As the adaptable study of rhetoric expands its reach to the digital realm, the definition of ethos expands with it.  Gurak and Antonijevik say, “For the majority of online information–everyday information– ethos is simply the most powerful and important of the classical appeals, the one that Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 3.46.58 PMholds up best and is most explanatory of the bulk of digital rhetoric.”

The notion of ethos is more traditionally known to refer to a persuasive speaker’s credibility. Conveying credibility online requires a user’s awareness of audience.  Their perception of their audience’s expectations affects the choices they make when deciding what to share.

A user striving for credibility, such as former Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis, will depict the best of themselves online.  Lewis posts pictures of himself with his own quotes on them.  His posts show his  community involvement, such as his charity activity or his viral video message to the Baltimore rioters.  The affect Lewis has on his following is that of a superhero on civilians.  “We need your help, Ray!” “Baltimore needs you!” comment his followers.  On Facebook, Ray Lewis has achieved a credibility apparent in the influence he has on the fans that support him.

Todd Frobish says, “Online, individuals can (re)create who they are, create anyone new they wish to be, and make that new identity appear credible.” Ray Lewis’s Facebook use is supporting evidence for this.  A user would never know, from viewing his profile, that Lewis was on trial for the murders of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar in 2000.

11057333_10153312710010701_5222080737196591305_nMaking use of the open template of Facebook, Lewis created a new identity that contrasts with his dark past.  He reached a credibility that would otherwise be denied of him, if followers were aware that he could have a stained morality.  Though he appears to be a superhero, it is more like he is a “sinner reborn,” performing divine duty to compensate for his past.

Advertisements

The study of rhetoric is appreciated as an adaptable tool for understanding not only pieces of work  easily identifiable as rhetorical artifacts– speeches, op-eds, sermons– but also for understanding human thought.  Perhaps more internal to any rhetorical study is the objective to understand the rhetorician himself, in addition to his work.  The works of a creator derive from deliberate artistic choices made within constraints of both his abilities and his medium.  Understanding these choices is the closest we can come to understanding the choice-maker, for his core motivations lie beneath them.

What greater persuasive endeavor is there than self-presentation?  We each, as social beings, hold core desires for acceptance and approval.  We seek to be understood not only by ourselves, but by others.  The existential process (or in some people’s case, crisis) that is self-understanding takes extreme importance in a society that holds “knowing thyself” as a virtue.  Today, this process has become a social activity.  Our self-understanding does not have to be individually achieved, nor does it have to be complete.  We can present what we do know of ourselves, receive validation, and build from there.

Imagining a particular situation, an expert presenting a piece of work to peers, we can see the components of a self-presenting rhetorician’s ability.  Unique and perfect familiarity with the subject matter, coupled with total memory of its history, serves as an infinite and directly accessible database of information.  Ongoing first-hand experience of the subject’s development guarantees up-to-date awareness of its present state.  This expertise and intimate knowledge should warrant a great public presentation met with high regard.  “Knowing thyself” should only translate to being easily known.  However, though we are experts on ourselves, we are not all professional self-presenters.

Facebook offered us a Powerpoint template, so to speak, for the most important presentation of our lives: the actual presentation of our lives.  Given this useful medium and its easily-editable features, we become rhetoricians with leeway to maximize the effect we have on others online.

Facebook is a platform of possibilities that is governed by constraints.  We have spaces to fill with text, though there are specific places to put specific information.  Your “About” section can be filled with gibberish, but the social expectation of other users demands that you put appropriate information about yourself there.  Though your pictures can depict anything, Facebook sizes them to the 180×180 pixels of your profile picture and additionally disallows anything obscene.  Facebook also depicts your life on a line adhering to something we often wish our lives would elude: the passage of time.

And yet, with these kinds of constraints, Facebook offers us freedom through structure, broadening possibilities of social interaction.  A Jackson Pollack of a self-presentation on a blank canvas would be understood by one interpreter, but many would understand a Facebook profile with the familiar and recognizable blue-styled format.  By the constraints and through the freedom of this structure, Facebook users need only choose content selectively, share, and await recognition.  That recognition is either the jeer or the applause at the end of the presentation, and the cue for the creator to either reject or accept the piece of themselves that they shared.

