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A History of Off the Street Entrances: Exploring Audience, Space, and the Rhetorical Construction of Female Reproduction
In the beginning. . . Teaching Chevy Equinox as audience invention carved-out door panels, to help keep diamond rings from getting whacked when window switches are used center console spacious enough to stow a handbag tilted accelerator pedal “that makes driving in high heels safer and more comfortable” (Fetini 2010).
Rhetorical Considerations of Space Designed spaces as rhetorical “Although not so obvious at first glance, the themes of communication and rhetoric, in this larger field exert strong influence on our understanding of all objects made for human use. Consider, for example, the numerous historical, sociological, esthetic, and cultural studies of design in recent decades: they are not obviously rhetorical, yet when dealing with the influence of designers and the effects of design on an audience of consumers or society at large,move deeply into the domain of rhetoric” (Buchanan 4). Space as embodied rhetoric “I argue that feminist rhetoricians should pay more attention to gendered rhetorics of bodies, clothing, space, and time together in order to construct more thorough accounts of the rhetorical practices that sustain gender differences”(Jack 285).
The New Rhetoric Audience: Ong “audience is a fiction” “the writer must construct in his imagination, clearly or vaguely, an audience cast in some sort of role.” “the audience must correspondingly fictionalize itself. A reader has to play the role in which the author has cast him which seldom coincides with his role in the rest of actual life “(Ong 60). Lunsford/Ede Audience addressed “emphasizes the concrete reality of the writer’s audience “Knowledge of the audience’s attitudes, beliefs, and expectations is not only possible. . .but essential. Audience Invoked Audience is a construction of the rhetor Comprehensive view of Audience considers audience as addressed, invoked, and takes into account the entire “rhetorical situation”
Arriving at Inquiry How does audience theory aid in understanding the history of rhetorical practices of female reproductive rights? And how, in turn, can that understanding of history support a rhetorical analysis of the physical space of Planned Parenthood clinics? Finally, in examining how designed spaces often “tell” gendered audiences how to fit into them, can we help students explore the relationships between text, identity, and culture?
Brief History of Western Rhetoric Concerning Choice in Motherhood Western attitudes toward reproductive rights rooted in Roman laws “designed primarily to protect the rights of fathers” and later Christian pro-natalist rhetoric that denounced abortion and contraception and “outlined penalties only for women who committed abortion after a sexual crime.” (Luker 12) By 1100 A.D. “formation” of an embryo was held to happen at forty days for a male embryo, so what we term first trimester abortions were not viewed as murder in early Western culture. Nineteenth-century America – where this project essentially begins – “did not inherit an unqualified opposition to abortion. Early abortions were legally ignored and our current notions about reproductive rights and abortion have been shaped by the rhetoric of the 1850-1890 “Right to Life” movement in the United States. Initially the legal rhetoric regarding abortion empowered women; a pregnancy could legally and morally be terminated before “quickening” or movement of the fetus was felt. But the only person who could determine this, essentially was the mother herself. 1879 Comstock Law criminalizes “indecent” public rhetoric of contraceptive methods By 1900 physicians had successfully argued that “abortion was both morally wrong and medically dangerous.” Most of these men were elite, “regular” physicians associated with university-based medical schools. They claimed that “they were obliged to save women from their own ignorance because only physicians were in possession of scientific evidence” that abortion is immoral. (21) Abortion is outlawed in all fifty states. This history illustrates the “the rhetorical situation” into which early rhetoric advocating female choice and control over human reproduction are interjected. Male rhetors invent women as ignorant of the “value of the human embryo” and therefore inadvertently immoral and in need of saving. Woman becomes “patient” and the “doctor knows best” construction of future Roe vs. Wade language is established. (Gibson)
Nineteenth Century Women Negotiate Audience “Clinics for Ladies” discreetly advertised Confidentiality and off-the street entrances noted in advertisements Treatment of menstrual irregularities from “whatever cause” Abortifacient drugs termed “female pills” for “unmarried ladies”
The rhetoric of these “doctress’s” advertisements reflects careful understanding of audience: in one sense this rhetoric accepts the “shame” and “secrecy” illegality has imposed, but refuses disempowerment.
American Rhetoric of Reproduction: DisruptionsDuring The “Century of Silence” Margaret Sanger Audiences Addressed/Invoked The Woman Rebel Autobiographies and Narrative Public Speeches Sanger’s changing rhetorics illustrate a willingness to address the hostile, dominant audience in order to accomplish goals. Simultaneously invokes physicians’ power to understand female reproduction more thoroughly – but also refuses to accept powerlessness over reproductive choice. Jane Audiences Addressed/Invoked Leaflets appeared in the Hyde Park neighborhood of the University of Chicago bearing a simple message: Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane at 643-3844. Red Stockings Speak Out Audiences Addressed/Invoked 1969 in the West Village – women spoke publically for the first time about their then illegal abortions Essentially, rhetors used the argument that abortion is “medically dangerous” to argue for the right to access safe procedures Here rhetors dare to invent a female audience as a community that rejects “secrecy” and “shame” surrounding reproductive rights Ms. Magazine’s List Audiences Addressed/Invoked Audience participation is invention: rejecting silence and shame through publically admitting to abortion Ignores the hostile audience “I had an abortion” campaign Audiences Addressed/Invoked Film by Gillian Aldrich and Jennifer Baumgardner uses narrative/t-shirt sales to place issue of abortion back into public space Very conscious rejection of the secretive/shameful women Film receives backlash from hostile audience
A History reflected through designed Space Planned Parenthood Clinics address a female audience in need of reproductive choice, but invent her as ashamed, silent, and desirous of secrecy while they respond to the assembled audience and larger rhetorical situation. Muted colors Private entrances Discreet locations Tinted/frosted windows Cell phone restrictions
Scholarly and Pedagogical Implications Space and history can be considered in concert to illustrate the ways in which institutions construct individuals and even their own function/role in a society Providing visual and material examples of how rhetoric and audience interact to produce meaning, often meaning that is at once repressive and empowering, can engage students and give them a way to understand the traditional texts of a movement through similar theoretical framework
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Baumgardner, Jennifer. Abortion and Life. New York: Akashic Books, 2008. Print.
Bone, Jennifer. “When Publics Collide: Margaret Sanger's Argument for Birth Control and the Rhetorical Breakdown of Barriers.” Women's Studies in Communication, 33: (2010). 16-33. JSTOR. Web. 10 October 2010.
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Fetini, Alyssa. “Built for Blahniks: A Chevy for the High Heeled Crowd.” Time Magazine. Time Magazine, 26 April 2010. Web. 25 September 2010.
Gibson, Katie L. “The Rhetoric of Roe vs. Wade: When the (Male) Doctor Knows Best.” Southern Communication Journal. 73.4: (2008). 312-331.
Jack, Jordynn. “Acts of Institution: Embodying Feminist Rhetorical Methodologies in Space and Time.” Rhetoric Review. 28.3: (2009). 285-303.
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Luker, Kristen. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1984. Print
Ong, Walter J. “The Writer’s Audience is Always a Fiction.” Cross Talk in Comp Theory, A Reader. Ed. Victor Villanueva. Urbana, Illinois: NCTE, 2003. 55-76. Print.
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Sanger, Margaret. The Morality of Birth Control. Park Theatre, New York. 16 November 1921.
--- My Fight for Birth Control. New York: The Ferris Printing Company, 1931. Print. ---The Woman Rebel. Issue 1 (1914). ---Margaret Sanger, An Autobiography. New York: W.W. Norton, 1938. Print. ---The Pivot of Civilization. New York: Brentanos Publishers, 1922. Print.