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Essay Feminist Gender In Literary Politics Reader Theory

Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)


This resource will help you begin the process of understanding literary theory and schools of criticism and how they are used in the academy.

Contributors: Allen Brizee, J. Case Tompkins, Libby Chernouski, Elizabeth Boyle, Sebastian Williams
Last Edited: 2018-02-14 02:46:31

Feminist criticism is concerned with "...the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" (Tyson). This school of theory looks at how aspects of our culture are inherently patriarchal (male dominated) and "...this critique strives to expose the explicit and implicit misogyny in male writing about women" (Richter 1346). This misogyny, Tyson reminds us, can extend into diverse areas of our culture: "Perhaps the most chilling found in the world of modern medicine, where drugs prescribed for both sexes often have been tested on male subjects only" (83).

Feminist criticism is also concerned with less obvious forms of marginalization such as the exclusion of women writers from the traditional literary canon: "...unless the critical or historical point of view is feminist, there is a tendency to under-represent the contribution of women writers" (Tyson 82-83).

Common Space in Feminist Theories

Though a number of different approaches exist in feminist criticism, there exist some areas of commonality. This list is excerpted from Tyson:

  1. Women are oppressed by patriarchy economically, politically, socially, and psychologically; patriarchal ideology is the primary means by which women are oppressed.
  2. In every domain where patriarchy reigns, woman is other: she is marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values.
  3. All of Western (Anglo-European) civilization is deeply rooted in patriarchal ideology, for example, in the Biblical portrayal of Eve as the origin of sin and death in the world.
  4. While biology determines our sex (male or female), culture determines our gender (scales of masculine and feminine).
  5. All feminist activity, including feminist theory and literary criticism, has as its ultimate goal to change the world by prompting gender equality.
  6. Gender issues play a part in every aspect of human production and experience, including the production and experience of literature, whether we are consciously aware of these issues or not (91).

Feminist criticism has, in many ways, followed what some theorists call the three waves of feminism:

  1. First Wave Feminism - late 1700s-early 1900's: writers like Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792) highlight the inequalities between the sexes. Activists like Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull contribute to the women's suffrage movement, which leads to National Universal Suffrage in 1920 with the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment.
  2. Second Wave Feminism - early 1960s-late 1970s: building on more equal working conditions necessary in America during World War II, movements such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), formed in 1966, cohere feminist political activism. Writers like Simone de Beauvoir (Le deuxième sexe, 1972) and Elaine Showalter established the groundwork for the dissemination of feminist theories dove-tailed with the American Civil Rights movement.
  3. Third Wave Feminism - early 1990s-present: resisting the perceived essentialist (over generalized, over simplified) ideologies and a white, heterosexual, middle class focus of second wave feminism, third wave feminism borrows from post-structural and contemporary gender and race theories (see below) to expand on marginalized populations' experiences. Writers like Alice Walker work to "...reconcile it [feminism] with the concerns of the black community...[and] the survival and wholeness of her people, men and women both, and for the promotion of dialog and community as well as for the valorization of women and of all the varieties of work women perform" (Tyson 97).

Typical questions:

  • How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?
  • What are the power relationships between men and women (or characters assuming male/female roles)?
  • How are male and female roles defined?
  • What constitutes masculinity and femininity?
  • How do characters embody these traits?
  • Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so? How does this change others’ reactions to them?
  • What does the work reveal about the operations (economically, politically, socially, or psychologically) of patriarchy?
  • What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?
  • What does the work say about women's creativity?
  • What does the history of the work's reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operation of patriarchy?
  • What role does the work play in terms of women's literary history and literary tradition? (Tyson)

Here is a list of scholars we encourage you to explore to further your understanding of this theory:

  • Mary Wollstonecraft - A Vindication of the Rights of Women, 1792
  • Simone de Beauvoir - Le deuxième sexe (The Second Sex), 1949
  • Julia Kristeva - About Chinese Women, 1977
  • Elaine Showalter - A Literature of Their Own, 1977; "Toward a Feminist Poetics," 1979
  • Deborah E. McDowell - "New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism," 1980
  • Alice Walker - In Search of Our Mother's Gardens, 1983
  • Lillian S. Robinson - "Treason out Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon," 1983
  • Camiile Paglia - Sexual Personae: The Androgyne in Literature and Art, 1990

[This is the second part of a bibliography in five parts on feminist aesthetics. The bibliography is number 65 in the series “Wisconsin Bibliographies in Women’s Studies” published by the University of Wisconsin System Women’s Studies Librarian’s Office, 430 Memorial Library, 728 State Street, Madison, WI 53706.]


