“Although some accounts suggest that feminism, until recently, has been absent or at least late-blooming in the field, we find a more complex relationship in our reading of essays and books in composition written from a feminist perspective–in particular, the many accounts of personal experience in the field written by feminists and by women since the 1970s.”
—Joy Ritchie and Kathleen Boardman
Key Terms: Aporia
In “Feminism in Composition: Inclusion, Metonymy, and Disruption,” Joy Ritchie and Kathleen Boardman set out to “document and celebrate the vitality of feminism in composition,” to “point out that much early feminist work in composition is not documented in our official publications,” to put forth ways of examining and theorizing first-hand experiences with feminism in composition, while also giving serious consideration to “the causes and consequences of the delay in feminism’s emergence in the published forms of our discipline and the extent to which feminism, despite its recent vitality, has remained contained or marginalized in composition” (587-588). “Finally,” they note, “we hope to speculate on the positive and negative potential of inclusive, metonymic, and disruptive strategies for feminism’s contribution to composition’s narratives” (588).
Ritchie and Boardman found three tropes of note in the documents and accounts they reviewed: inclusion, metonymy, and disruption. They point out that these tropes are coexistent rather than linear, often overlapping with each other. As they proceed into the discussion of specific tropes, the authors state their intent to offer ways of reading past accounts and texts that may not have been particularly theorized.
The authors cite several risks at attempts at including women in “intellectual and political landscapes,” such as gender essentialization or including mainly white, heterosexual, middle-class women. However, they point out, these problems can be mitigated: “Our analyses need to take into account cultural and historical contexts out of which women were working that made these assumptions viable at the time” (Ritchie and Boardman 591). They cite several specific essays from the late 60s through the early 1980s, noting that “These early essays set a pattern for subsequent inclusive questions that women in composition began asking” (593).
Ritchie and Boardman review various perspectives on feminist discourse from those days, and as they conclude the section they note:
“Because they do not attend closely to larger systemic issues of power and discourse, these studies do not make it possible for feminist studies to be contained, capsulated, or dismissed as ‘women’s issues.’ Yet essays like these deserve credit for challenging the field’s gender-blindness by insisting that women be included in narratives of classroom writing practices” (595).
The authors cite strong intuitive connections across the various generations of proto-feminist and feminist writers and thinkers, noting that even male composition theorists during the 1960s and 1970s were engaged in what was largely treated as “women’s work” (596). While these “foremothers” may not have all been purposefully feminist, they still operate within that context and have offered their contributions as such (567).
Concerning “disruption,” the authors note the importance of “revisioning,” or the capacity to become “empowered to become effectively active for change and reform” (599). What seems key about such moments of “conversion” is that they entail an act, either outward or inward, of resistance against compliance with a Patriarchal and inequitable system. Along with this comes the need to accept and address difference, even amidst a movement that was searching for solidarity (601). It is also the task of this disruption to “analyze the established narratives of the discipline and the agency of students and teachers constructed by those narratives” (602).
In their concluding sections, they authors observe the impulse in composition “toward legitimation, theory-building, and consolidation” and how this has often proved an obstacle to feminists. However, tracing these feminist lines of thought “may help us see where feminism might most usefully lead composition and where they might go together” (603). Looking back on these lines of thought has revealed many “gaps” for feminists to explore. The authors quote, “Rosemary Hennessy argues, because the ‘gaps, contradictions, aporias‘ that otherness creates force dominant perspectives into crisis management to ‘seal over or manage the contradictions…. But they also serve as an inaugural space for the critique'” (605). Ritchie and Boardman call for exploring these gaps “to connect our research to wider public concerns and debates about literacy” (605).
Ritchie, Joy and Kathleen Boardman. “Feminism in Composition: Inclusion, Metonymy, and Disruption.” 1999. Cross-Talk in Comp Theory: A Reader. 2nd Ed. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana: NCTE, 2003. Print.