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Feminist Criticism  Examines ways in which literature reinforces or undermines the oppression of women. Economically Socially Politically Psychologically.

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Presentation on theme: "Feminist Criticism  Examines ways in which literature reinforces or undermines the oppression of women. Economically Socially Politically Psychologically."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Feminist Criticism  Examines ways in which literature reinforces or undermines the oppression of women. Economically Socially Politically Psychologically

3 Traditional Gender Roles  Patriarchy Any culture that privileges men by promoting traditional gender roles.

4 Traditional Gender Roles  Men Rational (no crying) Strong Protective Decisive  Women Emotional (irrational) Weak Nurturing Submissive

5  Traditional gender roles have been used successfully to justify inequities such as excluding women from equal access to leadership and decision-making positions and paying men higher wages than women for doing the same job.

6  Patriarchy is by definition sexist It promotes the belief that women are innately inferior to men “head of the tribe or family”

7  Biological Essentialism Belief of inborn inferiority based on biological differences between the sexes that are part of our unchanging essence as men and women ○ Example: hysteria

8  Feminists don’t deny biological differences don’t agree that differences in physical size, shape, and body chemistry make men naturally superior to women ○ more intelligent ○ more logical ○ better leaders

9 SEX: biological constitution as female or male GENDER: our cultural programming as feminine or masculine Judith Butler: Gender is performed

10  The inferior position long occupied by women in a patriarchal society has been culturally, not biologically, produced.

11  Patriarchy continually exerts forces that undermine women’s self-confidence and assertiveness, then points to the absence of these qualities as proof that women are naturally self-effacing and submissive. Example: girls and math

12  Patriarchal gender roles are destructive for men as well as women. Traditional gender roles dictate that men are supposed to be strong: ○ Physically powerful ○ Emotionally stoic Men are not supposed to cry (considered a sign of weakness) Unmanly to show fear or pain Shouldn’t express sympathy for other men

13 Arguments Against Feminist Premises Western society has actually been structured to protect women from the brutalities of war and commerce, allowing them to be nurturers, mothers, and homemakers. Rather than exploiting or suppressing women, it actually celebrates and cherishes them.

14 Counter Argument by Feminists  Assumes suppression and exclusion. If a woman is put on a pedestal, she can’t do much of anything up there.  Assumes women are weaker sex, needing protection.  Assumes women are unable to compete with men. Disallows for the fact that some women are physically and mentally stronger than some men.

15 Roots of Feminism  Men have oppressed women. allowing them little or no voice in the political, social, or economic issues of their society

16 Roots of Feminism  …Men have made women the “nonsignificant Other.”

17 Goal of Feminism  Therefore, feminism’s goal is to change these degrading views of women so that all women will realize they are not a “nonsignificant Other” and will realize that each woman is a valuable person possessing the same privileges and rights as every man.

18 Roots of Feminism  Women must define themselves and assert their own voices in the arenas of politics, society, education, and the arts.  By personally committing themselves to fostering such change, feminists hope to create a society in which not only the male but also the female voice is equally valued.

19 Historical Roots of Feminism  According to feminist criticism, the roots of prejudice against women have long been embedded in Western culture. Some say it originated with biblical narrative where the fall of man is blamed on Eve, not Adam.

20 Historical Roots of Feminism  According to feminist criticism, the roots of prejudice against women have long been embedded in Western culture. Ancient Greeks (Aristotle) ”The man is by nature superior, and the female inferior; and the one rules and the other is ruled.”

21 Roots of Feminism  According to feminist criticism, the roots of prejudice against women have long been embedded in Western culture. Religious leaders: Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine ○ women were merely “imperfect men” ○ Spiritually weak creatures ○ Possessed a sensual nature that lures men away from spiritual truths, thereby preventing males from attaining their spiritual potential.

22 Roots of Feminism  According to feminist criticism, the roots of prejudice against women have long been embedded in Western culture. Darwin (The Descent of Man – 1871) ○ “women are of a characteristic of … a past and lower state of civilization.” ○ Are inferior to men, who are physically, intellectually, and artistically superior

23 Roots of Feminism  Opposition to patriarchal opinions against women was not heard of until the late 1700s. Mary Wollstonecraft ○ A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) Women must stand up for their rights and not allow their male-dominated society to define what it means to be a woman. Women must take the lead and articulate who they are and what role they will play in society. Women must reject patriarchal assumption that women are inferior to men.