Abel, Elizabeth, ed. WRITING AND SEXUAL DIFFERENCE. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
This is an anthology of articles, published in CRITICAL INQUIRY between 1980 and 1982, that analyze various conjunctions of literature, language, and feminist theories. The essays include overviews, readings of works–from Isak Dinesen to Aristophanes–and issues such as transvestism and the representation of lesbianism and friendship in lesbian literature. See Showalter.

Allen argues that Native American culture is exemplary of egalitarian relations among people and in its spiritual relations with the earth. She sees this as part of a female aesthetic principle basic to American Indian culture and literature.

Barling, Marion. “To Be or Not To Be? Or, And From the Darkness, Let There Be Light: Some Thoughts on Developing a Feminist Aesthetic.” RFR/DFR 13.4 (1984/85): 5-6.
Barling suggests that a feminist aesthetic must develop from a female “being,” an ontological perspective that is outside of the “male perspective” of art and culture.

Benstock, Shari, ed. FEMINIST ISSUES IN LITERARY SCHOLARSHIP. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
The essays, which are mostly from TSWL, engage well-known names in American feminist criticism in broad considerations of feminist criticism and aesthetics, as well as more specific topics, such as the African-American woman’s autobiography. See Donovan and Marcus.

Bogdan, Deanne. “Feminist Criticism and Total Form in Literary Experience.” RFR/DFR 16.3 (1987): 20-23.
Bogdan argues that the reading pleasure in a realistic text is based on total form, which creates a reading experience of spiritual and emotional reaction through identification with the text and its assumptions. She argues further that feminists need not give up this aesthetic pleasure, but should follow it with a political analysis recognizing the ideological assumptions that were working to create the totalizing effect.

Carruthers, Mary. “Imagining Women: Notes Toward a Feminist Poetic.” MASSACHUSETTS REVIEW 20 (1979): 281-307.
Carruthers argues that the treatment of central themes–mother-daughter relationships, romantic love, and the nature of powerful women–change in women’s poetry around 1968-70. She believes women’s poetry is moving toward a more fully imagined, multidimensional version of women’s development.

Christian, Barbara. BLACK WOMEN NOVELISTS: THE DEVELOPMENT OF A TRADITION, 1892-1976. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.
Christian delineates a variety of Anglo-American images of black women, to articulate powerful arguments regarding the social and historical role such images have played in supporting the status of the ruling class. She concludes that black writers had to sweep away Anglo-American cultural norms to open up their own representations of African-American culture.

DeJean, Joan. “Fictions of Sappho.” CI 13 (1987): 787-805.
DeJean argues that Lipking’s article, “A Poetics of Abandonment,” repeats a centuries-old gesture exemplified by male poets’ treatment of Sappho, in which women’s desire and artistic creativity are recast as a response to an abandonment by men, thus rendering “a feminocentric world7quot; and female poetic genius non-threatening to the male writers.

DeKoven, Marianne. “Male Signature, Female Aesthetic: The Gender Politics of Experimental Writing.” Friedman and Fuchs 72-81.
DeKoven calls experimental writing an antipatriarchal writing practice, and she argues that despite the prevalence of male elitism and misogyny in avant garde circles, the relation of a female aesthetic–ecriture feminine–to avant garde practice can and should be developed without suppressing the gendered signature.

de Lauretis, Teresa. “The Left Hand of History.” HERESIES 4 (1978): 23-26.
De Lauretis argues that we need a feminist theory of textual production rather than a theory of women’s writing; “we need a theory of culture with women as subjects–not commodities but social beings producing and reproducing cultural products, transmitting and transforming cultural values.”

de Lauretis, Teresa, ed. FEMINIST STUDIES/ CRITICAL STUDIES. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
In her introduction to this book of essays, de Lauretis argues that institutions have the ability to neutralize resistance and transform it into liberal opposition that “proves” the democratic inclusiveness of the institution. Thus, she argues that with self-consciousness and with strategies that push against discursive boundaries, feminists must create a “new aesthetic, a rewriting of culture,” that rejects a “homogeneous, monolithic Feminism” as both restrictive and easily appropriated. The essays cover historical, scientific, and literary questions of gender, in conjunction with ethnicity and class, and the relationship of feminist theories to constructions of knowledge.

