The Coalition of Women Scholars

The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCCs) is the biggest annual event for the field of Composition and Rhetoric. This is the time when composition scholars meet up with old friends, collaborate with one another, take in new scholarship, and do some serious drinking.

This time, perhaps a hundred or so women, and a few devoted men, sit in the Marquis Ballroom before the Coalition meeting, discussing the workshops they’ve already attended at this year’s CCCCs. They are The Coalition of Women Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition. 

Founded in 1993, the coalition formed to suit the specific needs caused by serious inequity in the treatment of women compositionists and rhetoricians and in the scope of scholarship largely promoted by male rhetoricians. Women have travelled a long road to get a modicum of decent treatment and adequate compensation for their work. Stories abound of being denied tenure or having their position put under review for elimination to avoid giving them tenure. There are also stories of female scholars being shamed for having children (which is seen as unprofessional, and a distraction), being silenced entirely or censured for trying to voice original opinions, and generally being disallowed the same benefits and respect of their male colleagues.

Many discussions of feminist work to composition scholarship happened, literally, in the basement, where some of these women were relegated to work. But even more, let us not ignore the simple fact that as a “feminized field” composition is often devalued as a whole. Further, the canon of both literature and rhetorical, included a long list of male authors, eliding the accomplishments and contributions of women once again. Women’s writing has so often been degraded, debased, devalued as not literature, as not serious, as frivolous and concerned with only their tiny sphere, which would be of no interest to others.

Critics created ghettoized genres to differentiate women’s contributions to literature, distinguishing Regionalism as subordinate to Realism, and ignoring the Novel itself because there were too many damn scribbling women bringing the form into being. Women’s common writing practices, such as letter writing, were long considered not to be ‘real’ writing, not ‘real’ rhetorical actions. It should, but perhaps doesn’t for some, go without saying that this same canon excluded quite a few non-dominant groups, notably based on race and gender. So when these women gather in this ballroom at the beginning of a week long conference in their field, they are talking back, showing with their presence the need for allies, the need for more discussion and more activism.

The women who get up to tell about their commitment to Rhetoric and Composition also demonstrate their commitment to other women, to providing something the institution does not provide for not just their young women students, but their young men of color, their working class students, their queer students, all their marginalized students holding more than one of these mentioned identities. They are essentially, attempting to enfranchise the disenfranchised.  These women make the effort to acknowledge women’s place in the rhetorical canon. They offer awards to their accomplished members for articles, books, and an outstanding graduate student (it can’t be overstated how much graduate students need recognition and frankly, monetary assistance).

At the end of the talks, the Coalition allows the members to split up into mentorship groups, including but not limited to a workshop for proposals to the upcoming Feminisms and Rhetorics conference, turning a dissertation into something publishable, and balancing academic career with life outside of work. The academy may be arguably one of the places that most upholds norms and prejudice under the guise of “standards.” However, this Coalition, as well as other special interest groups that meet yearly at CCCCs and other conferences, continues to fight to make higher education accessible and inclusive.

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Image from http://weather.ou.edu/~femrhets/

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