy. Dec. 2011. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Hauser, Christine. “Reddit Bans ‘Incel’ Group for Inciting Violence Against Women.The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2018.

Hess, Aaron, and Carlos Flores. “Simply More than Swiping Left: A Critical Analysis of Toxic Masculine Performances on Tinder Nightmares.New Media & Society, 2016, pp. 1–18.

Irigaray, Luce. This Sex Which Is Not One. Translated by Carolyn Burke, Cornell University Press, 1985.

Jackson, Linda A., et al. “Gender and the Internet: Women Communicating and Men Searching.” Sex Roles, vol. 44, no. 5/6, 2001, pp. 363–79.

Jane, Emma Alice. “‘Back to the Kitchen, Cunt’: Speaking the Unspeakable about Online Misogyny.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol. 28, no. 4, 2014, pp. 588–570.

Junco, Reynol. “Inequalities in Facebook Use.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 29, no. 6, 2013, pp. 2328–36.

Kane, Emily W. “‘No Way My Boys Are Going to Be like That!’: Parents’ Responses to Children’s Gender Nonconformity.” Gender and Society, vol. 20, no. 2, 2006, pp. 149–76.

Kendall, Lori. Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online. University of California Press, 2002.

—. “‘Oh No! I’m a Nerd!’: Hegemonic Masculinity on an Online Forum.” Gender and Society, vol. 14, no. 2, Apr. 2000, pp. 256–74.

Kiesling, Scott Fabius. “Homosocial Desire in Men’s Talk: Balancing and Re-Creating Cultural Discourses of Masculinity.” Language in Society, vol. 34, no. 5, Nov. 2005, pp. 695–726.

Kimmel, Michael. Manhood in America: A Cultural History. Third, Oxford University Press, 2012.

Lipman-Blumen, Jean. “Toward a Homosocial Theory of Sex Roles: An Explanation of the Sex Segregation of Social Institutions.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 3, Spring 1976, pp. 15–31.

Massanari, Adrienne. “#Gamergate and The Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm, Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures.” New Media & Society, vol. 19, no. 3, 2015, pp. 329–46.

Massanari, Adrienne L. “‘Damseling for Dollars’: Toxic Technocultures and Geek Masculinity.” Race and Gender in Electronic Media: Content, Context, Culture, edited by Rebecca Ann Lind, 1 edition, Routledge, 2017, pp. 312–27.

Mission Statement.A Voice for Men, 2 July 2010.

Myers, Fraser. “Incels: The Ugly Truth.Spiked Review. Accessed 1 Aug. 2018.

OkCupid. “Mofo and Other Mysteries.The OkCupid Blog, 26 Oct. 2009.

Paling, Emma. “Wikipedia’s Hostility to Women.The Atlantic, Oct. 2015.

“R/Braincels.” Reddit, Accessed 1 Aug. 2018.

Rudder, Christian. Dataclysm: Love, Sex, Race, and IdentityWhat Our Online Lives Tell Us about Our Offline Selves. Broadway Books, 2014.

Salter, Michael. Crime, Justice and Social Media. Routledge, 2017.

Schillinger, Liesl. “Debauchery That Leaps Right Off the Page.The New York Times, 15 Jan. 2006. Web.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire. Columbia University Press, 1985.

Shepherd, Ryan P. “Men, Women, and Web 2.0 Writing: Gender Difference in Facebook Composing.” Computers and Composition, vol. 39, 2016, pp. 14–26.

Sittenfeld, Curtis. “Purity by Jonathan Franzen Review—Dazzling, Hilarious and Problematic.The Guardian, 26 Aug. 2015.

Smith, Aaron, and Monica Anderson. “5 Facts about Online Dating.” Pew Research Center. Web. Accessed 28 July 2015.

Walker, Lisa L., and Jackie L. Eller. “Raising Capital: Claims of Masculinity among Men on Match.Com.Men and Masculinities, vol. 19, no. a, 2015, pp. 42–63.

Whitehead, Stephen M. Men and Masculinities: Key Themes and New Directions. Polity Books, 2002.

