Defining Feminist Criticism
Feminist criticism is broadly defined as
criticism that “examines the ways in
which literature (and other cultural
productions) reinforces or undermines
the economic, political, social, and
psychological oppression of women”
Common PerceptionsAbout Feminist and Feminists
• A lot of common stereotypes exist about feminists. These
• They hate men
• They are lesbians
• They don’t shave, bathe, wear bras, etc.
• They aren’t maternal / don’t have kids
• They are angry, irrational, and confrontational
• They are protesters / highly political
• They think women are better than men
• They think everything is sexist or a comment on gender
• They read too much into things or take things too seriously
These are all probably true of some feminists, somewhere but are
absolutely not true of all feminists as a rule! These stereotypes are
harmful to women and feminists. Why do you think they are so strongly
• Some feminists refer to it as “feminisms.”
• Many people reject feminism because they reduce it to
one objectionable thing; in other words, take one part of it
and say that’s what it’s about and I don’t like it.
• Realistically, feminism is a wide ranging field with many
views and opinions within it. There isn’t necessarily a one-
size-fits-all feminist approach or perspective.
• Race and Feminism
• Sexuality and Feminism
• Class and Feminism
• Queer Feminism
Examples of Feminist Concerns
• the “he” pronoun as universally representative.
• “Hey guys, what’s up” to refer to a mixed group of people
• Using “he” to refer to all people; often seen in textbooks
• Read more: http://blog.writeathome.com/index.php/2012/10/pronuns-and-sexism/
• the lack of women in the literary canon
• Women couldn’t publish
• Men wouldn’t want to read “women’s stories.” Implies male experiences are universal experiences; men
and women could read them and relate.
• Education resistant to change; comfort in tradition
• Read more: http://www.unco.edu/ae-extra/2007/11/Lines.html
• the male gaze of film
• The gaze of the camera is understood to be masculine; film is shot and thus viewed from a male
• Most directors are male
• Most movies feature men and male stories
• Read more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test
• modern medicine testing drugs on only male test subjects.
• Yep, it happens. Problematic because we don’t know how those dugs effect women’s bodies.
• male lawmakers controlling legislation that affects women and women’s
• laws about access to birth control and abortion
Key Terms for Feminist Criticism
• Patriarchy: any culture that privileges men by
promoting traditional gender roles. America is a
• Traditional Gender Roles: cast men as
rational, strong, protective, decisive, and
heterosexual. They cast women as emotional
(irrational), weak, nurturing, and submissive.
• Sexist/Sexism: something that promotes the
belief that women are innately inferior to men.
Key Terms for Feminist Criticism
• Biological Essentialism: based on biological differences
between the sexes that are considered part of our unchanging essence
as men and women.
• feminists do not deny these biological differences. Many celebrate
• they simply do not believe that these differences make men superior to
• because of this, feminism differentiates between “sex” and “gender”
• Sex: refers to our biological constitution as either male or female.
• Gender: refers to our cultural programming as either masculine or
feminine (women are made feminine, men are made masculine; we’re
not born that way)
• Social Constructionism: the idea that things that often
seem natural or inherent are actually created by the society in which we
***Key Concept for Feminism***
• These terms illustrate that women’s position of inferiority in this country (lessened
as it may now be) has always been a social construction. It is a social assumption
that has been used (intentionally or not) to “justify and maintain the male
monopoly of positions of economic, political, and social power” or in other words
“to keep women powerless by denying them the educational and occupational
means of acquiring economic, political, and social power” (Tyson 86).
• Remember, feminism is NOT at attack on men. Feminism recognizes a pattern
that has existed in this country for a very long time.
• You may need to be open-minded in your approach to feminism because we have
a lot of preconceived notions about it. Ultimately, you do not have to agree with it,
but you do have to understand it.
• Remember, too, that there will always be exceptions in individual cases. Just
because you know a woman who can bench press more than a man, or a
homosexual man who is very masculine does not mean that sexism, patriarchal
patterns do not exist.
Blinded to Patriarchy?
• Feminism says that we have been
programmed not to see the ways in which
women are oppressed by traditional gender
• Feminism says that this programming is
continually reinforced in our culture: in
movies, tv, books, magazines, ads, as well
as the ways we treat one another.
• Is this true?
• Can you think of examples?
Common Female Binaries
• A binary is something that consists of two oppositional
elements. It implies that a person must be one or the
other, that there is no in-between.
• Some examples include:
• Madonna / Whore
• Good Girl / Bad Girl (aka Angel / Bitch)
• Housewife / Working Woman
• Feminist / Capable of loving men
• Think about why these binaries are harmful to women.
Men and Feminism
• Yes, men can be feminists.
• Feminists do not by definition hate men, nor do they
believe themselves to be superior to men.
• In fact, many feminists believe that when we talk about
men, we’re still talking about women, and when we’re
talking about women, we’re still really talking about men.
• Feminists are concerned more with gender programming
than with female programming. In other words, they
believe that men are often affected as much by gender
stigmas as women are.