24 Roots of Feminism  Not until the early 1900s (Progressive Era) that the major roots of feminist criticism began to grow. Women gained the right to vote Women became prominent activists in the social issues of the day ○ Health care ○ Education ○ Politics ○ literature

25 History of Feminist Criticism  Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own (1919) ○ Declares men have and continue to treat women as inferiors. ○ The male defines what is means to be female and controls the political, economic, social and literary structures.

26 History of Feminist Criticism  Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own (1919) ○ Hypothesizes the existence of Shakespeare’s sister, equally as gifted a writer has he. Gender prevents her from having “a room of her own” She cannot obtain an education or find profitable employment because she is a woman. Her innate artistic talents will therefore never flourish, for she cannot afford a room of her own.

27 History of Feminist Criticism  Virginia Woolf A Room of One’s Own (1919) ○ This kind of loss of artistic talent and personal worthiness is the direct result of society’s opinion of women: they are intellectually inferior to men. ○ Women must reject this social construct and establish their own identity. ○ Women must challenge the prevailing, false cultural notions about their gender identity and develop a female discourse that will accurately portray their relationship “to the world of reality and not to the world of men.”

28 History of Feminist Criticism  Simone de Beauvior The Second Sex (1949) ○ “foundational work of 20 th century feminism” ○ Declares that French society (and Western societies in general) are PATRIARCHAL, controlled by males. ○ Like Woolf, believed that the male defines what it means to be human, including, therefore, what it means to be female. ○ Since the female is not the male, she becomes the Other, finding herself a nonexistent player in the major social institutions of her culture Church Government Educational systems

29 History of Feminist Criticism  Simone de Beauvior The Second Sex (1949) ○ Woman must break the bonds of her patriarchal society and define herself if she wishes to become a significant human being in her own right and defy male classification as the Other. Must ask herself, “What is a woman?” -Answer must not be “mankind” (generic label allows men to define women as relative to him, not as herself.)

30 History of Feminist Criticism  Kate Millet Sexual Politics (1970) ○ challenges the social ideological characteristics of both the male and the female. “A female is born but a woman is created.” -One’s sex is determined at birth (male or female) -One’s gender is a social construct created by cultural ideals and norms (masculine or feminine)

31 History of Feminist Criticism  Kate Millet Sexual Politics (1970) ○ challenges the social ideological characteristics of both the male and the female. Women and men (consciously and unconsciously) conform to the cultural ideas established for them by society. Cultural norms and expectations are transmitted through media: television, movies, songs, and literature. -Boys must be aggressive, self-assertive, domineering -Girls must be passive, meek, humble

32 History of Feminist Criticism  Kate Millet Sexual Politics (1970) ○ Women must revolt against the power center of their culture: male dominance. ○ Women must establish female social conventions for themselves by establishing and articulating female discourse, literary studies, and feminist theory.

33 History of Feminist Criticism  Feminism in 1960s and 1970s Feminist critics began to examine the traditional literary canon ○ Discovered examples that supported assertions of Beauvoir and Millet that males considered the female “the Other” male dominance and prejudice

34 History of Feminist Criticism  Feminism in 1960s and 1970s Feminist critics began to examine the traditional literary canon ○ Stereotypes of women Sex maniacs Goddesses of beauty Mindless entities Old spinsters

35 History of Feminist Criticism  Feminism in 1960s and 1970s Feminist critics began to examine the traditional literary canon ○ found male authors in established literary canon: Dickens, Wordsworth, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Twain, etc. ○ Found few females achieved such status ○ Roles of female, fictionalized characters were limited to secondary positions More frequently than not as minor parts within story or as stereotypical images ○ Female scholars such as Woolf and Beauvior were ignored Works seldom referred to by male critics of literary canon

36 History of Feminist Criticism  Feminism in 1960s and 1970s Feminist critics began to examine the traditional literary canon ○ Asserted that the males who created and gained prominence in canon assumed all readers were male. ○ Most university professors were males Women reading such works were trained to read as if they were males.

37 History of Feminist Criticism  Feminism in 1960s and 1970s Feminist critics began to examine the traditional literary canon ○ Brought about existence of a female reader who was affronted by the male prejudices abounding in the canon. ○ Brought about questions concerning the male and female qualities of literary form, style, voice, and theme. ○ By 1970s, books that defined women’s writings in feminine terms flourished.

