Notes: Carolyn Skinner, Women Physicians & Professional Ethos in Nineteenth Century America

Skinner, Carolyn. (2014). Women physicians & professional ethos in nineteenth century America. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.


Skinner discusses the complications of women physicians in nineteenth century America creating professional ethos.


“[E]thos often is not crafted in response to a coherent and identifiable set of audience values but instead is composed in a dynamic context that includes multiple competing ideas about the “best” virtues; consequently, ethos formation frequently involves value negotiations as well as reciprocity between rhetor and audience identity constructs” (p. 175).


This is becoming a bit of a recurring question, but I’m wondering about moments in which these cordial appeals for acknowledgement are not possible or only perpetuate problems. I’m not trying to say this is a gap in Skinner’s text as it was not a part of her project—her work contributes a great deal to reconsidering ethos and particularly a feminist ethos in complicated and nuanced ways. What I’m wondering is how, within that framework of a feminist ethos that she offers us, is there space for rhetoric’s insufficiency or failure, or a rhetoric of refusal.

We learn a lot of how the conditions of women physicians and how they negotiate ethos and/through professionalism. This negotiation happens in locations that are hostile to these women. But still, what we see is a mutual engagement that is inherent in the word negotiation (p. 175).

If we must attend to the conditions that allow for persons to engage in rhetorical negotiation, what conditions need to be present for refusal? For, what the only rhetorical term I have at my disposal for this, kakoethos?

I’m still working on this project looking at ACT UP activists and what’s striking is their refusal to participate in negotiation. What they perform instead is an ardent insistence that they be seen and heard on their own terms, silencing the dominant discourse that systemically silenced them. What conditions need to be met for this mode of rhetorical action that refutes traditional conceptions of how ethos participates.


Notes: Jessica Enoch, “Releasing Hold: Feminist Historiography Without the Tradition”

Enoch, Jessica. (2013). Releasing hold: Feminist historiography without the tradition. In Theorizing histories of rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, p. 58-73.


Enoch questions the dominant work in feminist rhetorical historiography to reclaim women rhetorical figures or reread canonical texts and instead poses rhetorical approaches that call attention to the rhetorical work of gendering and creating public memories about and for women.

Keywords: feminist rhetorics, historiography, histories of rhetoric, archives, methodology


“Rather than use the archive to recover women, a feminist memory studies approach to the archive prompts scholars to see it as a site that creates and shapes public memory for and about women” (p. 66).

“[T]heir work is predicated on the idea that the process of gendering is deeply rhetorical in that it relies on discursive, material, and embodied articulations and performances that create and disturb gendered distinctions, social categories, and asymmetrical power relationships” (p. 68).


I’m deeply interested in Enoch’s work in articulating the rhetorical work of the archive and of archival scholarship. I can see connections readily available to some of my concerns in approaching an archival project that sits somewhere between queer theoretical work and LGBTQ histories. Particularly in how Enoch discusses how a feminist memory studies approach calls attention to the rhetorical work of remembering women—but also the rhetorical work of forgetting. She discusses the archive itself as something of scholarly inquiry and its sustained (in)attention (p. 66). These seem like promising premises. Enoch poses questions of how historiographic work is done, but also offers theoretical inroads into performing historiographic work (in part by doing a historiography of feminist rhetorical histories).

I’m reminded a bit of Jen Clary-Lemon’s “Museums as Material: Experiential Landscapes and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights“, which perhaps is an extension of some of this conversation, arguing that the museum is itself a textual site performing rhetorical for interrogation. She discusses rhetorical accretion as a means to examine

museum interiors and landscapes as both housing and being different “core texts” that can be seen through a lens of material rhetoric can encourage complex understandings of the layers that are formed from objects, spaces, architecture, and affect from a range of different subject positions, and disturb the bifurcation of inside/outside that emerges from considering museums as object repositories—instead opening these landscapes to see inside and outside as connected in a network of place (para. 6).

Clary-Lemon argues that the networks of accretion in museum spaces are a material part of the rhetorical work that sustains remembering and forgetting. It would pose an interesting question to bring in an approach such as hers to each archive, to ask how “material existence constructs networked meaning out of materials, durability, reproduction, and effects on text and peoples” (para. 30).

Though different approaches, I can see how each is asking for methods that call explicit attention to the rhetorical work of creating, shaping, and sustaining rhetorical memory and forgetting.

Notes: Elizabeth Wingrove, “blah blah WOMEN blah blah EQUALITY blah blah DIFFERENCE”

Wingrove, Elizabeth. (2016). blah Blah WOMEN Blah Blah EQUALITY Blah Blah DIFFERENCE. Philosophy & Rhetoric, 49(4), 408-419.


