How Heloise Halted Heresy: Meta-Commentary on Rhetorical Exchanges (Or, Why I Am Allowed to Write This Thesis)
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Meta-rhetoric, or rhetoric that addresses rhetoric itself, is continuously metamorphosing and growing in acceptance. Discussions of this issue date back to ancient times, with Plato’s Phaedrus examining the morality of practicing rhetoric and its instruction in school. “Writing about writing” has continued throughout the ages, with notable contributions from the figures I will examine in this study: Heloise, Sor Juana, Alison Bechdel, Cheryl Glenn, and Jan Swearingen. This topic has always been volatile, especially with the purposeful exclusion and oppression of women. For hundreds of years, women of note have been attempting to break down this wall, with religious, political, and personal motivations and goals. Though women have achieved many notable victories, the issue still bears significance, as gender identity is a timeless point of contention. Beginning with Sappho, this thesis will examine the roots of meta-rhetoric in women’s writing. Other rhetoricians throughout the ages will be added to the canon, the common thread being the use of meta-rhetoric to achieve freedom for women’s voices. The issue will be brought to the present day with a discussion of gender identity and sexuality, driven by the writing of Alison Bechdel, and of women in the academic sphere, exemplified by the work of Jan Swearingen. This discussion will assess how being a woman affects everything from an academic career to intimate relationships within society. This thesis will argue that Sappho was a spark that ignited a fire of acceptance that continues to burn. While rooted in antiquity, meta-rhetoric continues to be a cutting-edge issue, which deserves more respect in both commercial and academic spheres, particularly to assist in understanding the contributions of those rhetors who are not always conventional, with a special focus on women. The study of meta-rhetoric has allowed women to be seen and heard in academic settings by disseminating their ideas and texts. The same advances should be made accessible to women outside of academia, in the commercial world.
Cates, Rachelle Alexis (2015). How Heloise Halted Heresy: Meta-Commentary on Rhetorical Exchanges (Or, Why I Am Allowed to Write This Thesis). Honors and Undergraduate Research. Available electronically from