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Composition Forum 29, Spring 2014
http://compositionforum.com/issue/29/

Feminist Rhetorical Studies—Past, Present, Future: An Interview with Cheryl Glenn

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Jessica Enoch

Abstract: In this interview, Jess Enoch talks with Cheryl Glenn about her professional career as a leading scholar in feminist rhetorical studies. Through their exchange, Cheryl discusses the emergence of feminist historiography in our field; she identifies important trends in feminist research, and she pinpoints areas of scholarship that feminist rhetoricians might continue to explore. They conclude the interview with Cheryl underscoring the importance of feminist community building, collaboration, and mentorship.

This interview with Cheryl Glenn could have moved in a number of directions, for as a scholar, teacher, mentor, and administrator, Cheryl contributes significantly to many, maybe even most, of our field’s major conversations. Surely, we might have talked about Cheryl’s scholarly productivity. As an author of four books and two on the way, Cheryl is a model of scholarly production and intellectual engagement. Or, we might have talked about Cheryl’s thoughts on rhetoric and composition pedagogy. As an author of over ten rhetorics and handbooks, as a winner of six teaching awards, and as the director of the writing program at Penn State, which recently earned the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) Writing Program Certificate of Excellence, Cheryl surely has contributed significantly to the teaching of writing at both the local and national levels. Or, we might have talked about Cheryl’s leadership in the field. As a chair of CCCC and founder of the Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, the Feminist Workshop at CCCCs, the Center for Democratic Deliberation at Penn State, Southern Illinois University Press’s Feminisms and Rhetorics book series, as well as Penn State Press’s Center for Democratic Deliberation book series, Cheryl has taken on critically important leadership positions and directed the field’s attention to new ideas in the process. Taking a slightly different perspective on Cheryl’s leadership style, we could have centered this interview on her mentorship of graduate students. Six of the graduate students from Penn State with whom she has worked have won nationally recognized dissertation and writing awards. While all of these possibilities would make for a fabulous interview, and while we do indeed touch on many of these topics below, Cheryl and I decided to focus this interview on her work as a feminist scholar of rhetoric. Here, we talk together about how she’s seen this particular scholarly area grow and change throughout her career and where she hopes the field might go.

Jess Enoch: Let’s talk first about the status of feminist rhetorical studies when you entered it.

Cheryl Glenn: When I entered graduate school at Ohio State in the early 1980s, feminist rhetorical studies was just getting started—in English, Speech, and Linguistics Departments. We often didn’t know what the other department researchers were doing, and we surely did not have a concept of a feminist rhetorician. Maybe a decade before I started studying, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell was working on feminist rhetoric, referring to it as an oxymoron, and, by the time I was in rhetorical studies, she was collecting with her graduate students women’s oratorical displays—a project that resulted in the two-volume Man Cannot Speak for Her (which eventually published in 1989). In sociolinguistics, Cheris Rae Kramer (not yet Cheris Kramerae) had been, in the 1970s, teaching us the difference between how males and females used language, and to what effect. Because I went into English Studies planning to continue my study of linguistics and sociolinguistics, I was keeping up with Kramer’s work in particular, and I became increasingly interested in the ways women and men used language differently. When I turned to rhetorical studies, I immediately wondered where the crossovers might be.

Portrait of Cheryl Glenn

JE: Could you talk about the graduate work or scholarly experiences that helped you initiate the work that eventually became your first book, Rhetoric Retold?

CG: I remember sitting in my first rhetoric seminar, “The History of Rhetoric,” led by Edward P.J. Corbett. Krista Ratcliffe, Jeanne Weaver, Molly Travis, Jerry Nelms, Jaime Mej├Ča, Roxanne Mountford—we were all in that seminar, sweating our way through Aristotle, Plato, and the pseudo-Cicero (Rhetorica ad Herennium), Blair, Whately, and Campbell. Much of the reading was fascinating, but once we got to the eighteenth century, we were all just slogging. No doubt given my background in sociolinguistics, I wondered about women’s participation in rhetoric. I remember raising my hand to ask Mr. Corbett if we were going to study any women in the history of rhetoric. The room became quiet—quieter than usual—while we awaited his answer. He thought. And thought. He was pretty sure there weren’t any women in rhetoric, save Chaim Pereleman’s co-author, L. Olbrechts-Tyteca, whose first name Corbett didn’t know but remembered that she was indeed a woman. But then he thought some more. We all sat silently. Pretty soon he announced that maybe there was a rhetoric of the body. He suggested that Tina Turner, with all her amazing—and persuasive—dance moves, might be a good subject of study. We all laughed and then went back to Bishop Whately.

