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Feminist critics of popular literature attempt to understand how a book's reader's sexual orientation is influenced by the text. They investigate how representations of men and women in fiction literature influence the structural forces that have hindered total equality between men and women from being accomplished. The following paper would contend that feminist critics tend to find errors in conventional or past literature that was dominated by men, despite feminism assumptions that these female critics are concerned with terminating male critics. The past history was dominated by men and following The Women Movement in the 1960s, women came out to criticize the literature in which they believe have consciously or unconsciously created patriarchal attitudes since it is full of male produced assumptions. Female critics tend to correct the imbalance by analyzing as well as combating such attitudes through questioning. For instance, they ask why there was no single character in Othello, Shakespeare’s play who dared challenge the husband’s right to murder a wife who had been accused of adultery. The feminist theory towards literature criticizes the past literature in the sense that it affects a woman reader since it was produced by a male writer.
Feminist theory informs on the feminist literary criticism by making use of feminist principles as well as ideologies to critique literature language, with the main aim of analyzing and describing the manner in which literature depicts the male domination narrative through the exploitation of political, social, economic and psychological forces in literature. The feminist literary criticism results from The Women Movement in the 1960s that renewed the past tradition of action and thought in the classic literature and diagnosed the issues of inequality of women to propose solutions. The movement was literary in nature because it recognized the importance of women’s images that literature had publicized. As a result, women questioned their authority as well as rationality, and it is for this reason that the male writer feels criticized by their female counterparts. However, while the literary criticism by feminists can change the manner in which literary texts are perceived and studied, there have been feminism stereotypes that feel that the feminist critics have an obsession to destroy the male critics. Due to the stereotypes, one might wonder whether the feminism theory is fully articulated or not. On the other hand, any demand for a theory can be perceived as a threat to the need for authenticity by feminists. However, while this might look like an issue for the male writer, the main focus of the feminist critique is on the woman a reader that consumes the literature produced by males. Feminist theory as used in feministic literary criticism is criticizing where the female reader alters the uneasiness of a particular text and awakens it for the importance of sexual codes. It probes the philosophical suppositions of literary occurrences by focusing on the images and stereotypes of females in literature, the mistaken belief about women, their omission as well as the manipulation and mistreatment of the female audience.
There are various stereotypes regarding the feminist literary criticism that views feminist critics as destroyers of male critics. Gynocritics can be used in such cases to counter this assertion. This write-up explains what gynocritics is and how its effectiveness in achieving this goal. Moreover, Feminism Phase through which feminist criticism follows as well as the role of feminist theory in feminist literary criticism is discussed. The review is concluded by restating the thesis that feminist critics do not have the obsession to destroy the male critics, but to look for the errors in the literature, especially the text in the patriarchal society.
One of the major issues that face feminist critique is that it is preoccupied with the males, which means that its focus in on male even when critiquing patriarchy. However, gynocritics can be used as a way to construct a framework for women to analyze their literature, which established new models founded on the study of the experience of women as opposed to the adaptation of male theories and models. According to Showalter (1979), the concern of gynocritics is that a woman as a writer produces the textual meaning that has themes, history, genres and women structures to shun the inevitability of models and theories by males, thereby seeking a model that is purely for females. The male critics undervalued and often overlooked the writing of women in the past. However, the female tradition in writing has continued from one decade to the next as depicted by three phases namely, the feminine phase, feminist phase and the female phase (Showalter, 1984).
Feminism Phase through which feminist criticism follows
During the feministic phase, the women writers tried to equal the male-dominated writing culture, which led to male pseudonym as they prohibited women from writing. In the feminist phase, women used literature to illustrate the tribulations of the mistreated womankind. Writers like Elizabeth Robin wrote works that clearly were against the values of males. Instead, the women writers envisioned a future society that was led by women. During the last phase, the female phase, female writers differentiated male writing from female writing based on language, and it is a period featured by self-discovery of women. Virginia Woolf is one of the feminist writers of the 20th century that shows the history of women literature in a society that was patriarchal where they lacked room to express themselves. According to Woolf (2003), women were consistent victims of male's anger, hostility, and misunderstanding. Mary Wollstonecraft was another feminist writer that raised her voice strongly against the manner in which the patriarchal society dominated by women (Taylor, 2003).
Role of feminist theory
Since the 1980s, feminist criticism has become more heterogeneous as it started drawing upon the approaches and findings of different criticism such as Marxism, and structuralism. Males are no longer attacked because the focus of the criticism began exploring the nature and outlook of the female world (Martin, 1982). Feminist theory has a very significant role in feminist literary criticism. According to the Anglo-Americans, characterization, theme, and motif are notable concepts. The lives of women and their experiences were represented in the literature and can be gauged and assessed against reality. Therefore, the primary emphasis of feminist criticism is on a close reading of the texts and their explication (Bondi, & Rose, 2003). On the other hand, a different approach has been taken by the French feminism, which was psychoanalytic and post-structuralist criticism that focused on language, psychology, and representation of the philosophical problems before concentrating on the text. The English feminism aligned with Marxism.
Feminist theory is crucial in the understanding gender inequality nature through the examination of the social roles, chores, interests and experiences of women in different fields. The feminist literary criticism is informed by feminist theory in assessing the manner in which literature undermines or reinforces women's political, economic, social and psychological aspects. As represented in various literature especially those authored by male writers, many aspects of culture are inherently patriarchal. Therefore, it is wrong to assert that feminist literary criticism has been geared towards destroying the male critics, but it is important to note that the critique strives to uncover the implicit as well as the explicit misogyny in the male literature concerning women. It is interesting to note that feminist criticism has followed the three feminism phases including the feminine phase, feminist phase, and the female phase. Many grounds for feminist theories do not show the manner in which the concepts destroy the male critics, but illustrates the way which there has been inequality in gender in the literature, a discrimination that can be said to have originated from the male counterpart.
