Rhetorics of Motherhood

Review by Sarah E. S. Carter

Diane Nash

"… non-compliance with the code of motherhood had the potential to undermine Nash's ethos by positioning her toward the Woman, rather than the Mother, end of the rhetorical continuum." (Buchanan, p. 70)

"A mother who fails to align herself with the god term risks ethical diminishment through association with the devil term." (Buchanan, p. 70)

"The Mother ultimately tames Nash, and the maternal attributes of courage, self-sacrifice, love, and morality displace logic, planning, and vision within the historical record." (Buchanan, p. 74)

In the third chapter of the book, "Motherhood, Civil Rights, and Remembrance: Recuperating Diane Nash," Lindal Buchanan completed her second case study on the 1960s Civil Rights activist who was well versed in jail without bail policy. Buchanan argues Diane Nash was unaware of the weight the rhetoric of motherhood could hold, and therefore it was that same motherhood code that eventually limited her to simply the god-term of mother. She was consequently forgotten as a rhetor for the movement in which she played such an integral part.

Buchanan refreshed readers with Roland Barthes's first and second order signification that she introduced in the first chapter to explore Nash's public appearance. Publicly Nash was seen as a young woman of color, a rhetor, a wife, and a movement organizer, but she became more deeply defined and developed as the god-term Mother, and in turn this connection dismissed and diminished the activist's richness and complexity (p. 74).

It was not Nash who used the motherhood rhetoric for herself, but the men in her life who made the decision to use her pregnancy as rhetoric for her ideal image of "a good girl—faithful student, trusting wife, and idealistic mother-to-be&" (p. 79) in order to keep her out of jail and out of the watchful eye of the media.

It is within this short chapter that readers realize the ultimate negative affect of the god-term Mother. Readers will see in this chapter the opposite of what happened to Margaret Sanger in the first case study. Instead of the rhetoric of motherhood helping Nash to become a stronger voice for the civil rights movement, it silenced her and pushed her out of social and political discourse. Buchanan argues that this occurs to Nash because, unlike Sanger, Nash did not employ her rhetoric of motherhood as purposely and also remain within the public's eye. Rather, she employed her rhetoric of motherhood and then withdrew herself from public view when her child was born.

Buchanan alluded to the prospect of a plethora of women who have, in addition to Nash, also fallen out of public discourse through the centuries due to motherhood. Therefore, with Nash she wanted to "detail the process of marginalization, confident that unveiling gendered, raced, and maternal obstructions can unsettle history,… and make it fairer to and more inclusive of women" (p. 86).