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Comparatively speaking: gender and rhetoric: introduction.

The on-going process of gender-denaturalization offers a new context in which to examine the way gender-parameters shape human discourse. Such an exploration can, and even should, be viewed as a rhetorical study. Rhetoric defines what is proper to all conditions and walks of life, and this includes what befits a woman and a man as well as how to address audiences of both genders. Therefore, in this special issue of Intertexts, we explore the dynamic relations between gender and rhetoric in a comparative perspective. With Comparatively Speaking: Gender and Rhetoric, we place ourselves in the by now well-established tradition of feminist rhetorical studies, contributing to it by addressing gender and rhetoric comparatively, across different time periods, media, and cultures. Rhetoric, indeed, feminist scholars have argued for some time now, always inscribes relationships of language and power, and such relationships are neither fixed nor stable and unchangeable. This also means that this volume was conceived in the context of the development of gender studies and queer theory. As developed in the 1980s and 1990s, the concept of gender denaturalized sexual difference, showing men and women, masculinity and femininity to be socially and culturally constructed. We "do" gender, at the level of the individual, the collective, and the institution; and in this "doing," gender--its performance--appears (West and Zimmerman; Butler). In Bodies that Matter, Judith Butler exposed the political significance of this performance of gender, and one should not underestimate, similarly, the political dimension of the acknowledgement and examination of gender in/and rhetoric. (1) Today, however, neuroscience is re-naturalizing sexual difference, claiming sex differences in brain morphology and functionality are organized by sex-differentiating prenatal hormone exposures and thus innate. Maintaining that social inequality is therefore a "natural" given, such research ignores evidence of the plasticity of the brain, including experiments that have shown "how invoking either positive or negative stereotypes can stimulate sex/gender differences as large as those that are usually taken to be innate" (Jordan-Young and Rumiati 312). This, then, lends a new urgency to feminist rhetorical studies, to the detailed analysis of persuasive and informative writings, and to close examination of their methods of argument, invention, arrangement, style, and ends. On the one hand, given the social definition and inscription of gender and the role of language in establishing heteronormative (hence fixed) gender-specific identities and behaviors, we believe it is important to continue examining the ways in which rhetorical practices are described and prescribed according to the gender of the speaking subject, as well as the ways in which those may change or differ over time or across geographical space. Such an examination raises important questions: To what extent is the rhetoric of gender culturally specific? What is acceptable as masculine or feminine and under what circumstances? What styles, figures, forms of delivery are gender-identified? How does gender shape intelligibility? What is expected of or ascribed to men and women? How are these expectations and gender inscriptions contested? And how have dissident voices managed to be heard despite the enforcement of gendered norms or, on the contrary, how have they been silenced by it? On the other hand, because of the linguistic genealogy of such notions as performativity in modern conceptions of, and resistance to, gender, the close examination of rhetorical practices and theoretical choices in the production and representation of gender is vital.

Comparatively Speaking: Gender and Rhetoric addresses both the theory and history of rhetoric. The development and establishment of gender studies has called into question the possibility of talking about language in universal terms and this questioning extends to the social usages of language with which rhetoric has traditionally been associated. As has become clear, from Andrea Lunsford's edited collection Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition (1995) and Cheryl Glenn's monograph Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance (1997) to Joy Ritchie and Kate Ronald's anthology Available Means (2001) and Lindal Buchanan and Kathleen Ryan's Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics (2010), as a techne, rhetoric itself may well be predicated upon the social division of gender roles. Not surprisingly, feminist efforts have been directed at opening up, in Lunsford's words, "possibilities for multiple rhetorics, rhetorics that would not name and valorize one traditional, competitive, agonistic, and linear mode of rhetorical discourse but would rather incorporate other, often dangerous moves: breaking the silence; naming in personal terms; employing dialogics; recognizing and using the power of conversation; moving centripetally towards connections; and valuing--indeed insisting upon-- collaboration" (6); but also recognizing "the forms, strategies, and goals used by many women as 'rhetorical'" (6); and "develop[ing] new definitions that encompass the set of excellences demonstrated by the women they study" (7). Keith Lloyd's essay in this volume contributes to this discussion, making a case for a non-argumentative, gendered rhetoric and proposing an alternative model based in sensory, perceptual metaphors.

