This oral history project features Fran and Priscilla, two women who, when younger, became pregnant outside of wedlock. In the 1950s, being pregnant, unmarried, and white was considered shameful, compelling many women to keep their pregnancies secret, “go away” to maternity or wage homes, and relinquish their children for adoption. The practice of hiding and surrendering was a common enough public secret that many people alive during these decades still remember “a girl who went away.” However, despite the ubiquity of these experiences, testimonies of hiding and surrender from the viewpoint of the mothers themselves remain scarce, and the larger history of this cultural phenomenon remains relatively misunderstood. As an intervention, this Story-Corps style interview enables Fran and Priscilla to share their stories of becoming pregnant, facing the reality of being pregnant and unmarried, experiencing labor, “choosing” adoption, and dealing with the loss of a relinquished child. Presented here in a version that combines the audio recording from their interview with a transcription and music, this piece invites listeners and viewers to encounter these mothers’ stories in their own words.
The Farmer’s Wife or TFW (1906-1939) was the only periodical to cater specifically to rural women during its publication run. Given its title, its content, and its beginnings as a “ladies supplement,” this periodical is easily conflated with other mass-circulation ladies’ magazines, such as The Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. Certainly TFW emphasizes women's role as homemakers, but it also pushes that rhetoric beyond its typical bounds to position farm women as both laborers and goods producers. Although scholars studying the magazine have done much to recover it as part of agrarian history, they have overlooked this aspect of its message, and as a result they have not considered TFW in conversation with modernist labor periodicals. This project addresses that oversight by juxtaposing TFW with the socialist periodical The Masses (1911-1917) and bringing TFW to the attention of feminist rhetorical studies. The interactive timeline showcases issues covered by both publications during 1916, a time of great uncertainty for US workers. By exploring the rhetoric of TFW within the larger conversation of labor-oriented modernist periodicals, this project expands definitions of the genre not only to include a rural-focused women’s publication but also to foreground the importance of this woman-centric magazine and its reader-contributors to a distinct rhetoric of labor.
This project analyzes Aurora Mardiganian, an Armenian-American historical figure who at age fourteen survived the Armenian Genocide. It is estimated that 1.5 million men, women, and children died at the ands of the Turkish government during this genocide (1915-1918). Mardiganian not only witnessed mass killings but also experienced sexual violence before emigrating to the United States in 1916. Once there her affluent sponsors, motivated by the lucrative promotional opportunities her survival story presented, published her memoir Auction of Souls (1918). They also produced a silent-film adaptation, Ravished Armenia (1919), with Mardiganian starring in the film and reenacting her own survival. Both the movie and book were distributed across the United States and England to critical acclaim. However, Mardiganian was re-traumatized by the publicity and attempted suicide before she was able to remove herself from her sponsors. Using Wendy Hesford’s theory of the “Human Rights Spectacle” (2011), this project conceptualizes “Aurora” as a sign in a networked community or an artifact interpreted across a network of arguments pertaining to war and global identity building. As such, this analysis offers a feminist recovery effort that aims to better understand how she emerged as a transnational figure for influencing early twentieth-century Western geopolitical initiatives. In doing so, this project asks: Can it be said that, through the publicity that surrounded her, Aurora exerted a distributed rhetorical agency that has yet to be accounted for? Can it be said that Aurora—as a gendered sign of transnationalism—eventually held influence over the nations that exploited her?
