face value

Rather than seeing the proliferation of advice manuals on women’s conduct as evidence of women’s oppression, we can see them, amongst other things, as indicators of women’s resistance to those discourses.

from Sara Mills’ Discourse (Routledge, 2004), p. 81

Interesting. Seems an important principle — not to take discourses at face value.

Addendum 1-21-08, for Michael :-):

Mills says,

The fact, for example, that there were a great number of conduct books written in the nineteenth century assures us that there was a fundamental and pressing problem with women’s behaviour which these texts were attempting to overcome. It is clear that women were not the compliant subjects these books tried to produce.

Then she quotes from Thomas Broadhurst’s Advice to Young Ladies on the Improvement of the Mind and Conduct of Life (1810), as an example of how these manuals betrayed women’s resistance even as they were pushing the “solution.”

She who is faithfully employed in discharging the various duties of a wife and daughter, a mother and a friend, is far more usefully occupied than one who, to the culpable neglect of the most important obligations, is daily absorbed by philosophic and literary speculations, or soaring aloft amidst the enchanted regions of fiction and romance. (Broadhurst, 1870, Cited in Armstrong and Tennenhouse 1987:106)

Mills continues,

This advice may simply be seen as an instruction to young girls to be dutiful wives and mothers, but in the very act of encouraging certain types of behaviour the writer includes mention of the types of behaviour which is trying to discourage. Even he is unable to make them sound wholly unattractive. This passage is clearly an indication of the fact that literature and learning in general exerted a strong attraction for you women at this time, perhaps to the detriment of their performing their conventional duties as wives and mothers. (79-80)

Interesting stuff, like I said. I think I’m going to copy this whole book before returning it (it’s ILL’d via U of Puget Sound), so I can read the whole thing later.


4 thoughts on “face value

  1. I assume Mills continues then to analyze some advice manuals? I’m not familiar with her work.

    And for clarification, does “those discourses” refer to “women’s oppression,” “seeing…evidence of women’s oppression,” or something else. At first I thought “women’s oppression,” but now I’m not sure.

  2. Hi, Michael.
    Yes, Mills also discusses the actual advice manuals and the high number of them. She argues that the fact that a lot of advice manuals were published may seem to be more evidence of women’s oppression, but in fact it’s possible to see the proliferation of advice manuals as evidence that women weren’t buying it. Advice manuals as evidence of resistance.

    So, “those discourses” refers to the advice manuals.

  3. Sounds like a good read! I’m interested in the implications for publishing of writing textbooks: does a correlative exist for writing textbooks and “resistant” student writers? Does the continued publication (and perhaps even proliferation) of writing textbooks (many, I’d argue, that say the same things in slightly different ways) reveal that students aren’t “buying” this type of writing instruction? hmmm…

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