Cheryl Glenn's newest book, Rhetorical Feminism and This Thing Called Hope (2018), is an important contribution to feminist rhetorics, a subfield that continues to emerge within the larger discipline of rhetoric and composition. Deeply self-aware and firmly rooted in our contemporary historical moment, Glenn's book offered a theory of rhetorical feminism, a theoretical stance and tactic that might, according to Glenn, "equip our field for a more expansive dialogue" (p. xi).
Throughout the book's eight chapters, Glenn traced the defining features of rhetorical feminism, focusing on both understanding and applying feminist tactics in contexts familiar to academic readers. Many of the book's chapters, in fact, were organized around these key sites of academic labor—including research, teaching, mentoring, and administration. Woven throughout this discussion was the notion of "hope," which Glenn was careful to frame as "the Cornel West kind of hope" (p. 195) that resists naïve optimism and instead is strategic in its efforts to imagine a better future. Glenn's account took up hopefulness as an awareness of the inevitability of change and argued that rhetorical feminism can guide the way we might pursue change in the academy. The book is important reading for those whose scholarly work engages both feminist and rhetorical theory; the book's practical dimensions also made it a thought-provoking resource for those hoping to adopt more feminist approaches to teaching, mentoring, and administration. Ultimately, Glenn's discussion invited scholars, teachers, mentors, and administrators to extend the concepts of the book to our professional contexts as we consider what the divisiveness of the current moment means for our collective future.
Glenn, Cheryl. (2018). Rhetorical feminism and this thing called hope. Southern Illinois University Press.
Definitions, Terms, Parameters
In the short, 4-page introduction, Glenn explained her central purpose, offering the book as a guide for examining rhetoric and feminism as mutually informing fields. Key terms and distinctions anchoring the book were offered in this introduction. Specifically, Glenn defined feminist rhetoric as "a set of long-established practices that advocates a political position of rights and responsibilities that certainly includes the equality of women and Others" (p. 3). For Glenn, these practices traditionally focused on "the rights, contributions, expertise, opportunities, and histories of marginalized groups," with an orientation toward forming coalitions (p. 3). The awareness of exigence, audience, argumentative principles, and appeals inform these feminist practices, thereby indicating the overlap between feminism and rhetoric.
After offering this brief overview of feminist rhetoric, Glenn moved into defining the new concept introduced by the book: rhetorical feminism. Specifically, Glenn defined rhetorical feminism as: "a tactic […]—a theoretical stance—that is responsive to the ideology that is feminism and to the key strategy that is feminist rhetoric" (p. 4). Here, Glenn established the relevance of rhetorical feminism for work inside and outside of the academy, signaling the structure of the discussion to come. Specifically, Glenn argued that "rhetorical feminism is a conceptual action, a trope that can be used to help negotiate cross-boundary mis/understandings and reconciliations; illuminate rhetorical theories; advance feminist rhetorical research methods and methodologies; energize feminist teaching, mentoring, and administration; and secure our hope for the future" (p. 4). These introductory pages of the discussion were essential for grounding the chapters that followed.
Activism and Identities
Though geared primarily toward an academic audience, Glenn's discussion of rhetorical feminism offered a careful examination of the work of feminist activism more broadly, an important history for understanding the character and spirit of the field that would later emerge. Referring to "Sister Rhetors," or women who "speak, write, and theorize their activism in the private, pedagogical, and public sphere" (p. 5), Glenn described how "both feminist rhetors and rhetorical feminists respond to power, their responses including speaking, silence, listening, or action of some kind" (p. 5). Glenn traced the history of these "Sister Rhetors" in the United States from the suffragist movement to the 2017 March on Washington, pointing out key historical instances of rhetorical feminism as she continued to define and illustrate the features of that concept.
