Rhetoric and Gender Essay

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Rhetoric began in ancient Greece as the art of persuasion, applied principally to political, legal, and judicial contexts. Gender is the assignment of meaning to bodies – what is constructed as masculine and feminine by culture (Foss et al. 2012).

To begin, gender was conceptualized as ‘irrelevant’ to rhetoric. The assertion of authority and expertise, the use of logical argument, and the manipulation of  discourse to affect an audience’s beliefs and actions were seen as masculine prerogatives, unsuitable for women (Campbell 1981). The first recognition of a relationship between rhetoric and gender was an examination of difference. Women speakers, the obstacles they faced because of their gender, and their effectiveness when compared with men began to be studied. Also investigated were communicative differences between women and men in type, topic, and amount of talk.

The next development, gender as rhetorical standpoint, recognized the distinctive circumstances of a woman’s body, life, and culture that produce a different way of making sense of experience (Wood 1992). Standpoint epistemology enabled rhetorical scholars to consider the practices of marginalized rhetors and rhetorical systems that would not have been visible in traditional rhetorical paradigms.

A final relationship between rhetoric and gender is the capacity of gender to transform rhetorical theory itself. Some scholars suggest that gender cannot help but alter rhetoric; others believe the incorporation of gender into rhetoric necessarily will transform rhetoric itself. Gender is now a fully acknowledged dimension in rhetorical theory, with the capacity to influence if not transform the rhetorical terrain.

Gender intersects with rhetoric to expand what counts as rhetoric.


  1. Campbell, K. K. (1981). Man cannot speak for her: A critical study of early feminist rhetoric, Vol. I. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  2. Foss, S. K., Domenico, M. E., & Foss, K. A. (2013). Gender stories: Negotiating identity in a binary world. Long Grove, IL: Waveland.
  3. Wood, J. T. (1992). Gender and moral voice: Moving from woman’s nature to standpoint epistemology. Women’s Studies in Communication, 15, 1–24.

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