Donovan, Josephine, ed. FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM: EXPLORATIONS IN THEORY. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1975.
In the postscript of this early book of essays, Donovan heralds a new feminine aesthetic that rejects reified values and develops a female epistemology based in a female perspective and an authentic female culture. She suggests that feminist literary criticism must acknowledge multiple interpretations and seek collective readings. See Holly and Schumacher.

—. “Toward a Women’s Poetics.” Benstock 98-109.
Donovan wishes to create a poetics that emerges from “women’s ways of seeing, a women’s epistemology.” She delineates six elements of women’s experience and practice–a position of oppression, consignment to the private sphere, creation of products for home use, common physiological experiences, a maternal ethic, and a greater sense of context and relation–as a basis for a different female methodology.

DuPlessis argues that women novelists subvert both the plot and style of the novel. They create plots that go beyond the traditional conclusion of the marriage plot–the choice of marriage or death–and they develop styles that break up traditional expectations of the genre.

DuPlessis, Rachel Blau, and members of Workshop 9. “For the Etruscans: Sexual Difference and Artistic Production–The Debate Over a Female Aesthetic.” Eisenstein and Jardine 128-156. Reprinted in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 271-291.
The article is written as a dialogue between voices and texts, and interspersed with quotations about the Etruscan language, a metaphor for a female “language.” The dialogic form suits the aesthetic elaborated here because it makes the article an “antiphonal, many voiced work” and because it undermines an absolute or authoritative stance. DuPlessis describes the relational nature of hegemony that makes a woman’s position “(ambiguously) nonhegemonic.” She concludes that “the ‘female aesthetic’ is simply a version of the aesthetic position that can be articulated by any nonhegemonic group.”

Ecker, Gisela, ed. FEMINIST AESTHETICS. Trans. Harriet Anderson. Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.
In her introduction to this collection of essays, translated from the German, Ecker argues for the necessity of using Lacanian concepts of subjectivity and the French feminists’ concern with representation, while at the same time pursuing “feminist aesthetics” rather than “feminine aesthetics.” The essays that follow, some densely analytical and others more poetical, range from theories of “woman” as the “enigma of beauty” incarnate–the basis of traditional aesthetic theories–to delineations of a utopian “matriarchal aesthetic.”

Eisenstein, Hester, and Alice Jardine, eds. THE FUTURE OF DIFFERENCE. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1980.
This anthology brings together sociological and psychological perspectives with linguistic and literary critical approaches, to create a lively array of feminist positions. Part III addresses most directly the question of feminist aesthetics, including, among others, Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and an essay on women’s experimental theater. See DuPlessis and Stanton.

Felski argues against feminist aesthetics, which she defines as “any theoretical position which argues a necessary or privileged relationship between female gender and a particular kind of literary structure, style, or form.” Felski notes two forms of feminist aesthetics: the American version in which a distinctive female consciousness or experience is the basis of an aesthetic; and the French linguistically based aesthetic that privileges avant-garde literature as transgressive of phallocentric order. Felski argues that rather than a priori theories of aesthetics that either polarize the political and the aesthetic (as in the former case) or conflate the political and the aesthetic (as in the latter), feminists should look to the highly complex interactions between literature, feminist ideology, and the broader social domain and historic moment.

Fetterley, Judith. THE RESISTING READER: A FEMINIST APPROACH TO AMERICAN FICTION. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.
Fetterley argues that women are asked to read against themselves in novels by men, through identification with male protagonists rather than with the females, who are usually represented as quest objects. She proposes that a revolutionary feminist criticism can be created by reading these novels with an active resistance to the roles and assumptions the writers impose on the readers.

Finke, Laurie. “The Rhetoric of Marginality: Why I Do Feminist Theory.” TSWL 5 (1986): 251-272.
Finke’s article is a response to the articles in FEMINIST ISSUES IN LITERARY SCHOLARSHIP (see Benstock), especially those which attack “theory” per se, as if what they do is independent of theorizing. She also argues that many of the critics contributing to the collection, “prominent white female critics,” speak of marginality as an absolute rather than a relative position, ignoring their own privileged status. She proposes a Bakhtinian approach to feminist criticism that could be “a dialogic, nonauthoritarian critical rhetoric” rather than an attempt to establish authority by claiming to speak for all women.