In contrast, in male-oriented treatises authored by male writers, the proper strategies for women speakers/orators, if allowed to speak at all, were defined as different from those of their male counterparts. As Cheryl Glenn reminds us, "[f]or the past twenty-five hundred years in Western culture, the ideal woman has been disciplined by cultural codes that require a closed mouth (silence), a closed body (chastity), and an enclosed life (domestic confinement)" (1). Thus, in seventeenth-century France, at the very moment when a feminized cultural public sphere developed, preliminary texts in books written by women foregrounded a modesty and a strategy of disclaimer that were instrumental in effacing those works from the canon. Even texts meant for women in polite society who lacked formal schooling in seventeenth-century France were written by men with references steeped in patriarchal culture as, for example, in J. Leven de Templery's 1699 L'Eloquence du temps, enseignee a une dame de qualite selon les regles d'une rhetorique aisee et galante: Et accompagnee de quantite de bons mots et de pensees ingenieuses. Meanwhile the feminine, as it was dealt with in traditional treatises, was all but cliched and highly indicative of social prejudices with regard to women. In the last book of his Rhetorique ou l'art de parler, (2) for instance, the most traditional part of his treatise, Bernard Lamy explains that to discourage a woman from using make-up, the orator must appeal to her vanity and persuade her that in the long run rouge and other such artifices will ruin her carnation and diminish her beauty, thereby setting woman up as the flawed audience of an ethical discourse. Lamy's treatise exemplifies the view that women are more easily swayed than men, in most discourse, because they are creatures of passion (closer to the body that generates it), and they lack the ethical qualities (e. g. gravitas) needed in the practice of oratory. Not that there never were female voices in Western culture, but in the field of rhetoric, they were not granted equal status. By the same token, the very genres appropriate for women were culturally defined. They were, for instance, seen as inherently adept at writing emotional letters (Desrosiers-Bonin; Jensen; Zoberman).

Nor is such gender specificity limited to women, or to the early modern period. The name four-minute men, for the men who stood in front of movie audiences to promote the eventual American intervention in the War (1917), brings to the fore the gendered reality of rhetoric, in a historic, propagandistic context. Given the workings of ideology, women were themselves instrumental in reproducing the discourse of and about (a masculinist) rhetoric. Typically, the female voices that rose against the new woman at the turn of the twentieth century testify to the difficulty of articulating a resistance from within one's own cultural context, as Christine Neejer's essay on the bicycling rhetoric of Mary Sargent Hopkins demonstrates.

The title Comparatively Speaking: Gender and Rhetoric is also meant specifically to emphasize the comparative perspective we have chosen, both by creating a dialogue among the different cultural contexts the articles engage with and within the individual contributions. There is an inequality among periods and cultures in terms of gender--both in terms of the institutionalization (and "mainstreaming") of gender studies and the readiness of specialists to explore the field, and in terms of the roles of women and men in a given culture. This inequality, moreover, is structural and "glocal," by which we mean that local formations and (in)equalities are shaped by global forces within it, and that the local and the global are linked and complicit (Friedman). Globalization has been put on the agenda of rhetorical studies for a while now, for instance by Eileen Schell in her contribution to Kate Ronald and Joy Ritchie's Teaching Rhetorica (2006), "Gender, Rhetorics, and Globalization," in which she argues for the need to engage feminist rhetorics in transnational contexts, stating that "understanding rhetorical location in a globalized world means understanding flows of capital and people across national borders" (168). Thus, by addressing gender and rhetoric comparatively, this volume engages questions of contemporary relevance as well as the kind of questions comparatists today are interested in--witness, for instance, the debate that took place in 2011 in the pages of Rhetoric Society Quarterly on "doing comparative rhetoric responsibly" in a global context, and in which LuMing Mao argued for the development of "approaches that treat non-Western rhetorics on their own terms" and the recognition that "doing comparative rhetorical work will always be a process and that whatever description provided embodies a point of view" (65-6). (3) While the whole project can be linked to this type of concern, it is most explicitly taken up in Lisa Corrigan's essay, as she compares the rhetorics of poster art in Cuba and the United States and explores Chicano/a appropriations and revisions of 1960s Cuban poster art.