Perhaps because we’d all been told that there were no women in rhetoric, except of course for “L.” Olbrechts-Tyteca, I found myself determined to establish at least “one” woman in rhetoric (maybe even more than one). After all, I loved rhetorical studies, desired to be part of it, and I guess it was my desire that provoked me to find a rhetorical foremother. The “Lucia” erasure turned into an experiment of sorts: I needed to find out if anyone knew that there was indeed a woman rhetorician in our history—one in plain sight but obscured by her uninterrogated initial. So, whenever I attended a conference or we had a guest speaker, I always asked them if they knew what the “L.” in Obrects-Tyteca stood for. No one had an answer—not Corbett and not the intellectual figures I was coming to know, such as Bob Connors, Andrea Lunsford, Richard Marius, Lisa Ede, or anyone else until I heard Barbara Warnock (I think it was) give a talk on Lucia in the early 1990s. For some reason, raising the question about Lucia’s redacted name was a beacon that drew me forward.

Despite the field’s broad lack of interest in the topic of women in rhetoric, a small group of us managed to start a women-in-rhetoric cabal. At the time, I was working as Andrea Lunsford’s research assistant, and Jan Swearingen had sent Andrea a piece she was working on about a woman-rhetor in antiquity, which Andrea shared with me. I was invigorated when I realized that I wasn’t the lone English scholar thinking about the role of women in rhetoric. And I soon came to know that there were more of us. By the late 1980s, I learned about Spelman’s Jackie Royster, who was co-editing a fabulous journal focusing on Black American Feminism, Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, and working to recover the black-activist and rhetor Ida B. Wells (Royster’s Southern Horrors would appear a decade later). I also heard about the work of Shirley Wilson Logan, who was building the anthology of black female activists that would eventually appear as the 1995 With Pen and Voice.

About that same time (mid- to late-1980s), rumor was that Rensselaer’s American literary feminist Annette Kolodny had been asked by the graduate students to lead a two-semester seminar on “Women Rhetoricians.” In that course, Arabella Lyon, Jenny Redfern, and Joann Campbell were initiating fresh studies of female rhetoricians, such as Suzanne Langer, Christine de Pisan, and Gertrude Buck. It was then that I realized that a feminist rhetorical underground was beginning to form. A number of us, including Susan Jarratt, Swearingen, and Royster, wanted to go “underground” with them, so we conducted research on Margery Kempe, Diotima, Aspasia, and Wells. With Andrea as our editor, we had a collection, Reclaiming Rhetorica, a groundbreaking text that was published in 1995.

JE: It sounds like it was an exciting time, but it also must have felt risky. You were a graduate student trying to establish yourself in a field with scholarship on figures many people didn’t even believe existed or were valid for study.

CG: It was both risky and exciting. Few of the powerful rhetorical scholars at the time (Edward Corbett, Rich Enos, George Kennedy, James Kinneavy, James Murphy) showed any interest, let alone belief, in the idea that women had played a notable role in rhetorical history. They were not especially encouraging, but—I should also be clear here—these established scholars did not stand in our way. Instead, they came to our sessions and asked penetrating questions. I decided that the best tack I could take would be to reach out to each of those men and ask them for help. Every single one of them gave me cautionary advice as well as fruitful paths to explore, with Rich Enos being particularly supportive in terms of providing materials. At that time, I felt anxious (just as your question implies) to the point of being fearful that I’d never get a dissertation then a book out of my area of focus. But I was not paralyzed. I knew that if I could finish a “signable” dissertation that I would be nurturing a specific discipline, feminist rhetorics! As I look back, I am proud that we young scholars continued on our path. Now, it’s clear that ours was a risk with a tremendous payoff.

JE: Since you and the other feminist scholars you mention were really forging a new path in rhetorical studies, could talk about your initial methods and methodologies and how you came to conduct new kinds of research? I think this point is especially important for Composition Forum readers since many of us build our work on the methodological foundation you all established.

CG: At first, our stories were solitary presentations: “I’m going to tell you about Aspasia, Margaret Fuller, Jerena Lee, etc.” They were teeny stories, but terrific inroads into what would become a new discipline.

Those stories now feel thin because they didn’t gauge much (if any) contribution to or intervention into rhetorical studies, meaning that they didn’t really change how our audience would understand rhetorical theory or practice. We needed to establish these women as rhetors before we could even begin to think about how the terms of rhetoric themselves might change through the process of recovering different figures. Nevertheless, those stories were fascinating at the time because they offered us new narratives with new characters; they described in detail women’s participation in rhetoric. These stories also helped us establish a range of women’s rhetorical practices, and we began to see what they had in common, if only “gold to airy thinness beat.”

The greatest hurdle that emerging feminist rhetorical scholars like me faced was that we were not yet consciously using the practices of historiography to our advantage. We were using traditional research methods and traditional methodologies—rhetorical analysis, new historicism, just to name two—but these traditional methods and methodologies often came up short for us. They continued to reveal how women’s rhetorical patterns mapped on to the rhetorical, patriarchal tradition we already knew. Traditional methods and methodologies also prompted us to judge potential women rhetors as somehow inadequate, as not quite making the grade.

