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Feminist Literary Theory

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Rachel Rickman

on 21 August 2014

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Transcript of Feminist Literary Theory

Lois Tyson, a feminist expert, defines feminist criticism as "the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" (qtd. in Brizee).
What is it?
1. First Wave (late 1700s- early 1900s): Highlighted inequalities between sexes
Mary Wollstonecraft, Susan B. Anthony, and Victoria Woodhull
Nineteenth Amendment (Women's suffrage)
Key Terms to Understanding Feminist Theory
By Rachel Rickman & Elise O'Neal
Feminist Literary Theory
In Layman's terms...
How a book describes women in all aspects of life and whether its portrayal of them is good or bad
- characteristic of rule by men: relating to or characteristic of a culture in which men are the most powerful members ("Patriarchal")

- hatred of women: a hatred of women, as a sexually defined group ("Misogyny")

- blending masculine and feminine: neither male nor female in appearance but having both conventional masculine and feminine traits and giving an impression of ambiguous sexual identity ("Androgynous")

- culture determines gender (Brizee)

-sex discrimination: discrimination against women or men because of their sex ("Sexism")

L'écriture feminine
- approach that sought a way of writing which literally embodied the female (Lee)

- there are innate, essential differences between men and women; we are born with certain traits ("Essentialism")
Evolution of Feminist Criticism
2. Second Wave (early 1960s- late 1970s): Solidified feminist political activism
World War II - equal working conditions
Simone de Beauvoir and Elaine Showalter
National Organization for Women (NOW)
3. Third Wave (early 1990s- present): Pushing for a movement that encompasses all different people (race, gender, class)
Incorporates post-structural and contemporary gender and race theories
Alice Walker
Evolution of Feminist Criticism
A Literature of Their Own
Elaine Showalter's
1. Androgynous poetics:
The creative mind is sexless
Having a female tradition in writing is sexist
Gender unimportant in writing
2. The Female Aesthetic:
Woman's perspective in both writing and interpreting texts is significant
Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Richardson
Developed "Mother Tongue" (female vernacular), French feminists called it l'écriture feminine
Problem: Cannot separate gender from writing, culture-determined or not
Problems: No clear identity, resembled sexist essentialism, limited inclusion (Lee)
volution of Feminist Criticism
3. Overarching gender theory: explores the literary effects of the sex/gender system
Gender is a social construction upon biological differences
Brings questions of masculinity into feminist theory (Lee)

Influential Theorists
Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women

Simone de Beauvoir: Le deuxiéme sexe

Julia Kristeva: About Chinese Women

Elaine Showalter: A Literature of their Own, "Toward a Feminist Poetics"

Deborah E. McDowell: New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism

Alice Walker: In Search of Our Mother's Gardens

Lillian S. Robinson: "Treason Out Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon"

Camile Paglia: Sexual Personae: The Androgyne in Literature and Art (Brizee)

The Scarlet Letter
Common Ground in Feminist Criticism:
1. Women are oppressed by patriarchy economically, politically, socially, and psychologically; patriarchal ideology is the primary means by which they are kept so
2. In every domain where patriarchy reigns, woman is other; she is marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values
3. All of western (Anglo-European) civilization is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideology, for example, in the biblical portrayal of Eve as the origin of sin and death in the world
4. While biology determines our sex (male or female), culture determines or gender (masculine or feminine)
5. All feminist activity, including feminist theory and literary criticism, has as its ultimate goal to change the world by prompting gender equality
6. Gender issues play a part in every aspect of human production and experience, including the production and experience of literature, whether we are consciously aware of these issues or not (Brizee)
Good Questions to Ask:
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 patriarchy?
What role does the work play in terms of women's literary history and literary tradition? (Brizee)
The Scarlet Letter
What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?
Hester is a courageous woman who dares to dream of gender equality
She is, however, way ahead of her time and keeps her thoughts to herself
The Scarlet Letter
"even had there been a disposition to turn the matter into ridicule it must have been repressed and overpowered by the solemn presence of men no less dignified then the Governor, and several of his counsellors, a judge, a general, and the ministers of the town; all of whom sat or stood in a balcony of the meeting-house, looking down upon the platform. When such personages could constitute a part of the spectacle, without risking the majesty or reverence of rank and office, it was safely to be inferred that the infliction of a legal sentence would have an earnest and effectual meaning (Hawthorne)"
pg. 49 speaking of Hester's public judgment
What does the work reveal about the social and political operations of patriarchy?
Men have political power in the community
Women must adhere to certain modesty standards and behavior
"the same dark question often rose into her mind, with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth accepting, even to the happiest among them?... as a first step, the whole system of society is to be torn down, and built up anew. Then, the very nature of the opposite sex or its long hereditary habit...is to be essentially modified before women can be allowed to assume what seems a fair and suitable position (Hawthorne)"
pg. 137 Hester's Thoughts
Tide Commercial
Works Cited
Brizee, Allen and J. Case Tompkins."Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)."
Purdue Owl: Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism.
Purdue University 21 April 2010. Web. 19 August 2014.
Slide, Cameron. "Frozen-Anna saves Elsa." Online video clip.
YouTube, 24 Feb. 2014.
20 Aug. 2014.
social science materials. "My Tide Detergent TV Commercial."
Online video clip.
YouTube, 19 November 2011.
20 Aug. 2014.
Bing Dictionary, n.d.
18 Aug. 2014
Bing Dictionary, n.d.
18 Aug. 2014
Bing Dictionary, n.d.
18 Aug. 2014
Bing Dictionary, n.d.
18 Aug. 2014
Geek Feminism Wiki.
Wikia, Sept. 2013.
Web. 20 Aug. 2014.
Lee, Elizabeth. "Feminist Theory- An Overview (1996)."
The Victorian Web.
Brown University, 1996. Web. 18 Aug. 2014.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel.
The Scarlet Letter.
New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc. 2003.
(social science)
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