Flynn, “Composing as a Woman”

Flynn, Elizabeth A. “Composing as a Woman.” CCC 39.4 (1988): 423-435. (13 pages)

Looking at the composing patterns of four student projects (2 men, 2 women), Flynn draws out some composing qualities that appear essential to each specific gender. As she describes, “the narratives of female students are stories of interaction, of connection, or of frustrated connection. The narratives of the male students are stories of achievements, of separation, or of frustrated achievement” (428). Narratives from women typically embody relational identification processes where the narrator is “in harmony with themselves and with the environment” (428); relatedly, this is a form of “connected knowing”: “rooted in empathy with others and is intensely personal. Women who are connected knowers are able to detach themselves from the relationships and institutions to which they have been subordinated and begin to trust their own intuitions” (428). In this way, Flynn advocates for narratives that move toward “authentic voice”, “a way of knowing that integrates intuition with authoritative knowledge” (429).

The feminized view of knowing and doing—collaborative, contextual, contingent—parallels that of composition studies. And more, composition studies’ movement to process, according to Flynn, is a movement toward the feminine. Referencing Gilligan, Flynn asserts that “women tend to define morality in terms of conflicting responsibilities rather than competing rights, requiring for their resolution a mode of thinking that is contextual and narrative rather than formal and abstract” (426). Flynn offers the metaphor of a web, suggesting the “interconnectedness as well as entrapment” (426). Despite Flynn’s essentializing, the early connection she makes to feminine inquiry and composition studies is worth considering.

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