Bridwell-Bowles, Lillian. “Discourse and Diversity: Experimental Writing within the Academy.” Feminism and Composition :A Critical Sourcebook. Eds. Gesa Kirsch, et al. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 294-313. Print.
In this essay, Lillian Bridwell-Bowles utilized theories from Feminist Studies, critical pedagogy, and Composition and Rhetorical Studies as well as her teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels to “imagine” and explicate the possibilities for the use of what she called a “diverse discourse” within the academy. She acknowledged the limitations of academic discourse and academic essays as a genre to connect with and express the full diversity of student bodies as well as meet their rhetorical needs. Despite the advances in composition theory through theories of cognitive process, social construction and advances in technology, Bridwell-Bowles argued that as long as our language remained inadequate (limited to academic discourse) our vision, thinking, and feeling will not be transformative (Rich 1979). Bridwell-Bowles alternative to exclusive academic discourse is “diverse discourse,” a discourse inspired by feminist discourse that allows for more languages and forms outside of academic discourse. She stated her conscious and political choice to not call it “alternative discourse” because it “does not allow us to reform thinking, to imagine the possibility that writing choices that are now marginal could someday be positioned alongside, or in place of , the dominant ones” (295). Bridell-Bowles does not argue for throwing out the pedagogical “baby (traditional academic writing components) with the bath water,” but asserts that in light of new theory these conventions should not be the only ones that count. While Bridwell-Bowles does not explicitly weigh in on the validity of bidialectalism for the speakers of language varieties outside of “standard” English, she does question its efficacy: “We may agree on its necessity, but not on its sufficiency. I also believe that linguistic and rhetorical flexibility may help students to write better conventional prose” (296).
Through her own experience and student examples Bridwell-Bowles admits she cannot provide concrete answers, but attempts to hypothesize the existence of a powerfully diverse discourse that allows for variation in race, gender, class, sexual orientation and other human variation. This work is challenging in complicated to do using a “patriarchal, racist, and classist variant of language,” because “it may not be possible to create feminist discourse with a “father’s tongue’ (Penelope) or the ‘master’s tools’ (Lorde, Master’s)” (298). She provides student examples of writing without argument and experimentation with form to illustrate ways that students have put themselves “back into their writing.” As she works to dot he same in her own writing she is candid about the privilege she has to do so as a tenured faculty member, but asserts that she intends to use this power to open more doors for others to do the same.
“The real change does not lie on the surface of language at all, where I have chosen to begin, but in the deep structure where language and culture interact. In these places, I treasure the new meanings that I and many others have discovered” (312).