The New Work of Composing

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Dismantling the Master’s Composition

We see several problematic issues here, and for our argument we draw on several facets of feminist theories. As a discipline, we recognize current and continuing arguments about the feminization of composition (Janice Lauer, 1995; Susan Miller, 2003; Eileen Schell, 2003; Deirdre McMahon & Ann Green, 2008). In addition, we draw on Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigaray, and Hélène Cixous to consider how genre expectations change audience responses, and to consider that new texts teach us not only how to read them, but also how to assess them. Further, Audre Lorde’s (1984) concepts are especially important here: “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support” (p. 112, emphasis in original). Just as we cannot use the master’s tools, we cannot use traditional arguments/analysis to look at digital spaces. Digital compositions require a shift in thinking.

In her work, Ilene Philipson (2002) extended Arlie Hochschild’s notion of the second shift—the idea that working women complete two shifts external and internal to the home—by suggesting that many working women now bring their second shift mindset back to the job site, thus extending the unpaid labor they expect or are expected to do. As our discipline makes the transition to digital composition, we see the increasing expectation of a “second shift” of our own: We have to remediate our work to be viable. A primary principle of rhetorical composing doesn’t seem to fit here; we tell our students that they need to make conscious decisions about the appropriate genre and medium of their work, that with careful selection and attention to audience and purpose, they can choose the best genre and medium for the message that they are attempting to communicate. Yet we cannot make that same choice? According to the composing standards we are putting into place or are upholding in our departments through our tenure and promotion processes and in our work, we are suggesting that video arguments (shorthand here for all new media compositions) will not be considered scholarly arguments.

Instead, there is a second shift, and that second shift runs at least two directions. Because we have chosen to work in the field of new media, we 1) create the video composition and we create the meta-frame surrounding it, and/or 2) we first establish our reputation with our scholarly work, and once we get tenure we can dabble in new media. There are two problems created here; the first involves labor issues. We must work harder to get the same payoff that our colleagues achieve with the same amount of work. The second issue is that we lose technological ground. Ours is a fast-paced discipline changing daily based on the technologies we have to learn and use and the necessity of honing the rhetorical skills needed to create intellectually sound digital compositions.

We see a triangulation here: For many women in composition, we desire to do good work. We enjoy the work that we do, and we wouldn’t be satisfied not doing it, nor would it be the same if we let someone else do it. Think laundry here: the things we end up doing, not because we should, or even because we want to, but because we wouldn’t feel right not doing them, and no one can do them the same way we would. This latter part is true because we each create our communications based on the experiences and knowledge that we have; we bring to the work our unique rhetorical approach. However, that doesn’t mean to suggest that the second shift work is the work that we should be doing; rather, it is the work we are doing to further anticipate the expectations of our audiences. That is, not only do we try to communicate our messages, but we try to anticipate the range of responses our messages might receive and account for all those possibilities as well. It’s working woman syndrome, and, although we draw on our feminist foremothers, what is created is not our mothers’ argument.