Purdue University Women Gender Equality and Empowerment Analysis Essay

For this assignment, you will write a rhetorical analysis essay (5 pages, double spaced, 12 point, Roman font)analyzing a strategy that a person or text uses to accomplish social change. In this essay, you will identify and analyze a rhetorical strategy that a person or text used to accomplish social change. You should provide context for the person or text you are analyzing, pull specific examples and quotes showcasing the rhetorical strategy you have identified, and explain why that rhetorical strategy was effective and how it might be used by other activist writers. All research should be documented using MLA or APA citation style. You should use 2+ readings from Unit 2 in your essay.

If you’re lost on organization, I recommend this approach:introduce the text, author(s), audience, purpose, and context (whatever is going on when the text is written) in the introduction paragraph. In the next paragraph, define the rhetorical strategy you’re going to analyze. After that, include several body paragraphs that analyze specific examples of that rhetorical strategy in your text. Then, conclude by emphasizing the significance of the rhetorical strategy (what can other social change writers learn from it?). This isn’t a required organization to do well; it’s just a suggestion to help you if you’re feeling lost.

Remember to use TWO unit 2 readings in your essay; if you incorporate additional research, make sure that research is relevant and credible and clearly cited in the essay and in the works cited list.

Make sure to FOCUS. Focus on one text and one specific rhetorical strategy.Don’t try to analyze all the appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos. Go for depth not breadth.

Please use this text (Bayeh, E. (2016). The role of empowering women and achieving gender equality to the sustainable development of Ethiopia. Pacific Science Review B: Humanities and Social Sciences, 2(1), 37-42.) to identify and analyze a rhetorical strategy and find a connection between the Readings we have covered in this Section. Those readings have been posted or attached below.

(8) CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION | Full Feature | Netflix – YouTube

The Obesity Epidemic (buzzsprout.com)

Strategy Essay
Task Completed
Task Incomplete
0 points
Task Completed
1 point
Task Incomplete
0 points
focuses on one social change text
provides context about the text and its
author(s) in the introduction
identifies a specific rhetorical strategy
used in the text
provides examples of the rhetorical
strategy using quotation and
paraphrase of the text
analyzes the rhetorical strategy and
examples by explaining why and how
they are used for the rhetorical
explains the significance of the
rhetorical strategy for social change (its
effectiveness, its value for other
writers, etc.)
distinguishes between quotation and
paraphrase by using quotation marks
for all exact wording of a source
uses authoritative, credible sources for
additional research
cites any references to sources using
signal phrases (Frey argues) and in-text
citation (Frey 6).
includes a works cited that follows a
consistent citation format
Task Completed
1 point
Task Incomplete
0 points
uses at least 2 readings from Unit 2 to
develop the analysis
follows length and formatting
requirements (5 pages, 12 point, Times
New Roman, double-spaced font)
Discursive Strategies for Social Change: An Alternative Rhetoric of Argument
Author(s): Julia M. Allen and Lester Faigley
Source: Rhetoric Review , Autumn, 1995, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 142-172
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/465666
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Rhetoric Review
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Sonoma State University
University of Texas
Discursive Strategies for Social Change:
An Alternative Rhetoric of Argument
“Cara a cara con el enemigo, de que valen mis palabras?”
-Cherrie Moraga, “Refugees of a World on Fire”
On the morning of May 17, 1912, at the national convention of the
Socialist Party in Indianapolis, a woman delegate, Theresa Malkiel of New
York, moved to amend the Socialist Party constitution to read “for both men
and women” in the section describing the principles to which party members
subscribed. After some debate in which one man disagreed with the amendment
and another ignored the motion on the floor and introduced an unrelated
motion, another woman, Anna Maley of Washington, arose to address the
issue. The transcript of her speech reads: “I speak not as a woman, not as a
feminist. I speak as a party man (loud cheers) and as an organization man
(cheers) when I tell you that if you don’t put your women into the fight, the
capitalists will do it for you” (Spargo 119). Maley, an organizer for the Party’s
Women’s National Committee, was probably quite aware of the irony of her
speaking position: In order to advocate the equality of women and men within
the Socialist Party, she had to deny that she was using feminist discourse and
even that she was a woman.1
Marly’s dilemma is a frequently repeated one for those who are located
outside dominant discourses but who need or wish to participate in those
discourses. She can either follow traditional rhetorical advice and adhere to the
audience or else she can subvert the dominant discourses in an attempt to
change them. Maley’s discursive tactics demonstrate the risks of always trying
to adhere to one’s audience. To gain an acknowledgment of women’s equality
within the Party required Maley to efface herself as a woman. In the short run,
her tactic might be effective, but in the long run, it leads to denial of her
agency. Maley’s dilemma also points to an absence in the rhetorical tradition,
which offers little formal advice to those who are not already located in
speaking positions within dominant discourses. The barriers that speakers and
writers encounter when the principle of adherence cannot be easily invoked
have been the focus of much recent scholarship on the writing of women,
142 Rhetoric Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, Fall 1995
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people of color, and gays and lesbians. Rather than almost unconsciously
occupying a position within a discourse, a writer who cannot immediately draw
on adherence often must challenge the discourse in order to create a space to
speak. To challenge a dominant discourse requires alternative strategies from
those offered by the mainstream rhetorical tradition.
Our project is to identify discursive strategies for social change by
investigating how people have challenged dominant discourses. Under our
rubric “discursive strategies for social change,” we include any means of
change using primarily words, whether those words are spoken, printed, or
broadcast via other media. We are not so much interested in the means of
distribution (although it is another issue of critical importance) than in the
actual linguistic constructions themselves. By “social change” we mean a
shifting in power arrangements to benefit those previously lacking in either
formal or informal prerogatives or influence. Some of the previously defined
categories of power differential we consider useful are class, race or ethnicity,
gender, sexual orientation, and age. At the same time, we do not accept the idea
of hierarchies of oppression. Such a notion is rarely useful except to those who
wish to promote divisions among populations. Oppressions are rarely unilateral
and complete, most individuals occupy multiple positions, and these positions
are complex and often paradoxical. Moreover, positions are rarely rigid or
fixed, but move in cultural flux, thus creating possibilities for change.
Thus we need a richer theory of the rhetorical situation than the familiar
rhetorical triangle. Discussions of context based on the rhetorical triangle tend
to render the speaker/writer, subject, and audience as independent entities.
Context then becomes either the background or is described in terms of the
immediate situation. Understanding how discursive strategies can lead to social
change demands not only extending a notion of context to the histories of
writers, subject matters, and audiences but also comprehending how each is
located in multiple relations of power and how discourses are related to
practices. If people want to change their life conditions, they must challenge
certain seemingly necessary connections in social and discursive relations and
construct others.
How people are located in multiple relations of power and how discourses
are related to practices are the critical questions for theorists committed to
social change. Although some theorists complacently view culture as merely a
series of texts and suggest that scholars can only tell more stories about it, we
believe that examining the practices and effects of discourses is crucial. For
example, we know that the focus of the discourses of medicine on men means
that far less funding is given to breast cancer research than for heart disease
research, even though 46,000 American women will die from breast cancer this
year alone. Our goal is to bring together the analyses of cultural studies and
materialist feminism regarding webs of power arrangements with the insights
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of rhetoric into discursive practices of persuasion. However, we are not just
interested in analyzing the politics of linguistic constructions of reality and
subjectivities but in affecting those constructions.
At the same time, though, we want to consider what the relationship is
between “success” and the sorts of linguistic strategies that we describe. Maley
and other women radicals cannot be said to have been “successful” in
introducing a feminist program into the Socialist Party. The whole movement
got clobbered by larger social forces in 1918. Thus it is important not to judge
the effectiveness of any particular discursive strategy by whether it was
“successful” in a given context. Language may have “a plastic action upon the
real” (Wittig, Straight Mind 78), but it doesn’t have the only action on the real.
And we have to remember that different people and groups have differing
access to publication of their uses of language.
Free and leisured conversation generates abnormal conversation as the sparks fl
-Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of
Nature (389)
I didn’t confront teachers…. I shouted, laughed, disrupted classes by sneezing,
coughing, dropping books on the floor. I expressed my disdain for their ideas and
values by all means except by direct political argument.
-Jonah Raskin, Jonah, Out of the Whale:
Growing Up in the American Left (35)
Contrary to Richard Rorty’s suggestion that “free and leisured
conversation” leads to discursive, and thus social, change, we understand that
such linguistic privilege is a luxury reserved in most cultures for a few. Indeed,
some situations allow for only the most basic discursive disruptions. We are
listing here some persuasive uses of language occupying that space between the
well-timed sneeze and the pleasant discussion among peers.
What follows is an introduction to the discursive strategies we have
located. It seems important to point out that because writers use one or more of
the strategies we mention below, it does not mean that they have similarly
announced an epistemological system largely or even partly focused on
language. Indeed, most of the writers whose work we include make no such
claims. Some, such as Mary Daly, while making use of elaborate language
strategies, have defined systems that do not privilege language use per se. Some
writers may not have desired or imagined change of the magnitude suggested
by others and thus may not have seen a need for such an epistemological
overhaul. And in many cases, we simply have no way of knowing what a writer
may have intended.