I remember, for instance, being profoundly disappointed that I could find no primary works of Aspasia. How could I argue that she was a rhetorician if I had no primary materials? Cindy Selfe tried to help me, giving me a copy of a short investigation she’d done as a graduate student at Texas-Austin for James Kinneavy. Her work on Aspasia nudged me more deeply into secondary materials, which provided me much more contextual information into which I could place Aspasia and her influence. With her help, I was feeling slightly more confident about my project and my research methods, but it wasn’t until I lamented to Theresa Enos about the “lacks” in my methods that I was able to establish a firm foothold for how to proceed. You see, when she heard me complain that I could not locate primary sources for Aspasia, Theresa pronounced—in no uncertain terms—“We have no primary materials for Socrates, either.” I was ready to forge ahead.

I realized that many of the reasons why we thought we couldn’t write women into rhetorical history were imagined constraints or what Kenneth Burke would call “trained incapacities.” Aspasia could be recovered as a rhetorician only when I began to interrogate the historiographic moves and sexist beliefs that had dismissed her in the first place. Suddenly, I realized that Socrates’, Aristotle’s, or Cicero’s historiographers, for instance, didn’t have to start from a place of interrogation, but we feminist historiographers did.

That moment with Theresa helped me to see that I needed to be critically imaginative in my approach and rethink my trained incapacities. I had to question not just the trained incapacity of valuing primary sources but so many of the practices that defined—and determined!—rhetorical research. The first thing I had to do was redefine rhetoric. Maybe it wasn’t just the public art of persuasion. What if we imagined the calculus of rhetoric as follows: “Who can/not speak? What can/not be said? Who can/will (refuses to) listen? What can those listeners do?” In other words, who might appear if I rethought the definition of a rhetor? Did she have to speak in public? Did she need to speak agonistically? Did she have to garner massive audiences?

When I started asking these questions and troubling the idea that rhetoric and the rhetor were always public, male, agonistic, and persuasive, I began to get somewhere. Only then was I able to look differently and more deeply at what women throughout history were doing privately, among women, in letters, in cookbooks, and in gynecological and midwifery guides. I started to see that women had rhetorical power—it was just a different kind, often delivered in a different way. I suspected as much; our whole group of underground feminist rhetoricians suspected as much. We just had to find a way to prove it.

JE: Your published scholarship (and the scholarship of other members of your feminist cohort) is obviously evidence of the ways you worked to shape rhetorical studies. Could you talk, though, about any particularly significant moments of intervention that are not recorded in your scholarly texts? In other words, can you identify a transformative moment that might not otherwise be remembered?

CG: One particular event stands out to me because it underscores how feminist scholarship and intervention often emerged as a response. The event I’m recalling was a rhetoric supersession at the 1998 CCCC in St. Louis entitled “The Greatest Rhetorician Who Ever Lived.” Now this was a special event unto itself because rhetorical history was still making its way into composition studies and CCCCs. But the turnout for this session was tremendous, as speakers from Barbara Johnstone and Rich Enos to Dennis McCutchen and Roger Cherry debated whether rhetorician X or Y should be crowned as such.

I listened to speaker after speaker praise man after man. Excitement was high, and I leaned over to the woman seated next to me, “Where are the women?” (I’m beginning to think that “Where are the women?” may be my mantra!) After the event, I talked with members of our underground, telling them about the fabulous session and drumming up support for a feminist response. For the 1989 CCCC in Seattle, I organized a roundtable entitled the “The Greatest Female Orator Ever.”

At that next CCCCs, we repeated the St. Louis experience by presenting to a packed room of folks interested in rhetoric. We were thrilled that so many people came out, especially given the fact that, unlike the previous year’s supersession, ours was listed as a SIG—a Special Interest Group of Women Rhetoricians, who were meeting on Friday evening. (I feel sure that our SIG was the kernel that eventually popped into the Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition.) Each of us presented our nomination for the greatest female orator. Andrea was the chair, and historian and writer Richard Marius (Harvard) was associate chair (which meant he added gravitas to the occasion, I guess.) I nominated Aspasia; Jenny Redfern, Christine de Pisan; C. Jan Swearingen, Inez de la Cruz; Robert Connors, Angelina Grimke; Drema Lipscomb-Burnett, Sojourner Truth; Arabella Lyon, Susanne Langer; Lisa Ede, Lucia Olbrechts-Tyteca; and Suzanne Clark, Julia Kristeva.

So it was that 1988 supersession on the greatest male rhetorician that gave us yet another exigency to continue our work. One year later, we feminist scholars came together to respond to the previous year’s session by offering our own petitions for “Greatest Orator.” Our group of feminist scholars may have started small and underground, but we surfaced quickly and proudly. Most importantly, though, we had begun to garner a critical mass of interested listeners—an audience!—many of whom soon became feminist researchers themselves.

