The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Writing Studies: Gender and Writing - Liz Rohan

Some Writing Studies feminists claim hypertext writing encourages the construction of texts that begin to represent the complicated subject positions held by women and that online writing, coupled with electronic classrooms, create the potential for "activist autobiographical texts" (L. Sullivan 1999) which can help all writers depict complicated subjectivities. In my dissertation "Sacred Space: Navigating Public/Private Textual Borderlines," a historical case study of an American librarian turned Angolan missionary, Janette Miller, 1879-1969, I will analyze how one woman created activist autobiographical texts--hybrids of the private and the public--prior to contemporary technologies. Miller used collage, photographs, drawings, and eventually poems, to depict her spiritual beliefs which eventually clashed with dominant ideology. She created these texts first in her diary and later in her missionary newsletters. Her method was not so different from contemporary women's approach to writing home pages on the Web.

The articles and books on this list address the larger historical picture shaping my interests, identifying American women writing on the "borderland" in both public and private forums, and particularly after the Civil War. Such borderlands can be sites for a "gentle coming together" as well as sites of "violent clash" (Anzaldua 1994). The texts in the first section historicize gender and writing from antiquity to the present, with a special focus on women's diary writing. The second section primarily addresses gender and writing in America--with an emphasis on women's literate reading and writing practices inside and outside of the academy. The third section, with texts on feminist theory, critical theory, and historiography, will situate my project methodologically and help me identify issues of gender and writing as represented in conflicts between feminist theory and traditional historiography. The fourth section, women's history in America, traces women's writing as constrained and dictated by dominant ideologies of literacy, religion, and sex-segregated work sites. The final section, with an emphasis on technology and writing, represents the convergences of gender and writing as they apply to contemporary writing forums, most specifically the World Wide Web.

I hypothesize that the texts written by Miller, and by other women writing for the public sphere, and thus within patriarchal institutions, represent a "borderland." While opportunities to write at all, as with Miller, enabled autonomous self-representation in the public realm, women writing themselves into the rhetoric of male dominated public institutions are, and have been, poised on the border between assimilation and marginalization. Employing the methodology of Writing Studies historians Charles Paine and Anne Ruggles Gere, who both practice history, in part, as institutional critique, my dissertation will suggest ways Miller's literate practices illuminate current discussions in the field about this public/private tension as it manifests itself in women's struggle to write about the personal both inside and outside of the academy.