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Discursive Strategies for Social Change 145
Moreover, as we collected the differing types of strategies, we did not
confine ourselves simply to those about which writers had commented. Thus
some of our entries draw on specific discussions of a writer’s theories and
analyses of a strategy that in his or her estimation promotes change; others are
simply examples we have collected in the course of our reading, and the
discussions and analyses are our own.
In a number of cases, we have found that writers will attempt to combine a
nontraditional argumentative strategy with traditional argumentation. Again,
Mary Daly’s work is a case in point. And certainly writers also frequently make
use of multiple nontraditional strategies within a piece of writing. (June
Arnold’s use of new pronouns within a narrative comes to mind.)
We make no claims for the utility of any strategy. Some are clearly more
broadly useful than others; some require more patience or acceptance on the
part of the reader; some are sneakier than others; some toy with an audience’s
expectations while others demand (an unlikely) adherence in advance. (It is
difficult to convince most people to learn an entirely new language, for
example.) In addition, we cannot claim that all putative members of a
particular group will agree with the linguistic methods of one member of that
Finally, we should add that while it may seem that in some cases we are
pointing to linguistic maneuvers that are well known and frequently used in
ordinary discourse, our aim has been to point to the fact that these linguistic
maneuvers can and have been used strategically for purposes of change. One
type of use does not preclude another.
We begin with attempts to change languages themselves or elements of
languages, then move into simple reversals of concepts. From there we look at
the strategies emphasizing perspectival change such as the juxtaposition of
languages, the use of nonlinguistic forms in written language, and Kenneth
Burke’s notion of perspective by incongruity. We conclude with even more
subtle strategies: calling without naming, metaphors, and narrative-change
under the guise of storytelling.
Many of our examples come from feminist discussions, which is due, in
part, to the fact that many feminists have focused specifically on language as a
problematic aspect of culture. Certainly, however, there are other uses of
language and commentaries on language that we have overlooked. We see what
we are providing here as a starting point, a place from which we hope others
will be able to begin their own explorations.
New Languages
“Boobin Na delith lethath oma NathananA ” she said easily, reading off the line….
Boobin: that is the verb, to braid. It has no other meaning, although it has a
transparent relationship to the numeral three, which is boo…. Na: that is the subject
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pronoun, second person singular, with the suffix from the grammatical class
designated as ‘beloved.’. . . ”
‘And the whole line, ” said Father Dorien slowly, “is to be translated ‘Thou
braidest my hair with Thine own hands.’. . . And that is supposed to be the Langlish
translation of ‘Thou anointest my head with oil’?”
“Yes, Father…. A woman would not wish to be anointed with oil. That would be a
messy procedure, you see; afterward, she would have to wash her hair, and probably
her clothing as well. . . . ”
-Suzette Haden Elgin, Native Tongue II: The Judas
Rose (209-11)
In an attempt to push linguistic, and thus material, change, some writers
have constructed entirely new languages.2 In Delphos: The Future of
International Language, E. Sylvia Pankhurst describes the history of the
movement to construct or adopt an international language. Although the
movement traces its history back at least to the use of Latin as an international
scholarly language and more recently to attempts by Descartes and Leibniz to
speculate upon or actually construct universal languages, the industrialization
and international commerce of the nineteenth century brought renewed interest
in universal languages. Then, after the carnage of World War I and the
establishment of the League of Nations, scholars again worked to develop a
language accessible to all. According to Pankhurst, the desire for “worldfriendship” is the strongest “of the influences urging towards Interlanguage”
(7). There have been many attempts to construct a common language, though
the one that has experienced the most success is Esperanto. According to
Humphrey Tonkin,
speakers of Esperanto maintain that the multiplicity of languages in
use in the modern world creates vast problems of communication at
the most elementary level, forcing up costs and resulting in loss of
efficiency. . . . The use of national languages in international
meetings is . . . not only costly but also results in discrimination
against those whose languages are not used. (1-2)
There is no shortage of language inventors, though most seem to be of
European or American background. Perhaps the earliest known language
inventor was Hildegarde of Bingen (1098-1179), who “constructed a language
of nine hundred words with an alphabet of twenty-three letters” (de LotbiniereHarwood 109). This language is now lost, however.
By the early twentieth century, proponents of Esperanto had discovered
problems with the language. Some proposed variants to Esperanto, such as Ido,
Ilo, Antido, Lingvo Kosmopolita, Esperantido, and NovEsperanto (Pankhurst
35). One of the problems with Esperanto is the construction of words by means
of negatives. For example, old is constructed as not young, and bad is
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Discursive Strategies for Social Change 147
constructed as not good. This creates problems in meaning. Pankhurst points
out the difficulty by quoting Blake’s poem, partially rendered in translated
Esperanto: “Not big lamb, who made thee?” (65).
In addition to problems in meaning-creation, neither Esperanto nor Alwato
nor any of the other so-called Interlanguages attempts to shift power
arrangements in any other way than as a tool which is available universally.
Laadan, however, is a language created by science fiction writer Suzette Haden
Elgin for the express purpose of articulating experiences otherwise unsaid,
particularly the experiences of women. “Laadan” translates “the language of
those who perceive” (Penelope 223). Elgin designed Laadan “to create a
universally accessible language that facilitates the expression of women’s
perceptions” (Murphy). She was struck by the notion from Douglas Hofstadter’s
Gidel, Escher, Bach that “‘for every record player there were records it could
not play because they would lead to its indirect self-destruction”‘ (224). When
applied to language, this idea suggests that there are languages which, if used,
would lead to the collapse of certain cultures.
Laadan is built on the assumption that women have more flourishing inner
lives than do men and that these lives are inarticulable in English and other
Indo-European languages. Feminist linguist Julia Penelope points out the “most
significant structural assumption of Laadan: Inner sensory information
becomes as important as outwardly obvious material phenomena if we have the
words to describe it” (224). Thus, Laadan includes markers to indicate “how
confident a speaker is about her source of information and the accuracy of a
description” and suffixes which can be used to indicate how a speaker feels
about what she is saying, as well as “degree markers, repetition morphemes,
and state of consciousness morphemes” (225). Penelope notes, however, that
despite the revolutionary potential of Laadan, it is not as inclusive as one might
like. While there are words for “jesus of nazareth, penis, and testicle,” there are
“none for clitoris or Lesbian” (227).
New Pronoun Constructions
The therapist must also be aware of the ways in which conventional beliefs have
biased theory, scientific research and psychological assumptions (Levenson, 1972;
Bernard, Note 2). Tey will need to reevaluate theories about women, especially those
theories of Freud.
-‘Report of the Task Force on Sex Bias and
Sex-Role Stereotyping in Psychotherapeutic
Some writers have attempted to adjust pronoun usage within languages
rather than develop entirely new languages. Assuming, perhaps, that because
pronouns are the most direct representation of the subject, a change in pronoun
will necessarily affect the cultural construction and expectations of the subject,
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such writers as June Arnold, Monique Wittig, Marge Piercy, and Mary Orovan
have either shifted the spellings of pronouns or have developed gender-neutral
pronouns. The fact that “pronouns belong to that part of the language which is
the most conservative, the most resistant to change” has not seemed to daunt
language visionaries, although none of the new forms has caught on (Finke).
The following are examples of uses that have been made in English and other
languages of what we will call neo-pronouns.
Co-Co is a gender-neutral pronoun introduced by Mary Orovan in
“Humanizing English,” an eight-page pamphlet first published in 1970 (Miller
and Swift 116). Miller and Swift note that in 1977 the word was in use in
several alternative communities in Virginia and Missouri and “is used in a
book on radical therapy published in 1973 by Harper and Row and . . .
routinely replaces ‘he or she’ or ‘he/she’ in the magazine Communities” (116).
However, rather than substituting for a particular he or she, co is used only to
replace the generic he. Thus no attempt is made to change the system of gender
markings in language with this word.
Ter, tey, tem-Likewise, in an article published in The American
Psychologist in December 1975, members of the Task Force on Sex Bias and
Sex-Role Stereotyping in Psychotherapeutic Practice used neuter gender
pronouns instead of the generic he. Task Force members substituted tey for
he/she, ter for his/her, and tem for him/her. They comment in a footnote that
they have used these pronouns “in order to raise the consciousness of the reader
to the sexist effect of the structure of the English language” (1169).
Na, nan-In an introduction to her 1973 novel, The Cook and the
Carpenter, June Arnold says:
Since the differences between men and women are so obvious to all,
so impossible to confuse whether we are speaking of learned
behavior or inherent characteristics, ordinary conversation or
furious passion, work or intimate relationships, the author
understands that it is no longer necessary to distinguish between
men and women in this novel. I have therefore used one pronoun
for both, trusting the reader to know which is which. (n.p.)