The grounding discussion of feminist activism offered in this chapter celebrates the origins of feminism as a contemporary movement, and Glenn's historiographer approach illuminated the emergence of feminist rhetoric as activism. Central to feminist activism is the notion of achieving equality, and Glenn noted the importance of rhetoric to that purpose, arguing that "True equality manifests itself when a person's political, civic, rhetorical words or actions are accepted, heard, and acted on […] by an engaged audience" (p. 9). Presenting activist histories through rhetorical lenses worked to draw the mutually shaping histories of rhetoric and feminist activism together, illuminating the emergence of what would become feminist rhetoric as a discipline. Glenn concluded her discussion of activism by noting that these histories show how new ways of being rhetorical and new ways of being feminist helped Sister Rhetors across historical contexts to imagine "a world that is rounder, more humane, and more future-oriented" (p. 23). In doing so, Glenn returned to the notion of hopefulness as a central dimension of rhetorical feminism, one that imagines and works deliberately toward a more utopian future.
Building from this discussion of activism, the second chapter of Glenn's book focused on identity, specifically the identities that determine "who can/not speak, what can/not be said, who can/not listen, who will/not be listened to and what those listeners can/not do" (p. 25). Drawing from Kenneth Burke's notion of identification, Kimberlé Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's concept of strategic essentialism, Glenn offered "possibilities for healing the fissures among feminists" and examined identity "as an epistemic resource that can enhance the transactions and understandings of rhetorical feminism as we speak across difference and disagreement with a commitment to hope and possibility" (p. 26).
Woven through this chapter was Glenn's interest in listening, a focus prominent in much of her previous work. Within discussion of identity and rhetorical practice, Glenn noted she continues to be "most troubled by the variable of who will be listened to" (p. 25), since "if no one is listening, where does rhetorical power actually lie" (p. 26)? This notion of speaking and listening—both individually and collectively—underscored an emphasis on identity politics as a lived experience that is critically intertwined with voice. This chapter also foregrounded the important function of strategic essentialism, which Glenn noted "is about the need to accept an essentialist position in order to coalesce temporarily, to leverage group agency" (p. 36).
The awareness of a need to work across differences and boundaries toward a shared goal spoke clearly to Glenn's orientation toward hope, of living and working hopefully through the shared enactment of positive change. Throughout this discussion, Glenn called for continued rhetorical theories of identity, particularly those that make space for invitational rhetoric, silence, and listening (p. 44). Central to this chapter was acknowledgment that identity is always seen in relationship to an Other, and that awareness of these identities and their interactions is important for any rhetorical feminist enterprise, since "who we actually understand ourselves to be and not be, with whom we self-identify and do not, has consequences for how we experience and understand the world" (p. 47). The efforts to link both rhetorical and feminist approaches to theorizing identity set up the specific theoretical orientations examined in the next chapter.
Theories, Methods, Methodologies
Chapter 3 of Rhetorical Feminism examined key points of overlap between rhetorical and feminist theory to further develop rhetorical feminism as a theory and tactic. Earlier in the book, Glenn noted that her theoretical discussion is particularly oriented toward theories that reflect an attitude of hopefulness, including "progress toward greater representation and inclusivity of everyday rhetoric, disidentification with traditional rhetorical practices, transformation of rhetorical transactions, reconsideration of the rhetorical appeals, and appreciation for alternative means of delivery" (p. xi). Drawing from such feminist theorists as Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Mary Daly, and Karlyn Khors Campbell, Glenn traced theoretical departures of rhetorical feminism from more traditional conceptions of argument, persuasion, and delivery. In contrast to more traditional goals of rhetoric, for example, Glenn argued in this chapter that rhetorical feminism includes an effort to value "dialogue, listening and productive silence" (p. 75) above domination and persuasion. Glenn also noted that rhetorical feminists often reclaim emotion, so often seen in traditional rhetoric as a symptom of weakness and irrationality, instead acknowledging "the role emotion plays in critical thinking, invention, reasoning, evaluation, and knowledge production" (p. 92).