The patriarchal society has oppressed women due to the patriarchal ideologies economically, socially and politically against women. In all domains where patriarchy is superior, the woman is marginalized and often defined by her distinction from values and norms of the men. According to the feminist criticism, civilization in the entire western culture is firmly rooted in male-dominated ideologies as evidenced in the manner the Bible depicts Eve as the source of death and sin. Therefore, other than basing the criticism on literature and the way in which it portrays the woman, feminine criticism does not destroy the male critics because the male writers, in this case, are viewed as oppressors.
The feminist theory has been used in literature to offer insights and criticism on various principles and ideologies that exist in the society. It aims at addressing issues such as gender inequality and male chauvinism that have given men ability to dominate in literature touching on social, political, economic and psychological factors affecting the society. Feminist literary criticism has its origins in the Women Movement that started in the 1960s to find solutions to the problem of inequality. Feminist critics look at such biases in literature besides those who seek to write exclusively against male values.
The feminist theory seeks to uncover the oppression that the woman has faced under men in the society. Male writers are brought out as champions of oppression through their works that sought to gratify the male ego and campaign for their dominance. For instance, the bible is a book exclusively written by male writers who have tended to credit most of the historical successes on men while blaming the misdoings on women. For instance, the genesis of disobedience is blamed on Eve. Another example is the feministic phase where female writers tried to match their male counterparts. However, these efforts were thwarted by the society that was dominated by men. Therefore, feminist writers saw that the only way to enforce equality in the society was by first fighting male dominance through writing.
The feminist theory has two perspectives. The first one seeks to address explicit and implicit misogynies in male literature that tends to bring out the woman as a weaker and dependent person. The second perspective addresses the issue of male chauvinism where male writers want to depict the male gender as powerful and flawless. However, many people have misinterpreted the aims of feminist writers by claiming that they seek to destroy and damage the image of the men to the society and specifically that of the male critics. Virginia Woolf is one of the writers during the female phase of the female writing culture which clearly describes the status of society, for example how the men made women the consistent victims of their anger and misunderstanding (Woolf, 2003). Mary Wollstonecraft is another feminist writer who firmly raised her voice in describing the unfairness of the patriarchal society (Taylor, 2003). The men were considered superior to women, and feminist writers were perceived as belittling men in order to gratify their ego. All that the feminist writers were doing is describing their situation at the moment and what they longed for, but some people misinterpreted their message to see it as an attack on the male critics.
The feminist theory shows that the women felt oppressed and they looked forward to a society where every gender was considered equal. However, there are instances when feminist writers went too far to show that they could be content with the current status quo characterized by inequality so long as it favored them. Some of them strayed away from the point and wrote against the values of men, without considering that the society was patriarchal at the moment and that the male culture had been as it was since a long time back. Elizabeth Robin is one of such writers in the feminist phase of female writing tradition who wrote about the tribulations that the women faced and went further to criticize the male values. Rather than seek equality, some of these writers show an intention of placing the female gender above their male counterparts. This is unlikely to work given that patriarchy is encultured in most societies and elevating the position of the woman must be undertaken cautiously. These writers face resistance when they fail to acknowledge evident flaws that have been attributed to the female gender. For instance, by writing against bible stories such as the genesis of disobedience, these writers are dismissed even by the women themselves. Therefore, the best method would be appreciating both strengths and weaknesses in both genders and using both to prove that all people are equal if given similar opportunities.
Feminist theory helps understand the gender inequalities by examining the experiences and roles of women throughout history in various fields. Its aim is to bring out the self-realization of women through a close reading of written texts and their in-depth explanations (Bondi, 2003). However, it does not aim at attacking the men because the focus of the criticism shifted a long time ago to the exploration of the nature and outlook of the female world. Feminist critics should be supported because they mean nobody any harm, all they want is a world of equal opportunities.
In the history of literature, the western male dominated the discipline and they had a tendency of presenting the female characters as weak and dependent. However, the feministic literary criticism came about to change the patriarchal perception. The male writers felt that the feminist critic’s move was aimed at destroying them but that is not the case. Female critics are not obsessed with destroying their male counterparts, their primary objective was to address the errors in the male produced literature which presented the male character as the powerful and flawless sex and women as the weaker sex. The objective of the female writers has been misinterpreted. Female stereotypes have argued that the feminist literature critics are ought to destroy their male counterparts while their aim is to change the male-rooted ideologies in the literary discipline which presents a different image of women. Such stereotypes should understand that feminist literary critics focus on how literature undermines or strengthens women politically, socially, as well as economically. They seek to uncover both the explicit and implicit misogyny of male literature regarding women. Literature should not be biased on basis of gender. Both female and male writers should seek to balance the characters in their work rather than presenting one as powerful and flawless and the other weaker and dependent.
Bondi, L. &. (2003). Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography. In L. &. Bondi, Constructing gender, constructing the urban: a review of Anglo-American feminist urban geography. (pp. 229-245).
Taylor, B. (2003). Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. England: Cambridge University Press.
Woolf, V. (2003). Women and Writing. Waterville: Thorndike Press.
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