Introduction to Literature
Michael Delahoyde


Sooner or later in an Introduction to Literature class, we need to discuss "the F word": Feminism. I don't understand statements of this sort:

Who turned "feminist" into a dirty word? (Probably George Bush and that batch; Pat Robertson occasionally rants against "witches, lesbians, and feminists.")

Feminist literary criticism, arising in conjunction with sociopolitical feminism, critiques patriarchal language and literature by exposing how these reflect masculine ideology. It examines gender politics in works and traces the subtle construction of masculinity and femininity, and their relative status, positionings, and marginalizations within works.

Beyond making us aware of the marginalizing uses of traditional language (the presumptuousness of the pronoun "he," or occupational words such as "mailman") feminists focused on language have noticed a stylistic difference in women's writing: women tend to use reflexive constructions more than men (e.g., "She found herself crying"). They have noticed that women and men tend to communicate differently: men directed towards solutions, women towards connecting.

Feminist criticism concern itself with stereotypical representations of genders. It also may trace the history of relatively unknown or undervalued women writers, potentially earning them their rightful place within the literary canon, and helps create a climate in which women's creativity may be fully realized and appreciated.

One will frequently hear the term "patriarchy" used among feminist critics, referring to traditional male-dominated society. "Marginalization" refers to being forced to the outskirts of what is considered socially and politically significant; the female voice was traditionally marginalized, or discounted altogether.

Works Consulted

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.

Biddle, Arthur W., and Toby Fulwiler. Reading, Writing, and the Study of Literature. NY: Random House, 1989.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: Writing About Literature with Critical Theory. 2nd ed. NY: Longman, 1998.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997.

Critical Theory
Introduction to Literature