 

 


Evan Perry, the boy who teetered on the roof ledge of bipolar disorder for most of his short 15 years, was recalled as creative and artistic by family and friends in the documentary, Boy, Interrupted (2009).  He was a young musician and playwright with depth and complexity. Acclaimed, adored, yet misunderstood by the people in his life, Evan Perry inevitably developed a confused impression of himself that he could not be at peace with so long as he was alive.

Philosopher and psychologist William James (1890) defined the “social self” as “the recognition which [a man] gets from his mates,” so that “properly speaking, a man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him and carry an image of him in their mind.”  Boy, Interrupted documents the “social self” of Evan Perry.  In it, each significant person in Evan’s life gave testimony of who they knew him to be in attempt to piece together the mystery of who he really was.  Had Evan known this much more positive “social self,” would he have been as confused about who he felt himself to be?  Would he have resorted to means of desperation to end the confusion?

We can assume there was dissonance between Evan Perry’s sense of self and his “social self.”  Today, we have quite the extraordinary fix to such dissonance: Facebook.

Despite whoever I think I am, I want you to think I am who I want to be.  This is an echo of Erving Goffman’s concept of self-presentation, which held that people will try to control the impressions other people form of them (Goffman, 1959). You will never know who I am unless I express myself to you.  Depending on how and what I express, your impression of me will form and contribute to my “social self.”  I desire a positive “social self,” and I want to see evidence of it to feed into my own,  vulnerable sense of identity.

Where “What’s on your mind?” translates into “Who are you?”, Facebook is an identity-creator’s Minecraft.  Desire for the “real” is what philosopher Stanley Cavell (1979) said is the reason for desire of self-expression, but on Facebook, my self-expression does not have to be real at all.  I can choose to limit or omit what I share online, being as specific to crop an askew piece of hair out of a picture.  I can even share falsified information, such as expression of emotions that aren’t even there– a smiling emoji typed on a horrible day, or a #blessed tagged during a self-esteem low.

Shared items on Facebook are the airbrush-strokes to my self-portrait.  You behold my masterpiece, and share what you think of it as easily as I share “who I am.”  It is in this give of character and take of feedback that Facebook gives us our connection between personal sense of self and the “social self.”  Author and reader blend into one and creator and viewer fuse together in the process of finishing a single identity.  On Facebook, I share who I want you to think I am, you acknowledge it, acclaim it, and verify the new identity with the hypermediate click of the mouse.  And at the birth of it all is me, with you in mind, choosing what parts of my self to actualize in the first place.

Facebook is our means of announcing our presence to the world, achieving a “present-ness” unlike being at one with what is around us, but where the world comes to know us instead.  Evan Perry may or may not have known himself, but he knew his presence was felt by all that knew him.  How accurately he was interpreted by his loved ones was something he never manipulated through Facebook, and something he never received mediated feedback for.  Instead, we come closest to knowing Evan Perry in a way that is hauntingly similar to the flood of testimonials Facebook users post to a dead friend’s wall: immortal commemoration expressing not who I am to you, but who you were to me.

Cavell, Stanley.  1979.  The World Viewed: Relfections on the Ontology of the Cinema. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Doubleday Anchor Books.

James, William.  1950.  The Principles of Psychology. 1890. Reprint ed., New York: Dover.

 

 


Abstract

01Apr15

This textual analysis demystifies the issue of ethos in social media. Social media users make an art of creating themselves online for their following audience to see. The impressions an audience of followers makes about a social media user comprise that user’s ethos, or character. Utilizing the studies of both communication and rhetoric, this study will further understanding of social media’s omnipresent affect on interpersonal identity creation and interpretation. This study will apply rhetorical criticism to examples of social media, treating them as rhetorical artifacts to analyze and understand. What constitutes ethos within social media will ultimately be discovered through deep reflection of current research and electrification of tools of criticism that have been used by rhetoricians dating back to classical times.