What is unusual about Arnold’s book is the fact that for every occurrence of the
personal pronoun, na has been substituted. And for every occurrence of the
personal possessive pronoun, nan is used. Names for characters are likewise
often ambiguous. This lack of gender definition forces readers to guess at the
gender of each character-and to reflect upon their need to know. Although her
new pronouns did not catch on in general usage, Arnold’s use of both the
conventions of narrative and the new pronoun constructions serves to introduce
notions of determination of subjectivity.
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Per -In her utopian novel Woman on the Edge of Time Marge, Piercy
introduces the pronoun per, derived by backformation from person. The
structure of the novel is such that the utopian sections contrast with the
remainder of the novel, set in contemporary New York City. By means of this
contrast, Piercy portrays current conditions in NYC, especially for a working
class Hispanic woman, as dystopian. Because many of Connie’s problems stem
from her status as a woman, the lack of gender identification in Luciente’s
culture is seen by readers as entirely sensible and, indeed, as a welcome relief
from oppressive New York City (or any US city) conditions.
On, elles, J/e-Monique Wittig’s article “The Mark of Gender” is her
discussion of her fictional exploration of subjectivity and pushing of limits of
socially condoned subjectivities. Wittig’s play with pronouns is difficult to
translate; thus English translations of her work are incapable of holding the
multiple meanings she builds into the French constructions. Nonetheless, she
points out that both French and English force division according to gender. She
As soon as there is a locutor in discourse, as soon as there is an ‘I,’
gender manifests itself. . . . One knows that, in French with je (‘I’),
one must mark the gender as soon as one uses it in relation to past
participles and adjectives. In English, where the same kind of
obligation does not exist, a locutor, when a sociological woman,
must in one way or another, that is, with a certain number of
clauses, make her sex public. (79)
Wittig has worked in her writing “to destroy the categories of sex in politics
and in philosophy, to destroy gender in language (at least to modify its use)”
(81). In her first novel The Opoponax, she wrote without using gendered
pronouns, relying instead on the French pronoun on. Unfortunately, her
translator could not bring himself to use the logical substitute in English: one.
In Les Guerilleres, Wittig uses the collective pronoun elles, universalizing
it. However, because English does not have such a pronoun, the translator
“found himself compelled to make a change, which for me destroys the effect of
the attempt. When elles is turned into the women, the process of
universalization is destroyed. All of a sudden elles stopped being mankind”
(86). A more appropriate translation, she feels, would have been simply the
pronoun they, “which rightfully belongs to the feminine as well as to the
masculine gender” (86). In the third part of the book, Wittig notes, “the war
section, they cannot be shared by the category to be eliminated from the
general…. The masculine must not appear under they but only under man, he,
his” (87).
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Finally, Wittig notes that “the bar in the jie of The Lesbian Body is a sign
of excess” (87). “Nothing resist this ‘I’ . . ., which spreads itself in the whole
world of the book, like a lava flow that nothing can stop” (87).
Is a term used within Black culture to denote the identification by people of color with
Euro-American aesthetic and racial values. Black females sometimes make this
charge of Black males who appear to have internalized, via work and personal
relationships, white values (John Langston Gwaltney 1980, xv).
-Qtd. in Cheris Kramarae and Paula A Treichler,
Amazons Bluestockings and Crones
Far more easily implemented than either entirely new languages or new
pronouns are simple neologisms. Although these efforts do not constitute new
languages, they are in some respects moves in that direction, in that they are
attempting to shift fundamentally the basic elements of language. Feminists in
particular have actively sought to create new words to express concepts they
have believed were missing from the standard lexicon. One means frequently
employed is neutralization, the process of creating synonyms for words or
phrases which are otherwise sex-definite (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 113). For
example, for postman we can substitute mail carrier.3
Some of the more successful attempts at language change have been what
Suzanne de Lotbiniere-Harwood calls the feminization of language, that is,
coining terms for experiences that are familiar to women but that have had no
name. Some examples: date rape, sexual harassment, battered women (de
Lotbiniere-Harwood 117-19).
While we have been unable to locate lists of neologisms or redefinitions
compiled by other groups, there are three relatively well-known dictionaries
that document these moves on the part of feminists: Mary Daly’s Wickedary,
Chris Kramarae and Paula Treichler’s Amazons, Bluestockings, and Crones
(formerly A Feminist Dictionary), and Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig’s
Lesbian Peoples: Material for a Dictionary. These dictionaries contain words
and phrases ranging from new constructions to new definitions for words
currently in English to importations into English from other languages. Julia
Penelope points out, “Feminist and Radical Feminist dictionaries challenge our
ideas about the function of dictionaries: standardization is not only not the
purpose, implied or otherwise, of their definitions, it is simply unworkable, as
is any pretense to completeness” (218). Such dictionaries may comment on the
language. For example, Kramarae and Treichler’s definition of cuckold is: “The
husband of an unfaithful wife. The wife of an unfaithful husband is just called
wife” (111). Two other dictionaries produced by feminists include The
Nonsexist Word Finder: A Dictionary of Gender-Free Usage by Rosalie
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Maggio and Womb With Views: Contradictionary of English Language by Kate
Because neologisms in general are too numerous to mention, we have
listed only the names of a few writers who have consciously employed
neologisms in their work and one historical instance, to demonstrate the fact
that neologisms are hardly “new” as a means of social change.
Les precieuses were “a group of mid-seventeenth-century French women
who initiated a language reform spurred by their proto-feminist consciousness. .
. . They created words describing forty kinds of smiles, twenty kinds of sighs,
eight categories of beauty, and so on” (de Lotbiniere-Harwood 110). Among
their suggestions were ideas to eliminate the masculine gender from the French
language, and to simplify spelling, in order to aid women, who were not
allowed to be educated to the same degree as men (de Lotbiniere-Harwood
In her 1977 novel, Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes, Norwegian
writer Gerd Brandenberg introduces a number of words that are, in effect,
reversals of gendered language as we know it. Her story tells of a society in
which sex roles are entirely reversed. Thus women are administrators and
heads of families and the initiators in sexual liaisons. Indeed, men exist for the
use and pleasure of women. Rather than using the word men as the basis for the
development of other words, as we do in the English women, Brandenberg
coins the terms wim and menwim.
In their small volume, Lesbian Peoples: Materials for a Dictionary,
Monique Wittig and Sande Zeig list both current words in English with new
definitions, newly coined words, and names. Rather than providing terse and
succinct definitions, Wittig and Zeig often take the opportunity to tell stories.
These stories collectively are an attempt to create a community mytho-history.
Perhaps the most well-known feminist purveyor of neologisms is Mary
Daly. Daly’s neologisms are part of a larger feminist philosophical system.
What forms the rationale of many of Daly’s neologisms is an emphasis on
movement. The god-term, if it may so be called, in Daly’s system, is be-ing.
“Be-ing” is defined as “1: Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the constantly Unfolding
Verb of Verbs which is intransitive, having no object that limits its dynamism
2: the Final Cause, the Good who is Self-communicating, who is the Verb from
whom, in whom, and with whom all true movements move” (Wickedary 64).
Daly calls her neologisms “New Words.”4 Although she does not discuss
the linguistic make-up of the New Words, it is apparent that she uses several
basic patterns, all of them relying on current or archaic English words. One is
capitalization. By capitalizing words such as Self and Presence, she infuses
them with a sort of divinity and separates them from their lower-case
counterparts, just as traditionally god is distinguished from God.
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Another method is hyphenation. Daly inserts hyphens between prefixes
and their roots and between roots and suffixes. Although these words were
originally composed of roots and affixes, the meanings of these combining
forms may shift in Daly’s reworking. Thus, amaze becomes Daly’s a-maze.
While the original word is of Old English origin, the new one makes use of the
Greek prefix a- and the Middle English maze. A-mazing, according to Daly, is
the “essential process in the Journey of women becoming: breaking through the
male-ordered mazes of the State of Reversal, springing into free space”
(Wickedary 103).
Finally, Daly uses the more common method of creating new words by
derivation, that is, combining bases and affixes. Her bases and affixes, however,
may or may not be part of what would be considered the usual pool of such
forms. In the case of “botcher” (“one who painstakingly and methodically
spoils, ruins, and bungles any given task: archetypical technocrat” [Wickedary
186]), she uses the standard noun-agency suffix -er meaning “‘one who does
something”‘ (Gaeng 111). Many of Daly’s neologisms are puns. She defines
“papal bully” as “the supreme sacred bully” and gives as an example: “pope
John Paul II, who told an audience of 4,000 women from around the world who
work as maids for priests that they can never thank the Lord enough for letting
them serve the clergy” (Wickedary 187-88).
Redefinitions and Reclamations
Dyke is one of the words that has been negatively and violently flung at us for more
than a half-century. In the Lesbian/Feminist 1970s, we broke the silence on this
tabooed word, reclaiming it for ourselves, assigning to it positive, political values.
