SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Rhetorics of Motherhood

Rhetorics of Motherhood

Add to Cart

Lindal Buchanan


Paperback (Other formats: E-book)
200 pages, 6 x 9, 8 illustrations

Studies in Rhetorics and Feminisms


Additional Materials

About the Book

Becoming a mother profoundly alters one’s perception of the world, as Lindal Buchanan learned firsthand when she gave birth. Suddenly attentive to representations of mothers and mothering in advertisements, fiction, film, art, education, and politics, she became intrigued by the persuasive force of the concept of motherhood, an interest that unleashed a host of questions: How is the construct defined? How are maternal appeals crafted, presented, and performed? What do they communicate about gender and power? How do they affect women? Her quest for answers has produced Rhetorics of Motherhood, the first book-length consideration of the topic through a feminist rhetorical lens.

 Although both male and female rhetors employ motherhood to promote themselves and their agendas, Buchanan argues it is particularly slippery terrain for women—on the one hand, affording them authority and credibility but, on the other, positioning them disadvantageously within the gendered status quo. Rhetorics of Motherhood investigates that paradox by detailing the cultural construction and performance of the Mother in American public discourse, tracing its use and impact in three case studies, and by theorizing how, when, and why maternal discourses work to women’s benefit or detriment. In the process, the reader encounters a fascinating array of issues—including birth control, civil rights, and abortion—and rhetors, ranging from Diane Nash and Margaret Sanger to Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama.

As Buchanan makes clear, motherhood is a rich site for investigating the interrelationships among gender, power, and public discourse. Her latest book contributes to the discipline of rhetoric by attending to and making a convincing case for the significance of this understudied subject. With its examination of timely controversies, contemporary and historical figures, and powerful women, Rhetorics of Motherhood will appeal to a wide array of readers in rhetoric, communications, American studies, women’s studies, and beyond.


Lindal Buchanan is assistant professor of English and women's studies at Old Dominion University. She is the author of Regendering Delivery: The Fifth Canon and Antebellum Women Rhetors (SIU Press, 2005) and coeditor of Walking and Talking Feminist Rhetorics: Landmark Essays and Controversies.


“This first book-length study of the rhetorics of motherhood in the twentieth century demonstrates how cultural codes of motherhood were tapped as resources for arguments and how codes of gender and race intersected with, and impacted, rhetorics of motherhood. In three carefully researched and argued case studies, Buchanan shows how arguments succeeded, were constrained, or were contained by the cultural commonplaces of woman and mother.”—Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson, professor of English, Miami University, and editor of Disability and Mothering: Liminal Spaces of Embodied Knowledge

"Centering her argument in women’s studies, history, and cultural constructivism, Buchanan (Old Dominion Univ.) examines three case studies: Margaret Sanger and birth control, Diane Nash and the civil rights movement, and Laci and Conner’s Law (Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004), which established that a fetus can be considered a murder victim.  The chapters on Sanger and Laci and Conner’s Law are utterly fascinating.  The book provides great historical context and an excellent interpretation of “mother.”  Released in the “Studies and Feminism and Rhetorics” series, this valuable resource should have a wide audience."--E.T. Klaver, Southern Illinois University Carbondale