Feminist: political position

Female: a matter of Biology

Feminine: a set of culturally defined characteristics


Some roots of prejudice against women:

·         Aristotle's idea that the male is by nature superior and the female inferior.

·         Biblical statement of the fall from Eden blamed on Eve.

·         St. Augustine and other religious leaders dictating that women are spiritually weak, sensual creatures that tempt men away from spiritual truths.

·         Darwin's theory that sees women as a past and lower state of civilization.


Early feminist voices:

·         Mary Wollstonecraft's A vindication of the Rights of Women (1792): women must stand for their rights and refuse to be labeled by men as inferior.

·         Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own (1929): males define what it means to be female as male controls political, economic, social, and literary structures. Women must develop their own discourse to combat these beliefs.

·         Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949): in a patriarchal society women are defined as the Other, secondary in nature.

·         Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1969): female is born, woman is created, distinguishes between sex and gender. Millet calls for establishment of female social conventions (literary studies, feminist criticism, etc)



·         Women's movement (1960s): literary in the sense that it realized the significance of the images of women presented in literature, and saw the need to question these images.

·         1970s feminism: an attempt to expose the system of patriarchy which promotes sexual inequality, specifically as represented in literature by male writers. Elaine Showalter termed this androtexts.

·         1980s feminism: began to draw on other theories and to focus on exploring the nature of female experience by constructing new canon of women's writing. Showalter termed this gynotexts.


Elaine Showalter's A Literature of Their Own

·         Feminine phase (1840-80), women writers imitate dominant male artistic standards.

·         Feminist phase (1880-1920), radical positions taken, sometime separatist ones.

·         Female phase (1920--), focus on female writing and experience.


Gynocriticism: (the study of female writers), constructing a female framework to analyze women's literature to offer new models based on women's experiences rather than men's.


What feminist critics do:

·         Rethink the canon, aim to discover texts by women.

·         Revalue women's experience.

·         Challenge representation of women in literature as 'Other', or 'lack'.

·         Argue for essential difference versus a constructed one..

·         Explore the question of whether there is a female language (an écriture feminine)

 Role of Theory:

Anglo-American Feminism: evaluate representation of women in literature.

Voices: Elaine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, dominant in 1970s


British Feminism: socialist in nature, aligned with Marxism, relates text to class.

Voices: Cora Kaplan, Catherine Belsey, dominant in 1980s.


French Feminist: relies on theories of Lacan, Foucault and Derrida.

Voices: Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray.


Language: Is there a language specific to women?

Virginia Woolf: feminine writing uses looser sequences, not as balanced as male writing, as women suffer from having to use a medium fashioned for male writers.


Questions for a feminist criticism:

·         Are there any stereotypical characterizations of women?

·         What are the attitudes toward women held by male characters?

·         What is the author's attitude to women in society?

·         Do female characters speak often? How often, compared to male characters?

·         How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?

·         What are the power relationships between men and women (or characters assuming male/female roles)?

·         How are male and female roles defined?

·         What constitutes masculinity and femininity?

·         How do characters embody these traits?

·         Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so? How does this change others’ reactions to them?

·         What does the work reveal about the operations (economically, politically, socially, or psychologically) of patriarchy?

·         What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?

·         What does the work say about women's creativity?

·         What does the history of the work's reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operation of patriarchy?

·         What role the work play in terms of women's literary history and literary tradition?