Aspasia’s Rhetoric

It is a relatively new practice to consider women in history and to examine the possible impact of their feminine perspectives. On the tails of Great Man Theory which relied on the biographies of great men at the exclusion of all other contributors, it is now far more acceptable to focus on societal and environmental factors that influenced history and to take account of previously excluded groups of people, including the contributions of women. Think of Aspasia and her persuasion on ancient thinking. When studying women like Aspasia, we raise a variety of significant questions relating to the influence of their feminine perspectives, hypothesizing that they voiced a feminine perspective at all. Judging from the fragments we have available to us concerning Aspasia one could argue that she does introduce a kind of rhetoric that is particularly female.

Defining Aspasia’s rhetoric as being predominantly female is a complex and esoteric process: the argument rests on implying that there is a particularly female way of thinking about anything. The quandary is further muddled by trying to develop a solid theoretical framework to support this claim. However, if we can agree on a variety of assumptions about the difference between femaleness and maleness in communication styles we can then move on to look at Aspasia’s rhetoric and how it fits into the domains of either style.

Stereotypically speaking, female style is seen as nurturing, cooperative, communal and sensitive to nature. This is not to say that someone that applies this style must be female. It is effective to think of feminine and masculine qualities on a continuum as opposed to seeing them as binary choices. Also consider that any human can exist anywhere on the continuum, from very feminine to very masculine and that there are many overlapping qualities that are neither exclusively male nor female.

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