Feminist criticism is a type of literary criticism, which may study and advocate the rights of women. As Judith Fetterley says, "Feminist criticism is a political act whose aim is not simply to interpret the world but to change it by changing the consciousness of those who read and their relation to what they read." Using feminist criticism to analyze fiction may involve studying the repression of women in fiction. How do men and women differ? What is different about female heroines, and why are these characters important in literary history? In addition to many of the questions raised by a study of women in literature, feminist criticism may study stereotypes, creativity, ideology, racial issues, marginality, and more.
*Judith Fetterley: a literary scholar known for her work in feminism and women's studies. She was influential in leading a reappraisal of women's literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, and the contributions of women writing about women's experience, including their perspectives on men in the world.
Men Used to Think of Women as Lesser Beings
John Chrysostom, Greek Ecclesiast (345-407 AD): called women “a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil”.
Ecclesiasticus (a book of the Apocrypha): stated that “All wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman”.
Tertullian, Roman Theologian (160-230 AD): lectured women, “The judgment of God upon your sex endures even today; and with it inevitably endures your position of criminal at the bar of justice. You are the gateway to the devil”.
Alexander Pope (1688-1744): asserted, “Most women have no character”.
John Keats (1795-1821): explained, “The opinion I have of the generality of women – who appear to me as children, to whom I would rather give a sugar plum than my time, forms a barrier against matrimony which I rejoice in.
Three Phases of Feminism History According to Elaine Showalter:
1. Feminine Phase (1840-1880) – Female writers imitated the literary tradition established by men, taking additional care to avoid offensive language or subject matter.
2. Feminist Phase (1880-1921) – Women protested their lack of rights and worked to secure them. In literature, they decried the unjust depictions of women by male writers.
3. Female Phase (1920-present) – Concentrated on exploring the female experience in art and literature, reveal the misogyny and later on, focused on gynocriticism.
*misogyny: negative attitudes toward women
*Gynocriticism: a movement that examines the distinctive characteristics of the female experience in contrast to earlier methods that explained the female by using male models.
Three Major Groups of Feminist Critics:
1. Those who study difference:
• Believe that gender determines everything, including values system and language
• Look for distinctive elements in texts by men and women
2. Those who study power relationships:
• Attack both the economic and social exploitation of women
• Frequently look at writers from cultures as varied and different as the black, Hispanic, Asian-American, Jewish and lesbians
• Believe that the social organization has denied equal treatment to all its segments and that literature is a means of revealing and resisting that social order
• Art and life are fused entities, making it the duty of the critic to work against stereotyping.
3. Those who study the female experience:
• Rejecting the idea of a male norm, against which women are seen as secondary and derivative, they call for a recognition of women’s abilities that goes beyond the traditional binary oppositions such as male/female, and the parallel oppositions active/passive, intellectual/emotional.
• Examine female images in the works of female writers and the elements thought to be typical of l’ecriture feminine-such as blanks, unfinished sentences, silences and exclamations
Writing Feminist Criticism:
Prewriting (Questions to ask):
1. What stereotypes of women do you find?
2. Examine the roles women play in work. Are they minor, supportive, powerless ones? Are they independent and influential ones?
3. Is the narrator a character in the narrative? If so, how does the male or female point of view affect the reader’s perceptions?
4. How do the male characters talk about the female characters?
5. How do the male characters treat the female characters?
6. How do the female characters act toward the male characters?
7. Who are the socially and politically powerful characters?
8. What attitudes toward women are suggested by the answers to these questions?
9. Do the answers to these questions indicate that the work lends itself more naturally to a study of differences between the male and female characters, a study of power imbalances between the sexes, or a study of unique female experience?
Drafting and Revising:
• Point out why a feminist critique is particularly appropriate for the text you are analyzing
• Connect the characters or events of the situation with one that has actually occurred
Study of Difference (Questions to answer):
1. Is the genre one that is traditionally associated with male or female writers?
2. Is the subject one that is of particular interest to women, perhaps one that is of importance in women’s lives?
3. What one-word label would accurately capture the voice of the narrator? Why is it appropriate?
4. Is the work sympathetic to the female characters?
5. Are the female characters and the situations in which they are placed presented with complexity and in detail?
6. How does the language differ from what you would expect from a writer of the opposite gender?
7. How does the way the female characters talk influence the reader’s perception of them?
8. What are the predominant images? Why (or why are they not) associated with women’s lives?
9. Does the implied audience of the work include or exclude women? In the case of a male writer, is it the work addressed to a mixed audience, or does it sound more like one man telling a story to another man?
10. How do the answers to these questions support a case for this work’s having been written a particularly masculine or feminine style?
Study of Power (Questions to answer):
1. Who is primarily responsible for making decisions in the world depicted: men or women?
2. Do the female characters play an overt part in decision making? Or do they work behind the scenes?
3. Who holds positions of authority and influence?
4. Who controls the finances?
5. Do the female characters play traditional female roles? Or do they assume some unusual ones?
6. Are there any instances in which women are unfairly treated or ill treated?
7. What kind of accomplishments do the female characters achieve?
8. Are they honored for their accomplishments?
9. Do the male characters consult he female characters before taking action, or merely inform them of it?
10. Does the story approve or disapprove, condemn or glorify the power structure as revealed by your answers to these questions?
11. How is the female reader co-opted into accepting or rejecting the images of women represented in the work?
Study of the Female Experience (Questions to answer):
1. Does the text reject the idea of a male norm of thinking and behavior that is stable and unchanging? If so, where?
2. Is the writer’s style characterized by blanks, gaps, silences, circularity?
3. Are images of the female body important in the text?
4. Are there references to the female body important in the text?
5. Are there references to female diseases or bodily functions?
6. Do motherhood or those attitudes and behaviors characteristic of motherhood figure significantly in the text?
7. Can you find instances in which the traditional binaries of male/female, intellectual/emotional, objective/subjective, and active/passive are reversed?
8. What new circumstances do the reversals suggest?
9. Can you find instances in which wholeness rather than otherness is associated with the female characters?
10. What generalizations about the uniqueness of the female experience can you make based on the answers to these questions?
• State generalizations and conclusions drawb from your questions
• Pull all your references to the text into a single statement about what is particularly female (or male) about the way the work was written, about the power relationships depicted in it, or about its presentation of the nature of the female experience.
Prepared by Ma. Angelica Domingo
Submitted to Mr. June B. Mijares