The Constitutive Rhetoric of 20th Century Anglo-Saxon Feminism

The Role of the Discourse and its Strategies in the Reproduction of Social Reality and Power

by Ewelina Gutowska-Kozielska (Author)
©2020 Monographs 156 Pages
Series: Gdańsk Studies in Language, Volume 73646237


This book focuses on the constitutive function of feminist rhetoric, i.e. the process of creating and justifying the movement’s existence and the role of power. Feminism, like other ideologies, can often exist rhetorically only in opposition to or at war with something that constitutes a vital ideograph of the movement. How this enemy is created and fought is fundamental for the constitutive feminist rhetoric. The enemy is inseparable to the concept of power and dominance, the latter being a key tool of mental control, which creates possibilities for changing the existing reality or establishing an alternative one. Feminist rhetoric is often based on opposition – a war against something, and (re)constructing an alternative reality on the victory – in the opposition to that enemy.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. The relationship between discourse, ideology, and social power
  • 1.1 Ideologies & discourse
  • 1.2 Discourse, discourse structures and power
  • 2. Constitutive Rhetoric
  • 2.1 The Leader versus the People
  • 2.2 Ideographs
  • 3. Feminism as an ideology and social movement
  • 3.1 The definitions of feminism
  • 3.2 Feminism: a short history
  • 3.2.1 The beginnings
  • 3.2.2 British feminism
  • 3.2.3 Key ideographs of the movement
  • Key ideographs of Second Wave Feminism
  • Third Wave Key Ideographs
  • 4. The enemy out there
  • 4.1. Against the (patriarchal, supremacist) man
  • 4.2. You and me, baby, are nothing but mammals
  • 4.3. Assaulted on all fronts
  • 4.4. Manifestos and collective writings
  • 4.4.1. Know Your Enemy: collective writings
  • 4.4.2. Redstockings Manifesto
  • 4.4.3. An Exegesis on Women’s Liberation
  • 4.4.4. The biological mistake and S.C.U.M.
  • 4.4.5. Principles of the Principles
  • 4.4.6. “Therefore, Be It Manifest”
  • 4.4.7. Babies, names and gender bias
  • 4.4.8. Marriage or jail time
  • 4.4.9. The Feminist WITCH
  • 4.5. The enemy redefined
  • 4.5.1. The evil evo
  • 4.5.2. Against the harasser
  • 4.5.3. Fight for your right (to decide)
  • 4.5.4. The young(er) enemy
  • 4.5.5. Combating the Religious Right
  • 4.5.6. Fighting the misogynist
  • 4.5.7. Because of her sex: feminism against the system
  • 4.5.8. Pop-culture gone bad
  • 4.5.9. The anonymous feminists and picture rhetoric
  • 5. The enemy is within
  • 5.1. The myth of fire with fire
  • 5.1.1. Some feminisms are better
  • 5.1.2. Motherless good daughters
  • 5.1.3. The power and the discrimination
  • 5.2. The enemy is everywhere?
  • 5.2.1. How to – a manual
  • 5.2.2. Full frontal or the quality feminism
  • 5.2.3. To be a real (Third Wave) feminist
  • 5.3. … and she is white.
  • 5.3.1. Feminist traitors
  • 5.3.2 Shut up, you pearl clutchers
  • 5.4 The “quest for functional feminism,” i.e. the f-word, brothers and feminists with big dicks
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index of names

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Despite the numerous feminist writings on language and discourse, and even more abundant books or papers on the movement itself, the constitutive rhetoric of feminism has not been, so far, a subject of detailed scientific research, with the important exception of Helen Tate who, in her article “The ideological effects of a failed constitutive rhetoric: The co-option of the rhetoric of white lesbian feminism,” provided an account of how the ideological effects of a failed constitutive rhetoric of feminist identity opened a rhetorical space for anti–feminism representatives who ultimately launched a critique of feminist work and the very existence of the movement. If I wanted to find a reference point for my work within Polish scholary literature of the recent years, I should mention Let’s Become Ourselves by Aneta Górnicka-Boratyńska – an analysis of the historic feminist discourse, and Signal: Feminism by Agnieszka Gajewska, the author of which draws the historical context to depict the specificity of the Polish feminist discourse after 1989. Bernadetta Darska’s Voices of Women, published in 2009, is the first monograph focusing on the contemporary Polish feminist press and the phenomena connected with discourse and identity. None of the above-mentioned books concerns the issues analysed in my paper, and the material I examine is extensively different from those books’ content. By no means, my work aspires to the appellation of a comprehensive, all-embracing or exhaustive presentation of the topic, I attempt to depict the issues and problems of the constitutive rhetoric of the 20th century feminist movement.