Flynn, Elizabeth A., and Patrocinio Schweickart, eds. GENDER AND READING: ESSAYS ON READERS, TEXTS, AND CONTEXTS. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
Based on the premise that learning the basic skills of literacy and literary criticism inducts one into a male-defined reading practice, the essays Flynn and Schweickart have collected propose new reading theories and practices to better understand and change men’s and women’s reading processes. In Schweickart’s essay “Reading Ourselves: Toward a Feminist Theory of Reading,” she argues for a dialectical relationship–like a conversation–between the text and the reader. Jean E. Kennard proceeds–in her essay “Ourself Behind Ourself: A Theory for Lesbian Readers”–to problematize the inclusiveness of the category “women,” using an idea of “polar reading” derived from gestalt therapy to seek ways in which a reader can find empowerment even when her own experience is not reflected in a text. Other essays include textual readings and sociological studies, including chapters by Susan R. Suleiman, Judith Fetterley, and David Bleich.

Friedman, Ellen G., and Miriam Fuchs, eds. BREAKING THE SEQUENCE: WOMEN’S EXPERIMENTAL FICTION. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.
The essays in this anthology, covering eight decades of women’s experimental fiction, represent the union of experimental and feminist aesthetics as the creation of a radical aesthetic. Friedman and Fuchs maintain that women’s experimental fiction undermines patriarchal narratives (religious, social, etc.) and patriarchal narrative assumptions (of closure, linearity, etc.) by subverting traditional notions of discourse. See DeKoven.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Gender and Genre Anxiety: Elizabeth Barrett Browning and H.D. as Epic Poets.” TSWL 5 (1986): 203-228.
Friedman argues that both Barrett Browning and H.D. “feminize” the epic, a genre she associates with masculinity, heroism, and action. The two poets “had to deconstruct the male epic tradition and reconstitute the genre to serve their perspectives as women.”

—. “Creativity and the Childbirth Metaphor: Gender Difference in Literary Discourse.” FS 13 (1987): 49-82. Reprinted in Showalter, SPEAKING OF GENDER 73-100.
Friedman argues that although in male-authored texts the childbirth metaphor reaffirms the traditional separation of male/mind vs. female/body, the same metaphor can take on subversive meanings in a female-authored text. Thus she concludes that it is not a “feminine sentence” that creates difference, nor any biologically fixed element; it is the gender marking of the text that affects the reading and designates whether the metaphor is read through a masculinist or gynocentric aesthetic.

Froula, Christine. “When Eve Reads Milton: Undoing the Canonical Economy.” CI 10 (December 1983): 321-347.
Froula argues that by reading canonical works with non-canonical works one can make visible the assumptions behind canon formation while also revealing the repression of the feminine in the representative apparatus. Thus feminist readings can work against the invisible cultural and patriarchal authority of the canon.

Furman, Nelly. “Textual Feminism.” WOMEN AND LANGUAGE IN LITERATURE AND SOCIETY. Eds. Sally McConnell-Ginet, Ruth Borker, and Nelly Furman. New York: Praeger, 1980.
Furman argues that the signifier–the material form of a word–must be distinguished from the signified–the content or meaning of a word–to illuminate the process by which the sign gains meaning. In this process, the reader can gain power in an active creation of textual meaning and use a reading of the text to give voice to a feminist literary consciousness.

Gallop, Jane. THE DAUGHTER’S SEDUCTION: FEMINISM AND PSYCHOANALYSIS. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1982.
Gallop wishes to bring feminism and psychoanalysis to their most radical potential, to counter the concept of the unified, puritanical self of the former and the socially prescriptive nature of the latter. To do so she forces texts to “speak” to each other, playing an intertextual deconstructive jester, in which the critic is the analyst and the text is the body, the analysand. Thus, her reading practice analyzes the textual “unconscious,” in which language is slippery and multiple and infused with gendered positions based on psychoanalytic (Freudian and Lacanian) sexual models.

Gaudin, Colette, et al., eds. “Feminist Readings: French Texts/American Contexts.” Special issue of YALE FRENCH STUDIES 62 (1981).
In negotiating the divisions between French and North American feminist critical theories, the essays in this volume offer a number of reading strategies, such as Schor’s and Spivak’s “clitoral” theories, that seek radical convergences between psychoanalytic theories and politically instrumental critiques.

Gilbert, Sandra. “Life’s Empty Pack: Notes Toward a Literary Daughteronomy.” CI 11 (1985): 355-384.
Gilbert sets up a model of female literary inheritance whereby female precursors do nothing toward enabling their literary “daughters” because they offer them an “empty pack,” denying female power and devoting themselves to achieving literary authority by taking on the role of the father.