This project examines the patterns of historic discourse that enabled the continued presence of brothel-based sex work in rural Wallace, Idaho, from 1884-1991. Specifically, it considers how community values are negotiated through small talk and storytelling powerful enough to create and change local culture. Well into the twentieth century, Wallace’s underground economy functioned much as it had during the silver mining camp days before Idaho became a state. The town’s vice district survived Progressive Era reform, the War Department’s national social hygiene crusade, and the economic depression of the 1930s, doing booming business in sex work tourism throughout World War II. By the mid-1950s the town had settled into a comfortable holding pattern: residents elected only government leaders who allowed the continued functioning of the sex industry, and they drove away advocates of reform. Aside from a brief shutdown in 1973, when state government officials tried to intervene, Wallace’s illegal yet decriminalized and regulated brothels remained a famous open secret. These practices continued until 1991, when the final house closed its doors just weeks before 150 FBI agents raided the area. As the town transitioned from selling sex to selling the past (even re-branding itself as “Historic Wallace”), its women continued to influence the community’s identity. By examining this influence, “Open Secret” illuminates the dynamics of collective invention and identity that occur across time and space, revealing the ethical and social codes that helped maintain a century-long period of sex work in one isolated mountain town.
In Feminist Rhetorical Practices (2012), Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch argue that current feminist scholarship has moved from questions centered on recovery and the public/private divide to more elaborate inquiries into the social circulation of ideas and global networks of practice. This project traces these developments in feminist scholarship over the past decade, focusing on work published in six leading journals in rhetoric and composition:College Composition and Communication; College English; Rhetoric Society Quarterly; Computers and Composition; Kairos; and Rhetoric Review. In doing so, this overview extends the work begun by Elizabeth Tasker and Frances B. Holt-Underwood, who conducted a similar review of feminist scholarship published between the 1970s and 2006. Concentrating on the past ten years, this project demonstrates we are indeed at a moment of great research growth and invention. While our field’s major journals continue to publish projects that recover women’s voices in alternative traditions and spaces, they also present scholarship that expands the rhetorical tradition by excavating its archives for histories of rhetorical production. This project also reveals the discernible growth of new methods and methodologies guiding this work, particularly digital and global ones. Marking the digital-global turn as a still-emerging site of engagement for feminist scholars in rhetoric and composition, this overview confirms Royster and Kirsh’s call to feminist researchers, underscoring the importance of continuing to seek creative and critical modes of engagement with new media and new geographies.
This piece challenges the persistent exclusion of Middle Eastern women from histories of rhetoric by celebrating the contributions Lebanese and Arab feminists made to Lebanese feminist discourse and contemporary transnational rhetorics through a Lebanese feminist journal published during the 1970s and 80s. Al-Raida was introduced in 1976 by the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World at the Lebanese American University. Rose Ghurayyib, its editor for the first decade, published articles that focused on women’s issues in Lebanon and the Middle East, such as family planning and development. She included biographies of Lebanese and Middle Eastern women under a section titled “Pioneers,” highlighting their accomplishments across a wide range of disciplines and locations—including Lebanon, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. By doing so, Ghurayyib situated the journal within the larger historical context of women’s contributions to Middle Eastern cultural formations. To demonstrate how these biographies contributed to that goal, this project situates them on a timeline that extends from the 1860s to the 1980s and features four spheres of influence: (1) journals and writing; (2) education and social context; (3) women’s organized public movements; and (4) women’s political participation and representation. Taken together, the timeline, biographies, and journal issues offer a multimodal historiographic strategy for doing more than recovering these women’s contributions and that of Al-Raida; they also invite feminist scholars to begin to consider the interrelationship between Middle Eastern feminist movements, considered in their local contexts, and larger transnational feminist conversations.
This workshop reimagines the rhetoric of queer consent by teaching what Jonathan Alexander in Literacy, Sexuality, Pedagogy calls “sexual literacy” (2008). Since the beginning of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s in the United States, a bevy of brilliant sex educators, activists, and theorists have given increased attention to how to practice sexual consent. Yet, in spite of this increased attention, an emphasis on sexual danger still pervades popular discourse on consent. Certainly, feminist and LGBTQ communities have had difficulty reconciling sex-positive approaches with feminist theories and histories of anti-violence activism. In addition, community-based research rarely speaks sufficiently to boundaries and limits, disclosure and risk, or desire and need, limiting conversations about sexual consent to the dry processes and documents of institutional review and informed consent. For example, despite revised guidelines applying to all federally funded universities, these guidelines do little to teach students how to practice consent as more than a moment of negotiating permission for access. Yet consent is an embodied process and a set of teachable practices. Starting from this point of critical recognition, this workshop uses the methodologies of self- and community education common in LGBTQ communities to teach consent in a way that has the potential to transform how rhetoric and writing studies approaches consent in research, teaching, and community work.
