Friday, June 22, 2007


We academics use funny language. We use methods ironically. Some Hellenists in ancient times called what we do with language ῥητορική (or potion cookery) and what we do methodically ὑποκριτική (or pretending ourselves so we can judge others). So we feminist academics tend to hate that exposure by dead Greek men. What we refuse to believe is this: we feminists in the academy often like to switch places of power with masculinist sexists.

For example, we feminist academics use funny fancy words for the whore, and for the pimp and the john: she’s “an odalisque” or “the harem girl”; and they’re the “objectifying” males; if they’re gay men, and if at least one is bisexual, then the man sleeping with the female “odalisque” is also the pimping man’s “arrogant, dissolute, untrustworthy love object..” That’s our “rhetoric.”

The method that we then claim as “ours” is this: While we despise how bigoted European men portray and use “the harem girl,” we “refigure” her but we ourselves pimp them. We wear the feminist mask so no one (not even ourself-s) will easily see that we're as interested in the whore (so we can pimp the pimp) as any john. (Just to be clear, nonetheless, several afrafeminists and Hellefeminists choose kinder, gentler methods than our “hypocrisy.”)

Let’s see if I can illustrate. And then, dear reader, please consider with me whether we (you and I) are (in our bodies) ourselves not also pimping our own whores, academically.


Enter the academic world. Read the following very important works of academic feminists. Then let’s talk.

Carol Poster’s “(Re)positioning Pedagogy: A Feminist Historiography of Aristotle's Rhetorica.”

Gesa E. Kirsch’s and Joy S. Ritchie’s “Beyond the Personal: Theorizing a Politics of Location in Composition Research.”

Elizabeth Fletcher’s “Women in the Bible.”

Cheryl Glenn’s Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance.

Patricia Bizzell’s “Feminist Methods of Research in the History of Rhetoric: What Difference Do they make?

Marjorie B. Garbor’s Academic Instincts.

Nancy Mairs’ Voice Lessons: On Becoming a (Woman) Writer.

Jacqueline Jones Royster’s “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.”


Now, I know I sound harsh, but some of the feminists whose work you’ve just read have sacrificed their heroism for whoring.

Look at Carol Poster’s own masculinist methods. Look at what she calls for. She calls for this:

. . . for “displacing Aristotle’s philosophical treatise [on rhetoric] to the margins of the discipline” (328)

. . . because, Poster says, “Aristotle has not, and in my opinion, should not be appropriated for feminist rhetoric” (343).

Poster’s opinion is that

recovering Aristotle for rhetoric would be to use his prestige to authorize the marginalized discipline of pedagogy. The notion that rhetoric needs some canonical patriarch as an originary figure in order to legitimize itself within the academy is utterly antithetical to feminist ideals. For feminist rhetoric to reclaim Aristotle as some sort of male mother would be, ipso facto, for rhetoric to accede to the traditional patriarchal judgment of its (feminine) inferiority, and to rely on the reflected prestige of Aristotle to associate itself with the higher prestige, traditionally masculine discipline of philosophy rather than asserting the (perhaps separate but) equal validity of the traditionally feminine discipline of pedagogy. Relying on Aristotle to authorize feminist rhetoric would be to participate in a cultural logic that denies the legitimacy of areas of cultural and economic production traditionally associated with women. (343)

Funny how Poster ignores that Aristotle is a great champion of “the marginalized discipline of pedagogy.” Hypocritically, Poster herself actually uses “the reflected prestige of Aristotle” in order “to authorize feminist rhetoric” by her portrayals. In writing her article as the representative of rhetoric among feminist academics (in Cynthia Anne Freeland’s otherwise fine book, Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle), Poster actually relies on “Aristotle” and participates in his “cultural logic” to attack reliance on Aristotle and his method.


Now recall how Gesa E. Kirsch and Joy S. Ritchie argue that feminist academics must often go beyond the personal. Kirsch and Ritchie would rightly have us all tear down the dividing walls of cultural and gendered constructs.

We argue that it is not enough to claim the personal and locate ourselves in scholarship and research. In doing so, we risk creating another set of “master narratives,” risk speaking for and essentializing others, and risk being blinded by our own culturally determined world views. . . . (8)

It is not enough, then to begin locating ourselves and our experiences. In doing so naively, we risk ignoring hierarchies and creating the same unifying and totalizing master narratives that feminist scholars have sought to revise and oppose. More specifically, we risk defining gender biologically rather than recognizing it as a varied set of relationships. We risk limiting our definitions to a binary of male and female as opposite, inherently different human beings, without seeing the multiple permutations of gendered experience. (11)

But Kirsch and Ritchie (“naively”?) erect their own totalizing walls of difference when they express concern that one of their students became “increasingly committed to a Christian perspective and was, therefore, uncomfortable with the feminist theoretical framework the other two of us favored” (12). Kirsch and Ritchie conclude, “therefore,” some logical cause and effect: that the student cannot be comfortable as a feminist if more comfortable as a Christian.

The academic feminists, Kirsch and Ritchie, reject what first-wave (Christian) feminists including Elizabeth Cady Stanton worked so personally for: equality endowed by their Creator.

Read again Kirsch’s and Ritchie’s conclusions:

[W]e prefer, along with Tronto, ‘a moral theory that can recognize and identify these issues [i.e., problems of otherness, privilege, and paternalism]…to a moral theory that because it presumes that all people are equal, is unable even to recognize them’ (Moral Boundaries 147) (22).