JE: I know another major scholarly and interventionist moment for you must have been your collaboration with Lisa Ede to hold the first Feminisms and Rhetorics conference in 1997. We both recently returned from the 9th biennial conference in Stanford. How have you seen the field change over the course of these almost twenty years? How would you assess where feminist scholarship is at the present moment?

CG: Other than that inaugural conference that Lisa and I put together in Oregon, the Stanford iteration was the first conference I’ve attended in a long time during which I attended every single time slot. I couldn’t attend all the sessions I wanted to attend, but I attended one session every slot. Like the inaugural conference, this most recent one was truly invigorating. (Well, all the Feminisms and Rhetorics conferences are invigorating—but I seem to remember these two bookends the best.)

What was exciting about the Stanford conference was the breadth of papers—everything from gendered space in museums to gendering the archive and from women in college sports and science to women who speak in languages other an English. I think about the panel you and Cristina Ramirez did on your bilingual anthology-in-progress that collects the work of Latina rhetors. That was fantastic because through that project you’re introducing mainly English-speaking scholars to women historically and around the world who didn’t speak English but who were feminist rhetors nonetheless. Your work exposes our field’s monolingualism and how that too has disenabled us from valuing non-English speaking women’s rhetorical significance.

I also find especially provocative the work that revolves around women’s bodies as sites of rhetorical production and controversy—how women were expected to present themselves; where women were able to go; what women were able to do. All of these features continue to be generative, revealing, and, as I said, provocative. I’m thinking of the scholarship of Carol Mattingly, Lindal Buchanan, Heather Adams, Berit van der Lippe, Kimberly Owens, Carolyn Skinner, Wendy Hayden, Kimberly Harrison, as well as many of the books that Shirley and I have published in our Studies in Rhetoric and Feminism. (I’d like to think that Shirley and I are contributing to the development of the discipline of feminist rhetorics, especially since our book series continues to boom.) Back in the 1970s, activist women such as Adrienne Rich, Tillie Olsen, and Mary Daly (just to name a few and elide far too many) wrote and spoke about women’s bodies as sites of political action—and inaction. These women knew women’s social, political, literary, economic, legal, and educational history; these women knew well—and tried to alert us—that women’s bodies are usually sites of domination of some kind. Their hope was that women’s bodies could become sites of liberation, and they supplied us with a multitude of good reasons for making them so. If women’s bodies were truly equal with those of men’s, then ours would be a much different, a liberated world. The contemporary scholars I just mentioned are helping us re-member our bodies and then re-imagine our shared future.

Many feminist rhetorical scholars are also regularly tapping materialist feminism, and they’re exploring the material conditions that are necessary for a woman or anyone in the subaltern to compose and then circulate their work. What are those material conditions? What resources and constraints do they have? We’re really considering that issue now. And that’s a huge methodological change from reading about Plato, Cicero and Quintilian, and Blair, Whately, and Campbell—all of whom had people to help and support their composition and circulation.

JE: This kind of work also, in many ways, prompts us to circle back and think about the composing and circulation practices for people like Plato and Cicero, no? I imagine that’s one of the real interventions for feminist rhetorical studies is that we can turn these more radical questions and concerns back on traditional texts and authors to see them differently too.

CG: Yes. I think this is a critically important and generative way of thinking about feminist scholarship; in other words, feminist scholarship isn’t intended to be used only for the recovery and recuperation of female rhetorical figures. We can use feminist questions to rethink traditional topics (argument and ethos, for instance), people (private and public), and time periods (past and present). In this particular case of investigating material conditions, feminist methodologies not only prompt us to read traditional ancient texts but to contextualize those texts, to allow ourselves the luxury of sinking into studies of ancient Greek and ancient Roman life more generally, and to think about the roles (and material conditions) for people of various socioeconomic classes (citizens, citizen-class, working poor, slave, and so on). Through such a process, we can more clearly see what it took to make it into history books, rhetorical treatises, and so on. The more we understand about the rhetorical context, the better we understand how the privileges of birth automatically ensure education, wealth, mobility, a measure of respect, and the possibility of being remembered for posterity. People born to the manor (to use a cliché) had the only real chance from the get-go. Women, children, slaves, and other “lesser” humans were paid little attention, let alone celebrated, in recorded history. We have to keep these facts in mind: we cannot think that women and “others” were not using rhetoric persuasively; after all, they are humans. What we can think, though, is that whatever they did was not deemed important enough to record for posterity. Only a few survived, which is why we must read all the extant ancient materials—from artwork and plays to treatises and documents—for mentions of what “others” were doing and saying. We feminist rhetorical scholars can put together those historical shards to form a picture of what the others did, when they succeeded, how they were received. Often what we discover is much more positive (think Aspasia) than we initially imagined.

