Ritchie, Joy and Kathleen Boardman. “Feminism in Composition: Inclusion, Metonymy, and Disruption.” CCC 50.4 (1999): 585-606. (22 pages)
Ritchie and Boardman point to a feminisim’s “absence-presence” in composition studies. While there appears a “near absence of feminism from our publications”, there exists a feminist energy with compositionists: “this energy might be viewed as ephemeral, yet we can testify, along with others, that it created solidarity among women, influenced students and colleagues, and helped form an epistemology on which later feminist work could grow” (587). The absence-presence prompts a feminist retrospective account of composition studies, grounded in articles written in CCC, College English, and English Journal. They organize their inquiry into three overlapping tropes “that shed light on the roles feminism has played in composition and in the strategies women have used to gain a place in its conversations: inclusion, metonym, and disruption.
As a preface, they consider the methodological soundness of observing narratives of experience. Namely, experience is a construct that reflects the values and ideologies used to make such a construction. In other words, “what counts as experience is neither self-evident nor straightforward; it is always contested, always therefore political” (588). Narrative of experience shows us “ways to continue to value women’s experiences as sources of knowledge” while also being considered a rhetorical tool.
Inclusions: “Correcting the long absence of women from intellectual and political landscapes, inserting women’s perspectives into contexts dominated by patriarchy, and giving women equal status with men have constituted one of the central feminist projects—that of inclusion” (589). However, as R/B point out, such narratives of inclusion often essentialize definitions of gender. Often, research stemming from an inclusion narrative support or examine the stylistic features of women’s and men’s writing, and such essays highlight the feminine style as deficient. However, R/B give credit to inclusion narratives willingness to challenge “the field’s gender-blindness by instating that women be included in narratives of classroom writing practices” (592).
Metonymic or Intuitive Connections: these narratives highlight the intuitive connection that some have noted between feminist inquiry and composition studies: “according to this story, the two have run for years in the same direction, along those trajectories; to bring the fields together it is necessary only to notice the shared foals and common directions, and to make connections more visible and explicit” (593). R/B point to a number of factors that account for this intuitive connection: (1) they share pedagogical aims that were grounded in liberal, progressive causes; (2) many teachers of composition had backgrounds in literary criticism; (3) that material conditions of composition, where the majority of teachers of writing were women; and (4) the value placed on foremothers. However, R/B point out that this intuitive connection may have “delayed the emergence of feminist theory and continued its marginalization in the field” (593). While the intuitive connection between these two fields of study “create a sense of solidarity and vitality” among like-minded compositionist, “it may also reinforce the very structures that keep feminist perspectives contained in a separate, benign category rather than giving feminist analysis a central place, or at least keeping it insistently, vocally disruptive of the discipline’s metanarratives” (595).
Disruptions: these narratives “represent some form of feministm (newly experienced or theorized) reaching back to reread and even reconfigure past experience and practice” (596). Many of these accounts reflect individual, liberal disruption, “the idea that once a women sees clearly, her life is changed, and she is thus empowered to become effectively active for change and reform” (597). In other words, such narratives are disruptive in that these women come to see that they are not envisioned within particular meta-narrative of institutions; thus, some action is taken to “disrupt and change the structures that have kept her subordinate” (597). Much of the action taken within composition studies is “rereading the field and their own complicity. Their reading disrupts, among other things, their own research, by requiring that they return to it and revise it” (598). Such disruption accounts for the proliferation of difference where researchers within disruptive narratives create tensions and pit others against each other. Disruption narratives, then, participate in the feminization of composition, “the gendering of the entire field of composition and of various activities that have taken place iwthin it” (599). “Feminization narratives…work disruptively in two directions: their analysis foregrounds the political positions of composition within institutional structures, but it also hihlights tensions within women’s roles and interests in composition” (600). Much of this work is mean to disrupt established narratives of the discipline.
In their concluding remarks, R/B, in a way, advocate for a kind of paradigmatic shift toward the feminization of composition. They refer to these narratives of experience as sites of agency that should be included in rigorous study in composition. Such inclusion would operate as “excess” in that parts of the narratives would not fit into our current explanations.