Sunday, October 5, 2014

Campbell's View on the Rhetoric of Women

In Man Cannot Speak for Her: A Critical Study of Early Feminist Rhetoric, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell analyzes the early women's suffrage movement, in which she looks at how women were able to persuade during this period in time. She emphasizes on how it was particularly difficult for women to be persuasive to male audiences due to the characteristics that a "good woman" was supposed to have (i.e., submissiveness, gentleness, and domestic qualities). Public speaking was seen to be an activity that men typically do, so then it was associated with male characteristics. Public speaking then was in opposition with society's construct of what a "good woman" should be. Campbell then demonstrates that in order to be persuasive with their male audience women cannot take on too many characteristics that the audience would consider to be male. In other words, to be persuasive with a male audience women would still have to maintain many characteristics associated with that of the "good woman."

I found this analysis interesting, because it demonstrates the balancing act a woman must take on when being persuasive. I feel that this still occurs, maybe not to the extremity that the suffragists had to contend with. I think women live in a world where they need to be several different people in order to be successful. To be persuasive, women's identity is in constant flux. I think this happens with the identities of men as well; however, the difference is that men's identities still shapes women's.


  1. I agree, and I think the complex identities of women contribute to the way they are viewed in society. For example, a women can't be successful without being a bitch. Usually, those successful women are portrayed as lonely or not interested in family [e.g. Sandra Bullock's character in The Proposal]. It's interesting to me that women are placed in a rhetorical role where they have to straddle the gender lines. They can't be too female or too male.

  2. That balancing act that many women feel they have to do, I think it comes partly from moving into career roles where they have more leadership positions than may have previously been seen before. People do not always want to listen to a female leader; statistically most leadership positions have been held by men in a lot of fields. I think men deal with leadership issues as well, but with women it can be complicated by pressure to not be too assertive. In my opinion it is more important to try to be a good leader in general and not to worry about whether something is traditionally "masculine" or "feminine" in leadership and to balance concern for those in the organization with structure and feedback when needed.

  3. I watched this interesting video the other day:

    It takes statistics that are true for Canada, so I don't know how accurate the information reflects American media and advertising (though, I'd bet it's pretty close). Interestingly, the video was composed by students in a Canadian university. I'd say they did a pretty good job.

    As a woman, I certainly feel the effects of a male-dominated system, and I feel frustrated many times that my worth as a person is often measured not by my intellect or wit or humor, but by physical features: my vagina or my breasts or my butt. These, in the eyes of many, are what make me a woman, and incidentally what keep me bound within particular social and gender roles.

    As for our conversation in class Tuesday night, I'm still intrigued by this idea of "regendering rhetoric" as put forth by Glenn. I'm still keen on the idea of looking at history and how we (re)write it by looking at the how and who we give power to--whether it's based (or not based) on gender, race, ethnicity, language, or sexual orientation. I mean for this to be something that historians, academics, and other writers think about in our present time while we are in the process of making our history for the future to look back on.

    Who do we allow to be heard? Will we look back and see discrepancies in the variety and complexity of perspectives on our society and culture?

    While I believe looking back is important, I think I agree with Margo's point that she brought up in class: we have to reflect on how we privilege/deny certain voices in the narrative of our time, so that we don't repeat the same problems that we criticize.