-JR Roberts, “In America They Call Us Dykes:
Notes on the Etymology and Usage of ‘Dyke”‘
Closely aligned to neologisms, redefinitions are frequently employed by
those wishing to instigate change. Indeed, one of Mary Daly’s techniques for
creating New Words is reclaiming old ones and redefining them. Julia Penelope
notes, however, that “reclaiming specific words, for example, isn’t simple, and
numerous problems present themselves as we contemplate the choices we have.
How should we decide which words we can reclaim without also reenforcing
the patriarchal ideas they denote?” (215). She suggests that “the words we
decide to reclaim should be those that name a behavior or attitude that enables
us to move outside the world as men have named it.5 They should denote
actions and ways of being that reflect a radical valuation of ourselves and of
which we can be proud” (215). Thus Mary Daly announces new definitions for
such terms as spinster, crone, and hag. Indeed, she uses these terms as the
bases for whole groups of terms crucial to her larger philosophical project.
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Another question reclaimers need to ask themselves is whether the
reclaimed word is to be used by everyone-introduced into the general
linguistic stock-or if it is to be kept for the use of members of the concerned
group alone. When African-Americans reclaimed the word black they did so in
order to replace the term Negro in general parlance. Likewise, gay men pushed
for the usage of gay rather than homosexual. However, faggot is used only
within some segments of the gay community; any use by someone who is not of
that group is considered derogatory. Currently the term queer is undergoing
rehabilitation in some circles. It is certainly considered derogatory when used
by “straight” persons, unless when referring to specific organizations such as
Queer Nation. However, its current use in the gay community is not by any
means universal; rather it is used pointedly by some (usually) younger and
more radical gay men and lesbians in order to construct and own an identity
free from circumscription by the dominant culture.
Often reclamations are generationally defined. While feminists of the late
1960s and early 1970s made it a point to designate any female over the age of
about sixteen as a “woman,” younger women now are consciously using the
term girl as a means to overcome what they see as the limitations in the earlier
movement. In the summer of 1991, the Riot Grrrl movement started in
Washington, DC, and Olympia, Washington, and soon spread to many other
US cities. Riot Grrrl activities include fanzines and forums to discuss “political,
emotional, and sexual issues. . . . The Riot Grrrl ethic combines a fierce
reclaiming of things girlish, a push for girl love unpolluted by competition and
male domination, and an insistence on being heard” (Klein 7). Unlike earlier
feminists, Riot Grrrls are not “interested in creating positive images of women”
(Klein 7). Thus in their reclamations, which include such terms as slut, they
move directly away from Penelope’s advice, seeing these terms not as controlled
by the patriarchy but as a means of creating images “that are created by women
rather than images of women that are created by men” (Klein 7). Part of their
justification includes their sense that positive and negative are undefinable.
Melissa Klein states that she is “creating from negative space. I’m creating
something that doesn’t to this point, exist. To me that’s the challenge. And it’s
going to be complex. It’s going to have negativity and positivity involved in it
because I don’t think you can ever say anything is purely negative or purely
positive” (7).
As I was passing by a construction area one afternoon on my way to class, I
noticed several of the construction workers were on their lunch break. They all sat
together on the grass watching the students go by. Suddenly, one of the men let out a
loud, provocative whistle and shouted to a female student walking in front of me …
“Hey! Nice piece of ass!” Everyone walking by turned to look at them and when I saw
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They have PMS!
Yes, that’s right. Blink your eyes if you have to, but the truth is-some men are
also plagued with a serious problem similar to Premenstrual Syndrome known as
Pubertal Masculine Syndrome (also coined PMS)…. The fact is, men can be as
downright nasty as women when the symptoms strike.
-Dieu Nga Truong, “PMS: The Burdens of
Reclaiming words is a particular way of reversing or shifting meanings.
Some writers make use of reversal on a much larger scale, however. Yet those
who discuss reversal as a mechanism for provoking change disagree as to its
effectiveness. Writers who promote or encourage reversal may see it as a comic
or ironic strategy, containing within itself the means of critiquing normative
Russian theorist Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World is an extended
discussion of the revolutionary possibilities of carnivalesque reversals. What
carnival does, according to Bakhtin, is upend established institutions by means
of laughter. Many readers have tried either to expurgate or to explain away
seemingly coarse language in Rabelais. According to Bakhtin, however,
for the correct understanding of these carnivalesque gestures and
images we must take into consideration that all such gesticulations
and verbal images are part of the carnival as a whole, infused with
one single logic of imagery. This is the drama of laughter
presenting at the same time the death of the old and the birth of the
new world. (149)
Other discussions of reversal also emphasize the notion of wholeness. Jacques
Derrida’s theory of deconstruction is based on the notion that nothing exists
until it is supplemented. Supplementation works in contradictory ways: It
reinforces presence, but reminds us of absence as well. Reversal is simply
making obvious the absence. In other words, if we see that the basis of human
knowledge does not arise from self-identity or presence but from difference or
absence, then we become aware of possibilities for reversal. The metaphysics of
presence is full of hierarchical oppositions, although the dominant culture
works hard to obscure the dynamic nature of these oppositions. What is
uppermost in the hierarchy can always be shifted into a lower position (as in
carnival, as Bakhtin points out). While Bakhtin’s discussion is a celebration of
freedom and change, however, Derrida’s is an announcement of “no way out.”
(See, for example, Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the
Human Sciences.”)
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Discursive Strategies for Social Change 155
Feminists have often made use of reversal as a means of startling people
into an awareness of the lack of necessity in social organization and cultural
practices. Judy Syfers’ often-anthologized “I Want a Wife” is such a reversal, as
is the bumper sticker which reads: “God is coming, and is She pissed!” A
longer example of feminist reversal is Gerd Brandenberg’s fantasy novel
Egalia’s Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes, in which biological females take on
stereotypical male sex roles and biological males take on stereotypical female
sex roles.
Reversal cannot be said to be congruent with feminism, however. Mary
Daly, assuming an essential and preexisting female knowledge, uses the term
reversal to mean the means by which institutions of patriarchy scapegoat
women. She defines reversal as the
fundamental mechanism employed in the world-construction and
world-maintenance of patriarchy; basic method employed in the
making of patriarchal myths, ideologies, institutions, policies, and
strategies; . . . . Examples a: the absurd story of Eve’s birth from
Adam…. (Wickedary 93)
Daly points out that women who refuse to go along with the practices of these
institutions are labeled “separatists” and roundly condemned, whereas the
original separation she believes takes place in the establishment of institutions
that are based on systems of “othering.” These systems effectively separate
women from their elemental selves. Daly writes:
The perpetual bombardment of women’s psyches with overt and
subtle insults, often guised as courtesy, consideration, and respect,
also inflicts the presence of absence within that immobilizes the
impulse to anger. The dissociation that results will not be
recognized as such within the State of Separation, which is also the
State of Reversal. Rather it will be accepted and fostered as normal
and healthy. (Pure Lust 371)
Speaking in conversation with bell hooks, Cornel West notes the problems
with reversal and develops the strategy beyond a simple inversion or switching
of positions. He says:
Aesthetics have substantial political consequences. How one views
oneself as beautiful or not beautiful or desirable or not desirable has
deep consequences in terms of one’s feelings of self-worth and one’s
capacity to be a political agent. This is something Marcus Garvey
understood. One of his great insights was the knowledge that
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aesthetic appearance had to be reversed before Black people could
become full political agents. Again, the problem has to do with
simplistic reversals. One can’t simply have an inversion which is
Black supremacy. Garvey himself never promoted Black
supremacy, though Elijah did. But what we as a people need is a
sincere appreciation of African Beauty that remains intact even as
we interact with other peoples. So that we are able to affirm
ourselves without putting others down. That is the sign of moral
maturity. (117)
An ironic reversal is nonetheless possible. In De oratore, Cicero has Gaius
Julius Caesar comment on the difference between a standard reversal and an
ironic reversal: “Ironical dissimulation has also an agreeable effect, when you
say something different from what you think; not after the manner to which I
alluded before, when you say the exact reverse of what you mean . . . but when
through the whole course of a speech you are seriously jocose, your thoughts
being different from your words” (162). Ironic reversal is one facet of the
African American practice of signifying, discussed at length in Henry Louis
Gates’ The Signifying Monkey.6
Juxtaposition of Languages
Wrote on the back of a Don’t-Mess-With-Texas postcard: HAPPY TO REPORT AM
-Sandra Cisneros, “Bien Pretty, ” Woman
Hollering Creek
If reversal suggests a stable completed shift in power relations, Mikhail
Bakhtin’s explanation of dialogism points out a more dynamic, unfinished
means of moving power. Bakhtin, Russian theorist active from the 1920s
through the 1970s, defines dialogism as the juxtaposition of languages, creating
struggle within an utterance.7 Although many language theorists have used
Bakhtin’s ideas, there has been a tendency among these theorists to sanitize the
ideas, moving them far from the political situation-and notions of power in
general-that gave rise to them. However, other situations with similarities to
that of the Soviet Union in the 1920d and 1930s have fostered discussions of
struggles within languages. Because these situations are more immediate-the
use of French in Canada, Spanish and African-American dialects in the United
States-theorists are unable to excise the crucial power issues from the
discussions. Such discussions include those of Gloria Anzaldua, Renato
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Rosaldo, Henry Louis Gates, Gayl Jones, and Suzanne de Lotbiniere-Harwood.