Gender, importantly, refers to both femininity and masculinity and this double perspective constitutes another axis of this volume's comparative work. Especially masculinity has become problematized in recent years, as men have been shown to be no more born as such than women, and that for men, masculinity is a precarious identity requiring continual social proof and validation (Vandello and Bosson). Masculinity, of course, is not the exclusive preserve of men: there are masculine women and masculine men, as there are feminine women and feminine men. (In addition, we may remember Eve Sedgwick's notion of masculinity and femininity as being orthogonal to each other: "Orthogonal: that is, instead of being opposite poles of the same axis, they are actually in different, perpendicular dimensions, and therefore are independently variable" [15-16]). In this volume, several essays deal with masculinity and rhetorics, exploring both elements as part of a masculine/feminine binary, but also questioning it along the lines of a queer resistance to fixed identities. Pierre Zoberman's essay on "men-of-the-world" (hommes du monde) in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe can be seen to engage with the precariousness of male masculinity, and Lisa Corrigan shows the construction of masculinity in Cuban poster art to serve the aims of a new political entity--post-revolutionary Cuba--and the ways in which Chicana/o poster art in the United States engaged with and reworked this visual rhetoric to interpolate citizenship in more inclusive terms. Focusing on Canadian singer and songwriter k.d. lang, Tracy Whalen challenges the overwhelmingly male definition and historical embodiment of charisma (as can be seen, for instance, with Che Guevara in Cuban poster art) and explores how lang's gender-bending practices constitutes a queer embodiment of charisma. One of Whalen's points of departure is, like Lloyd's, the push from feminist quarters to reconsider (and reconceptualize) rhetoric in less or non-agonistic terms. The comparative dimension thus operates here at a variety of levels. The essays in Comparatively Speaking look at a variety of domains and media. This includes attention to visual rhetorics and the aural dimensions of the rhetorical 'text' alongside the more traditional focus on the verbal. They envision rhetoric from various angles (persuasion, ethos) and at different levels of generality, all the way up to the definitions of mental frames for argumentation. In addition, by questioning both gender and rhetoric in historical and cultural as well as theoretical contexts, Comparatively Speaking also participates in the efforts to develop "queer rhetoric;" that is, a critical engagement with normative discourses of sexuality in the public sphere that exposes their naturalization, combined with attempts to torque--indeed, to "queer"-- them to create non-straight discourses and to give voice and agency to multiple, complex, non-heteronormative sexual experiences (Alexander and Rhodes). Such efforts, it should be noted, have been instrumental in the inclusion of special sessions in various contexts (e.g., International Society for the History of Rhetoric, MLA).

Comparatively Speaking thus offers an innovative crossing of categories (gender/ comparatism/ rhetoric), especially since, while building on the work of feminist theorists, it problematizes gender yet further. The combined approaches in the volume help complexify intersectional approaches, elaborating the way in which gender intersects with other axes of inequality. Masculinity and queerness are a full part of it. Whereas much work has already been done on women and/in rhetoric, especially in the United States and Canada, the gender approach, both in its binary (masculinity/femininity) aspect, and in the queer subversion of the binary, has been less developed. Therefore, the volume explores both how genders are rhetorically constructed in various cultural contexts, and how gender is part of the factors in the development of rhetorical theory as well as specific rhetorical strategies. The geographical and historical spread, ranging from nineteenth-century France and late nineteenth-century New England to 1960s Cuba to present-day Canada, is integral to its comparatism, exploring how rhetorical practices and the gender norms and instructions they inscribe change over time and across space. Examining the role of gender in inventing argument, mounting evidence, and persuading audiences in literary and other texts from different historical periods and analyzing how these texts in turn do and undo gender, it aims to provide a timely contribution to the comparative study of gender and rhetoric.