JE: Before I interrupted you, you were identifying areas of cutting-edge feminist scholarship. Do you have any other research trajectories you’d like to mention?

CG: Well, I’m also really impressed with how feminist scholars are thinking about women’s rhetorical effects and the ways women are affected by rhetorical power. Scholars such as bell hooks, Ann Dalke, and Carolyn Heilbrun are considering their pedagogical effects: how do we affect our students? And other scholars are interrogating the rhetorical effects of certain types of legislation. Heather Adams in particular is studying Title IX legislation, and as her work makes clear, it’s critical for us to remember that Title IX was started not just for women to get involved in sports but so that high school girls who had become pregnant could finish their education. This legislation had real effects on the female body, the pregnant body, the athletic body, the competitive body, and so on. The rhetorical effects of the legislation have been extraordinary in terms of female bodies and opportunity: young pregnant women are permitted to complete their education and, if possible, move ahead in their lives. Young women are permitted to play sports, to use their bodies competitively and publicly. Both of these examples are of females’ public bodies. No longer silent, chaste, or enclosed—as they’ve been for millennia.

I also think about how scholars are continuing to look creatively at and rethink definitions of rhetorical power. Laura Brown, a dissertation student at Penn State, is working to uncover and examine women of the 1960s and early 70s who were active in the Civil Rights Movement but who have not yet been written into the movement. She’s thinking specifically about the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s sit-in. Women at a small women’s college organized the sit-in but men from North Carolina State A&M were the ones who embodied it. Laura’s interviewing those women, and she’s working to recover how these women worked behind the scenes to enact a different kind of rhetorical power than that we already recognize.

JE: I certainly agree with you that there’s so much interesting work being done right now. What, though, aren’t we focusing on? What areas do you think feminist scholars should develop?

CG: In the U.S., feminist rhetorical work is mostly focused on provincial, i.e., national concerns. Too few scholars are working internationally and transnationally, though Wendy Hesford and Eileen Schell are certainly doing so (and some others). Still, the winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Africans Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Tawakkul Kiraman, and Leymah Gbowee, as well as Pakastani Malala Yousafzai, winner of the 2013 International Children’s Peace Prize, should be attracting our sustained scholarly attention.

JE: Could you tell us a bit about Malala Yousafzai’s rhetorical significance?

CG: Sure. Of course, those aforementioned African women have contributed—in actions and words—to a non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building. And Malala Yousafzai, a teenager, who has distinguished herself in this struggle, is following in their footsteps. In October 2012, Malala was one of several schoolgirls who were shot by the Taliban for advocating education for girls. They were regular students whose school had been shut down by the Taliban. For two years, they were not permitted an education, and it was during this time that Malala realized how very important schooling was to her. So she and her girlfriends got together and started speaking out on YouTube. They gave a string of talks on the value of education for everyone, especially for girls. For speaking out, these girls were shot while riding on the bus, on the way home from their reopened school.

Malala was injured most severely. She could have easily died from the shot to her head, but she did not. She was stabilized in Pakistan for two days, before being life-flighted to London. After grueling operations that essentially rebuilt her entire skull, she announced that any feelings of weakness, fear, and hopelessness she ever had had—over the course of her surgeries and recovery—been replaced by strength, power, courage—and, I would add, rhetorical-political prowess. This young girl is an agent of change! She’s spoken before the United Nations’ Children’s Foundation and is now speaking all around the world. She and her parents now live in England, since they cannot return to Pakistan. Although she wishes she and her family could return to Pakistan, she realizes that their lives would be in danger there. So she’s taken the brave steps to emigrate and to continue to speak up and out about the importance of human rights, girls’ rights, and educational rights.

Feminist scholars should appreciate and study Malala’s bravery and her rhetorical abilities. Not only has she entered the public sphere—despite death threats—but she has also spoken into it for the good, not just of herself, but rather, and as she says, “for boys and girls everywhere.” Here’s an articulate young woman, speaking out for educational rights and safety. That’s all she wants: to go to school.

But there are other international women, in addition to global prize winners, who also deserve our attention, particularly those who successfully embody leadership. I think about Angela Markel, the chancellor of Germany, who speaks strongly, kindly, and always pointedly. We just have to look at her rhetorical performance after discovering that the U.S. was following her cell phone activity and how she nailed Obama on it right away. Christine Lagarde, a French leader who also serves as head of the International Monetary Fund, recently appeared on American television and spoke eloquently, calmly—very calmly—about what the U.S. federal shutdown was doing to the world financial market. The modes of delivery that these women employ seem so different to me from that of most male leaders. These women have a unique way of embodying their strength and their intellect, in that their bodies are constrained in ways that might initially seem to be typically feminine. Yet, on further notice, one can easily see how they have translated their constraint into what might be perceived as a typically masculine way of handling unsettling information—except that these women remain calm, plainspoken, direct, and always, always brilliantly informed.

