I first heard the phrase "bodies sexed female" from historian Cheryl Glenn. Glenn is one of our contemporary de Pizans and Ceretas. She's a good one to listen to during our "women's history month" in the USA. (Canada's and India's will be in October). She knows that the body of books inscribing our histories is male only by and large. Listen:
For the past twenty-five hundred years in Western culture, the ideal woman has been disciplined by cultural codes that require a closed mouth (silence), a closed body (chastity), and an enclosed life (domestic confinement). . .And hear why:
Rhetoric always inscribes the relation of language and power at a particular moment (including who may speak, who may listen or who will agree to listen, and what can be said); therefore, canonical rhetorical history has represented the experience of males, powerful males, with no provision or allowance for females. . .
Except for rhetoric, no intellectual endeavor—not even the male bastion of philosophy—has so consciously rendered women invisible and silent. . . .
Even though gender is merely a concept borrowed from grammar, it, nevertheless, continues to have far-reaching effects on cultural notions of the relation between the sexed body and its behavior.
Men have appropriated many public social practices, particularly prestigious practices like rhetoric, as universally masculine; the feminine experience (that of bodies sexed female) has come to represent exceptions, or the particular.And listen to the conclusion of Glenn's Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance:
I am gratified to be concluding this project, but I must resist closure. A regendered, retold rhetorical tradition opens up--not closes down--investigation into rhetorical practices. Even though gender is merely a concept borrowed from grammar, it, nevertheless, continues to have far-reaching effects on cultural notions of the relation between the sexed body and its behavior. Gendered experiences continue to be difficult, if not impossible, to separate from human ones. And for that reason alone, the masculine gender, just like male experience or display, has come to represent the universal. Men have appropriated many public social practices, particularly prestigious practices like rhetoric, as universally masculine; the feminine experience (that of bodies sexed female) has come to represent exceptions, or the particular.Now, ask with Glenn, "is there a 'woman's' or a 'feminine' rhetoric?" And consider why you may provoke with your answers (by listening to Glenn's conclusion in Andrea A. Lunsford's Reclaiming Rhetorica: Women in the Rhetorical Tradition):
In regendering the tradition [of the history of rhetoric], I have not gone so far as to "destroy gender" or even to "abolish the category of gender" (Wittig 67). Instead, I have analyzed distributions of power along the axis of gender that have for too long been easily accepted as nature's empirical design for masculine superiority, for patriarchal representations of the universal. This discourse of regendering has allowed me to examine gender(ed) performances within and across cultural constructions of the body, human identity, and power.
To this end, the project of regendering rhetorical history is a feminist performative act, a commitment to the future of women, a promise that rhetorical histories and theories will eventually (and naturally) include women. Of course, gender as a category of analysis contributes to this feminist project, but it is regendering that unsettles stable gender categories and enacts a promise that rhetorical history will be a continuous process of investigating the works of women and men rather than a final product that can be finally or universally represented. As soon as it is written, any historical interpretation--including this regendered rhetorical tradition from antiquity through the Renaissance--becomes an anachronism, for it immediately codes its own investigative site as needing/deserving more attention....
Usually, such rhetoric comes out of bodies sexed female.... it has surely come out of the mouths of men as well, of African Americans, of political prisoners, of the poor, the uneducated, the weak.... [Such rhetoric of] the (seemingly) disempowered could and does continually incite such powerful response ... those in power are all too often enraged by such rhetoric.