Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910

Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910

Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910

Gender and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910

Synopsis

Johnson demonstrates that after the Civil War, non-academic or "parlor" traditions of rhetorical performance helped to sustain the icon of the white middle-class woman as queen of her domestic sphere by promoting a code of rhetorical behavior for women that required the performance of conventional femininity.

Excerpt

The realization of the radical potential of women's history comes in the writing of histories that focus on women's experience and analyze the ways in which politics construct gender and gender constructs politics. Feminist history then becomes not the recounting of great deeds performed by women but the exposure of the silent and hidden operations that are nonetheless present and defining forces in the organization of most societies.

—Joan Wallach Scott, Gender and the Politics of History

Iassume in the following essays that a feminist reading of the history of rhetoric necessarily means that the complicated relationship between rhetorical practices and the inscription of cultural power must be addressed as we revisit or uncover rhetorical traditions and practices of the past. In the discussions that follow, I treat rhetorical theories and rhetorical practices as cultural sites where we can observe the interdependence of codes of rhetorical performance and the construction of conventional identities, particularly but not exclusively gender identities. Whenever we read a rhetorical theory or practice as a cultural site, we are locating a nexus where cultural capital and rhetorical performance have become one. From this critical point of view, the history of Anglo-American rhetoric can be read as a revealing narrative about how convention, rhetorical expectations, and the lines of cultural power converge.

To see how this narrative is formed and reformed in different historical eras requires first the acknowledgment of the institutional role that rhetorical pedagogies play in inscribing discursive practices that maintain rather than destabilize status-quo relationships of gender, race, and class. If rhetoric did not have this kind of institutional force, rhetorical power could not have . . .

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