The first two articles take a more theoretical approach and seek to inscribe themselves in the feminist tradition by reclaiming feminine elements of charisma and revisiting the metaphors for rhetorical argumentation respectively Reminding us that the roots of the word "charisma" are in fact feminine, Tracy Whalens "Engendering Charisma: k.d. lang and the Comic Frame," argues for the regendering of charisma in the tradition of feminist scholarship. Drawing on Kenneth Burkes discussion of the comic attitude, Whalen explores the charismatic ethos of the Canadian lesbian artist k.d. lang and compares lang's masculine and queer persona in the 1980s and 1990s with more recent performances to show that charisma is not a static concept, but an interactive process best understood diachronically. Next, Keith Lloyd's "Feminist Challenges to Academic Writing' Writ Large: Changing the Argumentative Metaphor from War to Perception to Address the Problem of Argument Culture" takes up the challenge of the feminist critique in the 1990s of the then contemporary views on the rhetorical tradition. Lloyd here excavates an alternative genealogy for rhetoric to rethink the very nature of rhetorical argumentation in a gendered perspective and challenges the continued focus on the military metaphors at the core of its tradition. In "Men-of-the-World and demimondaines: Gender Representation and Construction in Villiers de l'Isle-Adam," Pierre Zoberman examines and the way the figures of the "demimondaine" and of the "man-of-the-world" and their interactions in Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, contribute to a complex representation of both masculinity and femininity. While staging a fear of destructive women, in keeping with literary and cultural motifs of nineteenth-century Europe, and an ostensible defense of heteronormative models, Villiers' fiction ends up promoting alternative models of masculinity, perhaps under the influence of fin-de-siecle aesthetic tenets and dandy sensitivity. Lisa Corrigans "Visual Rhetoric and Oppositional Consciousness: Poster Art in Cuba and the United States" then explores issues of visual rhetoric in propagandistic posters. Corrigan looks into the construction of masculinity in revolutionary poster art of the 1960s and early 1970s and its attendant exclusion of women from the realm of action in the representation of revolutionary values and examines how Chicano/a poster art engaged the visual rhetorics of the "New Man" for oppositional politics. Finally, Christine Neejer's "A Conservative Road: The Bicycling Rhetoric of Mary Sargent Hopkins" focuses on the writings of bicycling journalist and champion of women's health Mary Sargent Hopkins in light of historical discussions about New Womanhood. Examining the ethos of a female persuader addressing herself to other women in a male-dominated context of the late nineteenth century, Neejer explores Hopkins' complex mix of emancipation and conservatism. Altogether, the articles in this volume articulate gender with the theory and history of rhetoric in different cultural contexts to help counter not only the "evidence" of gender, but also any illusion of simplicity, bringing out its actual complexity instead. Nothing, to evoke Virginia Woolf's well-known phrase, is simply one thing: Mary Sargent Hopkins is a women's advocate, but she is politically conservative, and k. d. lang can be seen as becoming more conservative in her embracing a Canadian identity in the later part other career. Conversely Auguste de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam seems to reinforce heteronormative and, above all, misogynistic models, but ends up promoting softer, more effete models of masculinity. Viewing rhetoric in connection with gender in comparative terms, Comparatively Speaking stimulates a kind of intersectional approach and understanding to both gender and rhetoric--and promotes new historical readings and new political practices.

Works Cited

Alexander, Jonathan, and Jacqueline Rhodes. "Queer Rhetoric and the Pleasures of the Archive." Enculturation (2012). <>. Web.

