FEMINIST CRITICISM IN LITERARY THEORY

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ABSTRACT

 The purpose of feminist criticism is to object patriarchal assumptions about women and to respond to the masculine determination of what is feminine. To begin with, feminist literary criticism tries to describe and analyze woman’ s social, economic, political and psychological condition within literary texts and literary canon. In addition to interpreting masculine discourse, feminist criticism aims to resist and challenge the dogmas apparent in male dominant doctrines. It can be said that feminist criticism has a wide range of meaning including the attitudes to literature as well as culture in the sense of the interest in women. Feminist criticism can be identified as the quest for equality among sexes and an attack against the claim that womanhood is a secondary and even an inferior situation. Although the particular word ‘feminism’ was first used in 1890 by French philosopher Charles Fourier, women’s resistance to patriarchy and clergy goes back to Middle Ages which often portrayed women as Eve, a seductress who caused the fall of humankind and denounced women for constantly attempting to distract men from the way of God. As such, in the present paper, I would like to bring an approach to the early roots of misogyny, a brief history Feminist Criticism and finally comment on Nina Baym’ s article The Madwoman and Her Languages.

CHAPTER ONE

I NTRODUCTION

BACKGROUND TO STUDY

As this entry describes, feminism is both an intellectual commitment and a political movement that seeks justice for women and the end of sexism in all forms. Motivated by the quest for social justice, feminist inquiry provides a wide range of perspectives on social, cultural, economic, and political phenomena. Yet despite many overall shared commitments, there are numerous differences among feminist philosophers regarding philosophical orientation (whether, for example, Continental or analytic), ontological commitments (such as the category of woman), and what kind of political and moral remedies should be sought.

Contemporary feminist philosophical scholarship emerged in the 1970s as more women began careers in higher education, including philosophy. As they did so, they also began taking up matters from their own experience for philosophical scrutiny. These scholars were influenced both by feminist movements in their midst as well as by their philosophical training, which was anything but feminist. Until recently one could not go to graduate school to study “feminist philosophy”. While students and scholars could turn to the writings of Simone de Beauvoir or look back historically to the writings of “first wave” feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, most of the philosophers writing in the first decades of the emergence of feminist philosophy brought their particular training and expertise to bear on analyzing issues raised by the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, such as abortion, affirmative action, equal opportunity, the institutions of marriage, sexuality, and love. Additionally, feminist philosophical scholarship increasingly focused on the very same types of issues philosophers had been and were dealing with.

Feminist philosophical scholarship begins with attention to women, to their roles and locations. What are women doing? What social/political locations are they part of or excluded from? How do their activities compare to those of men? Are the activities or exclusions of some groups of women different from those of other groups and why? What do the various roles and locations of women allow or preclude? How have their roles been valued or devalued? How do the complexities of a woman’s situatedness, including her class, race, ability, and sexuality impact her locations? To this we add attention to the experiences and concerns of women. Have any of women’s experiences or problems been ignored or undervalued? How might attention to these transform our current methods or values? And from here we move to the realm of the symbolic. How is the feminine instantiated and constructed within the texts of philosophy? What role does the feminine play in forming, either through its absence or its presence, the central concepts of philosophy? And so on.