What is it?• A concern with:• Womens’ role in society as portrayed through texts• Woman as a construct through literature
Mary Wollstonecraft• A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)• formed the basis of modern thoughts of equality• Called for the right for women to – Have an equal education “How can a rational being be ennobled by anything that is not obtained by its own exertions?” – To be treated as equal partners not as ornamental wives “Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority”
Virginia Woolf• A Room of One’s Own (1929) – Women’s need for economic and social freedom “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” “It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare” – Forego the traditional role as a mirror for man’s ability "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size."
Simone de Beauvoir– The Second Sex (1949)– Woman as a social construction– No “natural” distinction between the sexes“one is not born, one becomes a woman”
Woman as a construct“If the definition provided for this concept [of the eternal feminine] is contradicted by the behavior of flesh-and- blood women, it is the latter who are wrong: we are told not that Femininity is a false entity, but that the women concerned are not feminine.”
• What does this advert mean?• What is the underlying suggestion?
Mens contributions?• Freidrich Engels – The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884)
1960s• Focus lay in the images of women in literature• A need to combat the authority of these images
1970s• Focus developed to explore the “mechanisms of patriarchy”• Language, science and social structures that reproduced inequality
1980s• Eclectic development – drawing on other disciplines eg – Marxism – psychoanalysis• Exploration of female experience• Rewriting of the canon (rediscovering female writers)
What feminist critics do• Rediscover texts written by women• Revalue women’s experience• Examine representations of women in literature• Challenge the view of woman as “Other”• Examine and challenge patriarchal roles• Examine language as a tool of gender construction• Discuss social versus biological difference• Question the “death of the author”• Question the neutrality of mainstream interpretation
Feminist terminology• Patriarchy – in a society the male is the centre of authority – This is what is meant by a patriarchal society
Feminist terminology• Hegemony – leadership; predominance. – A hegemony is a dominant group or a system that creates the rules we live by• Gender – term used when distinguishing male and female in a variety of disciplines
Identity and agency• Words commonly employed when discussing women and their rights:• Agency: the capacity for a person to act in the world, make decisions – If you do not have the power to speak up for yourself then you have no agency, or the capacity to act for your own benefit
The “Other”• The opposite of “the same”• Used to exclude a group• To subordinate those who do not fit in• Gives justification for the dominance and exploitation of “inferior” groups
Phallocentrism• a doctrine or belief centred on the phallus, especially a belief in the superiority of the male sex. – In other words we can say that a patriarchal society is phallocentric – In literature it is common to search for phallic symbols – symbols of male dominance – This overlaps with psychoanalytic Freudian theory