Posts Tagged ‘Rhetoric’

“Monitoring Columbia’s Daughters: Writing as Gendered Conduct”

The mental flower garden: Or, An instructive and entertaining companion for the fair sex, 1807

With greater access and attention given to educating women, textbooks written specifically for women appeared where “white women’s rhetorical training was closely aligned with a particular kind of moral and civic conduct – gendered conduct” (47). By tracing textbooks produced by Donald Fraser, including revisions and different editions of similar works, the authors show developments in gender biases as reflected in this instructional material. Civic rhetoric was viewed as integral to the maintenance of the Republic, with women’s training in these areas important for the upholding of American ideals, largely in their roles as mothers to sons who required this training as part of their civic duty. In this sense, though mothering is still viewed as a private, domestic affair, because of its potential effects upon the state and society, “such mothering is ultimately a public role” (52). Additionally, rhetorical training was deemed necessary for women in order to guard against the male persuasive powers of seduction, thus in America at this time was “the notion that seduction and illiteracy are linked” (53). Fraser’s texts somewhat surprisingly move from a substantial, rigorous rhetorical training for women in post-colonial American, to the more restrictive “learning as conduct” mode, then finally to simpler, morality-based education for women by 1800 (63). This trend of movement from expansion to constriction of rhetorical education for women somewhat mimics the move by formerly all-male colleges that admitted women to “change their minds” as women excelled, only to exclude them again. It also demonstrates a tacit knowledge of the powers of rhetorical training, where regulation of that knowledge, or a channeling of its strategies into more culturally-endorsed, gendered avenues, seemed important in order to maintain the status quo and stabilize the gender inequalities so prevalent at the time.


Works Cited:

Eldred, Janet Carey and Peter Mortensen. “Monitoring Columbia’s Daughters: Writing as Gendered Conduct.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 23.3/4 (Summer-Autumn 1994): 46-69. Print.

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“Parlor Rhetoric and the Performance of Gender”

Newman's "Masculine" Rhetorical Text

Johnson describes the role of rhetoric in the lives of nineteenth century post-antebellum women who were trained in the rhetorical arts through conduct books and increased educational opportunities, but who were still prohibited from speaking publicly. Popular textbooks at the time[1] promoted rhetoric as a masculine endeavor and thus women were offered a type of rhetorical training that “helped them become more effective in their sphere,” referred to as parlor rhetoric (24). Even in texts that seem to refer to gender-inclusive speakers, it is clear from close analysis of these texts that the appropriate venue for male speakers is the public, whereas “women needed only to acquire those rhetorical skills that corroborated their roles as wives, mothers, or light-hearted entertainers” (38).  Women are often shown in costume “acting” melodramatic roles with “pathetic and homelike qualities,” whereas men are depicted as respected public orators (43). Thus, the rhetorical powers granted to women in this area via the popular books on the topic relegated women to situations with the least amount of power, despite offering them expanded rhetorical capabilities. Johnson’s work offers a critical perspective on the rhetorical texts available to women during this time, and gives a comparative perspective with which to view the work done at Western in this area. Alterations that occurred at Western near the turn of the century, including its change to a college, a new, more progressive president, and the introduction of an elocution course specifically designed to give women more rhetorical power in society, show that there was some resistance to this gendered model of rhetorical abilities common in the “parlor rhetoric” genre popular during this time.

Work Cited:

Johnson, Nan. “Parlor Rhetoric and the Performance of Gender.” Gendered and Rhetorical Space in American Life, 1866-1910. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois UP, 2002. 19-47. Print.

[1] Newman’s A Practical System of Rhetoric is mentioned specifically as promoting a masculine agenda in rhetorical practices in order to “produce successful public discourse” (26). It is interesting to note that, according to The Western Oxford’s , the Western library procured Newman’s text in 1854 and it was used as part of the course, despite its bias against women. Quackenbos, also mentioned as particularly masculine, was the primary rhetorical text used at Western beginning in 1886.

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