Wingrove argues, within a Rancièrean perspective, that women’s ‘dissensus’ or assertions of injustice are tied and muted by a grammatical and historical police order.

Keywords: feminism, feminist rhetorics, feminist theory, rhetoric, writing studies


“[W]omen’s enactments of equality might remain so encased in the “blah blah blahs” of the gender order that their ability to disrupt the dogged certainties of patriarchal ideology remains forever diminished” (p. 409).

“The consequence, ultimately, is that within the Rancièrean framework, feminist ‘dissensus’ must remain muted, not by the unintelligibility (always potentially productive) of women’s ‘noise’ but by the challenge of ‘putting two worlds in one and the same world’… when both worlds are already lived, signed, and fabricated through the stuff of gender and the differences it presumes and reproduces. It is precisely this intertwining of worlds that risks emasculating feminist assertions of wrong, because we’ve already heard it all before: we’ve always lived in that world” (p. 417).

Notes: Ní Dhúill, Catríona, “Engendering the Future: Bloch’s Utopian Philosophy in Dialogue with Gender Theory” in Peter Thompson and Slavoj Žižek The Privatization of Hope: Ernst Bloch and the Future of Utopia

Ní Dhúill, Catríona. (2013). Engendering the future: Bloch’s utopian philosophy in dialogue with gender theory. in Peter Thompson and Slavoj Žižek (eds.) The privatization of hope: Ernst Bloch and the future of utopia. Durham: Duke University Press, 144-163.


Ní Dhúill argues that gender theory has a Blochian utopic core that uses unclaimed potentials in the past to critique present historical contexts and imagine actionable futures.

Keywords: feminism, gender, philosophy, theory, utopia


“The formulation of possibilities for change, then, is utopian, not in the sense of an unreal or unrealistic fantasy, but rather in the Blochian sense: imaginable alternative futures provide the horizon for the critique of the now” (p. 149).

“The utopian dimension of gender theory is dynamic rather than static. The aim is not to cancel history and instate a new perpetual order, but rather to identify both emancipatory and oppressive tendancies within the history of gender relations, and to offer critical perspectives on oppression and constraint with a view to expanding the scope and effectiveness of emancipation” (p. 160).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “A Killjoy Manifesto” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). A killjoy manifesto. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 251-268.


Ahmed develops a killjoy manifesto that assembles the figure of the killjoy from principles of how a feminist is in the world.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, killjoy, theory


“A manifesto not only causes disturbance, it aims to cause this disturbance. To make something manifest can be enough to cause a disturbance” (p. 251).

“To think of killjoys as manifestos is to say that a politics of transformation, a politics that intends to cause the end of a system, is not a program of action that can be separated from how we are in the worlds we are in. Feminism is praxis. We enact the world we are aiming for; nothing less will do” (p. 255).

Notes: Sara Ahmed “A Killjoy Survival Kit” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). A killjoy survival kit. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 235-249.


Ahmed assembles her feminist toolkit for feminism and feminists around key points of time, life, permission, others, humor, feelings, and bodies.

Keywords: affect, bodies, embodiment, feminism, feminist theory, theory,


“Survival can thus be what we do for others, with others. We need each other to survive; we need to be part of each other’s survival” (p. 235).

A killjoy: a project that comes from a critique of what is.
Speaking of projects:
We are our own survival kits
” (p. 249, original emphasis).

Notes: Sara Ahmed, “Lesbian Feminism” in Living a Feminist Life

Ahmed, Sara. (2017). Lesbian feminism. Living a feminist life. Durham: Duke University Press, 213-234.


Ahmed moves in this chapter to recall lesbian feminism in order to show lesbian feminism as confronting structures that inflict violences. From lesbian feminisms withdrawing from and building from the ruins of oppressive systems, Ahmed calls for an intersectional feminist army.

Keywords: feminism, feminist theory, intersectionality, queer, queer theory, theory, transgender


“When a life is what we have to struggle for, we struggle against structures. It is not necessarily the case that these struggles always lead to transformation (though neither does one’s involvement in political movements). But to struggle against something is to chip away at something. Many of these structures are not visible or tangible unless you come up against them” (p. 214).

“The desire for recognition is not necessarily about having access to a good life or being included in the institutions that have left you shattered. It is not necessarily an aspiration for something: rather, it comes from the experience of what is unbearable, what cannot be endured” (p. 221).

“To build from the ruin; our building might seemed ruined; when we build, we ruin. It is lesbian feminist hope: to become a ruin, to ruin by becoming” (p. 232).