It was Mother’s Day weekend and we thought we would give a shout out to some of the women who have changed the way we think, speak, and understand the world.
First and foremost there is Aspasia. She’s like the Ur-mother. We don’t know her full story and that’s probably because she was a woman who was good at her job and we can’t have that. But we know she was persuasive, powerful, and maybe seductive – and a teacher. She might also have given us the Socratic method. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
We also want to acknowledge Julian of Norwich. In a medieval world completely subsumed by patriarchal thinking she dared to be a woman’s voice speaking out, and acknowledge the feminine side of God. She argued that women had a place in religion – which implied that women had a place in the structures of power. That’s pretty radical.
A contemporary to Julian of Norwich was Margery Kempe. She couldn’t read or write but managed to leave behind an autobiography. She challenged societal and religious norms and left people wondering whether she was a saint or a madwoman – but she forged her own path and dictated her own terms and literally her own life, leaving a record of a complex and entertaining person.
We can’t forget Christine de Pizan, who was one of the first women to make a living by writing. She wrote books defending the role of women in society. Though not a feminist by today’s standards, as she was entrenched in traditional gender roles, she wrote about valuing women and women’s contributions to the world in which they live. She was a pioneer in defending women’s work and women’s contributions to society.
Mary Wollstonecraft is an essential figure in the history of women’s writing and thinking. A brilliant thinker and rhetorician, she argued against the idea that you had to born a man to have political rights. Feminism wouldn’t be the same without her.
Susan B. Anthony is a personal favorite of ours. She fought tirelessly for women’s suffrage and showed that women are just as capable as making rational arguments as men with her famous syllogistic argument “Is it a Crime for a U.S. Citizen to Vote?” Appeals to logos are for everybody.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton showed a powerful grasp of words and argument when she drafted the “Declaration of Sentiments” for the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. She also wrote moving accounts of what it meant to be a woman and an activist in her inimitable “Solitude of the Self.”
Soujourner Truth reminded the White women of the First Wave that Black women mattered, too, and that the Black experience could not be discounted. Her powerful use of oratory brought the experience of slaves and former slaves to the forefront of the Women’s Movement.
Emma Goldman brought radical politics to the very front door of American politics. She brought her powerful ability to argue, her immigrant experience, he radical approach to life, and her politics to bear on a changing America and became one of the most unforgettable figures of the first half of the 20th century.
Helene Cixous is a prolific French writer known for her unmatched word play and work across disciplines. She encourages women to understand and reclaim their relationship to their bodies and rhetorically express it.
Audre Lorde wrote her experiences into the world and devoted herself to addressing injustice. She helped us understand the Black, lesbian, woman’s experiences and how privilege and persecution effect the individual and the community. She taught us that it is okay to be angry.
Karlyn Kohrs Campbell and Kathleen Hall Jamieson paved the way for women in rhetoric in the field today. Without their work there might not be Feminist or Presidential rhetorical studies as we know it. And they are mentors for so many who are working now.
And there are so many women working in history, sociology, poli sci, journalism, comm studies, English, rhet comp, politics, anthro, and the sciences that inspire us with their work now. Let us know who you think deserve some recognition.