This reconceptualization of the traditional rhetorical appeals was key to much of the discussion that follows, as Glenn went on to trace departures rhetorical feminists take from traditional notions of artistic appeals that have historically placed more emphasis on logos. The notion of multiplicity and expansiveness formed another important thread of the chapter, as much of Glenn's discussion centered on rhetorical feminist approaches that resist a singular, dominant theory or voice. In her discussion of language, for instance, Glenn argued boldly that "the demand for clear communication that allegedly reflects reality proves to be nothing else but an intolerance for any language other than the one approved by the dominant ideology" (p. 67) In response, Glenn turned her attention to theories that invite a more dialogic attitude toward rhetorical practice, theories open to permeability and movement across boundaries (p. 51). As with the other chapters in the book, Glenn concluded her discussion of rhetorical feminist theory with a return to the notion of hope, arguing that hopefulness overcomes obstacles and pushes rhetorical feminists forward. These concluding sentiments, and the chapter as a whole, reminded readers that "feminist theorizing itself is an act of resistance, a way to uncover and discover the sites of oppression and repression," which also illuminates contributions that often go unacknowledged (p. 50). The chapter reminded readers of the importance of linking theory and practice, of building theoretical lenses as a way to enact change.
Chapter 4 moved from theory into specific research methods, acknowledging the challenge in separating the two. Resisting the impulse to claim objectivity in research, Glenn argued instead for an emphasis on transparency in rhetorical feminist research practices. The chapter focuses on four research practices, in particular: Critical imagination, or an attitude of engagement and inquiry (p.101); strategic contemplation, or the rigorous consideration of scholarship (p. 102); social circulation, or attention to the intersections of feminist scholarship and activity across generations and contexts (p. 102); and globalization, which acknowledges deep and widespread connections and contributions of women to rhetorical performance across historical periods and geographical contexts (p. 103). Within this discussion of research methods, Glenn points to such scholars like Jacqueline Jones Royster and Gesa E. Kirsch as researchers who model feminist approaches to rhetorical studies. In making the case for historiography, Glenn argued that "While historians claim neutrality, historiographers admit that their histories are intended to do something, to emend and shape our perceptions" (p. 104). This discussion of historical research practices reflected the principles of rhetorical feminism outlined in previous chapters, especially disidentification, dialogue, multiplicity, and understanding. Feminist historiographers can, according to Glenn, think creatively and strategically as they engage with both traditional and vernacular perspectives in an effort to expand and enrich our understanding of history (p. 113). Once again, Glenn returned to the notion of hope in her concluding sentiments, calling for research practices imbued with rhetorical feminism that "will eventually blossom with intellectual and academic respect and equality" (p. 123).
Teaching, Mentoring, Administration
Chapter 5 of Rhetorical Feminism emphasized rhetoric as a teaching discipline and discussed possibilities for teaching practices grounded in the theory/tactic of rhetorical feminism. Glenn opened the chapter with a reminder of rhetoric's "roots as a teaching tradition, the pedagogical pursuit of good (that is, artful and ethical) speaking, writing, and being" (p. 126). Glenn's respect for teaching as a professional endeavor was refreshing, and she presented teaching as an ideal site for the practice of rhetorical feminism and reinvigorating democracy. To that end, Glenn established some central goals for feminist teaching. In addition to scholarly preparation, high expectations, critical reflection, and a civic mindset, Glenn argued that a rhetorical feminist teacher respects students' "vernaculars, experiences, and emotions," a respect toward students that "keeps students in college and keeps them learning" (p. 130). The future-oriented stance of hope offered throughout Glenn's book was evident in this chapter, as well, particularly in the way Glenn suggested a rhetorical feminist teacher must practice critical engagement. Here, drawing from Charlotte Bunch's pedagogical model of critical engagement, Glenn argued that a rhetorical feminist teacher succeeds when achieving these goals: "describing what exists, analyzing why that reality exists, determining what should exist, and hypothesizing how to change what is to what should be" (p. 133).
Glenn's discussion of teaching also located agency in the students themselves, noting that a rhetorical feminist teacher should teach "with the full expectation that the students will claim (rather than merely receive) their own educations" (p. 135). Glenn's discussion of teaching examined the teacher, classroom, and tasks of writing as opportunities to practice rhetorical feminism, an opportunity Glenn extended to learning spaces outside of the traditional classroom, as well, such as writing centers. Glenn's discussion of teaching was inspiring, particularly given its awareness of some of the grave challenges teachers face in the contemporary historical moment; yet, as Glenn noted, "we carry our hope back into the classroom each term" (p. 148), and principles of rhetorical feminism can help to build courses and classroom environments that return us to the transformative possibilities of teaching and learning.
