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In this critical history of the gendered politics of rhetoric and the rise of composition, Miriam Brody argues that nothing about words or their arrangement is innately gendered. Yet since the English Enlightenment, teachers have encouraged their students to admire and imitate "manly" writing, writing that is plain, forceful, cogent, and true. Similarly, students have been enjoined to avoid so-called effeminate or feminine writing—writing characterized as vague, unorganized, ornate, and deceitful.
Such advice, part of what Brody terms the hidden curriculum, has served the interests of discourse communities as various as the early Enlightenment Royal Society in seventeenth-century London (by urging a clear and masculine style for the work of science) and the land-grant universities of nineteenth-century America (by claiming that the work of writing was similar to clearing the land and pushing back the frontier). Brody’s discussion in fact becomes a social history of canonical rhetorical essays and important late Enlightenment, nineteenth-century, and early modern school texts. She points out that in their advice to writers even the Strunks and Whites and Peter Elbows of more recent times have extolled masculine virtues and urged control over invasive and problematic feminine qualities.
Brody’s book not only clarifies rhetoric’s inheritance and transformation of the classical ideal of manliness, it also is the first critical work to explore the ideological significance of gendered imagery and to interpret in light of this imagery rhetorical essays and hard-to-locate early composition texts against a background of previously unpublished archival materials.