 

 


This blog post opens my study of ethos in social media.  I will draw from rhetoric and communication theory to investigate social media’s role as the Agency in creation, mediation, and documentation of self.  My study will electrify rhetoric, making it a tool to answer research questions about online identity.  I will gain deep understanding of rhetoric applied to social media through research and reflection, while developing knowledge that I will share in this blog.

My research begins with the work of University of Miami professor James Porter.  “Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric,” one of Porter’s many published articles, won the Ellen Nold Award for Best Article in the field of Computers and Composition in 2009.  In the article, Porter forms a rhetorical theory of delivery for Internet-based communications.

A ubiquitous presence of everyday life is Internet-based communication.  Technology enables us to connect with individuals and networks beyond the one-on-one.  In communicating with each other via the Internet, we make choices about delivery that inevitably shape the messages we send.  Delivery is the fifth canon of rhetoric.  Historically, the canon mostly referred to body, or in-person aurality and nonverbal communication.  How a particular orator would speak and carry himself in an Athenian agora — as well as the tinge and arrangement of his toga — comprised his rhetorical delivery.  Today, delivery has become relevant to much more than this.

Because of the communication we now engage in through digital technology, Porter says the rhetorical canon of delivery must be resuscitated and remediated.  He proposes a theoretical framework for digital delivery emphasizing “how rhetoric theory and critical humanistic thinking contribute to web-based production and design” (Porter, 2009, p.208).  This framework consists of five components:

  1. Body/Identity — concerning online representations of the body, gestures, voice, dress, and image, and questions of identity and performance and online representations of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.
  2. Distribution/Circulation — concerning the technological publishing options for reproducing, distributing, and circulating digital information
  3. Access/Accessibility — concerning questions about audience connectedness to Internet-based information
  4. Interaction — concerning the range and types of engagement (between people, between people and information) encouraged or allowed by digital designs.
  5. Economics — concerning copyright, ownership and control of information, fair use, authorship, and the politics of information policy.

I would like to take the main arguments of Porter’s theoretical framework and connect them to social media.  Social media is unfortunately not addressed in “Recovering Delivery,” yet I believe it engages with Porter’s theory pressingly.

“The machines that we use to write and speak are closely merged with our flesh and blood bodies, if you think about how we are connected to our cell phones and our computers (and our cell phones which have become computers), thanks to the development of mobile and wireless technology,” Porter says (Porter, 2009, p.213).  With this cyborg-like extension of human with technology come the capabilities of such machines.  We gain new abilities with technology.  Our computers and applications on our smart phones open to us innumerable, digitized possibilities.  Social media is one of the worlds we access persistently.  It is not only a place to connect with people who are not present with us, but a place where we can exist richly, remediated into text, images, and videos.

Where, in this digital world, does our body go?

Body/Identity

Porter argues that the body does not disappear in virtual space.  Like an audience might respond to the nonverbal cues of an orator speaking with his hands, an Internet user responds to what Porter describes as “an ASCII textual representation of a bodily act that is used to add nuance to a piece of text”: the smiley face emoticon (Porter, 2009, p.212).  A two-character’s worth of a digital message sent through a Facebook message, for example, is an online bodily action that mimics an actual, physical gesture.  It communicates the same meaning… or does it?

What more, with sharing features that allow us to exchange much more text, can social media do to our “bodily” delivery online?  Who (or what) do we become on social media?  Further research will seek answers to such questions.

Distribution/Circulation

With regard to the second component of Porter’s theoretical framework, distribution/circulation, we social media-users know that a follower or a following can be made at the click of the mouse or the tap of a screen.  Audience, therefore, seems to be a component of social media that we can control.  Porter asks, “What is the most effective way to distribute a message to its intended audiences, in a timely manner, and in a way that is likely to achieve the desired outcome?” (Porter, 2009, p.214).

In delivering content through social media, we keep audience in mind and distribute accordingly.  We make techne decisions to craft ourselves online, knowing (or hoping) that that self will be seen, acknowledged, validated, or even rejected.  It is a rhetorical performance made from choices that must be informed by an understanding of the capabilities of our technologies. We choose, we perform, and then we anticipate the reception and eventual circulation of what we delivered.

