Guide to Week 11: Tuesday
Studying Feminist theory so long after the rise of "Second-Wave Feminism" in the 1960s and '70s presents us with two major difficulties: many of us think there is little new to learn about it because it has been going on all around us for so long; and so much of Feminism's agenda has not been accomplished, so vigorous was the Masculinist counter-attack that misrepresented and mocked Feminist theory and methods. For a brief refresher, check these web links and think about what might connect them to "Second-Wave Feminism": Encounter Groups; Tranquilizers and Prescribed Happiness (Miltown, 1952; Librium, 1960; Valium, 1963; Prozac, 1971/1988); The Stepford Wives (1972/1975). My biggest challenge teaching this theory in 215 arises because so many Goucher students come to the theory believing the Feminist Revolution is over and the Feminists won. Just as I was about to teach this theory in November, 2013, The Washington Post announced that Rebecca Sugar became "the first woman to be a solo show creator" on the Cartoon Network "in the channel's 21 years on the air" (Michael Cavna, "Charting her path across the universe," The Washington Post 11/2/13 C1). That was one woman among the dozens of male creative artists who had been running your cartoon world since you were born. The day before the Post published that article, they ran a letter from Laura Ahearn and her daughter, Mellie, revealing the results of their one month survey of how often women's pictures appeared on the paper's front page, vs. the number of times men were pictured. Very little has really changed about our nation's "habits of seeing" women and men. When women are not there, we tend not to look for them. We expect men to be there.
Read Tyson's chapter on Feminist criticism, and the chapter from Baym's influential book, to be certain you have understood the basic assumptions and motives that brought Feminist critics to risk their jobs and reputations by arguing for this approach to interpretation. More than almost any other theory other than Deconstruction, Feminist theory tended to stir up fierce partisanship on both sides of the debate. Try to engage the historical roots of this theory, just like those of Marxist and Freudian interpretation, from which Feminism partially derived, and take seriously the continuing value of being able to use its methods to develop new insights from texts. It was influential because it worked, and still works, when used with care. When you believe you know what Tyson and Baym are saying, click here for a web page containing key concepts and terms of art from Feminist criticism and see if you can explain their meaning and use. Class discussion will begin with a review of these concepts and terms, and if we have time, we can explore additional issues, perhaps including those below. Click here for some tips about how to use the "Concepts and Terms" page and how this "Working With" relates to "Working With Reader-Response," and how your increasing theoretical and critical subtlety affects this assignment. Take at least a moment to check out the major male critics' studies of AmLit that Baym uses. They are still in the library collection, and are still being used naively by students who have not taken 215. Click here for Mahria Hinzman's 2008 survey of Norton Anthology editions by gender.
Check the publication dates of the book-length sources Tyson uses to describe Feminist theory and methods. Note that these are now nearly "ancient" founding documents of Feminist criticism, the "Affective Fallacy" and "Objective Interpretation" of this school of theory. To quickly spot new work that builds on this methodology, look for conference papers and session titles, article titles, and book titles which explicitly use the term "feminist," or some of the theory's grounding key words like "Re-Visioning," "Queering," "Re-Reading," "Silence" or "Silencing," "Resisting," and varieties of "Margin" or "Marginalized," etc. Feminist methods, sometimes abstracted from gender-theory-based political agendas, also inform a prosperous sub-field of Post-Colonialist studies in other literatures, such as Michelle Warren's study of medieval Arthurian history of the Welsh borderlands, History on the Edge: Excalibur and the Borders of Britain, 1100-1300. Her title suggests a typical concern for the effects of assuming the existence of an undebatable "center" of culture, and a corresponding "margin" or (in this case) "border" which is less privileged than the "center" (in this case, London, or Arthur's court in romance).
You probably already have heard the lecture on the subject "patriarchal oppression has not disappeared, and the need for Feminist analysis is still important. Nevertheless, it's important to understand why such arguments continue to be made. In part, they're right. Click here to read Nina Baym's more recent (1995) response to the counter-attack against feminist theory, "The Agony of Feminism: Why Feminist Theory Is Necessary After All." No theory remains unchallenged forever.
Access to Women's Works: Baym's article about the fight to win critical acceptance for popular women writers' work mentions two writers whose books are not in Goucher's collection (Susannah Rowson, Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth). Why might they be omitted from the collection of a school with Goucher's avowedly "Feminist" past? That may have a good deal to do with previous English Department members' affiliations with New Criticism and its predecessors, all of which recognized a clear distinction between "high-art literature" and "popular literature." The former was studied and purchased for the collection, whereas the latter was considered too "common" to be studied simply because it was popular. One outcome of Feminist criticism was the opening of literary studies to works by authors previously considered to be tainted by their success selling to the general public. Click here for Donna M. Campbell's Gonzaga University web page on Rowson with links to her most famous novel, Charlotte. Click here for Steve Railton's University of Virginia web page on Southworth with links to two of her novels, The Better Way; or The Wife's Victory, and The Married Shrew; Sequel to The Better Way.
Popularity may have caused the library to overlook one era of women writers. Women writers before the Modern Period (i.e., pre-1700) are even more difficult to find in print, and as a result, have made less of an impression in the canon. This does not mean women were not writing, or even that they were not being published. They were just less likely to be published in large editions, or to be republished when their work went out of print, because C18-20 scholarship on literature was dominated by male critics. Click on this link for the Brown University Women Writers Project: (Goucher College users only--subscription account.) This site offers scholarly editions of previously unpublished works by women who wrote during the Renaissance, Restoration, and 18th century. You can find additional works by early women writers at the Emory Women Writers Resource Project at Emory University's Lewis H. Beck Center. The Brown site has an exceptionally large text base of edited Renaissance women writers, and the Emory site's strength is its unedited (as in previously unpublished) texts.
For free access to another online library, click here for the Ockerblooms' Celebration of Women Writers site at University of Pennsylvania.