Title

American Feminist Manifestos and the Rhetoric of Whiteness

Date of Award

2006

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

American Culture Studies/English

First Advisor

Ellen Berry

Abstract

Using textual analysis, feminist and cultural theories, this study exposed the rhetorical reproduction of whiteness in language, examining how whiteness suffuses linguistic choices that appear to be unbiased. Throughout, it identified where and how whiteness operates as the motivating force in the social power structure of the United States by using certain feminist manifestos as an example of the rhetorical reproduction and performativity of whiteness. Feminist manifestos were chosen as the particular genre of study because while they do represent progress toward social justice in gendered power relations, they do not always or necessarily advance social justice in terms of race, class, or sexuality. Manifestos by white women were shown to include discursive choices that reinforce whiteness, whereas manifestos by women of color critiqued those choices, reminding white feminists that multiple identity factors always simultaneously affect women’s lives. Manifestos by white feminists were organized roughly chronologically, within the standard feminist divisions of First, Second, and Third Waves; this study problematized that historical construction by emphasizing the ways in which, as another function of whiteness, the designation of waves as incorporating certain time periods has been a white feminist tool for structuring history. To show how women of color have always been aware of the multiplicity of issues oppressing women, this study grouped those manifestos together, highlighting their common arguments against white feminist’s singular call for gender equality. Finally, the objective of this study was to remind white feminists of their white privilege and to hold them accountable for the ways that such privilege has blinded them to the realities of intersecting oppressions in all women’s lives, not just those of women of color.