38 History of Feminist Criticism  Feminism in 1960s and 1970s Having highlighted the importance of gender ○ Feminist critics began to rediscover literary works authored by females that had been dismissed or deemed inferior by their male counterparts, unworthy to be a part of the canon. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962)

39 Feminist Criticism  Elaine Showalter A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing (1977) ○ Asserts female authors were consciously and deliberately excluded from the literary canon by the male professors who established the canon itself. Example: Olive Schreiner ○ To fully understand the development of women’s literature, we must recognize the Schreiners as well as the Austins.

40 Linguistics  Gilbert & Gubar The War of Words (1988) ○ “a major campaign in the battle of the sexes is the conflict over language and, specifically, over competing male and female claims to linguistic primacy” (228). ○ It’s not enough to challenge the way women have been portrayed in literature; must recognize that language itself has been shaped by men in ways that denigrate and alienate women.

41 Stereotypical Criticism  (Sandra) Gilbert & (Susan) Gubar Madwoman in the Attic: the Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1979) ○ Analyze literature in relationship to the myths created by men and challenge such myths. “those mythic masks male artists have fastened over [woman’s] human face.” -Passive, submissive “angel” -Destructive, sinister “monster”

42  Judith Fetterly The Resisting Reader (1978) ○ Women should resist the meanings that male authors – or female authors who have inherited patriarchal values – embed in their books. ○ A woman must read as a woman “exorcising the male mind that has been implanted in women.”

43 Stereotypical Criticism  Judith Fryer’s The Faces of Eve: Women in the 19 th Century American Novel (1976) Faces of Eve: ○ The Temptress ○ The American princess ○ The Great Mother ○ The New Woman

44 Stereotypical Criticism  Not all stereotypical criticism is negative with the attack on works by male authors. Annis Pratt examines “healthier representations” (“New Feminist Criticism”) Miriam Lerenbaum (“Moll Flanders: A Woman on Her Own Account”) ○ Defends Defoe as shedding a positive light on the female character Moll.

45  Feminist critics also criticize critics they consider to be sexist. “Phallic Criticism” (Annis Pratt) ○ Critics that look at and distort chauvinistic interpretations of works either by men or women. Nina Baym’s “Melodramas of Beset Manhood: How Theories of American Fiction Exclude Women Authors” -Scarlet Letter ○ Critics who ignore literature by women. Carol Ohmann’s “Emily Bronte in the Hands of Male Critics” - Wuthering Heights

46  Some feminist critics have attempted to use literature and criticism to promote social change. Carolyn G. Heilbrun (Reinventing Womanhood -1979) ○ Makes literary criticism a part of her effort to promote “the struggle for female selfhood.” Toril Moi (Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory – 1985) ○ Feminist criticism can and should contribute to social change ○ “the principal objective of feminist criticism…has always been political: it seeks to expose, not to perpetuate, patriarchal practices.”

47 Feminist Criticism  No one critical theory of writing dominates feminist criticism; few theorists agree upon a unifying feminist approach to textual analysis. American: textual, stressing repression British: Marxist, stressing oppression French: psychoanalytic, stressing repression

48 Feminist Criticism  Asserts that most of our literature presents a masculine-patriarchal view in which the role of women is negated or at best minimized.

49 Feminist View  Attempts to show that writers of traditional literature have ignored women and have transmitted misguided and prejudiced views of them;  Attempts to stimulate the creation of a critical environment that reflects a balanced view of the nature and value of women;

50 Feminist View  Attempts to recover the works of women writers of past times and to encourage the publication of present women writers so that the literary canon may be expanded to recognize women as thinkers and artists; and  Urges transformations in the language to eliminate inequities and inequalities that result from linguistic distortions.

51 Questions for Analysis  Is the author male or female?  Is the text narrated by a male or female?  What types of roles do women have in the text?  Are the female characters the protagonists or secondary and minor characters?  Do any stereotypical characterizations of women appear?  What are the attitudes toward women held by the male characters?  What is the author’s attitude toward women in society?  How does the author’s culture influence his or her attitude?  Is feminine imagery used? If so, what is the significance of such imagery?  Do the female characters speak differently than do the male characters? In your investigation, compare the frequency of speech for the male characters to the frequency of speech for the female characters.


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