Feminist Rhetorical Practices Adds Representin and Recognizin to its 3 Rs

Jones Royster, Jacqueline, and Gesa E. Kirsch. Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012. Print.

Feminist Rhetorical Practices: New Horizons for Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy Studies serves as a metaphoric Richter scale for the seismic shifts that have occurred in both Feminist Rhetorical Studies (FRS) and Composition and Rhetorical Studies over the last 30 years. Royster and Kirsch use the metaphor of tectonic plates to describe and document the shifts and shifting that has occurred and is still occurring within FRS in terms of theories, research agendas, and research methods and methodologies.

Recognizin/g and Representin/g

In this metaphor they emphasize that there is not a single fault line, but that scholars working within and across the lines of Feminist Rhetorical Studies have been disrupting and shaking the foundation of Rhetorical Studies which at its core has traditionally been centered of Greco-Roman and Western conceptions of rhetoric and androcentric. I appreciate this metaphor for the necessarily dynamic and fluid flow (or stream to mix metaphors) that Feminist Rhetorical Studies is and for also denoting a degree of physical energy and in-your-faceness or “wreck” as Pough (2004) might call it.

In doing so, Royster and Kirsch also add “recognizin/g” and “representin/g” to the three Rs of Feminist Rhetorical Studies – rescue, recovery, and (re)inscription. As Carmen Kynard (2010) states, in urban language “recognizing” is about “publicly acknowledging what is going on and who the central perpetrators are” (48). This text resonated with me in part because of both Royster and Kirsch’s efforts to make their audience “recognize” the oppression and challenges, the work that has been done, and the work that still remains. What was particularly logistically persuasive to me, and I imagine others in feminist and Black feminist studies, was the argument that it would/ will not be until the least valued in the field, those silenced and marginalized women such as those of African descent (10) were recognized and valued in the field that the field would grow and reach its full potential. In her narrative about how she began feminist rhetorical research and became involved with Feminist Rhetorical Practices she stated that Rhetorical Composition and Literacy Studies was in need of a reform.

Royster and Kirsch’s deliberate and careful efforts to recognize the efforts of so many scholars within Feminist Rhetorical Studies can also be seen as a way to “represent.” “Representin,” Elaine Richardson (2007) explains, is a Black discourse practice that enacts solidarity and a type of fictive kinship. In doing so they demonstrate their notion of strategic contemplation which foregrounds this recognition and they said shows “how [others] have enabled us to stand where we are today, and how their visions make it possible for us to imagine a future worth working for” (23).

Royster and Kirsch not only historicize and boldly present the collective (although not admittedly not comprehensive) work that has been done in FRS to the present date, but argue that these strides have not only benefited them and other scholars and teachers doing this work, but the field as a whole:

“…research and practice in rhetorical studies have changed – and to the benefit of the whole… We now see more about the nature , impact, and consequences of language use. We recognize the importance of contexts and conditions in performance. We understand more about how rhetorical actions function in the human enterprise.” (15)

The book represents an embodied argument for the value of Feminist Rhetorical Studies as a major component of Comp-rhet and a cornerstone in its advancement. As Patricia Bizzell states in the foreword, “anyone who wants to do research in rhetoric, composition, and literacy, in any subfield, from now on will need to read this book” (xii)

As Bizzell foreshadows, this text is likely to be a landmark text; in a sense it feels as though it is capping off one era and launching us into a new one. With that said, I wonder if this book and its recognition of FRS to this point will mark the end of a “first wave” of Feminist Rhetorical Studies and if so, how will the new “wave” or generation of feminist rhetorical scholars take up the mantle?

Questions of the horizon:

As has been noted by feminist scholars regarding the first, second, and third waves of feminism, the hard fought gains of one generation and the privileges of the up-and-coming generation always sparks new questions, challenges,
and responsibilities. What are some of these new concerns you see arising?

Royster and Kirsch name some possible challenges on the next horizon:

“…because of the broadening nature and scope of rhetorical subjects, sites, and scenes we have set in motion the need to renegotiate the terms by which visibility, credibility, value, and excellence are determined…in effect we are re-forming the discpline and re-endowing the vision of our rhetorical landscape as a globalized, multi-dimensional human asset and not just the exclusive possession of Western, elite, white males.” (133)

In the last month CCR 635 has read Cintron’s Angels’ Town and Berry, Hawisher, and Selfe’s Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times both of which attempt to broaden the nature and scope of rhetorical subjects. What similarities do you see in their methodological approaches to Royster and Kirsch’s four methodological approaches of Feminist Rhetorical Studies, critical imagination, strategic contemplation, social circulation, and globalization, and how might they have employed them to more effectively broaden the scope?

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Lorde – From “There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions”

From Homophobia and Education (New York: Council on Interracial Books for
Children, 1983)

I simply do not believe that one aspect of myself can possibly profit from the oppression of any other part of my identity. I know that my people cannot possibly profit from the oppression of any other group which seeks the right to peaceful existence. Rather, we diminish ourselves by denying to others what we have shed blood to obtain for our children. And those children need to learn that they do not have to become like each other in order to work together for a future they will all share.

In this passage Audre Lorde spoke specifically to the social intersections in which she stood: Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, poet, mother, and interracial lover. However, her message is so profound and timeless that it can be extended to apply to a multitude of social realities to account for differences in ethnicity, age, class, geography, ability, etc.

Lorde emphasized that oppression regardless of it’s particular discrimination stems from the same place. She said, “I have learned that sexism and heterosexism both arise from the same source as racism,” and therefore, argued that they were all equally detrimental and deserving of equal and simultaneous resistance. Oppression, Lorde implied, knows no boundaries; if oppression against one group is allowed to thrive, it will sooner or later spread to oppress others. Consequently, no one can afford to pick particular battles:

I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, .wherever they appear to destroy me. And when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.

This is particularly significant as it relates to Hip-hop feminism, Black girlhood, and recurring manifestations of the cult of respectability in this generation of women and girls in Hip-hop culture because I am Black, female/ a girl (Brown, 2009), and socialized in Hip-hop culture.