Buchanan, Lindal and Kathleen Ryan, eds. Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics: Landmark Essays and Controversies. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010.

Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York and London: Routledge, 1993.

--. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Desrosiers-Bonin, Diane. "Renaissance French Women Writers and the History of Rhetoric." Proceedings of the International Conference on Comparative Rhetoric: Asia and Western World, November 10th-12th, 2006, Korea University, Seoul, Rhetoric Society of Korea, 2006. 84-94.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. Mappings: Feminism and the Cultural Geographies of Encounter. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Glenn, Cheryl. Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1997.

Jensen, Katherine Ann. Writing Love: Letters, Women, and the Novel in France, 1605-1776. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1995.

Jordan-Young, Rebecca, and Raffaella I. Rumiati, "Hardwired for Sexism? Approaches to Sex/ Gender in Neuroscience." Neuroethics 5.3 (December 2012): 305-15. DOI: 10.1007/sl2152011-9134-4. Web.

Kennedy, George. Comparative Rhetoric: An Historical and Cross-cultural Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Lamy, Bernard. La Rhetorique ou Tart de parler, 4th edition, Amsterdam: 1699 [actually copy of the 3rd ed., Paris: 1688] Rept. Brighton: Sussex Reprints, 1969.

Leven de Templery, J. L'Eloquence du temps, enseignie a une dame de qualite selon les regies dune rhetorique aisee et galante: Et accornpagnee de quantite de bons mots et de pensees ingenieuses. Paris-Bruxelles, 1699.

Lunsford, Andrea. Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.

Mao, LuMing. "Doing Comparative Rhetoric Responsibly." Rhetoric Society Quarterly 41.1 (2011): 64-69. DOI: 10.1080/02773945.2010.533149. Web.

Ritchie, Joy, and Kate Ronald, eds. Available Means: An Anthology of Women's Rhetoric(s). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

--. Teaching Rhetorica: Theory, Pedagogy, Practice. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2006.

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

Schell, Eileen. "Gender, Rhetorics, and Globalization: Rethinking the Spaces and Locations of Feminist Rhetorics and Women's Rhetorics in Our Field." Teaching Rhetorica: Theory, Pedagogy, Practice. Eds. Kate Ronald and Joy Ritchie. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook Publishers, 2006.160-74.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. "Gosh, Boy George, You Must Be Awfully Secure in Your Masculinity." Constructing Masculinity. Eds. Maurice Berger, Brian Wallis and Simon Watson. New York: Routledge, 1996. 11-20.

Vandello, Joseph, and Jennifer Bosson, "Precarious Manhood." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 95.6 (2008): 1325-39. DOI: 10.1037/a0012453. Web.

West, Candace, and Don Zimmerman. "Doing Gender." Gender and Society 1.2 (June 1987): 125-51. DOI: 10.1177/0891243287001002002. Web.

Zoberman, Pierre, "Sevigne a Naxos ou La Nouvelle Herolde." Mander des bagatelles. Premiere annee de correspondance entre Mme de Sevigne et Mme de Grignan. Ed. Cecile Lignereux. Paris: Classiques Gamier, 2012. 45-57.


(1.) Along the lines, perhaps, of what Royster and Kirsch explored as feminist rhetorical practices, in the book which bears this title.

(2.) The fifth part was originally a separate treaty, L'Art de persuader, with little to distinguish it from the numerous treatises and textbooks of the time. First published in 1675, Lamy's treatise underwent considerable revisions over the course of several decades.

(3.) The publication in 1998 by George A. Kennedy, who played a role in the renewed interest in the study of rhetoric, of Comparative Rhetoric was, controversial as it reception may have been, one clear sign that the evidence of the tradition was called into question.

Liedeke Plate


Pierre Zoberman

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Author:Plate, Liedeke; Zoberman, Pierre
Article Type:Essay
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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