Feminism describes the campaigns, activities, and texts concerned with challenging and transforming how women are treated and represented in society. It is a political movement and discourse that encompasses a diverse range of perspectives, theories, and methods. As well asanalyzingpatriarchal structures, feminist theory seeks to propose new ways for women to bring about social change.
Fromthe end of the eighteenth century to the beginningof collective female political action in the form of the Suffragette and New Women’s movements in Britain and the US, and the granting of partial (1918) and full (1928) franchise for women inBritain. They also fought for the right to ownproperty.
1960s to 1980s.Women collectively campaigned on a broad range of issues including sexual health and contraception, pornography, domestic abuse, and gender discrimination in the workplace.Elaboratefeminist theories.
More global and plural view.Interdisciplinary: gender studies, postcolonial theory, queer theory, and postmodernism.
Where does feminist criticism begin?
AndwhanIsaughhewoldeneverefyneToredenon this cursed book alnyght,Alsodeynlythreleveshave IplyghtOut of his book, right as heradde, and ekeI with my fest so tookhymon thechekeThat inourefyrhe filbakwardadoun.And he upstirteasdootha woodleoun,And with his fest he smoot me on the heedThat in the floor I lay as I were deed. (Chaucer:Wife of Bath’s Prologue.Ll. 788-796)
MaryWollstonecraft,AVindicationofthe Rights of Woman(1792)
A philosophical essay against the social, political, and economic marginalization ofwomen.At a time when the question of the “rights of man” was being debated in France and the US.The difference between men and women is not natural (ideology) but learned.Education should be changed, so that instead of making women sentimental and childlike (often domestic slaves), they become fully rational agents.Criticism: universal Enlightenment ideal of Reason.
John Stuart Mill introduced a parliamentary bill calling for the extension of enfranchisement to women.JS Mill (with Harriet Taylor, his wife), “The subjection of women” (1869): all women were repressed citizens, attacked British marriage laws (which denied women their own rights to children, land, and property).Ever more vocal suffragette movement: Millicent Fawcett, Emmeline Pankhurst.“Feminism” and “feminist” entered public usage by the 1890s.The 1928 Representation of the People Act.
VirginiaWoolf’sA Room of One’s Own(1929)
Modernist Women: H. D., Edith Wharton, Zola Neale Hurston, andDjunaBarnes, Jean Rhys, Gertrude Stein, etc.Developed from two lectures that Woolf had delivered to women students in Cambridge.“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write ﬁction”: the relationship between economics, education, and creativity.“Intellectualfreedom depends upon material things”.“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in mid-air by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.”
VirginiaWoolf’sA Room of One’sOwn2
Transgressing the demarcations between traditional gendered “spheres”.“Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; inreal life she could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.”Literary androgyny:“onemust be woman-manly or man-womanly” (Shakespeare, Keats, Sterne, Cowper, Lamb, and Proust)“ChloelikesOlivia”:has become a critical slogan for lesbian writing.A demystification of genius and a promise of the arrival of Shakespeare's sister.Three Guineas(1938): war and fascism in the context of women’s domestic, political and cultural suppression, also unleashing women’s potential to prevent war through liberation and education.
Simone de Beauvoir’sThe Second Sex(1949)
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”.No essential “femininity”; “femininity” is itself constructed through certain cultural, social, and linguistic practices (social constructionism).Attack on the social institutions of motherhood and the family, discussion of female sexuality, just 5 years after French women were enfranchised. The Pope put the book on the list of works which Roman Catholics are forbidden to read and public campaign to have it banned.Lévi-Strauss + Marx on myth (nature v. culture, femininity as a cultural product + an oppressive code to be exploded)Sex and gender as sharply separate (controversial).Biological essentialism v. social constructionism debate in feminism (and generally).
Feminism is at the forefront of the subversive movements of the ´60s.Consciousness Raising groups encourage women to talk about their experiences.“ Thepersonal is political.”Attacking Freudian psychoanalysis for itsandrocentrism: a representation of woman as “lacking a sexual organ” (Kate Millett’sSexual Politicsand Germaine Greer’sThe Female Eunuch(both 1970)).Both contain literary analysis: reading canonical male writers for proof of misogyny, analysing the power politics, the stereotyping that women characters are subjected to and their impact on readers.