Most of these examinations look not only at the conflicts between national
languages but at the types of struggles engendered by pushing various codes or
registers up against one another in discourse. Gloria Anzaldua says, for
example, in the preface to her book Borderlands/La Frontera:
The actual physical borderland that I’m dealing with in this book is
the Texas-US Southwest/Mexican border. The psychological
borderlands, the sexual borderlands and the spiritual borderlands
are not particular to the Southwest. In fact, the Borderlands are
physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other,
where people of different races occupy the same territory, where
under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space
between two individuals shrinks with intimacy. (n.p.)
Although Bakhtin defines the juxtaposition of languages as a function of
the novel, it can be found in many communicative situations, as Anzaldua
points out. Moreover, Bakhtin categorizes several ways in which struggle takes
place in discourse: “hybridizations” (The Dialogic Imagination 358),
“dialogized interrelation of languages” (358), including “stylization” (362),
“parodic stylization” (312) and “variation” (362), and “pure dialogue” (358) or
“the language used by characters” (315). He also lists “play with a posited
author” (312), “the language used by characters” (315), “character zones”
(316), “a pseudo-objective underpinning” (317), “incorporated genres” (320),
“incorporation of every possible kind of maxim and aphorism” (322).
(Bakhtin’s precise categories are somewhat difficult to discern.)
While dialogism-two voices within an utterance-pervades the structure
of a discourse, another factor determining the nature of the dialogic exchange is
the particular historical moment and place. The linguistic elements combine
with contextual factors to produce the entire utterance. Political factors
constrained Bakhtin’s ability to discuss specifically some of the linguistic
struggles he probably had in mind in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and
before. North American writers, while operating under other constraints, have
been able to name their linguistic locations. Renato Rosaldo may have been the
first to refer to the “border” as a place of contested discourses. In his 1985
article “Politics, Patriarchs, and Laughter,” he says, referring to Gilles Deleuze
and Felix Guattari’s notion of minor literatures,8 that “Instead of
deterritorialization, I suggested that the creative space of resistance for
Chicanos be called the border, a site of bilingual speech, rather than English
only. For Chicanos, the border is as much a homeland as an alien environment”
(67). Gloria Anzaldua, however, has developed the notion in much greater
detail. “Borders,” she says,
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are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to
distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip
along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place
created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a
constant state of transition. Los atravesados live here: the squinteyed, the perverse, the queer, the troublesome, the mongrel, the
mulato, the half-breed, the half dead; in short, those who cross
over, pass over, or go through the confines of the “normal.” (3)
Anzaldua brings together notions of self-hood, place, and language to define
border cultures. What choice do people have, she asks, if they inhabit a
borderland, other than to create their own language-a patois? Anzaldua’s
project-and that of many other borderland inhabitants-is well described by
French-Canadian writer Suzanne de Lotbiniere-Harwood in Re-Belle, Infidel:
“you’re trying to topo-graph this nomad’s land where friction between tongues
generates ’emotional ground”‘ (82).
A key word in de Lotbiniere-Harwood’s discussion is quadrophenia, the
dissonance created when one is hearing simultaneously “four voices-English,
French, masculine, feminine” (99). As a translator, de Lotbiniere-Harwood
works to bring the discourse of one language into that of another. As a feminist,
she finds that her problems are made even that much more difficult, given the
unreliability, or inhospitableness, of Standard French and Standard English for
women’s discourse. (“It’s the same damn malaise the logos has in
conceptualizing the feminine” [de Lotbiniere-Harwood 82].)
Thus de Lotbiniere-Harwood’s task is “re-writing in the feminine.” Such a
practice involves working with the specific gender markings of languages.
French, for example, is highly gender-marked, while English allows for much
more gender equality. Which is preferable? What are the problems with each
language system? While she mentions the possibilities of “desexization” and
“neutralization,” ultimately she sees a need to “resex language” (117).
“Feminization goes beyond neutralization and desexization. It includes
strategies such as avoiding pejorative words designating women, encoding new
meaning in existing words and coining new words, often using etymology as a
resource” (117). As an example, she mentions a word she
adopted-hystory-to serve for l’histoire des femmes. De Lotbiniere-Harwood
notes the problems that can develop when one is working with publishers intent
on preserving the dominant language:
I made a compromise decision probably due to inexperience and
contextual complexity: I translated l’histoire des femmes by the
entirely redundant “women’s hystory (sic).” The “sic” was intended
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to indicate that the y wasn’t a typo. When the piece appeared, my
political act had been changed into the perplexing “. . . women’s
history (sic).” The “(sic)” remained, no questions asked. Quel mess!
Making use of typography is another of de Lotbiniere-Harwood’s strategies.
She notes that feminists writing in French have worked with the language to
“semantically and symbolically realize the feminine” (129). Because French is
highly gender-marked and English is not, bringing these meanings into
English as a target language is often difficult. Thus using typography to change
words in ways similar to the ways they were adapted in French is one means of
stretching English to accommodate this feminization. De Lotbiniere-Harwood
has used both italics and boldface type to shift meanings.
Exploring the multiple language uses of African-American writers, Henry
Louis Gates defines the invention of the “speakerly” text as Zora Neale
Hurston’s “rhetorical strategy.” It “seems designed,” he says, “to mediate
between . . . a profoundly lyrical, densely metaphorical, quasi-musical,
privileged black oral tradition on the one hand and a received but not yet fully
appropriated standard English literary tradition on the other hand” (174).
Gates’ discussion is informed by Bakhtin’s notion of double-voiced discourse,
and, indeed, in describing Hurston’s work, Gates quotes a Russian Formalist
definition of skaz (181). Tracing developments in African-American
discoursive practices, Gates points to discussions of the politics and aesthetics
of dialect representation during the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, particularly James Weldon Johnson’s condemnation of dialect use in
written texts. He then points to Hurston’s use of dialect as a “virtuoso display of
verbal placy [which] constitutes] Hurston’s complext response to the New
Negro poets’ strictures of the use of dialect as a poetic diction” (194). What
Bakhtin refers to as “character zones,” Gates, following Michael Ginsburg and
others, calls “free indirect discourse” (208ff.) In either case, the method is one
which brings together in a state of tension the discourses of two or more status
Musical Forms
Some say he’s from Georgia
Some say he’s from Alabam
But it is wrote on the rock at the Big Ten Tunnel,
John Henry’s a East Virginia Man,
John Henry’s a East Virginia Man. (74)
-Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps, eds.,
Book of Negro Folklore. Qtd. in Gayl Jones,
Liberating Voices: Oral Traditions in African
American Literature
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While written discourse tends to be standardized by the hegemonic
mechanisms of education and publication, oral language is more easily able to
sustain difference. One way for members of subordinated groups to expand
their discursive universes is to incorporate these differences into written
language. Henry Louis Gates notes the fluidity of movement between musical
and oral and written discursive forms. “Signifyin(g) in jazz performances and
in the play of black language games is a mode of formal revision, it depends for
its effects on troping, it is often characterized by pastiche, and, most crucially,
it turns on repetition of formal structures and their differences” (52). In
Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature, Gayl Jones
points out the rhetorical nature of the use of musical and other oral forms in
written discourse. Jones’s main point is that the use of traditional oral forms
enables writers to free the voices of African-Americans and others who have
“held a position of subordination” (178). “The voices of the less powerful
group, ‘the other,”‘ she says, “always must free themselves from the frame of the
more powerful group, in texts of self-discovery, authority, and wholeness”
Jones argues that African-Americans have been allowed to develop music
in more complexity than they have written language, largely because of early
proscriptions against teaching slaves to read and write. Only the “talking
drums” were forbidden in slave communities. However, writers now can and do
make use of these well-developed musical forms, particularly blues and jazz
structures and spirituals. “Blues forms include worrying-the-line, call-andresponse, shouts, ‘field hollers,’ and other interjections” (195). “Worrying-theline” is the use of both repetition and development in a piece of discourse. The
first line of such a discursive piece or section is the “lead line.” It is followed by
sentences or phrases that consider the “lead line” in detail, problematizing it,
opening it up for examination. Blues structure also includes particular blues
language, which is
generally concrete, graphic, imagistic, immediate. It can also
include scatological expressions, generally “double-entendre,” as in
the “Jelly-Roll Blues.” . . . Blues has a number of complex
rhetorical and expressive strategies, as Houston Baker, Jr., has
noted, from parody to irony. Paul Oliver points out that the blues
can also be obscure. There are incongruities in language and
juxtapositions of moods and images…. Blues can also be surreal
and lyrical. Says Baker in Blues, Ideology, and Afro-American
Literature, “blues (is an) affirmation of human identity in the face
of dehumanizing circumstances” (p. 190). In this sense its language
can be resonant, revivifying. (196-97)
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Jazz rhythms include “flexibility and fluidity … such as nonchronological
syncopated order, pacing, or tempo. A sense of jazz-the jam session-can also
emerge from an interplay of voices improvising on the basic themes or motifs
of the text, in key words and phrases” (200). Jones notes that the use of jazz
structures in discourse tends to create a more complex and abstract piece of
writing than does the use of blues. Jazz, however, “shares with a blues text a
sense of extemporaneity in its fluid rhythmical design and syncopated
understructure, its sound and meaning systems, its rejection of duality” (200).