Access/Accessibility

A simple test of Googling your own name demonstrates the phenomenon that the Internet has made possible: we are accessible.  Diffused as we are across platforms and databases, we are nevertheless present online, and on social media especially.  Porter’s notion of “access” relates more to “whether a person has the necessary hardware, software, and network connectivity in order to use the Internet,” though we can assume that access has increased for many people since the publication of his article (Porter, 2009, 216).  Can “access” mean something else?

If a desired interpersonal interaction is not possible, what do we do?  If we want to see someone who is not around, what can we do?  Again, the world of social media opens to us several possibilities.  We can “see” and “hear” someone through the photo and video features of Snapchat.  We can “speak” to someone through instant messages or audio-transmitting features of Facebook.  Not only can we  connect in present, or live, constraints.  We are able to access each other’s histories as well.  Content we share through social media creates a technobiography, or data trail, of ourselves.  Should an archaeological urge to discover Chad’s dating history overcome us, we only need to type his name in a search engine.

Interaction

Subsequently, should Chad feel an urge to contact the goddess he met at the Goat Hill last Thursday, he would be able to do so easily.  Porter considers “‘interaction’ as a rhetorical topic pertaining (a) to how humans engage computer interfaces in order to perform various actions, and (b) to how humans engage other humans through computer-mediated spaces.  Like the choices we make to determine distribution, we must make choices to interact that are informed by knowledge of how to do so through our technology.

How users engage interfaces and each other with social media can be understood after first understanding social media’s role as Agency in the drama of our technobiographies.  Social media is first the means of delivering our online selves to others.  It then becomes our means of interacting with those other people.  Literary critic Kenneth Burke described Agency as an instrument.  In simplified rhetorical terms, Agency is the “how” of a deed that is committed.  Social media acts as an Agency for creating and sharing ourselves online.  After identifying social media as an Agency, further research can help answer questions about the Purpose of interaction online.

Economics

I will end with that, because Purpose, or what motivates someone to create their online selves through social media, and what motivates other people to interact with them online, is still a topic to be investigated.  Porter would call this area of interest the “economics of delivery.”  I ultimately aim to discover answers to my curiosities surrounding the purposes of social media use.

Porter, J. E. (2009). Recovering delivery for digital rhetoric. Computers and Composition26(4), 207-224.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The character named Leon in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) initially comes off as an average “Joe,” or “Bob,” or more exotic “John” in the opening scene of the movie. He is balding and probably a size XL, appearing to have a beer belly sausaged by a faded L.e.i. jean waistline to match. He might as well be wearing a Bass Fish Fest of ‘81 memorabilia shirt. He looks like an American high school football player turned fifty. Under the Voight-Kampff test, he has communication skill– not of his own father’s post-‘nam bravado, but of his mother’s over-attentive, undirected, and scatter-minded senescence.

Fooled we are when Leon kills his interviewee at the appropriate, most vulnerable moment. He’s actually an artificial and intelligent killing machine, who is Roy Batty’s muscle in the movie’s crew of replicant antagonists. Blade Runner, Radical Alterityeconomist and Professor Marc Guillaume, and the rest of the philosophical conversation concerning artificial intelligence (AI) take us for a trip through future memories’ lane and spur questions regarding human stupidity and intelligent machines.

Guillaume opens Radical Alterity (2007) with a heading titled, “Artificial Stupidity or the Intelligence of Others.” He says, “Machines represent a first access point to an understanding of human thought” (Baudrillard). So in a fictional context such as Blade Runner: Where and how do we access understanding human thought when machine or artificial intelligence seems a more worthy philosophical concept to understand? To underline an internal link and to clarify: Why care to understand human thought when AI is… superior? more interesting? more exciting?

Artificial IntelligenceAI is “the theoretical discipline aiming to understand intelligence… by designing machines that can think; the thinking machine-based beings created by human beings,” according to Ryan Nichols and colleagues (Nichols, 262).

Why tackle the artificial intelligence discipline at all?

Because of Leon, that’s why. At Leon’s face value, we see an embodiment of human limitedness in age, health, and cognitive complexity. Many men who resemble Leon today have possibly asked themselves after a long day of work, or after weeping over their high school yearbook signings: Is there more than this? Can’t I be more? And how?