JE: As you’ve been responding to the last strand of questions, I’ve noticed two points. First, it’s interesting that you say that your way into feminist rhetorical studies was to look away from public, political and aristocratic and now because there are more women on the political stage you’re looking to women in public office. And second, it seems as if you’re encouraging scholars to turn their attention from the past to the present moment to study women writing and speaking now.

CG: That’s a good observation, and I hadn’t seen how I was circling around, yet, now that I do, I think it makes sense. We’re no longer constrained by researching the public, political, and virile—we now have opportunities for researching up and down, across, and around socioeconomic strata, both here and abroad. The fact that more women and more nonwhite men have entered the public sphere gives us many more options for recognizing and evaluating rhetorical performances and contributions. Ours will be a much richer and complex discipline for it, for the energizing quality of those varieties.

That said, I don’t see the feminist rhetorical move into contemporary public and global spheres as necessarily separate from the research that initiated feminist scholarship in the first place. I think that it’s only by researching those women who enacted rhetorical significance in private or through texts not deemed significant that we are able to build a roadmap for locating both public and private, powerful and not-so-influential, political and religious women, both U.S. and international. Still, we need to always be thinking about the range of research practices and subjects that we keep in circulation so that all of our students and all of our profession see a continuum and understand that women—and men—at all levels, in all kinds of spaces—from secret and private to public and mediated—have the capacity to use rhetoric ethically, persuasively, and ultimately effectively. They’re all entering the rhetorical sphere, albeit in different ways.

JE: Could you respond to the present moment point? Why are you emphasizing the present moment rather than historical ones?

CG: Again, I think we should be working in both epochs—we should be looking at the present and throughout that imaginary continuum we refer to as history. It’s not an either-or question. But I do see that now more women, both in the U.S. and around the world, have moved into the public sphere, often the political sphere, and we need to assess their contributions to rhetorical theory and practice—whether we “like” them or not. Whether they seem to be powerful (Christine Legarde), influential (Sara Palin), or controversial (Kathleen Sebelius of Affordable Care Act fame), whether they represent our political, religious, or personal stance, such women merit our scholarly attention. Once we stop to consider, analyze, value their practices, we will discover ways that they are transforming rhetorical theory as well.

Long ago, or so it seems, Barbara Biesecker admonished us all to rethink rhetorical theory at the same time that we consider women’s roles. She argued that the inclusion of women into the rhetorical canon was not enough; we had to expand rhetorical theories in order to accommodate those women. I used to think Biesecker was premature in her admonishment (we hadn’t pulled in enough women at that time to do what she was demanding), but now I believe that she was not so premature as she was prescient! Until women’s rhetorical performance is interrogated and their power advanced, we won’t have an accurate rhetorical history, let alone an authentic range of rhetorical theories. Although I’ve just named three women out of the air (Legarde, Palin, Sebelius), it would not be difficult to add more names (Michelle Obama, Janet Yellin, Angela Merkel, etc.).

If we look globally, we can quickly enrich such a list. What’s enticing right now at our present moment is the number of women political leaders whose fathers were political leaders (think Hortensia, female Roman rhetor whose father was Quintus Hortensius Hortalus!). I can easily name three: Philippines former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, daughter of a former president; Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the independence leader; and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of former president. In addition, Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister Sirimova Bandaranike is the mother of the current president, Chanrika Kumaratunga. All of these women are points of rhetorical interest, and I think we have to explore too how family ties enable and inflect their work.

Ultimately, what really drives my interest in rhetorical women living in the present moment is to think that they too might be forgotten. When writing Unspoken, I thought I was writing about contemporary public and popular women who would remain in American public memory. The Anita Hill story was a big story, but when I teach Unspoken now, Anita Hill is someone my students don’t know about, and they've never heard of Lani Guinier. It just proves to me that the public women we recognize right now might be erased from history. We need to tell their stories as well.

JE: I’m thinking readers might also be interested in hearing your thoughts on the relationship between rhetoric and violence. I know you’ve been doing a lot of work on this topic and see it as a vital area of scholarship that feminist scholars should pursue. Can you talk about your interests here?

CG: It's critical for us to think about the traditional and ongoing relationship between rhetoric and violence, which feminist rhetorical theory continues to address. I went to Sweden two years ago when we had a symposium in honor of Eva Magnusson, our colleague in rhetoric who was brutally murdered by her partner. During this symposium we thought together about the relationship between rhetoric and violence, between rhetoric and competition, between rhetoric and hierarchy. Feminist rhetoricians Sonja Johnson and Sally Miller Gearhart go so far as to say rhetoric is all and only violence, linguistic violence. Kenneth Burke tells us language is symbolic action; Richard Weaver tells us language has consequences. We see the connection of language and action in verbal abuse; we see it in laws that are abusive and restraining to women and other groups as well. So once we start examining language as the action that it truly is, truly represents, we’ll be able to dial it (our language, that is) down a little bit and think about what it is we say and how we say it.

