Feminist Theory and Method Concepts and Processes

        Because Feminist theoreticians eschew the phallogocentric language of the Patriarchy, their discourses stress openness rather than closure, freedom rather than oppression, beginnings rather than endings, and words under erasure rather than words assumed to be disseminating meaning "without political intent" (which cannot be done when "the personal is the political").  Feminists disagree about how to do this, or what to call it, but in general they distinguish gender roles and gender-awareness as crucial factors in how we read and interpret texts and events.  If you are having trouble taking Feminist theory seriously, or if you believe it is not relevant, unfair to men, or destructive, please read this web page on "Masculinist" theory.

        Self-conscious feminist literary criticism developed in American universities in the 1970s.  Two of the earliest book-length studies published were Judith Fetterly's The Resisting Reader : A Feminist Approach To American Fiction (1978), whose introduction we will read, and Nina Baym's Woman's Fiction : A Guide To Novels By And About Women In America, 1820-1870 (1980), a chapter of which we also will read.  Other major early contributors to the method and terms of art were Elaine Showalter (A Literature Of Their Own : British Women Novelists From Brontë To Lessing, 1979), and the scholarly team of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (The Madwoman In The Attic : The Woman Writer And The Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination , 1979).

Lois Tyson on Feminist Criticism--

ideology and oppression "habits of seeing" (84)  Savin
gender vs. sex (86) the Patriarchy (85) biological essentialism (85)
immobilizing "rewards" (87) empowering challenges & prohibitions "masculine" women & "feminine" men (88) marginalization and "blaming the victim" (111) Whore/Madonna oppositions (Eve/Mary)
"the Other" and "the Monstrous" to man (92 & 118-19) phallogocentric thinking (92)

écriture féminine (101-4)

female subjectivity (100-105) "blaming the victim" (128-9)
identifying exploitation "queering" the text identifying a text's (or critic's) "representative women" (Tyson on Gatsby 124-30) resistance by reading "the margins" and questioning the "center" (e.g., Baym) interrogating "normal" and "natural" social structures

 resituating other eras' gender awarenesses


"materialist" French feminism: Simone de Beauvoir and Christine Delphy on "developed society" and unpaid women's labor (96-98) "materialist" French feminism: Colette Guillaumin on "sexage" or "direct physical appropriation" of women's bodies, sexuality, and time (99) "psychoanalytic" French feminism: Hélène Cixous on "patriarchal binary thought" vs. "écriture féminine" (100-101) and "Where is she?" "psychoanalytic" French Feminism: Luce Irigaray on "male gaze" & the "irrational" as a patriarchal category for female thought (102-3) "psychoanalytic" French feminism: Julia Kristeva on the "symbolic" (linguistic, male) and "semiotic" (gestural, female) codes of language (103)
"gender studies" & re-examination of the biological and cultural evidence (108-17) multicultural feminism (105-108) "the tyranny of the two-sex/two gender system" (114) feminist deconstructivist criticism (Baym 20) feminist reader-response, cultural and New Historicist criticism

Nina Baym on Male Critics' "Melodramas of Beset Manhood"--

canon formation exclusive ranking cultural essentialism
"mainstream" vs. "marginal" the myth of American settlement as a New Critical "master trope" "consensus criticism of the consensus" (8)
women as Nature or the landscape (Kolodny) women as "entrappers" or "domesticators" (12) the male "us" (13) & Tyson's "inclusive he" (84)
repression by omission repression by distortion repression by false categorization

Judith Fetterley on "the Resisting Reader"--

male norms as "universal" (xii) female "America" and male "American" (xiii) "seeing one's experience in art" (xiii) woman as "scapegoat" in male texts (xv-xvi) "the mythology of female power" (xviii)
"to read like a man" (C. Heilbrun q xviii) "the power of naming" (M. Daly q. xix) "immasculation" (xx) "assenting readers" (xxii) "resisting readers" xxii
"silencing" (xxii) "discovery/recovery of a voice" (xxii) "re-vision of old texts" (A. Rich q xix, xxii)
male perceptions of female characters (23-4) female sexuality and male taboo (25-7) the cult of female beauty (26) idealization (26-7) women as "Mirrors for men" (28-9)
"implicit feminism" (31) attention to the silenced or diminished subjectivities of the female characters explicit feminism

Joan Radner and Susan Lanser on "Strategies of Coding"--

"appropriation" (415-6) "juxtaposition" (416-7) "distraction" (417-8) "indirection" (418-20)  "trivialization" (420-21)

Baym, Nina.  “Melodramas of Beset Manhood.”  In The New Feminist Criticism: Essays on Women, Literature, and Theory.  Ed. Elaine Showalter.  N.Y.: Pantheon, 1985.

Fetterley, Judith.  The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Fiction.       Bloomington, Ind.: U. of Indiana P, 1978.

Radner, Joan, and Susan Lanser, "The Feminist Voice: Strategies of Coding in Folklore and Literature," The Journal of American Folklore, 100: 398, Folklore and Feminism (Oct. -Dec., 1987) 412-425.  JSTOR.  Web.  Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/540901.

Do you want to test your ability to use Feminist criticism's methods and theory when interpreting text?  KC, "Hour"; EH, "Soldiers Home"