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Rhetorical discourse has long been characterized by patriarchal systems, and this reality has persisted in online spaces. How might today’s scholar dissect and better understand the nature of online communities, specifically those that engage in women’s rights discourses? I argue that using Thomas Farrell’s notion of “rhetorical forum”, James P. Zappen’s outline for digital rhetorical theory, and Sonja K. Foss and Cindy L. Griffin’s feminist understanding of rhetorical practice, one can account for the current state of such discourses on Twitter. The patriarchal flaws that Foss and Griffin identify in traditional rhetoric can shed light on the negative aspects of online forums about women’s rights. Their suggestion for a feminist invitational rhetoric – one that employs “offering” instead of aggressive persuasion – may suggest actionable steps to improving the state of women’s rights discourses in online spaces. Perhaps these scholar’s frameworks are useful in developing implications for fostering more productive conversations in the oft-too-polarized communities of social medias.

To focus in on a specific discourse and community, I will examine how women’s rights discourses emerge, operate, and succeed or fail within the context of abortion rights debates on Twitter. Using Farrell’s “forum” and Zappen’s digital rhetorical framework, I delineate the characteristics of Twitter as a digital rhetorical forum. I then go on to identify the shortcomings of the abortion rights discourse as it exists on Twitter using Foss and Griffin’s insights about the failures of patriarchal systems of persuasive rhetoric. I will then suggest actionable items for improving the efficacy of Twitter discourse using Foss and Griffin’s “invitational rhetoric”, including a look at improving women’s access to the esoteric rhetorical theories that allow for progress in such discursive communities.

This research will provide valuable insights into how communities of women’s rights discourse are developed, fostered, and interpreted in online spaces. It will also help reveal issues of access, platform, and voice in digital rhetoric. All of these topics, while developed under a rhetorical theory lens, are very relevant to the understanding of community, care, and crisis in women’s and gender studies at large.





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