Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Perfect Strategy: A Scholarly Spin on Gender Advocacy

Statement:  “Personal testimony seems to produce credible counter-arguments within the realm of scholarly research that strives for a binary system of classification.”

A Critique of the Official Style:

Gender Copia: Feminist Rhetorical Perspectives on an Autistic Concept of Sex/Gender

The scholarly article I chose to critique was originally published in the Women’s Studies in Communication Journal in 2012.  Key concepts from this article include Autism, gender identification, rhetoric, Copia, and queer theory.  This article resonates with my field as I am an interpersonal communication major with a focused interest in identity-development.  I find the process of becoming and then articulating individualism very interesting.  This article, written by Jordynn Jack through the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, gives a voice to Autistic individuals who are so often clumped together in stereotypical assumptions by the academic and medical establishments.  The author clearly composed the given article with an intention to counter the mainstream assumptions associated with both Autism and the binary-system of gender identification.  The Official Style is apparent throughout the article with a lot of jargon regarding the topic and overall, a very intellectual organization of thoughts that categorize it in the 15th grade level.  However, the author strategically uses concise language and sentence structure due to the fact that there is a bigger social issue being addressed.  Trickery is not the intention of this article.  In terms of broader implications, this piece is significant as it focuses on marginalized communities.  Advocacy work like this has an important role with the world of the Official Style.  A professional demeanor is applicable in the given context as conversations about gender identity follow inclusion.  An article like this has implications in the creating process.  Including words from the specific community, created by the specific community, for the inclusion of the specific community fosters growth and expansion in rhetoric and society, as a whole. 

  With this said, this article calculated the following results through the Readibility Scorer:

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level-15.3

Average Grade Level-15.5

Characters per Word-5.2

Syllables per Word-1.8

Words per Sentence-24.9 

My working draft led me to develop the argument that personal testimony gathered through the author’s data collection (interviews with individuals) produced credible counter-arguments to mainstream assumptions regarding Autism and gender-identification.  The author began the article with quoted statements by individuals who have been associated somewhere along the Autism-Scale.  This scale points out that Autism is varying and plays out through a spectrum.  The author’s basic argument lies in this interpretation; one cannot classify Autism.  The author is arguing that assumptions from the academic and medical world leaves individuals out and without rhetoric to associate with; therefor, the process of invention that comes from fighting the binary-system of gender (male or female) plays in to Autistic individuals also countering rigid classifications of how ze (this is a term used in gender studies, and it is gender neutral) will interpret the world.  This critique is aiming to highlight the author’s ability to use a very scholarly format that absolutely must incorporate the Official Style in order to stimulate the academic world while simultaneously giving a voice to “simple folks” who do not format their explanations in the Official Style but who give a first-person perspective to the major topics discussed in this article.  The testimony used, in my opinion, is so much stronger than any type of Official format with citations and notable research.  For example, Jackk quotes an interviewee who identifies as an Autistic male.  Jackk (pg. 1) quotes the interviewee:

When I see ‘gender’ as a tick-box category on a form, I feel similarly to if, on a form asking for details of a vehicle, it asked for ‘miles per gallon’ when my vehicle was powered by something completely different (and that can’t be measured in gallons), like say solar electricity—I just don’t really consider myself to belong to the category of beings that have gender.

This writing, simple yet very powerful, has a greater effect on the reader than the following sentence composed by Jackk (pg. 2):

In particular, an autistic perspective points to the usefulness of a rhetorical
model for understanding gender, one that considers gender as providing a range of available discourses through which individuals make sense of, model, and perform a gendered identity. While communication scholars have focused heavily on how gender identities are disciplined (Sloop), performed in oratory (see Buchanan; Mattingly), or constrained by cultural discourses (Johnson), we have fewer accounts of how the formation of gender identities themselves, especially nontraditional ones, constitutes a rhetorical process.

In this excerpt, Jackk uses complex sentence structure, incorporating euphemistic tactics that, in all honesty, probably have to be used in order to resonate with scholars.  The terms “cultural discourse, gender identities, rhetorical processes” are correct terms for the given fields of study; however, in terms of effective writing, the first quote from the Autistic gentleman makes such a stronger point.  Hearing his perspective of gender identity makes any quoted material from a scholar seem ignorant.  Jackk uses testimony like this throughout the article, combining her developed articulations for the academic world’s approval with simple, real, and credible accounts of what she is trying to explain. 

Here is another sentence I found that represented Jackk’s (pg. 14) style well:

While these findings cannot be taken as representative of autistic individuals as a whole, their diversity does support an expanded concept of autistic gender identity that pushes past a gender continuum toward a copia, in which terms can be tried on and appropriated, discarded, and invented while still being understood as embodied and constructed.

I see both elements of Official Style with a slow opening to the main action of the sentence.  Also, the author really takes on a passive voice in this example.  I would say that throughout the article, her voice is strong for an example of the Official Style.  Her style is very euphemistic.  That may be due to the fact that a lot of these concepts are unfamiliar terms.  Nominalization occurs with a lot of these terms, for example “continuum”.  I found this article under EBSCO Host, through Murphy Library, so naturally I am expecting the Official Style in diction as well as format.  This is clearly a qualitative research presentation with data analysis and thematic content that allows the scholarly type to mosey through in the comfortable box that is APA Land. 

After closer examination, I am convinced that Jackk is a true rhetorician, using the method as a tool of creation.  Maybe I am biased, but it seems like the implications of zer research and rhetoric affect multiple activity systems.  It is the perfect interwoven web of scholarly language and articulation along with personal testimony and first hand, credible accounts of the topic being discusses by real people, with names and identities that they choose; it is not decided, and therefore, it is controversial.  From the following quotation from Jackk (pg. 6), we can see the connections being created between real people and the rhetoric available for further confirmation breaking down previous stereotypes and binary systems of gender and identity:

Despite the difficulties of orienting oneself around a stable gender category, the

topic of gender provides a point of identification for autistic individuals with nontraditional gender identities. On message boards and blogs, individuals share experiences with alternative gender self-concepts in ways that might be confirmatory. Rhetoric scholar Bryan Crable notes that this kind of interactional rhetoric can be crucial to establishing a secure identity.

The last sentence is a strategic incorporation of confirmation.  The conclusions made by Jackk, from the testimony of the interviewers, is backed up by Rhetoric scholar Bryan Crable – nice name drop. I do not intend on making fun of Jackk, however, because this is extremely effective.   Jackk is simultaneously involving two very opposing bodies with each other by an outcome of scholarly truth that is representative and inclusive, and that is not simple.  I still wonder if strategy is bleeding into trickery.

            With trickery in mind, I critically question the sincere reaction of both parties: the marginalized gender-queer community and the medical institution deeply invested in Autism.  Both parties are so far left and then right on the whole concept of categorization.  As much credit as I give Jackk for zer strategic blend of Official Style and personal testimony, a lack of defense on either side might leave both parties unsatisfied and under-represented.  However, Jackk does a great job of being unbiased because I assume ze is closely invested in the trans-community.  This article may not be giving the trans-community a strong enough voice, and if that is the case, then what exactly does it do? Does it tip-toe around the scholarly crowd, offending no one? If so, then it may be satisfying the scholarly system, and in doing so, failing to reach the outcomes of the trans-community.    
-Brianna B.

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