In the same spirit, Chapter 6 linked feminism and mentoring, rejecting traditional "hierarchical master-apprentice" models and instead calling for an approach to mentoring infused with feminist principles. The decision to examine mentoring in its own chapter, distinct from discussions of teaching and administration, seemed noteworthy, perhaps in growing recognition of the importance of mentoring relationships in the academy. As Glenn noted, positive mentoring relationships must begin with an awareness of location, drawing from feminist frameworks to examine the privileged, subaltern, or marginalized nature of those locations (p. 152). Throughout the chapter, Glenn examined ways feminist mentoring practices "disrupt the unidirectional flow of power and information that constitutes traditional hierarchical mentoring" (p. 153), noting that these relationships are especially important for women (p. 153).
The feminist principles relevant to the previous chapter's discussion of teaching—specifically the need for feminist mentors to legitimize the experiences, locations, and vernaculars of mentees—continued to be central in this chapter (pp. 155–156), with added attention to the mentor's responsibility "to accept only the number of mentees she can effectively mentor, to provide ample mutual mentoring opportunities for them (reading groups, dissertation writing groups, and the like), and to invite her mentees to meet with her, assuring each of them that she does, indeed, have time and energy for each individual" (p. 171). This portion of the discussion seemed to assume an element of control or agency on the part of the mentor, which may frustrate readers who have less control over the number of mentees (or advisees, or students) they work with each semester as the chapter seems to assume. Nevertheless, Glenn's decision to treat the labor of mentoring as worthy of its own space in the discussion of rhetorical feminism was unusual and welcome.
Chapter 7 examined administration, noting that administrative roles continue to open to women, who previously were largely unrepresented in these roles. Glenn argued that both feminism and rhetorical training may assist the rhetorical feminist administrator in analyzing hierarchical structures of administration and the powerful context of the writing classroom. Reflecting on her experience as a writing program administrator [WPA], Glenn considered how administrative work from a perspective of rhetorical feminism must examine the role of standpoint and location, regardless of the administrator's ability to make changes based on those factors. Here, WPA work was considered as situated an enterprise as the research, teaching, and mentoring practices outlined in the previous chapters. Glenn's vision of a more feminist WPA model imagined more distributed power and responsibility, an orientation that "aligns better with the material conditions of my position, with my mesosystem" (p. 187). Glenn also demonstrated disciplinary advocacy as part of her rhetorical feminism as a WPA, rejecting, for example, misassumptions about the intellectual value of first-year writing courses and sweeping revisions of course curricula that fail to take into consideration the actual needs of students (p. 188).
This Thing Called Hope
The concluding chapter of Rhetorical Feminism reflected on the present historical moment, a moment which Glenn described early in the book as "a gloomy moment of restricted environmental policies, international relations, health care, and social programs that affect the most vulnerable of our citizens" (p. xii). In response to these concerns, Glenn argued that rhetorical feminism's guiding orientation toward hope can productively inform and improve our professional and personal lives. Recognizing the complexity of our historical moment and the many questions about what the future might hold, Glenn examined what contemporary events might mean for the work of the book itself. Glenn's acknowledgment that the book—and the project of rhetorical feminism itself—can never be "finished" reflected the larger spirit of rhetorical feminism as a stance. Rather than attempting to reach a conclusive ending, this approach, as Glenn noted, "creates possibilities, not blueprints for an imagined utopian future" (p. 193). Acknowledging the divisiveness and considerable challenges of our current historical moment, Glenn pragmatically turned toward major issues for rhetorical feminists to address in the future, including questions about the impact of post-truth politics, the Trump presidency, and possibilities for a more equitable future (p. 196). These questions were offered as an invitation to continue the efforts described in this book, all the while keeping in focus "a tempered hope for the future in light of our present political moment" (p. 198). In other words, working collectively to answer these questions from a standpoint of hope "reminds us that we must trust that change will come and pro/actively pursue positive change in the ways feminist rhetoricians have been doing for over thirty years now" (p. 198).
