Saturday, February 14, 2015

Feminism and Rhetoric

I've been teaching an online first year rhetoric course this term. And what that means for our university in particular is that all the readings have been chosen beforehand, all the lectures recorded before I was ever assigned the course, and all the assignments planned ahead of time (but I still get to write the final, which.... thanks, I guess?). And as you'd imagine, not all of the texts have been ones that I would have chosen. They're all wonderful texts for a rhetoric class, just not the particular texts I would picked; it's a matter of personal preference, more than any other consideration.

In particular, I was uncertain of this week's reading, a section from Hélène Cixous' Laugh of the Medusa. It's a good read, but not what I personally would have picked out as the singular example of rhetoric and feminism. (That the course has only a single text on rhetoric and feminism is a different issue.) It is, I thought, too complicated, too complex in its use of language, too steeped in psychoanalytical discussions about the phallus. I braced myself for a reading response set that suggested the class had listened to the lectures and skipped the reading (a fairly common occurrence, given some of the responses although I also have a large number of really good responses on any given week, and I do my best to encourage such responses).

 As you can probably guess from my own rhetoric, I was wrong. The reading has led to more thoughtful, engaged responses than anything we've done so far. Yes, there have been some half-hearted engagements, as always, but most of the class has responded with above average engagement, especially some of the women, who have mentioned that the essay speaks to them on a personal level. I'm drawing three conclusions from this. First, it has been a humbling reminder that my students are better and smarter than I've been giving them credit for. Second, it attests to the power of Cixous' writing, that it still resonates. And third, it suggests that, sadly, a lot of her critique still applies, that women today still feel pressured to write in a voice not their own.

It's been an eye-opening course, in more ways than I was expecting going in.

Later Days.

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