Willey, Angela, and Banu Subramaniam. “Inside the Social World of Asocials: White Nerd Masculinity, Science, and the Politics of Reverent Disdain.” Feminist Studies, vol. 43, no. 1, 2017, pp. 13–41.

Williams, Alex. “Would the Pickup Artist Stand a Chance in the #MeToo Era?The New York Times, 14 July 2018. 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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Coalition Moderation Policy for Social Media & Listserv

The social media accounts and email listserv of the Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition exist to support the mission of the Coalition, which includes “advancement of feminist research and pedagogy across histories, locales, identities, materialities, and media; and the education and mentoring of feminist faculty and graduate students in scholarship, research methods, praxis, and the politics of the profession.”

Towards this shared mission, the listserv and social media administrators use Twitter and Facebook to:
1. Feature feminist rhetorical practices in scholarly, public, and pedagogical contexts.
2. Amplify the work of coalition members and feminist scholars in rhetoric and composition.
3. Share opportunities for further feminist research, teaching, action, and leadership.

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Editor’s Welcome

Jen Wingard

All of this news is to say that as Peitho continues to grow, please continue to read and submit your work here. It is an exciting journal with a long history of feminist commitment and scholarly support in the field of rhetoric and composition. And it is certainly continuing to be a thriving place for intellectual work. 

Coalition Curated Guide to #4C19

CCCC’s 2019 is just around the corner and The Feminists Are Coming! As always, the conference program is packed with innovative, critical, creative, and this year especially performative research presentations. We offer this Coalition Curated Guide to #4C19 in order to highlight feminist-related sessions. If you would like us to add a session to this list, Tweet the request to us @CFSHRC.

Before the conference, follow our facebook and twitter pages for updates and reminders. We will also highlight a few sessions.  During the conference, you can also follow along to the #CFSHRC hashtag on twitter. For session location and exact time, be sure to check the CCCC program.

May we also recommend that check out similarly curated lists from Medical Rhetoric, Queer Caucus, DBLAC sponsored eventsAsian/Asian American Caucus.

Conference logo is blue and includes the shadows of a group of people standing together holding signs. The text reads 2019 CCCC Annual Convention Pittsburgh, PA March 13-16, 2019 Performance-Rhetoric, Performance-Composition. and #TheFeministsAreComing
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Annual Membership/Volunteer Survey

Just ahead of Winter Solstice (in the northern hemisphere), I send a request on behalf of the Executive Board. Please find a few (~5-6) spare moments to fill out our annual membership survey, available at this link ( Please feel free to do so now or just after the holidays as you contemplate returning to the vagaries of the next semester/quarter/term. The survey will collect responses through January 15, 2019.

May you all experience the realities of a peaceful, joyous, and humane new year, no matter the circumstances,

-Tarez Graban
CFSHRC President
(on behalf of the Executive Board)

The Idea That Was a Forum

When the current Coalition president wrote these words in a September 27 blog post, she did not anticipate that they would speak much beyond that day’s topic:

“[T]here is a great and well defined need for what the members of this organization do—not only to assuage crises in settings as public as the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, but also to make the less conspicuous publics that we occupy every day of our lives into more critically visible and audible spaces. More often than not, the discourses we find ourselves having to engage in involve the promotion of fear, the preservation of self, the shoring up of a single position, or the mitigation of an immediate crisis. … More often than not, the intersecting spaces that we occupy do politically and emotionally conflict.”

However, they did and they do speak to the occasion of a blog forum we had hoped to conduct, which was in turn motivated by several concurrent threads on the WPA-L listserv between October 21 and October 30, including the consequent hashtag (#wpalistservfeministrevolution), and which resonated across parallel threads into the month of November 2018.

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“Hear the Table Call of the South:” White Supremacist Rhetoric and the 1950 Charleston Receipts Junior League Cookbook

Constellating White Women’s Cultural Rhetorics: The Association of Southern Women for the Prevention of Lynching and Its Contemporary Scholars