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Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History.

Any review of a volume with contents that spread as widely across academic disciplines and historical periods as Gender Rhetorics serves best by listing the book's contents and suggesting the extent of the articles' relationship to each other. Richard Trexler has gathered thirteen contributions, revised from papers presented at a conference of the same title at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1990. In a section titled "Foundations" are included: Frans B. M. deWaal, "The Relations between Power and Sex in the Simians: Socio-Sexual Appeasement Gestures"; David N. DeVries, "Fathers and Sons: Patristic Exegesis and the Castration Complex"; and Ramon A. Gutierrez, "A Gendered History of the Conquest of America: A View from New Mexico." In "State Forms and Male Genders" are: Edward Muir, "The Double Binds of Manly Revenge in Renaissance Italy"; Carlin Barton, "All Things Beseem the Victor: Paradoxes of Masculinity in Early Imperial Rome"; and Linda L. Carroll, "Machiavelli's Veronese Prostitute: Venetia Figurata?" In the section on "War and Female Genders" appear: Cecelia F. Klein, "Fighting with Femininity: Gender and War in Aztec Mexico"; and Helen Ostovich, "'Teach you our princess English?' Equivocal Translation of the French in Henry V." The portion devoted to "Gender Assignments" includes: Patricia Simons, "Alert and Erect: Masculinity in Some Italian Renaissance Portraits of Fathers and Sons"; and Cristelle L. Baskins, "Corporeal Authority in the Speaking Picture: The Representation of Lucretia in Tuscan Domestic Painting." A final section, titled "Gender Reconstructions," includes: Valerie Hotchkiss, "Gender Transgression and the Abandoned Wife in Medieval Literature"; Jennifer Fisk Rondeau, "Prayer and Gender in the Laude of Early Italian Confraternities"; and Lisa Celovsky, "Pyrocles' Warlike Peace: Sir Philip Sidney and Androgyny."

The volume's strength and its weakness alike lie in the breadth of its inclusions, which, as their titles make clear, extend from anthropological studies of hominoids to Renaissance representations of contemporary codpieces. The studies' variety attests to the liveliness of the conference that produced it but leaves the reader to wonder what the discussions between sessions and after the final presentation must have been like. The safest conclusion seems extremely limited: the study of gender in academia today is ubiquitous. Trexler comments at the close of his introduction, in which he valiantly attempts to summarize each inclusion, "it is a worthwhile parting question to ask if making believe dominates, or is subordinate to gendering" (14). Indeed, it may have been a worthwhile opening question to ask if we understand the past more clearly if we adhere so rigorously to gender as a rhetorical device that we make believe its diachronic dominance over the social contexts that have constructed it.

The text of Gender Dominance is marred by frequent typographic errors including, disconcertingly, "hpow" for "how" on the first page of the introduction and by the occasional omission of lines, such as at the foot of page sixteen. Despite its shortcomings, however, this volume is rewarding for the vivid sense it offers general academic readers of contemporary discussion in fields outside their specialties, for occasional delightfully mordant moments (such as David DeVries on the "dispute between Princeton's priestly professorial class and the Ithacan heretics"), and for fine illustrations of bonobos, Aztec sculpture, and Renaissance painting.

Carol Neel The Colorado College
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Author:Neel, Carol
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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