This semester has been an exercise in figuring out what feminism means to me. Part of that has been reading feminist theory within my discipline; I am taking a Feminism and Composition course that looks at how feminist theory has influenced, and should influence, the way writing is taught. I’ve fallen into my dissertation topic through this course, and found what might be my niche within Rhetoric and Composition. I’ve been personally interested in feminism and gender issues for a long time now, and so reading feminist scholarship is almost like coming home. It’s not theory I necessarily have to struggle though, and I often find myself agreeing on both a personal and scholarly level with the material I’ve been reading.
At the end of October, Arizona State University hosted the CWSHRC Feminisms and Rhetoric conference, at which I had the pleasure of volunteering, attending, and presenting. It was awe-inspiring in a number of ways, not the least of which was meeting some of the feminist scholars I’ve been reading all semester. I met Cheryl Glenn, Andrea Lunsford, Lisa Ede, Shirley Wilson Logan, Gesa Kirsch, and Jacqueline Royster, to name a few. I also was fortunate enough to make some grad school connections, and hope to build an inter-institutional writing group at some point in the next few months. I heard Angela Haas speak passionately about indigenous peoples and a decolonial rhetorical framework. She brought the audience to tears and we returned the favor with a standing ovation. Fem/Rhet was an incredible experience, and a reminder that conferences aren’t just lines on a CV; they’re opportunities for meaningful scholarly conversations that can grow a discipline.
But one theme that continues to reappear, both in readings and throughout Fem/Rhet, is the theme of messiness. Feminist scholarship, methods, methodology, praxis, and pedagogy is all about embracing the messiness. For various reasons: to respect cultural differences, to embrace personal experience, to subvert masculinist notions of knowledge and knowledge-building, and to embrace what it means to be a woman, whatever that might mean. But it’s a difficult thing to do, embrace the messiness. Especially when you’ve been trained and told that, well, cleanliness is next to godliness. More than that, though, messiness means embracing unease and being willing to adjust your own viewpoint to incorporate those of others, even if it challenges what you consider to be the core components of your own identity. And I think that feminism requiring you to challenge components of your core identity is why some people fight so damn hard against it. You’ve been told your entire life that women are inferior, that their worth is strongly tied to their appearance, you believe you are above it, but the way you act reinforces it. It requires time and constant effort. It’s hard. It means considering other people. It means recognizing that not every conversation is for you. It means staying in your own lane. And it’s hard. But it’s so, so worth it.