Jones notes also that “the riddle is . .. broadly connected with jazz, particularly
as it is used by Ralph Ellison; that is, riddles are introduced, they recur, and
metamorphose improvisationally throughout” (141-42). Jones places the riddle
in the context of African form, contrasting it with European-based riddle
structures. While European riddles are often questions to be answered with
puns and plays on words, African riddles are outwardly statements to which
listeners respond, often with plays of images, sounds, and situations (142). The
riddle, Jones points out, is actually a joke/riddle.
What is achieved by means of these technical devices? Certainly they point
to the centeredness of African-American culture (155). Moreover, using
traditional musical forms is a means to “seize” the “territory” and to “free” the
“voice” (139). What is represented, then, is “the range and dynamics of
personalities,” a sense of wholeness and complexity. (164).
Perspective by Incongruity
After reading a story informing him that nearly 10 percent of living things go that
way, a reader from Surrey has written to the editor of the Spectator posing his
problem: “I strongly suspect that some of my so-called farm fresh’ eggs are
homosexual. ”
“In my opinion, ” writes M. J. H., “supermarkets ought to do more to identify and
isolate such eggs before they are passed on to the consumer. ” The writer of the letter
insists that he is not homophobic. “Some of my best breakfasts have no doubt been
gay. My only concern is that homosexual eggs might become mixed with those of a
more conventional sexual orientation in a single meal. As a result, one would risk
producing an omelet or quiche which was confused.”
MJ.H. recommends routine testing of all eggs. “Presumably this could be done by
giving each a little top spin and then observing its motion. Those that veered
leftwards would be separated from the rest and decorated. ”
-Leah Garchik “Over Easy or Scrambled”
While the use of oral forms in writing allows the speakers of those
traditions to occupy the center of discourse, momentarily ignoring dominant
cultures, this setting aside of dominating voices is not always desirable or
possible. In some cases writers may wish to point out the absurdity of
commonly held assumptions about a people, without engaging in traditional
argument. “Perspective by incongruity,” or setting one assumed truth into an
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incongruous situation to undermine its truthfulness, is a transformational
method discussed by Kenneth Burke in Permanence and Change.
This method relies on Burke’s notion of “piety.” “Piety,” Burke says, “is the
sense of what properly goes with what” (74). It is “the yearning to conform with
the ‘sources of one’s being”‘ (69). Although piety is commonly thought to be a
term associated with religion, Burke uses it to mean appropriateness in the
widest possible sense. Burke throughout his writings treats nonreligious matters
in religious terms to demonstrate our devotion to them.
By juxtaposing incongruous ideas, Burke says, we “shatter pieties.” In
other words, by juxtaposing one ideological correctness together with another,
of a different ideological stripe, the two call each other into question. And it is
more likely that the less powerful one will act upon the other in such a way as
to reduce its power; the piety will thus be “shattered.”
Burke tells us that the notion of perspective by incongruity came to him as
a result of his reading of Nietzsche. Perspective, Burke says, is Nietzsche’s
word. Combining that word with what he felt was the “dartlike” quality in
Nietzsche’s writing-“like a spring without a ratchet” (88)-Burke came up
with his own idea.
Nietzsche establishes his perspectives by a constant juxtaposing of
incongruous words, attaching to some name a qualifying epithet
which had heretofore gone with a different order of names….
Nietzsche knew that probably every linkage was open to destruction
by the perspectives of a planned incongruity. Throughout his life he
‘undermined,’ carefully qualifying his nouns by the juxtaposition of
modifying matter that had the ‘wrong’ moral inclination. (90-91)
Burke notes that while Nietzsche exemplifies perspective by incongruity, he
does not provide a rationalization for it. This rationalization, Burke says, will
be found in The Misuse of Mind, a discussion of the work of Henri Bergson by
Karin Stephen.
Calling without Naming
They said they said they said when they said men.
Men many men many how many many many many men men men said many here.
Many here said many many said many which frequently allowed later in
recollection many many said when as naturally to be sure
When she was as was she was as was she was not yet neither pronounced so and
Not this this is the way that they make it theirs not they.
Not they.
Patriarchal Poetry makes mistakes.
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Discursive Strategies for Social Change 163
One two one two my baby is who one two one two one two my baby or two one
two. One two one one or two one one one one one one one one one one or two. Are to.
-Gertrude Stein, “Patriarchal Poetry”
Rather than setting up incongruous contexts to indicate the absurdity of
commonly held assumptions, writers may use shifting meanings of words and
syntax to point beyond assumed categories and divisions. “Calling without
Naming” is a phrase used by poet and theorist Judy Grahn to describe Gertrude
Stein’s ability to write lesbian and, more specifically, gender-challenging, prose
in a thoroughly gendered universe. If fixed categories-names such as “men”
and “women” or “wife” and “husband”-have limited us, then dispensing with
those names moves us beyond the limits. While Grahn only considers Stein,
this phenomenon may be found in the work of other writers who are aiming to
undermine traditional classificatory distinctions in order to remove reasons for
oppressive behavior.
Discussing Stein, Grahn says: “Completely functional in a male-dominated
world, while at the same time producing work that is solidly woman-centered,
Stein moved beyond gender, beyond definitions or names” (267). Rather than
focusing on “men” as the cause of problems, Stein’s writing “diffus[es] into
little electron arrows seeking whatever is rigid and prejudiced in me, the
reader, of whatever gender or other names I might go by in daily life” (268).
Gender is a place, one which can be entered or left, not an identity. Every time
we act, we act gender. Thus, gender is like a character. It can be changed at
Grahn discusses Stein’s strategies by referring to the ideas of Hermes
Trismegistus. This particular strategy, she says, is related to the first Hermetic
principle that “Everything is Thought, or the Steinian, and more currently
accurate statement: everything is thinking. Thinking is not name. Name, in
Stein’s philosophy, is not yes” (269). “Yes” for Stein, according to Grahn is
“the ever-expanding landscape” or “endless possibility” ( (261, 253). “She
doesn’t rename, she unnames. She UNNAMES! She calls, not names” (269).
By means of this strategy, Stein attempts to equalize. If everything is alive, and
if everything is thinking, then there can be no hierarchies. “If there are no
inanimate parts of speech there are no inanimate parts of life either” (269).
The children gave me the idea for a little booklet, Tradition! Tradition! I was
experimenting with how we can work with women to raise their consciousness about
their position in society. Genital mutilation is basically a social practice, with a
health consequence. Generally, people have been been dealing with it on the health
side, and my impression is that if you don’t get to the roots, which is the social
meaning of it, we will never be able to deal with it. So I was experimenting. And the
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first thing I did was, I had a group of women write a drama, because I realized that in
Africa, we are dramatists…. So get them to write their own story, and then we will
put it onstage, and we’ll dramatize this for more women….
But when we finished, and we were ready to put it on, they said to me, “Efua, if we
put this drama on, we will be killed. “And I had to listen to the women. Women can be
killed. For one week I couldn’t sleep. I said, We still have to have that drama. And the
idea of using symbolism, the story, the tradition, came to my mind. Why don’t we use a
symbol, make it funny, you see. A society where all women have one leg
amputated-the symbol of the mutilation, which is acceptable, because you are not
talking about the genitals, which is taboo.
-Efua Dorkenoo, qtd. in Warrior Marks by
Alice Walker and Pratibha Parmar
One method of “calling without naming” is the use of metaphor or
analogy-any substitution that renders a subject discussable. To say the
unsayable, writers have often substituted one safer representation for another
more definitive one. This sort of representation is not unlike perspective by
incongruity as well. In fact, Kenneth Burke follows his discussion of
perspective by incongruity with a chapter on argument by analogy. Yet Burke’s
analysis at this point concerns itself more with the ways that we organize our
knowledge than with the ways that we change it. “Indeed,” he says, “as the
documents of science pile up, are we not coming to see that whole works of
scientific research, even entire schools, are hardly more than the patient
repetition, in all its ramifications, of a fertile metaphor?” (95).
Likewise, Paul de Man’s article, “The Epistemology of Metaphor” and the
work of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, especially Metaphors We Live By,
also can be classified more as explanation of our thought and knowledge
processes-at the most a method for analyzing those processes-than as a
method for changing those processes. Lakoff and Johnson do, however, say that
they “see metaphor as essential to human understanding and as a mechanism
for creating new meaning and new realities in our lives” (196).