More affirmative turn to female writers.Elaine Showalter: “gynocritics,” - “woman as writer – with woman as the producer of textual meaning, with the history, themes, genres, and structures of literature by women”. From the female reader’s estrangement from a male authored canon to a sense of female subculture: writer, character and reader.
Elaine Showalter’sA Literature of their Own: British Women Novelists fromBrontёto Lessing(1977), and Sandra Gilbert and SusanGubar’sThe Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination(1979). On the difﬁculties facing women writers: overt hostilities of their male contemporaries, and internalised sense of guilt about being women intellectuals and writers. Madness as an inevitable result if women invaded the masculineprivilege of writing.Re-reading canonical women writers and extending the female canon.A debated issue: is there a separate female tradition or did each writer have to fight her own fight?
Some Unresolved Dilemmas
With its own agendas and canons, does feminism also have an independent literary theory?Are the grievances voiced by feminists representative of the experiences of women in general?Gynocriticsreclaimapast for women.Gender as one component that intersects with all the others of your identity.
A diversification of feminisms from the late ’70s: black feminism (e.g. Barbara Smith and bell hooks), feminist postcolonial studies and US Third World feminisms (e.g.GayatriChakravortySpivakor Gloria E.Anzaldúa), lesbian feminism (e.g. Adrianne Rich, Bonnie Zimmerman and Judith Butler).
New French Feminism (’70s onwards)
Abstract academic discussions but connected to the radical movements of ’68 and also specific radical feminist groups.Continue and complicate de Beauvoir’s description of how historically ’woman’ has been constructed as the ’other’ of man (structuralism). They use esp. Derrida andLacanto deconstruct the binary code (uncover the hierarchy in the binaries).Engagement with the theories of JacquesLacan: the psychic development of the child, concentrating on the moment when it leaves behind its imaginary unity with the mother and enters into the symbolic order.Concept ofécritureféminine, a peculiarly female mode of expression which is supposed to reﬂect the physical closeness between infant and mother. Wishing to break away from patriarchal representations and their normative function in the socialisation of boys and girls, they proposed the language of irrationality as a possible subversion of the rigours of logic.
New French Feminism 2
Hysteria was hailed as a speciﬁcally female transgressive language: chaotic , associative - antidote to literary styles and modes of philosophical reasoning which deﬁned women as inferior to men… by celebrating the opposite of patriarchal rationality as woman’s imaginative and intellectual sphere, they alienated many women who felt that this position was a stab in the back to the longstanding struggle to have women’s rationality recognised.Strategic essentialism: a woman’s body determines not only her identity but also a mode of writing and thinking fundamentally different from and in revolt against masculine modes
Coinedin HélèneCixous’s“TheLaugh of the Medusa”(1976).“Womanmust write her self: must write about women and bring women to writing… Woman must put herself into the text – as into the world and into history – by her own movement.”UsingLacan’sideas that the structure of language is centred by the Phallus, and that language within the Symbolic Order is representational, where a single signiﬁer is connected to a single signiﬁed,Cixousargues that the subject position of “woman” or the “feminine” is on the margins of the Symbolic, and thus less ﬁrmly anchored and controlled by the Phallus.The psychoanalytic concept that woman is constituted by “lack” because of the lack of a penis. … female unconscious is less repressed, less radically separated from consciousness. Using Derrida’s idea of play,Cixousnotes that “woman” is decentred, and therefore freer to move and create.
Feminine writing is associated with the Lacanian Real, with the maternal body, which is barred from the Symbolic Order; she associates representational writing with the Symbolic, and non-representational writing with the female and maternal bodies.L’écriturefeminine comes from the female body, but men can write from that position as well. She describesl’écriturefeminine through a variety of metaphors, including milk, orgasm, honey, and the ocean; she claims thatl’ecriturefeminine serves as a disruptive and deconstructive force, shaking the security and stability of thephallogocentricSymbolic Order, and therefore allowing more play—in gender, writing, and sexuality—for all language-using subjects.