Thus, out of the dissonance we ALL feel — between being good, or ok… or human, and hoping to be better, more… or posthuman — we imagined Roy Batty and Leon and Rachel, and reveled in the fact that we even had the mental capacity to “create” them.

Blade RunnerWe may not all be creative geniuses like Ridley Scott, but we each fantasize artificial intelligence competently, yet with the wistfulness of a housewife who hopes to dance after years of letting herself go.

Every time we long for the past, sigh at the present, and pine after future dreams never to be accomplished, AI – or our pretext dreams of AI, more accurately – is discussed in our inner dialogue. It can be a happy alternative reality for some, or a cognitive hell for others.

The conversation is silenced however, when we finally acknowledge what may be the only absolute truth of this world beside taxes — imminent Death and the stoppage of our time to dream of better days.

 

References

Nichols, R., Smith, N. D., & Miller, F. (2009). Philosophy through science fiction: A coursebook with readings (pp. 262-266). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Baudrillard, J., & Guillaume, M. (2008). Radical alterity. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext.


Goal!

08Oct14

Coming to realize that you are your parents’ child shouldn’t be so significant.  It’s so obvious, and not even worth contemplating… until its realization amounts to an understanding of yourself that could not have come from anywhere but understanding them first.

There were times where I thought,  “I really am my father’s daughter,” or “I’m going to become my mother some day.”  I can’t remember what spurred me to believe those things, or what justified those conclusions.  I want to remember this time though, and I want to share it somewhere, record it, look back on it, remember it, see if my conclusion becomes a true prediction of who I’ll become.  I’ve found a fact of who I am today.  Will it be me tomorrow?

My new gig is goal-oriented.  There is to be a goal of the day.  There are to be three main goals of the season.  There is a main goal of the entire goal system.  Nearly ten years of scoring lacrosse goals are under my belt, and yet I can’t outline goals for my job.  I tried!  I spent two whole cross-county commutes exhausting my mental arsenal to figure out a goal-by-goal, goal-for-goal plan… and failed.  Sure, if I wrote those thoughts down they’d probably resemble a sort of plan I can piece out, but the goal-oriented core of it would be missing.  Michelle had plans to make a plan, and yeah… that went nowhere.

It’s because I am not a goal-oriented person.  Instead, I am my parents’ child.  Our culture values ambition and drive, but is often vague as to which direction those forces should go.  “Success,” they say.  “Happiness,” they say.  I can guess that those are two goals your mother has told you to strive for.  But I can verify that they are two abstract dreams my mother has told me to chase.

I’ve seen dreams become the demons of several people. They don’t reach them and they never will.  I don’t say that as a slap in the face of your false illusion of whatever American Dream you fantasize.  I say that as an honest, debatable opinion that you too might hold true, deep down inside.  Dreams become demons when they’re too far off and unattainable, yet torment your consciousness as if they’re within a claw and talon’s- length reach.  They’re there at the front of your mind.  Maybe they drive you forward, and keep you looking up.  But they’re not within who and what you actually are at the moment, in your present state.

The problem I have with having future-based dreams, or goals, is that I have no handle of them.  And the bigger they are– like my mom’s– the more daunting they are, and the more disappointed you become when you start to realize they’re too big.  So why is it hard for me to come up with small goals for my job?  I’m not making goals to save the world; I’m making goals to train athletes.  It’s because I am not a goal-oriented person.  Instead, I am my parents’ child.

While my mind and skills are more like my mom’s tenacious brilliance, my work ethic is a mirror image of my dad’s.  He works hard, with his hands mostly.  He works on cars, the yard, the plumbing, and other people’s cars, yards, and plumbing– all on the side of his main job.  He makes cool things out of wood, and builds houses in the desert.  I don’t believe he ever daydreams about future goals and dreams while doing these things.  I wouldn’t know for sure, though.  My dad and I don’t talk about dreams like my mom and I do.