On December 13, 2013, pop singer Beyoncé Knowles “broke the Internet” with the unannounced midnight release of her self-titled visual album Beyoncé. The album’s themes of sexual pleasure, motherhood, and feminism inspired feminists, particularly Black feminists, to weigh in through blog posts and online articles as to whether or not Beyoncé could be a feminist. Despite dissent among the bloggers, their posts worked together to form an “online community of practice” not a “war” as the media suggested. This project seeks to better understand the unique opportunity the blogosphere provided these women to have a collective conversation across diverse geographic and ideological boundaries before an extensive audience. It examines twenty-seven blog posts and online articles about Beyoncé and feminism authored by Black women from December 13, 2013 to January 31, 2014. Placing their writing in conversation makes it possible to explore their shared framework and modes of collective rhetorical production. In particular, bloggers’ citation practices and their displays of embodied knowledge establish a continuum of “academic” and “homegrown” feminism drawn from lived experience, and commentary along this continuum fosters a digital community built on both assent and dissent. Analyzing this process, this project hows how bloggers called each other to task explicitly and implicitly on issues of feminism and Black female identity in the United States. It also reveals how they used the blogosphere to articulate a collective investment in the advancement of Black women and girls.
From 1922 to 1996, Ireland operated the controversial Magdalen laundries where women who were deemed fallen or otherwise undesirable were assigned as penitents. In 2011, the United Nations Committee Against Torture urged the Irish government to respond to claims of injustice centered on these laundries. Finally, on February 19, 2013 Taoiseach Enda Kenny issued an apology stating: [Y]ou took this country’s terrible ‘secret’ and made it your own… but from this moment on you need carry it no more. Because today we take it back.” While the Taoiseach’s official apology is a move toward redress, the implied usurpation of taking back “the secret” actually cripples the agency of Magdalen’s survivors. This project resituates the state apology within a rhetoric of reconciliation in order to examine its impact both in general and alongside a variety of other texts, including the Irish Constitution, calls from the group “Justice of Magdalenes,” and Christine de Pizan’s Book of the City of Ladies. Ultimately, this analysis engages voices of the past to gauge, on behalf of feminist scholars, the rhetorical implications of the apology and the rhetorical agency it does and does not afford the Magdalen’s survivors.
This project, as a work of revisionist history and gender disruption, calls attention to the memoirs of two crossdressing women soldiers and spies active in the American Civil War. Both Sarah Emma Edmonds, author of Nurse and Spy in the Union Army (1864), and Loreta Janeta Velazquez, author of The Woman in Battle (1876), describe their experiences at length in their memoirs. Their accounts are exciting, but they offer more than sensational stories; they also participate in a transgender rhetorical tradition that, as Jonathan Alexander explains in “Trangender Rhetorics,” works to “create cracks in the monolithic structure of gender identity” (53). While it would be anachronistic to label Edmonds and Velazquez “transgender” per se, their memoirs illustrate a historical spectrum of sex and gender possibilities. They show how, as Marjorie Garber observes in Vested Interests, without a trained eye many tend “to look through rather than at the cross-dresser . . . [to] subsume that figure within one of the two traditional genders” (9). In describing their desires to crossdress, their transformations, and their satisfaction in performing roles previously denied to them, Edmonds and Velazquez effectively challenged the male/female binary of their era, and by going public with their experiences, they invite readers past and present to interrogate socially constructed understandings of gender.