1. Define the term “gynocriticism”
2. Which are the three major phases of women’s writing that Showalter identifies?
3. What is Showalter’s attitude to “feminist critique”?
4. Woman as a reader
5. Feminist phase
6. Task of feminist critics
7. Woman as a reader and woman as a writer
9. Male-orientation in feminist critique
10. What according to Showalter are the obstacles to the articulation of a feminist critical practice?
11. Which are the two distinct varieties of feminist criticism?
12. Hardy’s female characters
Feminism was originated in the second half of twentieth century. The first wave of the feminist movement started in the 19th century and continued upto 1950. It was the emergence of the women’s suffrage movements. The second wave of feminist movement began in the year 1960s and has been continuing even now. First wave of feminism created a new political identity for women and won them legal advances and public emancipation. Second wave of feminism made women a new and autonomous woman citizen and it focused on the specifications of women’s differences from men and from each other. It turned to social and psychoanalytic theories about gender differences in order to create a fresh feminist ethics.
Feminist Criticism is a distinctive approach to literature. Many great writers such as Mary Wollstonescraft, Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, John Stuart Mill, Margaret Fuller etc. had struggled hard for over two centuries for women’s social and political rights. Since 1969 there has been an explosion of feminist writings. Feminists believe that western civilization is basically patriarchal. It means that home is ruled by father and the society is male centered and controlled and is organized and conducted in such a way as to subordinate women to men in all cultural fields such as religious, political, economic, social, legal and artistic. From the Hebrew Bible and Greek philosophic writings to the present, all writings have been done by men for the benefit of men. In all these books women are portrayed as passive and negative and subordinated to man. In all man made literature woman is portrayed merely as a negative object or “other” to men. But man is the dominating subject who represents humanity in general. These man made books describe men as active, powerful, masculine, dominating, adventurous, rational and creative. This male character helped him to achieve the most important scientific and technical inventions and the major works of civilization and culture. Feminists accuse that many great novelists such as D.H.Lawrence and others described women as mere submissive sexual objects for the animalistic pleasures of men.
Feminist criticism started as a revolt against male domination. They opposed man-made morality, andro-centric (male at the centre) culture and discrimination between man and woman in society and literature. They opposed the use of the masculine gender “man” in the place of “human beings”. They introduced new words like “chairperson” in place of “chairman”. Similarly “spokesperson” in place of “spokesman”. They even questioned chastity and modesty, which are imposed only upon women. Many women writers in
are feminists. Madhavikutty,
Sara Joseph, India
A variety of feminist critical theories have been emerged since 1970. Among them the most important is “Gynocriticism” which is introduced by Elaine Showalter who is a North American feminist literary critic and lecturer. In her world famous book titled “Towards a Feminist Poetics”, she coined the term “gynocritic” to explain a woman-centred critical practice that would help feminists to make a record of women’s writing and female experiences such as the world of domesticity- for example the special experiences of gestation, giving birth and nurturing, or mother-daughter and woman-woman relations in which personal and affectional issues are the primary interest. Thus the gynocritic concentrates on the female author and characters and developed the ones that are based on female experiences. Thus both the author and the reader as females can create an authentic female self. They can bring about the real woman character, their hopes, pains, sorrows and problems.
Elaine Showalter sees feminist criticism as divided into two different varieties. The first type is concerned with woman as a reader of male-produced literature. This is called “feminist critique”. It includes the distorting images of women in literature, the omissions and false ideas about women in criticism and the exploitation of female audiences. Here the feminist critic directs her attention to the ideological basis and the historical, cultural and social background that has been the cause of distorting images of women in literature. One of the problems of the feminist critique is that it is male-oriented. Readers are told of the limited roles women play in literary history. Here women are portrayed as passive and submissive and what men wanted women to be. Feminist critique is essentially political and polemical with affiliations to male theories such as Marxism. Showalter is suspicious of feminist critique because of its reliance on man-made theories. Feminist critique teaches women to read like men and thereby distort female experiences.
The second variety of feminist criticism is based on the concept of woman as a writer. The woman writer and her relationship with history, theme, genres and structures of literature are analysed. Its subjects include female creativity, female language, female literary history and studies of particular writers and works. This is called gynocritics.
Elaine Showalter’s book titled “A Literature of Their Own” outlines three different phases in the evolution of women’s writing from 1840 to the present. She calls these the Feminine, Feminist and Female phases. In the first phase called the Feminine, is a period in which women adopted the male culture in an attempt to match their intellectual achievement During this period, women writers even adopted male pseudonyms. For example, Mary Ann Evans, the great woman novelist adopted the pseudonym “George Eliot”. The feminist phase was from 1880 to 1920. It was a period of great revolt and discontent and they struggled for voting rights. The third phase is called female phase which began in 1920 and has been continuing. This period is marked by the exploration of the female experience.