Saturday, April 19, 2008

What the ?

Q: What's a self professing "very chauvinist" man (called out by another man for his neglect of women, and calling award-winning the grievous smackdown between this feminist and a linguist) doing blogging as a guest here during the silence of my dissertation writing?

A: flapdoodle, snickerdoodle, and domination

Q: The difference between my evangelical missionary dad and my feminist teachers?

A: The weeks before my first Ph.D. classes started, I began reading one of the textbooks for the Composition Theory course. I'd picked up early the late Robert J. Connor's Composition--Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy. Without knowing of Roxanne Mountford or her review of Connor's book or of the grievous smackdown between him and her that resulted, I was as shocked as she is at his "dichotomy" between "two medieval rhetorical arts: ars dictaminis (the art of letter writing) and ars praedicandi (the art of preaching)" of which "Connors argues, women are absolutely excluded from the art of preaching."

Even though I was shocked that the academy, according to Connors, had been excluding women from oral rhetoric just as the Christians had, I was in for more shock. In addition to the Comp Theory class, I'd enrolled in a Rhetoric seminar. On the books it was called Women's Rhetoric, but on the first night the professor explained that that was a Registrar's error and that the title of the class was really the Rhetoric of Women Writers. "Yup," I thought to myself remembering quiet authoresses like Edith Schaeffer, "women write and men debate." And yet within minutes the seminar was a "ovinar" (the professor's joke, which I embarrassed myself with by laughing aloud). I was one of four males, the minority among a vast majority of women, eighteen of them as I remember, and we were debating already. "Feminism, what (good) is it?" After the break, the prof had us write to ourselves which writers we read. (Mine? And lots and lots of them. All men. I'd glanced at Edith Schaeffer's book in my mom's room once. But even the academic books I'd read for the M.A. in linguistics and for a two-decade career in ESL program teaching and administration were male authored. Linguistic theories? all male. Theories about how adults either learn or acquire language. all written by men. The practice of language program administration? mostly us men, who hired women most of whom were dependent, as least in the early days of the profession, on their husband's jobs for fringe benefits. Research articles on minorities in ESL learning and teaching? yeah, there's been much of that; but by the time I was in this Rhetoric of Women Writers course, there had not been a single article published in TESOL Quarterly on the ways women speak or write, despite the professionally marginal niche-research by some women such as Deborah Tannen and Robin Lakoff, who casts no shadow as huge as George's.)

After the last class that semester, the prof commented on my research for her course. She said, "So you'd suggested someone needs to do a dissertation on the profound sexist inequities in your academic field. Are you going to do it?" I looked down, and quickly replied: "No."

But earlier in the course, I had been quietly blown away by how different Cheryl Glenn's history of women in oral rhetoric is than Connor's. Her thesis is that women are not in the history of oral rhetoric because men have silenced women in history and in the writing of history. Glenn then retells, rewrites, rhetoric in Rhetoric Retold to show that, in fact, women like Aspasia are as vocal as men like Socrates. And there's very good reason to believe that the dialectic method Plato attributes to his male teacher was actually learned from the female teacher of rhetoric, whom Plato does acknowledge as the speech writer and coach of the male Pericles. More loudly I'd been blown away by Nancy Mairs, who writes like I want to write. "You weren't ready for Mairs, were you?" a female classmate asked one evening when I was complaining to the professor that she should have started the course with Mairs.

Learning happens when I'm ready.

I'm fascinated with adult human conversion. Which is one reason I'm drawn to adult learners of English as an additional language. And to people like Evelyn Pike and Kenneth Pike who humble themselves and learn by listening as outsiders to people who use languages and categories that are not the ones the Pikes have known in their mother tongue.

Which is why I have a new appreciation for parables:
as Anne-Claire Rivollet talks about them, using them "perhaps not to be understood but to encourage people to search further to go deeper into their lives";
and as Luise Schottroff writes about them, finding in them "good justification for taking the part of the oppressed, the marginalised or the outsider; of letting the text speak for those people and of using as much social-historical research as possible into their situation to do this." Schottroff, Jane Stranz tells us, is also involved with a "translation project" of the Bible" that is "seeking to find 'more just' or more inclusive translations. . . to deal with some of the inherent anti-semitism in Christian translations and also to tackle the way some translations make people (women, slaves, children) and their realities invisible."

Which brings me back to the "difference" in my second Q above. My feminist teachers believe that silence of women and secrets of men are not entirely healthy. It's true in religion and in higher education. And yet the preaching is not to convert the other first; rather it's profoundly personal and self transforming. (Alexander the Great dominator did not get that from his teacher Aristotle either in principle or in practice. And so I get back to my translating, to feminism. Thanks to David, translator consultant still learning, for being our guest and for saying a few things to us, and to his mom.)

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