When we talk about identification, we use Kenneth Burke to talk about rhetoric being based on divisions, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Those concepts have long provided rhetoric an identity, a way of being, so to speak. I argue that we can easily and quickly move from a reliance on division and conflict, which we might see as at least the first steps to violence, to some version of consubstantiality that allows us to move forward together. Thus, when we turn to contemporary feminist rhetorical theories, we take up such practices as invitation, listening, silence, and mutual respect. The transactional goal of much feminist rhetorical theory is understanding, rather than the traditional goal of persuasion (conquest). My hope is that such feminist rhetorical practices will contribute to a culture of peace, justice, and reflection rather than winner-takes-all victory or even, of course, violence.

JE: Your reference to Burke reminds me of one other project that I know you’re interested in scholars pursuing and that is the connections between Burke and feminist rhetorical practice.

CG: Yes, if I were starting a new book I would want to explore the ways Kenneth Burke lends himself so easily to feminist rhetorical studies. I think his ideas of identification, of expanding what the basis of what identification can be, of expanding or refiguring the terministic screen, of perspective by incongruity and trained incapacities, of leveraging intersubjectivity and interactive communication, of re-examining his definition of man (expanding it to include women), and, most especially, his playfulness could serve as interventions into rhetorical studies. After all, the rhetorical interventions that Burke represents all gesture toward the feminist rhetorical goal of re-visioning rhetorical studies to be more inclusive and representative of the rhetorical participation of people of all kinds. His whole idea that we’re all constrained by the symbol systems that we use—these are Burke concepts that I wish young feminist scholars would examine. I’d love to have a seminar on it: Burke and Feminism—what he offers.

Some feminists would say we don’t need Kenneth Burke, Wayne Booth, “the men”—and I say, “Why not? Why not use everything and everyone in our capacities, why not tap every available mean in order to demonstrate to every person on the street and in the university that rhetorical studies is about everyone.” We’ve got to make our field make it more inclusive and representative—and attractive.

JE: You mention that a new book project could be one that focuses on the potential synergy between Burke and feminism, but you are working on a different book right now. Can you tell us about your book project, Field of Dreams: At the Intersection of Rhetoric and Feminism? How does it address some of the excitement and some of the concerns you have for the future of feminist scholarship?

CG: The critical question of my project is this: how can feminism and rhetoric work together to reach more people, with greater effect? I suppose I’m concerned with how we feminist rhetoricians might construct and then address a receptive audience, one who wants to hear what feminism and rhetoric has to say. Gosh, that’s been the goal for over 100 years. Back in 1902, Elizabeth Cady Stanton posed nearly the same question to her colleagues, “How shall we ever make the world intelligent on our movement?” My hope is that feminism will learn from rhetoric ways to reach an audience, ways to identify (as Burke would coach us) our goals with their interests. What rhetoric could learn from feminism are the values of equality and social justice.

I’d like to think that my project earns its significance in several ways: (1) it leverages the power of rhetoric (reaching an audience, considering context, finessing the available means of persuasion) that feminism so often lacks along with (2) the transactional goals of feminism that include social justice, non-Western problems and possibilities, and gender equity (which rhetorical studies has long ignored). Used together, feminists will be able to successfully reach more people, and rhetoric will be used for good. A mutually informing coupling of rhetoric and feminism can enable us to reach more people, perhaps resulting in the greatest good, what Aristotle called eudaimonia. We can tap the available means of rhetoric, of course, but apply them in a spirit of respect, mutual worth, and collaboration. We can also leverage and nurture four traditionally feminine rhetorical practices: reaching out and working through, productive silence, respectful listening, and judicious speaking, rather than just exhortation. When our transactional goal is understanding (rather than persuasion), ideas of conquest, violence, and winner-takes-all fall by the wayside.

That’s the big picture of my book project. Pulled into sharper focus, the chapters I’m developing consider (1) the place of feminist rhetoric in contemporary (real-world and transnational) politics; (2) the relationship between feminist rhetorical studies and identity studies; (3) the questions that feminist rhetorical studies prompts for the expansion of research methods and methodologies; (4) the continuing work of identifying and developing feminist rhetorical theories; and (5) the feminist rhetorical commitment to “paying it forward” in terms of our teaching and mentoring.

JE: I’d love to conclude the interview hearing you talk about your investment in collaboration and community building. When listening to your opening responses in this interview, it would be difficult to ignore your deep investment in building a feminist community. You worked closely with that feminist underground, that cabal of feminist scholars, and you continue to create feminist networks within the field. Can you talk about the importance of this community and strategies we might adopt to enable feminist scholarship and the feminist community to thrive?