I’m like my dad because I will bow my head to do work blindly, paying little attention to future outcomes, but with intense, present focus.  I trudge on through jobs and tasks like an ox, motivated by responsibility and necessity.  Sometimes I feel very burdened and wonder what goals I’m actually working for, but I am never satisfied to submit my work to the clichéd “Success,” or “Happiness” end.  I don’t believe those are worthy ends at all, because their complete states don’t exist and can’t be quantified.

I qualify “Success” and “Happiness” in the joy of the process itself, and the people I impact on the way.  It’s a healthy midway balance between my two parents’ extremes.  I’m not quite the hopeful, big dreamer my mom is.  I work hard, but rest in appreciating things my dad usually misses. Though I believe this is healthy,  it’s inhibitted me too… from meeting intimidating deadlines, from applying energy efficiently, and from avoiding responsibilities that don’t seem to fit in my future.  I’ve acknowledged this, at least.  And now I’ll remember it.  Starting with the first goal I’m now going to try to pull out of my ass for practice tomorrow, we’ll see if changing it up works for me later.


29Aug14

Yesterday. Defeated and exhausted I resorted to the one drug that’s been keeping me high all summer– exercise. El Toro High School is my evening shoot up, with its shady racket ball courts and newly re-furbished turf. I have the summer turf field availability schedule, along with hundreds of ET emails I’ve exchanged with the school, parents, and players this summer, but did not think the place would be practically empty… save a large group of Hispanic siblings? cousins? Kids. Just kids. And a lone father, who you’d pity if it weren’t for the smile he wore that told you he was genuinely enjoying family time. The gang had laid claim on the wall ball courts to play handball with miniature, rubber balls. I doubted where I could fit in to bang out a few wall ball reps. I do not have patience for my own family these days, but seeing one of their youngest, cutest, sitting in the middle of the courts, miraculously avoiding all the flying balls and bodies, made me smile. They scattered and opened a court for me without a word. I checked my gait to see if I looked snotty enough to own the place. I finished sets of wall ball shyly, trying not to show off my FABULOUS lacrosse stick skills. The one they called Junior could not keep his eyes off me. My most intimate friends know my one life goal. I came close that day, being basically adopted into a Hispanic family and all. Before I knew it, I was playing the VERY difficult game of handball with some new friends, Junior was trying out my lacrosse stick, and I was having a human moment I haven’t had all year, despite being surrounded by so many good..and bad… people. The daughter, Brenda, was in 7th grade and I got excited about getting her into lacrosse. I gave them contacts eagerly, maybe faking what they could smell. While I doubt no human being for the potential I strongly believe each one has, thoughts of expensive lacrosse gear, club fees, sports physicals, commutes, bullies, and more weighed heavy as I left the Huerta family I’d probably never see again, feeling the familiar sad/happy mix I’ve known for all my life.


See me now?

23Jul14

The current, ongoing conversation in my house is about worldview.  Or views.  Just views.  Mine, His, Hers, Theirs, Ours.  My view versus Theirs… His view of My “Christian” university versus My view of His Christian college…

And BOOM.

I’ve said the “C” word and officially made this post either champion or victim to the online, Jesus-freak troll.  I know you’re out there.  I love you, but I kind of hate you too.  Call me Sister all you want.  Since I can’t hear your tone through your text, no way will I acknowledge virtual conviction… unless I already know your heart’s genuinely concerned about mine.  And THAT… takes touch.  (In person…)

If there was a way to count just views of my individual Facebook posts and Instagram pics, I wouldn’t want to hear a whisper of it.  There is no doubt the ratio of views compared to scarce likes and comments would mess with my already-established social media inferiority complex, which I know you have too… Unless you’re the sparkly chick whose life is just perf and spotless, countless crop top barbie group photos and all.  View count or naw, we’re all out here because of worldview, for a world to view.  Mirror that in real life, or express any concern about the world viewing YOU, and some people have a problem with it.  Some gods have a problem with it.

What do I have to say about the debate surrounding worldview, as opposed to… I don’t even know the word for it… God-view? Christian-view? Holy-view?  Now here’s where my low Bible IQ fails me.   I don’t know.  I do know that in writing, and spoken aloud, one side sounds a bit hierarchical to me.  The other, blasphemous as it sounds to a typical Christian’s connotative ear, has the word “world” in it.

