Enoch – Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chicana Rhetorics of Sterilizationand Abuse

Enoch, Jessica. “Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chicana Rhetorics of Sterilization and Abuse.” Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics. Eds. Lindal Buchanan and Kathleen J. Ryan. West LaFayette: Parlor Press LLC, 2010. 183-199. Print.  

In “Survival Stories: Feminist Historiographic Approaches to Chican Rhetorics of Sterilization and Abuse,” Jessica Enoch draws on feminist historiographic methods, including those employed by Shirley Wilson Logan and Jacqueline Jones Royster recover rhetorical work of African American women in order to recover and reassess the Chicana rhetorical tradition of speaking out against sterilization abuse against Chicanas and other women of color. Enoch’s study is centered on the class action civil rights action suit, Madrigal v. Quilligan, in which ten Chicanas joined forces to argue that their constitutional rights were violated when doctors at the USC-LA Medical Center performed tubal ligations without the women’s informed consent. Enoch uses Cherríe Moraga’s “theory in the flesh,” in which physical realities of minority women’s lives necessarily come together to create specific voices, politics, and epistemologies, to frame the plaintiffs’ arguments for justice as collective “rhetorics of survival” in which they “forcefully fought for their right to personal, familial, and cultural survival.” (184)

First, Enoch examines the arguments made in the case as both an instance of and an inroad to the rich tradition of Chicana feminism (185). For her third approach, Enoch contextualizes the women’s arguments in their immediate setting to better understand the intended meaning of their rhetorical strategies and how they were received and interpreted by the presiding judge. In her fourth move, Enoch offers a new feminist methodology through “historiographic tracking” and recontextualizing the arguments made by the original Chicanas beyond their immediate contexts in order to answer the question, “what else?” (185, 196)

Enoch expands traditional feminist historiography in significant ways by situating Chicanas own words in their immediate rhetorical situation and by recontextualizing them in subsequent rhetorical situations.  The former approach has the potential to reveal new phenomena, such as the judge in the case’s “rhetoric of normalization” and his characterization of the women as atypical and deviant (198). Enoch states this is significant in that it:

“It is no longer enough to know that women’s words have been stricken from the public record. We should now press further to excavate and understanding the rhetorical strategies that those  in power used (and use) to make this striking seem “logical,” “normal,” and “reasonable.” (198)

By adding her fourth methodological tool of locating prior rhetorical arguments in different rhetorical situations to the historiographic trade, Enoch gives voice to marginalized women. She suggests that this method “enables scholars to look beyond the ways that rhetorical endeavors of women were ignored or silenced in order to see how these rhetorics survived,” and concludes that, “This method should give us hope and enable us to tell survival stories.”

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