Kennedy, Kristen. “Hipparchia the Cynic: Feminist Rhetoric and the Ethics of Embodiment.” Hypatia 14.2 (Spring 1999): 48-71.


In this article, Kennedy draws on the history of Hipparchia to articulate a feminist ethics of rhetoric, an ethics she describes as “the responsibility to respond to embodiment in a public way” (51). Kennedy argues that Hipparchia, a woman who left her aristocratic family to marry a Cynic, represents both the transgressive possibilities and discursive limits that come from living in exile. By being part of the Cynics–a group who resisted the rigid delineation of public and private in Ancient Greece by living in the agora, disrupted formal speaking engagements for the purposes of challenging who could rightfully speak, and disseminated philosophy to those excluded from educational circles–Hipparchia daily challenged the private space women had been relegated to through her embodied presence in the agora. Living (including all of the bodily acts that daily living is comprised of) in the public, Hipparchia demonstrates the challenge that the speaking, exiled subject can make. But as Kennedy points out, this transgressive potential is itself challenged by the fact that the exiled subject is always under threat of erasure by the cultural forces that seek to cast that subject out. While Kennedy tempers her claims about Hipparchia by distinguishing between chosen and forced exile, as well as distinguishing between the discursive and bodily effects of exile, she argues that Hipparchia’s story illustrates the need for a feminist ethics of rhetoric–one which calls the rhetorician to recognize the discursive effects of embodiment. Kennedy closes the article by using both her analysis of Hipparchia and her articulation of a feminist ethics of rhetoric to talk about the case of Fauziya Kasinga, the first woman to seek asylum in the U.S. from female genital mutilation. Kennedy uses this discussion to point to some of the problems and promises of bringing ethics and embodiment together.

Quotable Quotes:

“As a ‘political body’ in the ‘body politic,’ Hipparchia contests the spaces in which the body can speak by calling attention to the limited range of spaces available to exiled and ambiguous bodies.” (54)

“[S]peaking in exile is an ethical imperative to refuse invisibility, erasure, and silence. Following Adorno, exile garners authority by waitin outside the door of the house into which it will never be invited: waiting, witnessing, and writing.” (61)

“[I]t is the busines of a feminist ethics of rhetoric to invent and revalue new spaces for discourse–including the discourse of and in exile–that can simultaneously provide tactical exigencies for speaking as well as the apparatus for critiquing how discourses silence and exclude.” (63-4).