If you feel me, I don’t have to directly say my point yet.  I’m being vague, I know.  So I’ll expand.

World. View. View of the world.  View by the world.  World… dictating, ruling, determining View.  That last one made you feel a shiver from your olive branch/dove tattoo all the way down to your ring finger promise band.  “Not of this world,” says the butt of your car.  Sure, your soul is definitely transcendent of the here and now of Earth.  I can say the same, but saying it does not make me feel above ANYONE I say it to.  I don’t have one of those bumper stickers because I prefer to be here, with my feet on the ground. “Not of this world” is somewhere up, up, up.  Above? Looking down? On who?  What world view is that?

My feet are on the ground, but the eyes of my heart are set elsewhere.  Do you think you know where?  Well, you don’t.  And you don’t know where the eyes of ANYONE else’s hearts are set, either.  There are secrets between the lowliest sinner or the purest believer, and the main Man– or even his dark henchman– that are never told.  Not even to a deaf man.  I’ll just say though, there is something “Not of this world” about me.  But I’ve had, have, and will always have a heart for this world.  Can you think of anyone with similar cardiology?  Do the words “thorns,” “nails,” or “Love” ring a bell for you?

There are people who would scoff if I said the eyes of my heart are set on high.  I don’t go to church these days.  I read more tweets than Bible passages.  Some would say I am consumed by a world view.  And I say, HELL… I mean, HECK yeah.  I’m viewing the world with eyes as wide as a chink can spread them, and loving it!  Not with the “love” of a one-night-stand, but with love that is as deeper and richer than a pint of porter brewed by Jesus himself.

I’m working multiple gigs these days.  I coach, I write, and occasionally play for a sport I love.  I thought I loved lacrosse, but didn’t know how vast that love could expand until I started coaching 11-year-olds, chatting with team parents, and watching the game like I do now.  Something in me feels something inexpressible for the odd-ball girl who makes her first dodge and goal, for the mom who pours herself into something worthwhile after slumbering in the plateau of housewife-hood, for the athlete who dominates at his first East coast event.  That’s my world, right now.  It’s getting bigger, and has potential to become anything from trivial to precious.  My heart still swells for it all.  And it’s because my view does not exclude, marginalize, or condemn any ounce of it.

I’m just trying to give you an example of how a “world” view can encompass a world of worlds.  Worlds that are not sinful.  Worlds that do not lessen the capacity of my heart, but gorge it instead, with a love that I still know will never amount to the love someone Else spared for me.


Opinions vary on how a woman should be a woman.  How a woman should be in the classroom might be a topic that’s just as broad.  This broad however, from her study on theory concerning the practice of writing, tutoring, and conferencing, has something to say about it.

A friend told me, “There’s no one I could agree with, but be irritated by more than a feminist.”  I can also attest to that.  So when Meg Woolbright talked about tutoring and teaching with a feminist agenda in The Politics of Tutoring: Feminism Within the Patriarchy, I questioned it.  Sure enough, her account of the feminist tutor who embodied her institution’s patriarchy instead of overcoming it verified my doubts.

Do today’s composition study classrooms need a feminist “revolution” in teaching and tutoring philosophy?  Is the goal to stamp out patriarchy in the classroom with a  Birkenstock-clad, feminist foot?  Or does the classroom need a slighter woman’s touch?

In today’s gender politics,  patriarchy is king.  Society is male-dominated, male-identified, and male-centered. Globally, societies value masculine qualities such as “competition, individualism, invulnerability, rationality, and physical strength” (Kuypers, 2009). This is the patriarchy Donna M. Nudd and Kristan L. Whalen say is “entrenched in our political and value systems” (Kuypers, 2009).  In The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Allan G. Johnson says, “Perhaps the bedrock of patriarchal ideology is the belief that it is necessary, socially desirable, and rooted in a universal sense of tradition and history”  The patriarchal world seems an automatic given because of it’s long-standing sovereignty.  Nudd and Whalen (2009) say,  “Male centeredness is so seemingly natural in our society, it remains unspoken.”

