Feminist theory in composition studies

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In composition studies, feminism is generally focused on giving feedback while taking into account gender difference. Thus, an instructor with a feminist pedagogy is unlikely to favor an androcentric method of teaching. A feminist approach in composition "would focus on questions of difference and dominance in written language".[1]


In the 1960s, the second wave of feminism began and one major goal was to raise society’s consciousness of the struggles of women. The goals of feminists were largely carried out in university classrooms. Specifically, in the composition classroom, Faye Spencer Moar claimed that the way writing was taught largely favored male writers.[2] Mary P Hiatt claimed that women implicitly write differently than men, and that men tended to write in the dominant, most oft taught style.[3]

Hiatt argues that the terms "masculine" and "feminine" are applied to styles of writing–that of men and women, respectively–but, instead of describing the style, what is actually described is the male views on both men and women. Her examples include "strong", "rational", and "logical" for men, and "emotional", "hysterical", and "silly" for women.[3] Thus, the aim of feminism in composition studies was to create a classroom in which women perceived themselves intellectually and in which their voices were relevant in what some feminists perceive to be an androcentric world.


Elizabeth Flynn writes that feminist theory "emphasize[s] that males and females differ in their developmental processes and in their interactions with others".[1] Thus, a feminist instructor will take into account the implicit differences between male and female writers and teach appropriately, without favoring or focusing on androcentric or gynocentric studies. Feminist pedagogy involves reading texts written by women, and taking care to understand those texts are not simply appropriations of texts written by men, without any sort of critique of androcentrism.[1]

Focus is also placed upon the reading and reviewing of student-created texts. Feminist instructors try to create a supportive classroom environment and validate student’s experiences.[4] Susan Jarratt mentions a feminist pedagogy that advocates women writing about "personal experiences after reading women’s autobiography, history, and fiction".[4]

One style of feminist theory that is being utilized in the composition classroom is the theory of Invitational Rhetoric. Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin, [5] first proposed the idea of Invitational Rhetoric as "grounded in the feminist principles of equality, imminent value and self-determination" (5). Originally this was considered a communication theory. More recently, it has grown across curriculums, including the use in English composition classrooms. As a newer philosophy in English composition, the use of invitational rhetoric is used as a way to make students feel comfortable in the classroom setting. By using Foss and Griffin’s Invitational Rhetoric theory as a guide in conducting classes, instructors are able to encourage their students to share their beliefs and learn to respect others opinions, without having to feel like opposite views are being force-fed to them in a way that would cause them to turn away from debate or discussions that could foster critical thinking. According to Foss and Griffin, Invitational Rhetoric works through the use of debate and discussion as a way to learn about various viewpoints, with the freedom to ultimately make up one’s own minds about the topic. Abby Knoblauch [6]describes the use of Invitational Rhetoric as a way to make sure conservative students are not put on the offensive by more liberal teachers and their ideals. By using Invitational Rhetoric as a guide in presenting material, an instructor can in turn foster a student’s creativity and encourage them to write about what is important to them.


Flynn researched the narratives of her first-year composition students for their disparities. She says, "The narratives of the female students are stories of interaction, of connection, or of frustrated connection. The narratives of the male students are stories of achievement, of separation, or of frustrated achievement".[1] Feminist research "tries to arrive at hypotheses that are free of gender loyalties," says Patricia A. Sullivan.[7]

Sandra Harding lists three characteristics of feminist research in her book Feminism and Methodology that Sullivan deems appropriate for consideration into feminist studies of composition, not just the social sciences, which is what Harding is concerned with. These characteristics are, first, using women’s experiences as an "indicator of the realist against which hypotheses are tested." Second, the research is "designed for women" and provides "social phenomena that [women] want or need." Third, it "insists that the inquirer her/himself be placed in the same critical plane as the overt subject matter" .[7]

Sullivan believes these three characteristics are relevant to composition studies because of the common practice to conduct research from a standpoint that is gender-neutral (neither men over women, nor vice versa), gender-inclusive (considering both male and female perspectives, processes, and styles, not just those of females), and researcher disinterestedness (the common practice of keeping one’s self out of the research process in order to allow for an unbiased analysis).

Works cited

  1. ^ a b c d Flynn, Elizabeth. "Composing as a Woman." Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Kirsch, Gail E., ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 243–55.
  2. ^ Moar, Faye Spencer. "Part One: Introduction." Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Kirsch, Gail E., ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 29–31.
  3. ^ a b Hiatt, Mary P. "The Feminine Style: Theory and Fact." Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Kirsch, Gail E., ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 43–48.
  4. ^ a b Jarratt, Susan C. "Feminism and Composition: The Case for Conflict." Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Kirsch, Gail E., ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 263–280.
  5. ^ Foss, Sonja K,. and Cindy L. Griffin. "Beyond Persuasion: A Proposal for an Invitational Rhetoric." Communication Monographs 62.1 (1995) 2-18.
  6. ^ Knoblauch, A. Abby. "Disrupting Disruption: Invitational Pedagogy as." Disrupting Pedagogies in the Knowledge Society: Countering Conservative Norms with Creative Approaches:Countering Conservative Norms with Creative Approaches (2011): 122.
  7. ^ a b Sullivan, Patricia A. "Feminism and Methodology in Composition Studies." Feminism and Composition: A Critical Sourcebook. Kirsch, Gail E., ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 124–39.
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