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Reviewed by:
  • Women and Children First: Feminism, Rhetoric, and Public Policy, and: Survivor Rhetoric: Negotiations and Narrativity in Abused Women's Language
  • Margaret Baker Graham (bio)
Women and Children First: Feminism, Rhetoric, and Public Policy, ed. Sharon M. Meagher and Patrice DiQuinzio. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005, 263 pp., $81.50 hardcover, $24.95 paper.
Survivor Rhetoric: Negotiations and Narrativity in Abused Women's Language, ed. Christine Shearer-Cremean and Carol L. Winkelmann. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004, 241 pp., $60 hardcover.

Two recently published collections, Women and Children First edited by Sharon M. Meagher and Patrice DiQuinzio and Survivor Rhetoric edited by Christine Shearer-Cremean and Carol L. Winkelman, offer provocative rhetorical analyses of gendered issues. Both books examine specific rhetorical situations to uncover ways societal values disadvantage women, and both offer modest solutions that can begin the task of "rewriting" society. There are, of course, differences between the two books. The latter focuses on abuse, while the former also examines homeland security, the use of infertility drugs, and the medical response to "intersexed" children. The former focuses on documents related to laws and public policy; the latter extends its gaze to other kinds of public documents (e.g., memoirs). Nonetheless, these books are complementary and overlapping—without being redundant.

Women and Children First, edited by two professors of philosophy, includes an introduction and eleven essays divided into five parts: the law, medical discourse, violence, pregnancy and motherhood, and political engagement. In one of the most compelling essays in the collection, Sarah Meagher examines the rhetoric surrounding school violence. She observes that public discourse on the Jonesboro, Arkansas incident did not address the obvious reality that the perpetrators were male and all but one of the victims were female. Public discourse in general has ignored the fact that students who kill at school are almost always white and male. Thus, gender is rendered invisible unless the perpetrators "are portrayed as victims of society in moral decline, a society produced by the civil rights, the feminist and the gay liberation movements" (122). Extending the work of Sarah Lucia Hoagland, Meagher argues, "Women require the protection of men because they are subject to attack by men" (124). In fact, a recurring theme in Women and Children First is that society has ironically and disturbingly cast men as both predator and protector. As Patrice DiQuinzio and Sharon Meagher write in the introduction, there is "a logic of paternalistic treatment of women and children that purports to protect them but almost always also disempowers them and sometimes harms them" (1). [End Page 241]

Another compelling essay in Women and Children First is Elizabeth F. Randol's essay, "Homeland Security and the Co-optation of Feminist Discourse." In this essay, Randol examines how the feminist discourse of victimization has been used by the U.S. government to promote Homeland Security. That is, government rhetoric has cast "people as victims and certain situations as universally frightening" (30). Feminists learned of the unfortunate consequences of a rhetoric of victimization that did not include the empowerment of women. Similarly, Randol argues, people in the United States need to find ways to develop agency in the midst of an oppressive government action.

In "Fixing Sex," Ellen K. Feder analyzes the value system that leads to surgically and medically making children who have both female and male physical characteristics—a condition termed "intersexed" (90)—appear either wholly female or wholly male. Physicians typically recommend medical intervention, and parents usually agree because they want their children to be "normal." Feder discusses the psychological damage these children have suffered because they often do not know of the medical intervention and they have no way of expressing the gendered conflicts they may feel.

In a particularly provocative essay, "Behind Bars or Up on a Pedestal: Motherhood and Fetal Harm," Tricha Shivas and Sonya Charles compare public and legal rhetoric to two situations where a mother's use of drugs put her unborn children at risk. One situation is that of women who have used illegal drugs while pregnant. The other situation, a specific case, is that of Bobbie McCaughey, whose fertility treatments resulted in seven fetuses; she decided...


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pp. 241-244
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