January 22, 2018

Feminist Criticism

Feminist Criticism

by Shahinur Islam

    Need for this Study

After inventing new literary criticism named feminist criticism, it has added new  dimensions and portrayal of women in literary works. In interpreting literary pieces, it has also occupied a significant place. It exposed the mechanisms of patriarchy, that is, the cultural thinking or mindset in men and women, which perpetuated sexual inequality.

 Statement of Purpose

 This paper attempts to describe and examine how feminist criticism has evolved into today’s stage, how different schools of feminism held their views on it about dominance of man, patriarchy, role of language and cultural structures, representation of women.


 This paper is accomplished as an academic research exercise. Conclusions are drawn  from the study of different books as well as the Internet searching, which are reliable for the purposes of this study.


The term “feminism” is derived from Latin word, femina meaning woman (Oxford Dictionary). Three terms related to feminism should be clarified here—“feminist”, “female”, and “feminine”. As Toril Moi explains, the first is ‘a political position’, the second ‘a matter of biology’, and the third ‘a set of culturally defined characteristics’.

The differences between the second and third of these bear much force of feminism.

Feminism aims at establishing equal rights for women in society eliminating bias against women in social, political, economic spheres. Different feminists opined that they should be equal in rights, power, and interests in society. For example, liberal feminists have espoused the equality of women’s political and economic opportunities as man enjoys. Socialist or Marxist feminists have attributed the women’s oppression to the economic condition. On the other hand radical feminists have criticized liberal political notions of equality and autonomy as inherently ‘masculine’. Besides, in the 20th century feminists insist that no single oppression can be applied for all.(Britannica)


 Feminism did not start with women movement in the 1960s. It just rejuvenated the  old tradition and action, which were already contained in some classic books such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of women (1792), Olive Schreiner’s Women and Labour (1911), Virginia Wolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949). All these books and portray the unequal treatment made to women seeking education and alternatives to marriage and motherhood, portrayal of women in the novels. In addition, John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869) and Freidrich Engel’s The Origin of the Family (1884) are noteworthy in

this respect.

However, today’s feminist literary criticism is a result of the women’s movement of 1960s. The depiction of women in literary pieces was a form of ‘socialization’. The nineteenth century fictions focused on the interest of the heroine’s choice of marriage partner, which would determine her decisive social status and ascertain her joy and happiness of life, or her lack of these.

Later in the 1970s the mechanisms of patriarchy or cultural structures was exposed about the perpetuation of sexual inequality. Then in 1980s, this trend changed. Feminism adopted an eclectic approach, drawing the findings of other types of criticism such as Marxism, structuralism, linguistics, psychoanalysis etc. Subsequently, it changed its focus on explaining the nature of the female world and attitude, and rebuilt the lost or suppressed records of female experience. Finally, it switched to construct a fresh canon of women’s writing by rebuilding history of the novel and poetry so that neglected women writers could be prominent. Besides, Showalter makes three phases of the history of women’s writing: a ‘feminine phase’ (1880-1920), a ‘feminist phase’ (1880-1920) and a ‘female phase’ (920 onwards).

      Differences of Opinions

 There are disagreements about the viewers of feminism. The Anglo-American feminist critics are more skeptical about recent critical theory, and more careful of using feminisms. On the other hand, French feminists have taken a good deal of post-structuralist and psychoanalytic criticism as the foundation of their work. Besides, English feminist criticism often differs from American criticism. It is ‘socialist feminist’along with cultural materialism or Marxism.

Aside from this, liberal feminism, hard line feminism are remarkable. Liberal feminism believes that the inequality and discrimination between man and woman can be eliminated by reforming the social institutions responsible for the inequality and subjugation of women in society. On the other hand, the hard line feminists hold views that the roots of the social institutions causing the subjugation and distinction too the women should be destroyed as the institutions are widespread and deep-rooted. In this regard, socialist and Marxist feminists attribute the subjugation and inequality of women to the Bourgeois system of politics.


The comparative term for feminist criticism is post-colonialism. It studies the relationship with feminism. Feminism is of great importance to post-colonial criticism for two reasons. Firstly, both patriarchy and imperialism exert the similar forms of domination over those they make subordinate. Consequently, the experiences of women in both subjects can be paralleled in several respects, and both oppose such dominance. Secondly, debates about whether gender or colonial oppression is the more important factor in women’s lives. This has invited calls for a greater consideration of the construction and employment of gender in the practices of imperialism and colonialism.

Both feminism and post-colonialism are concerned with the representation and language which forms identity. For both, language is a tool for destroying patriarchal and imperial power. Both want to come out of the language imposed upon them. However, both feminism and post-colonialism have appropriated to subvert and adapt dominant languages and signifying practices.

The texts of feminism and post-colonialism agree on many aspects of the theory of identity, of difference and offering to each other different strategies of resistance. Feminism stood accused of failing to account for or deal adequately with the experiences of third world women. In this regard, the issues on gender encounter similar problems to those concerned with class. As Mohanty criticizes:

“the assumption that all of us of the same gender, across classes and cultures, are somehow socially the process of analysis….Thus, the discursively consensual homogeneity of ‘women’ as a group is mistaken for the historically specific national reality of groups of women.” (338)

More recently, feminism observes that gender may sometimes be ignored within the wider construction of the colonial, and post-colonialism has averted gender differences in construction of the colonized.

                                                             Discussion of Feminism

Feminism aims to establish the rights, opportunities equal to man in political economic and social spheres. In so doing, feminist critics think about the canon in order to rediscover the texts written by women. They also revalue women’s experience presented in literature by men and women. It also challenges the representations of women as ‘Other’, as ‘lack’ or part of ‘nature’. Feminism also shows the patriarchal domination over women, power relations in texts and life and tries to break them down. It demands that women are different as socially constructed not different as biologically formed.


Social representation

Feminist criticism has changed the viewpoint of the people of society. It has reconstructed the conceptions and ideas of women continuing for ages in society. Now people think anew about women; writers portray women more differently than before; even women also think highly of themselves. Any domination, discrimination, deprivation of opportunities and rights have been questioned by different viewers.

Women are not considered as ‘other’, part of ‘nature’, irrational or emotional. Feminism has established the rights of women in society. This is how, it is important in society.

Professional Perspective

 My understanding of feminism has increased my professional and personal effectiveness because in the process of organizing my thoughts on the topic, feminism. I have developed my knowledge and insights when delving into the topic. This experience and exploration helped me considerably. In the future my perspective might be more open and appreciative of lifelong learning and personal professional development.

 Works Cited

 Belsey, Catherine & Moore, Jane, eds, The Feminist Reader: Essays in Gender and the Politics of Literary Criticism (Macmillan, 1989).

“Feminism”. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006 ed.

Oxford Dictionary: eds. Couper, Sarah, Hawker, Sara, and Jones, Richard. 2006.

Mohanty, C.T., Russo, A. and Torres, L. (eds.): Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Showalter, Elaine, The Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory. (Pantheon, 1985)

           Works Consulted

 Ashcroft, Bill., Griffiths, Gareth and Tiffin, Helen. Key Concepts in Post-colonial Studies: Rontbedge, 2004, London and New York.

Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York (1995)