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Issue Brief: Feminism in Composition Studies

Cheryl Glenn and Heather Brook Adams

The Pennsylvania State University

An integral feature of the rhetorical tradition continues to be the gendered limitations and opportunities for writing and speaking. As a public, political, and persuasive practice, Western rhetoric has long been the province of males only. Because the rhetorical tradition has long privileged men’s public speaking and writing, supposedly apolitical women were discouraged, if not forbidden, from participating discursively in the public sphere. Women’s “private” discursive practices (such as letter writing, cooking and health-related instruction, and translation), on the other hand, were socially sanctioned as benign, not (yet) considered to be sites of “real” rhetorical activity. 

Within the last fifteen years, feminist historiographers have recuperated many women as rhetorical theorists and practitioners, despite the male-centered rhetorical tradition. This concerted effort to write women back into the history of rhetoric continues to illustrate the numerous ways in which women have contributed to the rhetorical tradition, whether those contributions have appeared within or without the realm of public discourse.

In addition to feminist recovery work, many scholars are relying on gender studies to account for the power differentials that continue to inflect rhetorical history and practice—and composition studies as well. To that end, a number of scholars have demonstrated the many ways (pay, respect, hiring) in which composition is a feminized discipline, following a line of inquiry that (not coincidentally) implicates the central role women have played in the teaching of writing. From these inquiries, the story of rhetoric and composition continues to be renegotiated and revised.

Leading Journals

Advances in the History of Rhetoric

College Composition and Communication

College English

Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy


Quartery Journal of Speech

Rhetoric Review

Rhetoric Society Quarterly


Women’s Studies in Communication

Relevant Organizations

Berkshire Conference of Women Historians

Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition

Organization for Research on Women and Communication

Relevant Web Sites

Bibliography in Feminist Research and Gender Issues in Rhetoric and Composition

Feminist Pedagogies: Some Sources for Composition and Rhetoric (compiled by Rebecca Moore Howard)

Feminist Rhetorics: Some sources (compiled by Rebecca Moore Howard)

Relevant Email Discussion Lists


Rhetoric and Feminism

Document and Site Resources

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