Gendered Barriers: Examning Historical and Present-day Issues concerning Professional and Academic Access

Jessica Enoch (United States)

Feminist rhetoricians often study the verbal and written arguments women have made—the discursive rhetorics they have composed—to argue for their rights and to make positive change in their worlds. These scholars also often analyze the dominant, patriarchal discourses that have worked to suppress and marginalize women in various ways. Jessica Enoch’s presentation forwards this feminist project by focusing attention on the dominant discourses that have shaped women’s academic and professional experiences and the ways women have composed their own rhetorics to intervene in these discourses to access the the university and various career opportunities. Her presentation, however, does not take this traditional approach.

Rather than exploring the discursive rhetorics—the writings and words—that have suppressed and liberated women academics and professionals, Enoch explores the spatial rhetorics that have conditioned women’s university and career experiences as well as those women have used to alter these experiences. Enoch defines spatial rhetorics as the multiple and multimodal ways through which spaces gain meaning. They are the varied material, imagistic, embodied, emotive, displayed, and discursive understandings that define what a space is and what it should be. Spatial rhetorics designate who is allowed in a space and what can happen within that space. In her presentation, Enoch uses this definition to develop a spatio-rhetorical analytic that enables her to assess how the composition of space has affected women’s intellectual and professional lives.

Enoch uses a case study to consider this rhetorical phenomenon and focuses attention on the spatial rhetorics that inflected women women’s early access to laboratories on nineteenth-century university campuses within the U.S. Her work is to consider the spatial rhetorics that circulated in and through these sites, determining women’s entrance to the laboratory and thereby affecting their training and career in the sciences. Yet, while this presentation centers on how the spatial rhetorics of the laboratory shaped possibilities for the woman scientist, Enoch also pans out to extrapolate on how spatial rhetorics continue to add complexity to women’s advancement in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and other advanced career opportunities