The work of Burke, de Man and Lakoff, and Johnson indicates to us the
metaphorical ground of human language. Wayne Booth reminds us that despite
this indeterminacy, we still may ask, regarding metaphors: “Which are the
good ones?” (51). Asking this question puts us, he says, in the realm of
rhetoric. Thus, Booth says, “the study of metaphor is for me . . . a quest for
ways to improve my culture and myself” (64).
Though such analyses may well be adaptable by scholars interested in
applying their ideas about metaphor to methods of change, a more specific
discussion of the subject can be found in work by Regina Barreca. In an article
published in 1988 in Women’s Studies, Barreca describes a technique for
change she calls “metaphor into narrative,” or “reliteralizing what has become
merely symbolic” (243). This technique, she says, is often used by women
writers. (An examination of writings by others who are subjected to unfavorable
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Discursive Strategies for Social Change 165
discursive treatment would probably reveal use of this technique by them as
well.) Women, Barreca notes, following Gayle Rubin’s analysis, are signs
within the symbolic order. They are supposed to participate only by means of
their value as objects of exchange by men. But because women do have the
capacity to participate in discourse, if partially, they do have some power to
affect changes in the cultural system. By literalizing dead metaphors, women
writers call into question the fixed meanings that we have come to rely on for
our sense of reality. According to Barreca, “the sense that language is selfreferential and that the apparently immovable structures of reality can be
undermined and shaken apart: these are the lasting effects of metaphor-intoreality” (252).
Perhaps the best commentary on the language of indirection is Henry Louis
Gates’ work on the broader linguistic system of signifying. Although
Signifyin(g), Gates’ term for the African-American rhetorical practice, includes
other tropic forms, Gates notes that “the most important defining features of
Signifyin(g) are “indirect intent” and “metaphorical reference” (85). What the
signifier attempts to do is draw the attention of the audience to an “absent
meaning” that is invoked by another referent (86). This process depends upon
certain shared understandings between signifier and audience. When someone
lacks that understanding, and is nonetheless signified upon, irony results for
those who do understand. As Gates points out, “a simultaneous, but negated,
parallel discursive (ontological, political) universe exists within the larger
white discursive universe” (49). Signifyin(g) is “a technique of indirect
argument or persuasion” that allows “the black person to move freely between
two discursive universes” (54, 75).
Was about the time that I was riding a motorcycle. Going down a mountain road. At a
hundred and fifty miles an hour. Playing my guitar. On one side of the mountain road
there was a mountain. And on the other side there was nothing. There was a cliff and
the air. You know, when you’re going down a mountain road at a hundred and fifty
miles an hour, you’ve got to be very careful…. I wasn’t paying attention. Luckily, I
didn’t go into the mountain. I went over the cliff… I knew it was the end … and in
my last remaining seconds in the world, I decided to write one last farewell song to
the world:
I don’t want a pickle,
Just want to ride on my motorcycle.
I don’t want a tickle,
I’d rather ride on my motorcycle.
And I don’t want to die,
Just want to ride on my motorcycle.
I know it wasn’t the best song I ever wrote, but I didn’t have time to change it. I was
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landed on the top of a police car. And he died.
-Arlo Guthrie, “The Motorcycle Song” (Reprise
Records, 1970)
Over many centuries political resistance has been shaped and inspired by
narratives. As far back as we have records of direct observation of popular
culture, we find people telling stories and singing songs about their own lives
that challenge the representations of their lives in dominant discourses. The
resiliency of folk songs as a genre is a case in point. Folk songs have always
given voice to political protest and have celebrated marginalized people. When
workers in the United States began to organize in the 1880s, they adapted
melodies sung by soldiers in the Civil War. In the 1930s left-wing performers
and song-writers such as Paul Robeson, Woody Guthrie, Huddie Ledbetter
(Leadbelly), and Aunt Molly Jackson relied on traditions of hymns, folk songs,
and African-American blues to protest social conditions. In the midst of the
political quietist 1950s, folk songs told stories that critiqued social conformity
and the dangers of nuclear war. In the 1960s the civil rights movement and the
movement against the Vietnam War brought a strong resurgence of folk music.
Indeed, folk music itself became synonymous with antiwar sentiment. Since the
1960s folks songs have become important to the women’s movement and the
environmental movement. The history of folk music is a continuous recycling
of old tunes, verses, and narratives to engage new political situations.
What can be said for folk songs can be written about any popular narrative
genre, be it short story, novel, drama, or film. The forces of heteroglossia that
Bakhtin claimed for the novel can also be found in contemporary electronic
forms such as the documentary film or rap music. The problem in placing so
much potential power of resistance in narrative is that nearly every discursive
act can be interpreted as some form of narrative. In The Postmodern Condition,
Lyotard argues that the discourses of science are disingenuous in dismissing
narrative as unscientific because they rely on a grand narrative of scientific
progress. He disputes the claim of the discourses of science to be superior in
truth or knowledge to contingent narratives.
A similar argument is made by Walter Fisher, who maintains that all
human communication relies on narration because all reality is understood as
being part of a larger story. Fisher agrees with those who characterize people as
“story-telling animals.” He understands narrative as a basis of cognition or
what he calls a “paradigm,” which he places in opposition to an argumentative
paradigm. Fisher argues that rationality can also be understood in terms of
“narrative probability” and “narrative fidelity”-whether a particular
experience matches what people can predict to happen according to their
previous life experiences. Narrative rationality thus is an alternative way of
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Discursive Strategies for Social Change 167
understanding rationality. Narrative rationality cannot be based on universal
logic because it grows out of particular experience. Because it is rooted in
experience, Fisher claims that narrative rationality is inimical to elitism. It is a
logic of the people that denies a privileged position from which to judge.
Fisher’s effort to link narrative with progressive politics is understandable,
but his broadly encompassing view of narrative makes an unquestioned
political linkage untenable. In an essay that uses Fisher’s theory of narrative,
William F. Lewis examines the popular appeal of Ronald Reagan as the “Great
Communicator.” Lewis notes that even though Reagan was often criticized for
being irrational, simplistic, and poorly informed on major issues, he retained
great popularity among large segments of the voting public. Reagan’s rhetoric
drew vastly different responses from critics and supporters. Reagan relied
heavily on story-telling throughout his presidency. Lewis proposes that
different responses to narrative are at the root of responses to narrative. Critics
who applied a “rational” standard to Reagan’s speeches faulted him for
inconsistency and lack of realism. Those who responded favorably to Reagan
credited his narratives for providing vision and inspiration.
Lewis’s example of Reagan’s narrative of America challenges Fisher’s
conclusion that narrative offers a superior and morally preferable alternative to
rational, argumentative discourse. Lewis claims that the popularity of Reagan’s
narrative of America “seem[s] to show that there is a preference for clarity over
complexity, for consistency over aberration, for positive direction over
acceptance of limitations, and for self-justification by the derogation of one’s
enemies” (297). When narratives are mixed with historical events, witness the
Afrikaners’ account of the Boer’s resistance to Britain, they can become the self-
justification for ongoing oppression of other people such as system of apartheid.
Thus a simple valorization of narrative is not useful for a rhetoric of social
change. Narrative can supply the basis of stereotypes and become a strong
conservative force by justifying inequality. A distinction needs to be drawn
along the lines of Lyotard’s attack on grand narratives with little narratives. If
grand narratives offer positions within dominant discourse as common sense,
little narratives challenge those positions by providing stories of lived
experience that contradict common sense. They challenge the mythic quality of
grand narratives by describing the local and particular.9
Little narratives have been a primary means of raising issues of human
rights and countering political wrongs.10 During the rule of the military junta
in Argentina from 1976 to 1983, thousands of civilians “disappeared” into
prisons and detention camps, of which more than thirty thousand were killed.
This reign of terror was condoned by the Catholic Church, other nations in
Latin America and the West, and to some extent by a majority of the citizens of
Argentina. Opposition to the reign of terror came principally from the mothers
of the desaparecidos, who began a weekly vigil in the Plaza de Mayo. Their
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presence initiated the first stirrings of public conscience against the torture and
murder of the military junta. After the military government was deposed, the
Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo continued to insist on a public accounting of the
clandestine reign of terror, even after the new government under President Raul
Alphonsin had in effect pardoned nearly all of those responsible for the
killings. The women used their narratives of personal grief as a collective
memory directed toward respect for human life.
