Refiguring Family:

Rhetoric, Feminist Voices, and Digital Publishing


More About Harlot
If you're not familiar with Harlot, it is worth noting that the digital magazine caters to a mixed audience made up of academics and lay readers. Its peer-review process also matches this arrangement: Each submission is reviewed by at least one academic and one interested individual from outside academia.

This arrangement is how we try to ensure that each published piece reaches a certain level of sound reasoning for argumentative works and intellectualism for creative works while at the same time be composed and delivered in a way that invites lay readers into the mix.

Harlot, however, clearly attracts more academics than not, and this trend is certainly the case with the special issue on family rhetoric.

Harlot: A Revealing Look at the Arts of Persuasion is a digital magazine and web forum that solicits and publishes smart, playful, and accessible conversations about rhetoric in everyday life. As a netroots campaign in rhetorical literacy, Harlot is meant to engage, inspire, and connect public as well as academic audiences in critical and creative discussions of the subtly persuasive communication that surrounds us. (more about Harlot). In 2010, Harlot put out a call for submissions for a special issue on family rhetoric. This special issue attracted a record number of submissions for the journal. For some, the connection was deeply personal; for others, cultural representations of family and/or the role of various communities on family drew shrewd attention. Ultimately, the pieces submitted for this issue offered creative and critical insights about family rhetoric (how family members communicate with each other) and the rhetoric of family (how culture and society inform us about the meaning of family). The submissions represent an array of perspectives, experiences, and forms of expressing our connections and disconnections with family.

As special issue editors and Editorial Board members for Harlot, in the course of reviewing the submissions on family rhetoric, we were struck by the makeup of the creators and their topics and by the personal perspective many of them took. An overwhelmingly high percentage of works were composed by women or focused on women’s experiences, particularly mothering and motherhood, and a large percentage were composed in the form of a personal narrative. What does it mean, we wondered, that a 21st-century call for exploring family rhetoric invokes more responses from women – particularly from women concerned with the perceptions, definitions, and expectations of motherhood? We started wondering if the large number of submissions about mothering or written from the perspective of mothers weren’t telling us something important about the connection between family and feminism and about the discursive spaces created by digital publishing venues like Harlot.

Wanting to better understand why our call had such an impact and resulted in the responses it did, we contacted (post publication) published and unpublished authors who had submitted pieces to the family rhetoric issue. We invited them to answer, anonymously, a series of survey questions about what inspired their pieces on family rhetoric, why they presented it in the form/style they did, and why they submitted it to an online journal with a hybrid (academic and non-academic) audience. The survey was distributed via a secure online database allowing participants to login and anonymously respond to the questions while also viewing and replying to others’ responses. Together, the submissions we received and creators’ responses to the survey taught us about contemporary ideas and concerns about family and about how calls for submissions, publishing spaces, and intended audiences are being considered and imagined by writers. "Refiguring Family" discusses what we've learned from our survey and describes how our issue on family rhetoric became a home for feminist voices.