• Elaine Showalter

    She is the founder of feminist criticism in the united stares.

    Showalter developed the concept and practice of (gynocriticism).

    In her essay Toward a Feminist Poetics

    On page (1376) we see two obstacles to the articulation of a feminist critical practice:

    1-     The absence of a clearly articulated theory makes feminist criticism perpetually vulnerable to attacks, and not even feminist critics seem to agree what it is that they mean to profess and defend.

    2-     The activists suspicion of theory, especially when the demand for clarification comes from sources as patently sexist.

    – Too many literary abstractions which claim to be universal have in fact described only male perceptions, experiences, and options, and have falsified the social and personal contexts in which literature is produced and consumed.

    On page (1377) Showalter explains the contents of her essay:

    – In this essay Showalter outlines a brief taxonomy, if not a poetics, of feminist criticism, in the hope that it will serve as an introduction to a body of work which needs to be considered both as major contribution to English studies and as a part of an interdisciplinary effort to reconstruct the social, political, and cultural experience of women.

    – Feminist criticism can be divided into two distinct varieties:

    1-     The first type is concerned with woman as a reader -With woman as the consumer of male-produced literature. And with the way in which the hypothesis of a female reader changes our apprehension of a given text, awakening us to the significance of it sexual codes.

         – She calls this kind of analysis The feminist critique.

         – Like other kinds of critique it is a historically grounded inquiry which probes the ideological assumption of literary phenomena.

         – Its subjects include the images and stereotypes of women in literature, the omissions, and the fissures in male-constructed literary history.

         – It is also concerned with the exploitation and manipulation of the female audience, especially in popular culture and film; and with the analysis of woman-as-sign in semiotic systems.

    2-     The second type of feminist criticism is concerned with woman as writer  – with woman as the producer of textual meaning, with the history, themes, genres, and structures of literature by women.

          – Its subject include the psychodynamics of female creativity, linguistics and the problem of a female language, the trajectory of the individual or collective female literary career, literary history, and studies of popular writers and works.

          – She calls this kind of analysis Gynocritics.

    – The feminist critique isessentially politicaland polemical, with theoretical affiliations to Marxist sociology and aesthetics; gynocritics is more self-contained and experimental, with connections to other modes of new feminist research.


    – She gives an example of the way a feminist critique might precede, Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.

    – She criticizes Irving Howe’s criticism.

    – She quotes Howe to indicate how the fantasies of the male critic distort the text.

    – As we see in this analysis, one of the problems of the feminist critique is that it is male-oriented.

    – If we study stereotypes of women, the sexism of male critics, and the limited roles women play in literary history, we are not learning what women have felt and experienced, but only what men have thought women should be.

    – The critique also has a tendency to naturalize women’s victimization by making it the inevitable and obsessive topic of discussion.

    – The bittersweet moral distinctions the critic makes between women merely betrayed by men, the heroines who make careers out of betrayal, like Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter.

    – This comes dangerously close to a celebration of opportunities of victimization, the seduction of betrayal.


    – The program of gynocritics: is to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, to develop new models based on the study of female experience, rather than to adapt male models and theories.

    –  Gynocritics begins at the point when we free ourselves from the linear absolutes of male literary history, stop trying to fit women between the lines of the male tradition, and focus instead on the newly visible world of female culture.

    – Gynocritics is related to feminist research in history, anthropology, psychology, and sociology, all of which have developed hypotheses of a female subculture including not only the ascribed status, and the internalized constructs of feminity, but also the occupations.

    – Thus in some women’s literature, feminine values penetrate and undermine the masculine systems that contain them; and women have imaginatively engaged the myths of the Amazons, and the fantasies of separate female society, in genres from Victorian poetry to contemporary science fiction. 


    – Gynocrtics must also take into account the different velocities and curves of political, social, and personal histories in determining women’s literary choices and careers.

    – “ As much elasticity as possible is desirable; it is necessary to leave oneself room to deal with other things besides their works, so much has that work been influenced by conditions that have nothing whatever to do with art” Virginia Woolf

    – When we understand how ceptible women writers have always been to the aesthetic standards and values of the male tradition, and to male approval and validation, we can appreciate the complexity of marriage between artists.

    – Without an understanding of the framework of the female subculture, we can miss or misinterpret the themes and structures of women’s literature, fail to make necessary connections within a tradition.  

    On page (1381)

    – Female suffering thus becomes a kind of literary commodity, which both men and women consume.

    – Women’s literature must go beyond these scenarios of compromise, madness, and death. Although the reclamation of suffering is the beginning, its purpose is to discover the new world.

    – Happily, some recent women’s literature, especially in the United States, where novelists and poets have become vigorously involved in the women’s liberation movement, has gone beyond reclaiming suffering to its reinvestment. This newer writing relates the pain of transformation to history.

    On page (1382)

    – Much women’s literature in the past has dealt with “matrophobia” or the fear of becoming one’s mother.

    – Hating one’s mother was the feminist enlightment of the fifties and sixties; but it is only metaphor for hating oneself.

    – As the death of the father has always been an archetypal rite of passage for the western hero, now the death of the mother as witnessed and transcended by the daughter has become one of the most profound occasion of female literature.


    – A very famous novelist in the United States Fanny Fern assumed that through writhing a woman could express her frustration and repression in a harmless way.

    – “ Look around, and see innumerable women, to whose barren and loveless lives this would improvement and solace, and I say to them, write! write! It will be a safe outlet for thoughts and feelings that may be the nearest friend you have has never dreamed had place in your heart and brain… it is not safe for women of 1867 to shut down so much that cries out for sympathy and expression, because life is such a maelstrom of business or folly or both that those to whom they have bound themselves, body and soul, recognize only the needs of the former…. One of these days, when that diary is found, when the hand that penned it shall be dust, with what amazement and remorse will many a husband or father exclaim, I never knew my wife or my child until this moment” Fanny Fern

    – She sees the masculine response as a controlling factor in her writing.


    – Showalter talks about the three feminine phases.

    – What distinguishes the first phase is the usage of the male pen name.

    – Contrast between the English and the American masculine disguise.


    – In trying to account for these complex permutations of the female tradition, feminist criticism has tried a variety of theoretical approaches.  

    Presented by

    Bashaer Al-Khateib  & Noura Al-Sulitey