In addition to establishing major questions for future work in rhetorical feminism, Glenn used the concluding chapter as an opportunity to consider how to build bridges and reduce divisiveness. Noting the difficulty of this task, Glenn nevertheless called for efforts to reach across political, scholarly, and social spheres, without simply courting the mainstream. To achieve this goal, Glenn argued that rhetorical feminists must "connect feminist rhetorical issues with the concerns of mainstream rhetoric, in the way that Kenneth Burke encourages when he explained that you persuade someone insofar as you can talk that person's language, identifying your ways with his or hers, identifying your cause with that person's interests" (p. 204).
Finally, Glenn concluded by establishing several "pressing concerns" for future work, concerns that mirror the organization of the book itself. First, Glenn argued that we must continue to examine teaching contexts, since "the gap between the hope for teaching and learning and the material conditions that encompass our teaching lives (and our students' learning lives) is too often alarmingly vast" (pp. 208–209). Next, Glenn argued that rhetorical feminists must "continue to enrich the teacher-mentor relationship," avoiding the "master-apprentice" model and instead favoring feminist interventions that "frames a humane model of high scholarly expectations, rigorous academic preparation, and open communication" (p. 209). Finally, Glenn argued that rhetorical feminists must "rethink our own research agendas and scholarly stance as we widen our understanding of who and what can be defined as rhetorical and as we appreciate more fully the vast range of methods, methodologies, and epistemologies currently in circulation" (p. 210). In this way, Glenn's book concluded not as a final persuasive push for the theory and tactic she offered throughout the previous chapters, but as an invitation for further work across the academy to develop the work of rhetorical feminism.
Perhaps the most exciting part of Rhetorical Feminism was the way Glenn invited future research and teaching efforts. The usefulness of the concept lies in its recognition of intersections, igniting the kind of expansive feminist research, teaching, and mentoring efforts Glenn described; the book's structure, linking feminist concepts directly to the branches of academic labor that define much of our professional work, is also useful. Glenn's discussion offered numerous entrypoints for research, sketching key feminist methods and methodologies that could benefit a variety of research trajectories. The book offered useful models and specific examples, sometimes drawn from Glenn's own career and the careers of other feminists in rhetoric and compositing studies, for developing new spaces for discussing feminist scholarly work.
Some readers of Kairos may be disappointed by the lack of clear connection to digital rhetorics in Glenn's discussion, particularly given the book's forward-looking orientation. This was a surprising omission, given Glenn's otherwise astute awareness of the communicative landscape of the present moment. While Glenn's effort does not directly engage the work of multimodal composing, online teaching, and digital research methods as important subcategories that intersect with rhetoric, the emphasis on multiplicity, identity, and activism throughout the book set the stage for computers and composition scholars to find new applications for the concepts Glenn presents. And, since Glenn argued that rhetorical feminism respects alternative delivery systems, scholars and teachers invested in multimodalities should still find plenty of opportunity to apply and extend Glenn's frameworks to the work of digital scholarship and teaching, as well.
Much of Glenn's discussion may also feel familiar for those already interested in the links between rhetoric and feminism as disciplines. While the book may not feel groundbreaking in terms of the links it draws between rhetoric and feminism, the drawing together of these mutually shaping histories and application of those histories to sites of academic labor made it a valuable resource as we continue to define theories and practices of feminist rhetoric in the academy. Additionally, while some of the concluding sentiments may feel frustratingly open-ended for readers looking for practical strategies to build bridges and reduce divisiveness, the invitational stance is perhaps the greatest contribution of the book. Rhetorical Feminism did not purport to offer the definitive answer for how to enact hope; instead, the book's point was to compel its readers to respond. In short, the book functioned as an invitation, a request, a series of questions for expanding the concept of rhetorical feminism than as a comprehensive, totalizing theory. In short, Glenn's most recent book is consistent with the quality and relevance that have defined her career, with concepts sure to guide the field of rhetorical feminism in the years to come.