In my book, I focus on the constitutive function of feminist rhetoric, i.e. the process of creating/grounding and justifying the very existence of the movement and the role of power in the process. I argue that feminism, like the majority of ideologies, is frequently capable of existence in the rhetorical dimension only in opposition to or by being at war with something, that enemy being the vital ideograph of the movement. Thus, the very process of the rhetorical creation of that enemy and the techniques of fighting against it are, in fact, fundamental for the constitutive rhetoric of feminism. The enemy is inseparably connected with the concept of power and dominance, ←9 | 10→the latter being an indispensable tool of the administration of mental control, which, in turn, creates possibilities for changing the existing reality or establishing an alternative one. The constitutive rhetoric of feminism is (too) often based on an opposition – a war against something, and the idea of (re)constructing an alternative version of reality on the victory-in the opposition against that enemy. Both the enemy’s representation and the tone of the persuasive texts are diverse. For Second Wave feminists, patriarchy – privileged male supremacy – constituted the ultimate enemy and frequently man, i.e. a privileged oppressor, became the embodiment of that opposition against which feminism would build its identity. Thus, numerous Second Wave, feminist writers would create a description of a male whose properties – those of a violent, evil rapist, a misogynist, a mentally and/or emotionally retarded/imbalanced individual possessed by his own desire for power, would make him an antithesis of a human being and establish a rhetorical reality in which fighting and overcoming that monstrous creature would be essential to the survival of the human race, which, in turn, made the existence of the feminist movement indispensable. The Third Wave feminists, having witnessed the backlash and experienced the adverse effect of anti-male rhetoric and the disidentification with the Second Wave rejected both the anti-male discourse and the feminism their “foremothers” offered. That opposition against the previous generation of feminists granted Third Wavers the identity and the power to re-claim, to reclaim the movement itself, and to establish a feminism of their own. Thus, although Third Wave feminism does not accept male supremacy, men are no longer its embodiment and definitely not the enemies or the opposition on which the constitutive rhetoric of the movement could be based. Third Wavers tend to employ rhetoric to establish the Second Wave of feminism as the enemy necessary for the movement to oppose itself to. They position themselves against the Second Wave discourse, which allows – according to them – for more space for individuality, self-development, and difference. They incorporate the rhetoric of repossession, oppose their enlightened “good feminism” to the condemnable “bad feminism” and, in the interest of affirming the difference of their wave, many Third Wavers assume a negative view of the Second Wave, attempting, at the same time, to preserve a positive, all-inclusive image of their own feminism.

←10 | 11→In my work, discourse should be understood in the Foucauldian sense – as a means of (re)creation use, i.e. that it is discourse which creates our reality; it combines power and knowledge and those who have power to control the access to the media create and perpetuate discourse, and thus – exert control over reality. Discourse exists and develops during the communicative practice of an ingroup (a particular part of the society, e.g. social class, people of colour, women etc.), who – employing particular language constructions and forms of the representations of reality – express and convey a coherent set of meanings concerning a range of matters valid to the ingroup (e.g. politics, religion etc.). These meanings serve the interests of the ingroup, and the discourse is used to naturalize them i.e. transform them into something obvious on the level of common knowledge/awareness (O’Sullivan, Hartley, Saunders, and Fiske 1983).

As stated above, my work is not an exhaustive one. It cannot be for two reasons – primo – it would be almost impossible to analyse all feminist works of the Second and the Third Wave, secundo – it would be pointless with regard to the aim of this work. For the purpose of my analysis, I chose feminist works which – in my judgment – are the most representative of a given rhetorical style/method or period of time. I have decided to exclude the so-called 20th century Fourth Wave of feminism from my work, despite the fact that some critics define it as a part of the Third Wave. There definitely is scope for research there but the limited range of interests and concerns they present and works which could be defined as 20th century Fourth Wave place them outside the area of scientific research relevant for this work. The texts I have selected as representative of the Second and the Third Wave are the most important and/or typical for the given period/manner of writing. I have arbitrarily decided not to include a number of texts valid for the movement because of their irrelevance for rhetorical analysis of the major trends employed in the constitutive rhetoric of feminism.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (March)
discourse & power ideology ideograph gender CDA enemy
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 156 pp., 7 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Ewelina Gutowska-Kozielska (Author)

Ewelina Gutowska-Kozielska is Assistant Professor in American Studies at the University of Gdańsk. Her research focuses on the relationship between media, language, society and culture. She is particularily interested in discourse analysis and contemporary American culture.


Title: The Constitutive Rhetoric of 20th Century Anglo-Saxon Feminism
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158 pages