Lydia M. McDermott

Lydia M. McDermott is a rhetoric and composition scholar and professor at Whitman College. She is also the Director of the Center for Writing and Speaking.

Research and Publications

Liminal Bodies, Reproductive Health, and Feminist Rhetoric posits rhetoric and gynecology as sister discourses. While rhetoric has been historically concerned with the regulation of the productive male body, gynecology has been concerned with the discipline of the female reproductive body. Lydia M. McDermott examines these sister discourses by tracing key narrative moments in the development of thought about sexed bodies and about rhetorical discourse, from classical myth and natural philosophy to the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century decline of midwifery and the rise of scientific writing on the reproductive body. Liminal Bodies offers a metaphorical method of invention and criticism, “sonogram,” that emphasizes the voices and bodies that have been left on the margins of the dominant histories of rhetoric. NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK! Click the image to go to the publisher’s page.

Reviews of Liminal Bodies

This beautifully written, deeply and eclectically researched book expands the fields of embodied rhetoric and disability studies. Historical and personal, reflective and political, careful and empowering, the reader is left listening for rhetorical echoes and reverberations wherever maternity, embodiment, and ability are invoked—and whenever the normative character of these concepts is ignored. Scholarly books should all be written so resourcefully, artistically, and honestly.
— Jay Dolmage, University of Waterloo

Liminal Bodies, Reproductive Health, and Feminist Rhetoric is well-written and powerful. This book provides a compelling exploration of the feminine and hysterical echoes reverberating in the recesses of the rhetorical tradition and of the connections between reproductive and verbal power. McDermott's development of ‘sonogram rhetoric’ as an analytical lens is an important contribution to the field of rhetoric and composition, and one that promises to have wide application.
— Marika Seigel, Michigan Technological University

Research in Progress

I am currently working on a book project tentatively titled, Home away from Home: Transnational Reproductive Rights Rhetoric. In this project,  I hope to illustrate how the rhetorical ecology of rhetoric on midwifery centers on the ideograph, <professionalization>. In the U.S., arguments concerning professionalization allow the ACOG to suggest that home-births are dangerous because no trained professionals are in the setting. Meanwhile, in sources such as  the UNFPA's State of the World's Midwifery 2014, NGOs and government agencies are mobilizing to professionalize the midwives already practicing in women’s homes in the developing world.  I will show that these rhetorics have historical roots, which have not always worked to empower women’s reproductive choices, and that are thoroughly tied up in neoliberal logics.


Selected publications


With Lana Oweidat. “Neither Safe nor Brave: Empathetic Interventions in Tutor Training.” Writing Centers as Brave/r Spaces, special issue of The Peer Review 1.2 (2017).

“Birthing Rhetorical Monsters: How Mary Shelley Infuses Mêtis with the Maternal in her 1831 Introduction to Frankenstein.Rhetoric Review 34.1 (2015): 1-18.

 “A Womb of One’s Own: A Wandering Rhetoric.” MP: An Online Feminist Journal. 3.5 (2012): 23-40.

"Creativity and Dissidence According to Nawal El Sadaawi: an Interview" QAE 14 (2007): 131-133.


“The Crik is Crooked: Appalachia as Movable Queer Space.” Queer Appalachia: Reading, Writing, Teaching, and Imagining the ‘Unspeakable’ Other. Eds. Sherrie Gradin, Hillery Glasby, and Rachael Ryerson. (Forthcoming 2019 with West Virginia University Press).  

“Echo as Ventriloquist: Disembodied Vocal Performance and Feminist Rhetorical Agency.” Feminist Challenges, Feminist Rhetorics: Locations, Scholarship, and Discourse.  Ed. Kirsti Cole. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014.


Creative work

“Navel Song,” “Biblio-Love Songs,” and “Mahler over Marietta.” Poems. Cathexis Northwest Press, March 2019.

“What We Lose.” Poem. From Whispers to Roars, April 2019.

“Dear M____,” “52 Shoe Lane,” and “Possession.” Poems. Raw Art Review, Spring 2019.

“Sleepover, “ “Over,” and “Tiny.” Poems. Red Earth Review, July 2019.

“Thinking of Another while Making Tea.” Featured poem. Red Flag Press, October 2019 postcard.

“Cleave,” Poem. Fragile. Medusa’s Laugh Press, 2019.