In presuming to go beyond the personal, Kirsch and Ritchie must go beyond the feminists who insist on equality despite personal difference. Such feminists include the first-wave feminists who insisted on equality. And such feminists also include notable, contemporary feminists such as these:

Phyllis Chesler, “a liberal feminist second-waver who's the author of a book called The Death of Feminism,” and who opposes those who “oppose the ideals of dignity and equality for women” [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

and Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, who model their “Third-Wave Manifesta: A Thirteen Point Agenda” after the equal-rights document, the “Declaration of Sentiments”).

Christian feminist Elizabeth Fletcher would surely find strange the “moral theory” of Kirsch and Ritchie. Their theory rejects the presumption that all people are equal; it is the theory of the pimp; in the case of academic feminists Kirsch and Ritchie, it tries to hold on, rather impersonally, to a “feminist theoretical framework” that they must force, by binary logic, to conclude this: that there has to be essential divisive differences between a Christian and a feminist.


But look again at how Fletcher erects her own binary logic to divide Jewish / Christian feminism from Greek sexism. Fletcher essentializes the “Greek culture” as misogynistic when she discusses male portrayals of Mary Magdalene. The Greekish towns, “the ideal of Roman womanhood,” the anti-semitic male historians, all conspired with or bought (into) Plato’s “Platonic dualism” pimped by Alexander the Great. And the result of the conspiracy: “Throughout the centuries, Mary Magdalene was incorrectly portrayed in literature and art as a reformed prostitute.” Today, even, she’s Dan Brown’s Jesus’ woman, if a wife, the one buried in Brown’s “Da Vinci code.”

Fletcher does give a nod to how the Hellene language is used to write Mary’s story in the first place. Jewish, Greekish, Christian males write the following, as Fletcher explains it (from “John 20:11-18, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-11, Matthew 28:1-10”):

At the tomb, Mary was given instructions. She was told by Jesus or by the angel to “Go to my brothers and say to them….” Mary then ‘went and announced’. With these words Mary was commissioned as an apostle of Jesus (‘go and tell’ is apostellein in Greek). She was an apostle in the same way as the men (the Twelve and the other disciples) who were commissioned to spread the story of Jesus.

Until the third century, teachers in the Christian church referred to Mary as an ‘apostle’, and she is still called ‘apostle to the apostles’ by the Eastern Catholic churches. She has been one of the most revered figures in Christian history.

Here Fletcher praises Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for using one “Greek” word for Mary. But Fletcher denigrates Hellenistic culture generally, and she blames other writers like Paul and Josephus for succumbing to the (supposedely) misogynistic, anti-semitic nature of Greek. (With reference to Josephus’ account of the Moses story, I wish Fletcher had observed how the Septuagint translators of the Jewish scriptures into the Hellenistic language had been much more inclusive of Moses’ sister than the original Hebrew text is! The book of Exodus--or "the Way Out" in Greek language--names Moses’s sister Miriam and his brother in Aaron in the Greek translation, but the Hebrew version only names his brother.)

Let me leave you in our discussion here on Christian feminist perspectives by quoting an academic who really maintains her feminist scholarship without assuming a merely masculinist position. Carolyn Osiek, New Testament historian, neither essentializes patriarchal cultures nor forces any one strain of them to objectivize women. Osiek writes:

Christianity, or at least the teaching of Jesus, contained a spark of new insight that led to the beginnings of an egalitarian movement. . . A danger here is to read Christianity as liberator of women from an oppressive Judaism.

In first century Roman society, a new movement was at work toward greater social freedom for women. Hellenistic Judaism and Christianity happened along at the right time to pick up on these trends which were already in the social air, and thus were not directly inspired by Jesus or Christian thought. I have more sympathy with this position.

We'll come back to Jesus (of Christian tradition) in a moment. If not all can agree that that man is a feminist, then we'll consider some feminist men to be "Jesusy," the term Anne Lamott bandies about.


When you read the first few pages of Cheyl Glenn’s masterful Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, then you surely recognized her as the one using the funny word, “odelisque.” And recall how she represents artist Jean-Leon Gerome as representing Alcibiades as representing Aspasia as his (Alcibiades’ and now Gerome’s and now our) “harem girl.”

As right as it is for Glenn to retell the history of Aspasia, to rescue her from mere whoredom, I wonder if we academic feminists would do well to give more voice to Hellenistic feminist men. What?! Yes, if we only pimp the Greek males to our students (our johns?), then what good does it do ultimately?

Yes, please consider with me what Marjorie B. Garbor says about the academic feminist needing the voice of the amateur professional and the professional amateur. Yes, take more of the Voice Lessons that Nancy Mairs gives on the “radical and absolute alterity” of those who refuse to pimp and rather give birth to people and to ideas. Yes, note how Patricia Bizzell writes herself into her academic musings on feminist methods, calling Jacqueline Jones Royster’s afrafeminist ideology our ideal method.

Yes, listen to Jacqueline Jones Royster’s voices, her many “own very much authentic voices” (37). Hear her speaking on her “moments of personal challenge that seem to have import for cross-boundary discourse.” Pay close attention to her saying “that the most salient point to acknowledge is that ‘subject’ position really is everything” (29).

Now let me confess to you, dear readers, I am an academic, I am a feminist, and I am a Euro-American man speaking out for men, especially Jesusy Hellenist feminists, who speak out for women and for men equally. Don't we see how our "subject" position (our afrafeminist ideology as equal to good Hellenist feminism) refuses to pimp? We speak and try to listen in cross-boundary discourse.
"Man cannot speak for her," Elizabeth Cady Stanton once declared. So we should acknowledge that woman cannot speak for him. To become a man who refuses to pimp, who insists on equality for men and women, man must speak for man. He clearly must listen to her (and she to him). As we listen carefully, considerately, we each individually have and must use our “own very much authentic voices.”

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