The awareness of the atrocities of the military junta led the Alphonsin
government to mandate a collective project of investigating the crimes against
the Argentinean people. The Argentine National Commission on the
Disappeared (CONADEP) interviewed thousands of witnesses and sorted
through warehouses of documents to tell the story of “The Repression.” The
resulting volume, Nunca Mas, narrates what happened to the thousands of
people murdered and detained by the junta. By collecting the stories, the
Commission shows conclusively that the “disappearances” were not random
acts but a systematic effort to control the people of Argentina through the
illegitimate use of government authority. The ongoing struggle against the
governmental practice of torture in many nations uses little narratives to force
governments to account for their breach of responsibility to the people they
claim to represents
Where to Go from Here
We’ve presented many examples of people wresting discursive power by
whatever means are available to them. These examples suggest that
rhetoricians need to reevaluate the traditional assumptions upon which the
teaching of rhetoric has been founded, particularly assumptions about the
relationship between writer and audience. Although education may function to
some degree as a leveler, severe differences in access to power remain. We do
our students and ourselves a disservice by pretending that facility in the
construction of logical arguments is all that will be necessary to shift
entrenched social structures.
Examining how power is exercised through rhetoric raises issues that many
college writing teachers would rather not confront directly, including their own
often-conflicted relationship with the institution where they teach. It is not so
much that writing teachers avoid the issue of power in rhetoric; indeed, they
often begin their courses by appealing to students about the power of rhetoric.
Where the issue becomes more difficult is when actual structures and patterns
of power are introduced.
Thus writing teachers need first to develop awareness of how power
differences underlie texts and then present ways of addressing these differences.
But we also need more research on how particular groups have been able to
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Discursive Strategies for Social Change 169
claim discursive space and how such moves have led or not led to actual
material change. Even though we are critical of the unproblematic
representation of writer/speaker, subject matter, and reader/audience in much
rhetorical theory and instruction, we recognize that at least rhetoricians give
some attention to the components of a discursive situation. Moreover,
rhetoricians provide us with the concept of persuasion, the notion that humans
effect change in one another and in social situations by means of language. We
believe this tradition can be usefully modified by recent theory in general that
has directed interest toward those at the margins. Rhetoric, like other
disciplines, has begun to recover the voices that have long been suppressed in
the interests of an unproblematic unity.
1 The authors wish to thank Sonoma State University for a research grant, which sped the
development of this essay. Thanks are also due to members of the Sonoma State University writing
group who offered useful critiques of the essay, to researcher Kris Kellejian, and to RR reviewers
Andrea Lunsford and John Schilb.
2 Not all linguistic innovators have in mind changes in material conditions, of course. Some may
be concerned with simply expressing ideas otherwise difficult to convey; others may wish only to
3 For more nonsexist writing strategies, see Miller and Swift; Sorrels; and Dumond.
4 Notice the similarity between New Words and New Testament, Word and Logos. Daly often
relies on the Christian framework in which she is so well schooled, despite her scathing comments both
on Christianity and on education (e.g., “the pseudowhole of the university’s fragmented universe .. . the
black hole/void of its re-versing ‘education”‘ GIE 394). Some of the remnants of Catholicism that we
find in Daly’s work include trinities, such as the three passages, and notions of divinity, hierarchy, and
5 Penelope is specifically discussing women. Other groups will consider the persons or classes that
have colonized or oppressed them.
6 It should be noted that Gates’ work emphasizes the aesthetic qualities of signifying more than the
rhetorical qualities; nonetheless, the practices are inescapably rhetorical, and Gates’ work is a useful
descriptive reference.
7 For more on Bakhtin’s ideas, see Marxism and the Philosophy of Language by V. N.
8 See following entry.
9 Compare the work of French theorists Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Guattari on minor literatures. A
minor literature is that which a subgroup within a dominant culture “constructs within a major
language” (16). Examining and reinterpreting the work of Kafka, Deleuze, and Guattari indicate three
features of a minor literature. (1) “in it language is affected with a high coefficient of
deterritorialization” (16); (2) “everything in [minor literatures] is political” (17); and (3) “in [a m
literature] everything takes on a collective value” (17). Two special issues of Cultural Critique in 1987
were devoted to discussions of minor literatures. Other discussions of minor literatures include Karin
Cope’s “Plastic Actions: Linguistic Strategies and Le Corp lesbien,” a discussion of Monique Wittig’s
novel, Le Corp lesbien, published in Hypatia in Fall, 1991, and Carole Boyce Davies’ “Writing Off
Marginality, Minoring, and Effacement,” an exploration of the relationship between African women
writers and the traditional literary canon, published in Women’s Studies International Forum in 1991.
The only book-length study using the concept of minor literatures is Louis Renza’s “A White Heron”
and the Question of Minor Literature, published in 1984 by the University of Wisconsin Press.
10 See also Gayl Jones’s discussion of the incorporation or adaptation of folktales in written
discourse. Like dialect, the folktale can be used simplistically, or it can be used to place a character at
the center of the discourse, depending upon how the tale is deployed. Jones suggests that Toni Morrison,
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“by welding together the vernacular and standard literary prose … has succeeded in overcoming and
resolving our sense of the aesthetic tension that often exists in novels that merely incorporate folkloric
elements” (171).
11 In addition to using little narratives to undermine grand narratives, writers seeking to establish a
discursive space may take a well-known narrative “vessel” and refill it with stories of other conflicts,
thus undoing the links made in the original. For example, in Across the Acheron, Monique Wittig
empties out Dante’s Inferno and, shifting the location away from an “afterlife” and into a very present
and earthly San Francisco, refills it with scenes of women eduring rape and otherwise being in thrall to
various forms of patriarchal domination, unable or unwilling to take steps to remove themselves.
Other less specific takeovers include the subgenre of the “hardboiled” detective novel, which Sara
Paretsky and Sue Grafton, among others, have populated with their characters V. I. Warshawski and
Kinsey Milhone, respectively. Likewise, the mystery novel featuring an “unlikely” feminine protagonist,
such as Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, has been claimed for working-class African-American women by
Barbara Neely with her Blanche on the Lam. Some subversions of already-established forms become
parodies or burlesques as they sabotage the original narratives. Virginia Woolf s epic parody Orlando
skewers accepted notions of patriotism and heroism, while managing to upset definitions of biography
and Edwardian conventions of gender at the same time. And Mabel Maney takes on Cherry Ames as the
standard representation of female subjectivity for girls in her Case of the Not-So-Nice Nurse.
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Julia Allen’s most recent publication is “‘Dear Comrade’: Marion Wharton of The People’s
College, Fort Scott, Kansas, 1914-1917” (Women’s Studies Quarterly 22 Spring/Summer 1994). She is
Associate Professor of English at Sonoma State University.
Lester Faigley is Professor of English and Director of the Division of Rhetoric and Composition at
the University of Texas at Austin. His most recent book is Fragments of Rationality (University of
Pittsburgh Press, 1992).
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Naming as Social Intervention
Copyright © 2008. SAGE Publications. All rights reserved.
n the early 1970s, eight sane persons checked into psychiatric facilities around the United
States. These pseudopatients claimed they heard voices. Doctors diagnosed them as
schizophrenic even though, on hospitalization, the voices disappeared (Rosenhan, 1984). A
review of hospital records revealed that after the diagnosis, doctors interpreted the
pseudopatients’ remarks, behavior, and history to fit expected schizophrenic patterns. The
disappearance of their schizophrenic symptoms was explained as the schizophrenia being in
remission. David Rosenhan, professor of psychology and law who headed the experiment,
writes, “Once a person is designated abnormal, all of his other behaviors and characteristics
are colored by that label” (p. 125). All of the pseudopatients’ past and current communication
and actions were interpreted to fit the label schizophrenic. Rosenhan adds, “The tag
profoundly colors others’ perceptions of him and his behavior. Again, in a very real sense, a
specific ‘reality’ is thus constructed” (p. 125).
Rosenhan’s study points to a starting place for investigating the rhetoric of social
intervention—how we use language to rhetorically create, maintain, and change symbolic
reality. His study illustrates how names give meaning to experience. At the same time, names
shape how we interpret experience—what we pay attention to, or foreground, and what we
ignore, or background, in experience. To label the pseudopatients as schizophrenic, medical
personnel foregrounded behaviors that fit characteristics associated with schizophrenia and
backgrounded behaviors that fit characteristics ascribed to normal. The foregrounded
behaviors reified, or made real, the patients’ schizophrenia.
The name schizophrenia altered how doctors interpreted events in the pseudopatients’
family histories. Events that might have been named normal family experiences were now
viewed as contributing to the pseudopatients’ mental illness. Names influence how we behave
toward people, objects, and events. The label schizophrenic conveys the expectancy that a
person is abnormal, acts in an odd way, and needs treatment. We might avoid a person named
schizophrenic unless we are medical professionals or loving family members. We are unable
to do without names. If the pseudopatients had not been named schizophrenic, then they might
have been labeled normal.
This chapter begins our investigation of the rhetoric of social intervention by focusing on
naming. Naming forms the structure on which the Rhetoric of Social Intervention (RSI) model
is built. We start with an overview of naming. Next, we examine the sensory categorization and
symbolic categorization aspects of the naming process. We look at how we learn names and
Opt, Susan K., and Mark A. Gring. The Rhetoric of Social Intervention : An Introduction, SAGE Publications, …

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