In silence, under the shadow of male domination, femininity is marginalized.  Our socially constructed conception of the female gender connotates women as temerarious, irrational, over-emotional, hormonal, weak, and submissive.   Nudd and Whalen say, “The qualitites commonly associated with feminitity, such as cooperation, nurturing, emotionality, and care, are undervalued or trivialized,” in Why Feminism? (Kuypers, 2009).

Though the profession of Teacher has largely and historically been dominated by women, female tutors and teachers struggle against patriarchal, hegemonic control in writing and composition study. Struggle against masculine pedagogy and against conceptions of teaching norms are just two examples of the power conflicts females encounter in their academic institutions.

How should a woman overcome this struggle?  With this small bit of advice: Less Beyoncé.  More Katharine Hepburn.

Horse Stomp

Horse Stomp

Teachers and tutors of the fairer gender should first understand the definition of feminism.  In the song Flawless from Beyoncé’s epononymous album, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie narrates, “Feminist: the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

Not only through her music, Beyoncé expresses a strong feminist voice and image.  She has an alter ego named Sasha Fierce who does not hesitate to horse stomp over any patriarchal oppression in her way.

For Yoncé and many feminists, power is equality, and empowerment comes from combating against the status quo alongside strong-willed sisters who negate common conceptions of what it means to be a woman.  Some exude feminine extremes, like Beyoncé’s super-sexuality, and some forsake femininity completely in exchange for “pants.”  But all are after power equal to men’s.

Power struggles occur in the composition classroom, but Beyonce’s feminism has no place in it.  The most effective power is cognitive, not physical, and in a place where thought is constantly reshaped and developed, there is a danger with teaching or tutoring with an overly-feminist agenda.  No doubt a female teacher faces challenges from hierarchical, authoritative, convention-enforcing patriarchal values of the academy.  However, a female teacher missteps when she thinks “Western male (academic) discourse is empowering,” which Michelle Payne describes in Rendering Women’s Authority in the Writing Classroom.

Audrey Petty

A woman can don the pants of a man’s world, but she can’t grow a pair.  In a revealing, retrospective look at her journey through academia in Who’s the Teacher?: From Student to Mentor, Audrey Petty recalls her failure to take on a man’s role in the classroom.  During her undergraduate education, Petty fell under the wing of a mentor.  He was a young, Caucasian, and favorite professor of many students in her major.  Petty emulated this professor in her career and became a teacher.  She says, “While I enjoyed teaching composition and literature that first year at Knox College, I felt inept and awkward in my creative writing class.  The roots of the problem lay in my desperate attempts to impersonate my most influential undergraduate teacher, whose colleague I had become.”

When the objective becomes to imitate, or even assume a man’s power in the classroom, a teacher or tutor’s feminist agenda will fail.  No matter how strong her will, a woman will most likely encounter an identity crisis in the classroom.  Payne says, “Together, we are asking: What is a teacher? What does she or he do? Why? What is her or his relationship to students and their relationship to her or him?”  As she answers these questions, she will be caught in a place between the patriarchy and her own feminist leanings, where “If she chooses the [feminist] non-directive approach and works to share authority, it might reinforce men’s devaluation of her as an authority figure,” yet if she takes a masculine, directive approach, “she might create resistance in the men at a ‘woman’ holding power over them and resentment in the women for disturbing the relationships with them and the men,” according to Payne.

Payne says, “As much as I wish this weren’t the case, my power and authority– my effectiveness as a teacher– is dependent on how much power and authority my students grant me.”  This is the true nature of a classroom.  It is not a place where a tutor or teacher, especially a female tutor or teacher, walks into the room with power and authority inherently secured.  Tutors and teachers who mentor under the opposite impression of this power relationship will alienate their students.  The patriarchal tyrant of a tutor described by Meg Woolbright led her student into inferiority: “Instead of seeing herself in relation to others, she is hurling headlong into the realization of her otherness.”  Power is granted to a tutor or teacher by the students.  A feminist seeking a man’s power will take too much of it.

 




Follow The Committed Critic on WordPress.com