CG: For too long, academics, including and especially rhetoricians, have worked from a position of competition, winner-takes-all, being the best. My hope is that our feminist work will yield many more collaborative, invitational, inclusionary efforts. Once (notice how hopeful I am) academic culture moves from believing it’s a culture of scarcity to realizing that we are actually working in a culture of abundance, our attitudes toward our work, one another, and especially ourselves will change. We will realize that it’s more important to do the right thing than be right (whether we’re discussing a classroom practice or a rhetorical project) and that there is still plenty of work to go around. In other words, we don’t have to compete for scraps of rhetorical research; we don’t have to be the only scholar working on some discrete detail or person; we don’t have to be the only one with a good idea. When you walk through the library and see shelf after shelf of scholarship on Aristotle and two books on Aspasia, you realize just how very much work there is to do. And to get that work done, we need to share resources, work together, and make a difference in our field and in academia at large. Only by working together can we sustain positive change.

When I think back of the many people who have helped me over the course of my career—from Edward P.J. Corbett, Andrea Lunsford, and Rich Enos to Cindy Selfe, Theresa Enos, Shirley Wilson Logan, and C. Jan Swearingen—I realize how lucky I have been to have friends and colleagues who lifted as they climbed (to borrow from the 1896 motto of the National Association of Colored Women). Like the best of scholars, each of these figures knew that lifting others would enrich them and their own research agendas rather than deplete them in any way. Each of these scholars knows that academia is not a zero-sum game. Each of these scholars has passed on the help and support they received. My goal has been to do the same, to pay it forward. I hope I have, I do.

JE: You’ve had such great success with creating strong mentoring relationships with your graduate students, something to which I can certainly attest. Could you offer some specific advice regarding mentoring scholars earlier in their careers?

CG: It’s vital that we respect our students and follow Adrienne Rich’s admonition to take them seriously, demonstrate to them daily the importance of claiming their education! Thus we need to strike a contract of respect for the student’s education and scholarly development. To that end, we have to give them really strenuous exercise in our seminars to learn how to develop projects. We also have to nudge them when we think that their project won’t work. We have to take a nudge when they insist on it and just say “Ok, give it a go.” We must be their research assistants in that every time we read something that looks good, we have to tell them about it. This is not to say that we have to be interested or invested in their individual projects; we have to be invested in them, in what they want to do.

In addition to challenging while supporting our students, we need to concentrate on dismantling the competition that is so rampant in academia, particularly (maybe??) in graduate school. Given my own experience, I try to assure students at every turn that their graduate student friends are the friends they are going to have for their lives. These are the people they are going to collaborate with and do conference presentations with. These are the people they are going to call to confide in about personal and professional issues. We have to mentor them to set up that kind of psychological and scholarly collaboration early on in graduate school, starting in their graduate seminars, but surely in dissertation writing groups. They need to learn how to rely on, trust, and use one another. We professors/mentors can help them develop and maintain collegial structures of support now, while they’re in our graduate seminars.

But telling our students is not enough. We must show them whenever we can by simply (or not so simply) setting good examples (i.e., not trashing our colleagues or their scholarship in seminar—that’s an easy example), helping others become the mentors they want to become, by embracing the fact that our work never ends (and realizing that it’s just “work”; it’s not death, illness, unemployment, or destruction), celebrating the achievements of our colleagues and our students, and building structures of support (collaborative projects, for instance) wherever we see an opportunity to do so.

JE: This seems like a perfect place to end our interview. I know I’m just one of many who have benefitted greatly from your mentorship. And I thank you so much for the guidance and support you’ve offered me. I know too that almost every time I thank you for your help you say, “Well, I know you’ll do this for your students.” That reinforcement that I should, that we all should, “pay it forward” is so important because it’s not just the expectation that we’ll all do our own good scholarship, it’s that we’ll be good colleagues, supporters, and mentors to others. It’s an awesome responsibility and opportunity for us all. So thank you for continuing to identify and articulate the importance of mentorship to me and to countless others in our field.

CG: The best part of this interview, Jess, has been getting to spend time with you thinking through professional issues. I cannot think of anyone who could have done a better job of interviewing, sometimes prodding me. Thank you.

Works Cited

Burke, Kenneth. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of a Purpose. 3rd ed. Berkeley: U of California P, 1954.

Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs. Man Cannot Speak for Her. Vols. 1 & 2. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1989. Print.

---. The Rhetoric of Women’s Liberation: An Oxymoron. Communication Studies 50.2 (1999): 125-37. Print.

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

---. Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2004. Print.

Logan, Shirley Wilson. With Pen and Voice: A Critical Anthology of Nineteenth-Century African-American Women. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1995. Print.

Lunsford, Andrea A, ed. Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh P, 1995. Print.

Royster, Jacqueline Jones, ed. Southern Horrors and Other Writings: The Anti-Lynching Campaign of Ida B. Wells, 1892-1900. By Ida B. Wells. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 1996. Print.

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