Mountford, Roxanne. The Gendered Pulpit: Preaching in American Protestant Spaces. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2003. Print.
Mountford addresses the gap in the scholarly conversation of rhetorical space by purporting that the pulpit is a masculine rhetorical space and this is problematic for women. She seamlessly brings together disparate forms of research on “rhetorical space” (as defined by feminist philosopher Lorraine Code) and the gendered nature of the pulpit to address the gap in the scholarly conversation. To do this, first Mountford demonstrates that the pulpit is a gendered space through the use of literary examples. Leveraging scenes from the works: Moby-Dick (1851), Adam Bede (1859), Beloved (1987) and Temple of My Familiar (1989), she outlines ana analyzes scenes from each of these works and demonstrates how they support her claim that the pulpit is gendered. Mountford also pulls a common thread to substantiate her claim that all four of these works/scenes draw the reader to pay particular attention to the location of the pulpit, preacher-congregation relationship and understanding of gender. She purports that gender and preaching are both associated with ‘place’. Mountford brings together other scholarship to bridge these ideas, including the fact that gender hierarchies are associated with place (trope of “woman’s place”), relationships between pulpit and congregation (separation) and Bachelard’s spatial metaphors in The Poetics of Space. Like a bricklayer, Mountford carefully builds each of these ideas on top of each other until we look up at the end of the work and see an entirely new structure (idea) built out of these bricks (scholarship). Mountford fills the gap in the scholarship on gender, the pulpit and space by building upon the ideas of literature, philosophers on space (Bachelard), feminist theory (Cheryl Glenn), religion (Bible) and interviews with women in seminary training.
Mountford tells us that she chose literary examples stating, “So why turn to literary examples to explore a real-life phenomenon: the gendered nature of the pulpit? Because of writers, like all spectators of life,
offer a fresh lens for understanding the nature of rhetoric. As Thomas Farrell
has said so well, the exploration of public oratory goes on without the help of
specialists, for through “habituated capacity as an audience,” all spectators
understand intuitively what moves them in a speech (12).”
Then she turns to a philosopher and several scholars to explore the nature of space.
Thus far I have been meditating on the ritualized nature of space and its
association with gender hierarchies, particularly in the case of the pulpit.
But there is another sense in which the pulpit works as a space: in its relationship
to the congregation
Rhetorical space is an extraordinarily important aspect of rhetorical per
Pformance, but especially in sacred locations, where each object and participant
are set in place according to the rituals performed in that space. One of
the categories of “placement” employed in sacred places is gender hierarchy;
another is the separation of sacred leaders and people. We might think of
these two categories as axes, one marked by status, and another marked by
gender. In the Christian tradition, status and masculinity have been required
before one may enter the pulpit, and it is, I am arguing, for this reason that
Melville not only places Father Mapple in a pulpit, but embellishes it so that
the reader does not miss the association of masculinity with divinity. On
They are close to their congregations—literally standing or
sitting with them. Whatever distance there may be (and it is minimal) is
elided by the lack of pulpit or any other physical barrier.
In a recent interview with a woman still in seminary training, I was interested
to learn that she considered the pulpit to be a “shield.”
This is not surprising when we consider that spaces are productive of
meaning as well as endowed with meaning
She says, “Having established that rhetorical space has both material and cultural
dimensions, let us look more closely at the pulpit. My goal is to explore what
kind of “rhetorical space” a pulpit is in order to understand why the presence
of women there is metonymically problematic. I have made the claim that
the pulpit is necessarily a gendered space, so I will attempt to earn that claim
To develop a full definition of rhetorical space, I turn to a philosopher
and several scholars of cultural geography who help us understand the nature
What these two fictional “pulpits” illustrate are the complex cultural
associations of the pulpit as metonym for the Protestant church as institution
(as in the locution, “the Pulpit,” meaning “Church”), the pulpit as site of
clerical authority, and the pulpit as emblem of the nature of God.
Masculine space of the pulpit.
define rhetorical space for the reader and help them understand the cultural implications.