Rhetorics of Motherhood

Review by Sarah E. S. Carter


Buchanan, Lindal. Rhetorics of Motherhood. Southern Illinois University Press, 2013.
ISBN: 978-0-8093-3220-5
Price: $35.00 (e-book $19)

"Feminist rhetorical research is alive and well, multifaceted and in motion, reaching into continuing and new branches of inquiry, places, and spaces." (Schell, 2010, pp. 19–20)

Lindal Buchanan's Rhetorics of Motherhood answered a call for continued investigation and inquiry of feminist rhetoric. Following in the footsteps of Andrea Lunsford, K. J. Rawson, Eileen Schell, Kate Ronald, Jacqueline Jones Royster, Gesa Kirsch, Cheryl Glenn, and many others, Lindal Buchanan provided an in-depth analysis, through three specific case studies on Margaret Sanger, Diane Nash, and the Republican party's use of Laci Peterson's murder, to show a curve, the hidden influence of women through time, and the transitions occurring in society from the 1920s to the present.

The choices those women made, forced and not, are in part due to how society viewed and still views women and mothers as separate entities and how those views contribute to the rhetoric displayed in public discourse. Buchanan argued U.S. political culture is difficult, consuming, and not easy for women to participate in; motherhood discourses, specifically within political cultures, can afford women authority and credibility or position them disadvantageously within the gendered status quo (p. 5). By acknowledging disparities that are often so blatantly obvious, but alas, swept under the rug, and presenting three case studies spanning from the early twentieth to mid-twenty-first century as evidence—she delivered a strong message to her readers of the positive and negative power motherhood can hold for women when they use it as rhetors.

Rhetorics of Motherhood is a key text in beginning to understand and deconstruct current conversations on feminism, abortion, equality, and women's rights. Recently passed on January 22, 2019, New York State's Reproductive Health Act incited public concern, embellished by the media, mostly because the law was passed 46 years after the Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1973 on the very same day. The topic of abortion and the unborn child is always under public scrutiny, so the kairos for this text is ever-present.

Buchanan addressed the complications of mothers as rhetors and targeted audiences of feminist rhetoric, women and gender studies, archival research, and public memory and discourse. Since Buchanan stated she would be using a feminist lens to investigate and explore the benefits and detriments of employing motherhood in public discourse, and what changes could possibly be made to help mothers (p. 23), she immediately presented her readers with an already purposeful approach to better connect to the material and evidence she presents. Buchanan wanted women to know when and how to use the motherhood discourse to their advantage, because it will not always be so. Rhetorics of Motherhood elicits a new conversation on the hidden evaluations of the public discourse of women and mothers and how society and the media spin certain perceptions based on gender and motherhood. The main argument Buchanan presents is that motherhood and its inclusion in a woman's rhetoric can transform a society's opinions of the speaker/presenter.

The text as a whole highlights the discursive construction and persuasive operations of motherhood in public discourse (p. 5). Buchanan is adamant that motherhood is contextually defined, contingent and changeable, its associations forever in flux rather than fixed (p. xix), and her goal is to inspire others to study motherhood's construction, application, and implications in new rhetorical situations to gain insight into the construct's variability and vulnerability to change (p. xx).

Buchanan concluded Rhetorics of Motherhood by drawing attention to the lack of scholarship on the topic of motherhood in women's rhetoric and encouraged more integration of women and women's issues into disciplinary histories, theories, and traditions (p. 115).