Belgian-born feminist philosopher and practicing psychoanalyst (trained with JacquesLacan).Focus on female subjectivity and language, especially the language of philosophy as the site of the exclusion or marginalisation of women.Not patricide (Freud) but matricide is the foundational cultural act: the suppression of women/material body/nature.Attacks Freudian and Lacanian psychology for conceptualising femininity as lack (castration). Language is the symbolic order that defines what is real to us (Lacan). Phallocentric language disables thearticulationof femininity.
Promotes re-examining mother-daughter relationships as a hope for new female identities outside the male-dominated signifying system.Celebrates multiplicity andheterogenityin the understanding of femininity and calls for a separate “parlerfemme”: a talk by, about and between women.Also and activist in women’s movements in France and Italy.
Theorist, poet, novelist, playwright, philosopher, and literary criticBorn in Oran, Algeria, in1937 of Spanish/French and Jewish/German descent.Entered the English-speaking literary scene with the publication of “TheLaugh of the Medusa” (1976)Écritureféminine: both theory and practice. A mode of writing that represents what is repressed in the Symbolic order (Derrida andLacan). Revolutionaryarticulationof non-hierarchical difference as opposed to a phallocentric language based on binary oppositions like man/woman, mind/body, self/other, where the first term is invariable dominant.
Writing that echoes the rhythms and processes of women’s bodies, writing that is forceful and ﬂuid, writing that undermines the unitary, authorial “I,” opening space for multiple voices and perspectives within a single text.Based on the body (essentialist?), but more about behaviour: ways of relating. Masculine: censorship, order, and binary logic vs. Feminine: censorship, order, and binary logic. Not mutually exclusive: men can potentially enter into feminine relational modes (bisexuality: both potentials present in individuals).Exemplary of revolutionary writing are men, such as Shakespeare and Franz Kafka. LaterCixousdiscovers the Brazilian writer ClariceLispector.
Writer, theorist and literary critic, also trained as apsychoanalyst(contributor toTelQuelwith e.g. Barthes and Foucault).To restore the body and psychic life to structuralist theories of language.“Semiotic” experience prior toLacan’s“symbolic” order of language:extra-linguisticbodily desires and psychic drives which emerge in language through indicators like rhythm, tone, metaphor, and ﬁgure. Social life is conducted through the symbolic order of language, which is rigid, strictly coherent, and authoritative (Freudian Law of the Father). The semiotic is feminine and associated with maternal attachment. Infant induction into the symbolic realm of language: suppression of the Semiotic, rejection of the mother.
The preverbal child and the poet offer semiotic expressions that derail symbolic order, engaging in imaginative and radical practices that contest the coherent authority of language. Poetry is particularly capable of semiotic signiﬁcation, insofar as the creative manipulations of tone, pitch, cadence, rhythm, and metaphor express theunconscious.Kristevaaligns semiotic expression to anti-authoritarianism, pitching a creative femininity against the rigid masculinity of the symbolic.Linguistically coherent subject is constituted by the “abjection” of this original maternal relationship, theorizing that the subsequent sexual discrimination and oppression of women both derives from and repeats this originalabjection.
“Abjection”referstothenegative reaction by which asubjectseversthemselvesfromanobjectwithwhichtheywere in contact, is critical in theformationofinfant identity. It entails anaffectiverepulsionregisteredbodilypre-Oedipalchild isenroutetolanguageandthe law of the father whichnecessarilyentailsthe supplanting of themother.Althoughthe maternal functionleaveswomenabject, Kristeva notes that italsoendowsthem with the radical potentialofthesemiotic body.Abjectionis the “civilized”responseto anything that reminds us of the drives and desireswehavethrown into the unconscious through repression duringtheOedipalphase of development. The abject is what culturethrowsaway, its garbage, or its waste products;e.g.excrement, blood (especially menstrual blood),anddeadbodies.
Things thatare abject create a feeling of horror or disgust in the adult civilizedviewer because they remind him or her of the time before differentiatedselfhood; they threaten to dissolve the boundaries of the selfand to return the viewer to a non-differentiated state ofegolessnessthat is frightening to the self.(Horror ﬁlms)