Gilbert and Gubar describe a feminist poetics and a female literary tradition based on recurrent images in nineteenth-century women’s literature. They argue that the social oppression of women authors along with the male texts they read reinforced their silence, creating an anxiety of authorship (the female version of Harold Bloom’s model of the anxiety of influence). Gilbert and Gubar argue further that the madwoman and the attic are textual representations of the women authors’ repressed anger and crippled psyches–their doubles in the text.

Hammonds, Evelyn. “Toward a Black Feminist Aesthetics.” SOJOURNER (Oct 1980).

Hodges, Devon. “FRANKENSTEIN and the Feminine Subversion of the Novel.” TSWL 2 (1983): 155-164.
Using Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN as an example, Hodges argues that the novel as genre has encoded patriarchal ideology so women find they must deform traditional structures to express themselves. This reading repudiates critics who have dubbed Shelley’s work an artistic failure; Hodges suggests that aesthetic considerations must recognize gendered textual strategies.

Holly, Marcia. “Consciousness and Authenticity: Toward a Feminist Aesthetic.” Donovan, FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM 38-47.
Holly conceives of a feminist aesthetic as a humanistic aesthetic that finds universal rather than masculine truths. Critical judgments, she argues, should measure the realism and psychological authenticity of a work, which necessitates both a knowledge of the author’s background and consciousness-raising on the part of the critic.


Homans, wishing to step beyond the content analysis often found in feminist criticism in the 1970s, focuses on the masculine bias in the language and literary patterns of Romantic poetry. Homans describes the poetic strategies of nineteenth-century women poets who had to contend with a masculine tradition in which poetic transcendence was attained through a Romantic egotism and through an association of woman with nature.

—. “`Her Very Own Howl’: The Ambiguities of Representation in Recent Women’s Fiction.” SIGNS 9 (1983): 186-205.
Homans attempts to bring together French and American feminist theories, insofar as the former consider language coextensive with experience and the latter consider language as separable from experience. Homans argues that the “ambiguous (non)hegemony” of white middle class North American women novelists allows them to feel as if they have direct access to linguistic expression, while doubly marginalized women novelists thematize their skepticism about representation.

—. “`Syllable of Velvet’: Dickinson, Rossetti, and the Rhetorics of Sexuality.” FS 11 (1985): 569-593.
Homans argues that Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti subvert, to differing degrees, the traditional love lyric, epitomized by the love sonnets of Petrarch and Keats. She concludes, following Irigaray, that metonymy and contiguity are the tropes of female sexuality, and she describes Dickinson and Rossetti as two poets consciously working against the objectification (and silencing) of the female by turning from metaphor to metonymy and, in Dickinson’s case, away from subject/object relations.

Considering theories of gender relations as cultural myths useful in a critique of culture, Homans employs Irigaray’s assistance in pulling together Lacan’s “myth” of gendered relations in language with Chodorow’s “myth” of mother-daughter relations. In her analysis of nineteenth-century women’s writing, she argues that the “literalization” of language–language as touch and sound–is represented symbolically and thematically as a trace of women’s relation to language.

Jacobus, Mary, ed. WOMEN WRITING AND WRITING ABOUT WOMEN. London: Croom Helm, 1979.
This anthology of essays from a 1978 Oxford lecture series encompasses the many ways in which critics attempt to “inscribe female difference within writing.” The essays focus on women writers from Bronte to Plath, on male representations of women in Ibsen and Hardy, and on trends in feminist literary and film theory. See Showalter and Mulvey.

—. READING WOMAN: ESSAYS IN FEMINIST CRITICISM. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.
According to Jacobus, psychoanalysis frees women’s writing from the determinism of origin or essence, positing the constitution of gendered positions in and by language. Jacobus favors an interpretive process that works through correspondences and the repressed vacillation of gender, eschewing closure and fixed gender identities.

Johnson, Barbara. A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1987.
Johnson makes clear in these essays, as in her analysis of metaphor and metonymy in Hurston’s THEIR EYES and in her discussion of abortion, that the gap between language and intention raises questions that are not merely rhetorical. The resistance of language to meaning extends to Johnson’s concept of self-resistance, which she posits as dangerous but necessary in feminist discourse.

Jones, Ann Rosalind. “Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of L’ecriture Feminine.” FS 7 (1981): 247-263. Reprinted in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 361-377.
Jones reviews the works of Kristeva, Irigaray, Cixous, and Wittig, distinguishing concepts in each writer’s work and deriving a concept of feminine writing that concentrates on signifying practices and assumes that the female body and one’s experiences are always mediated. In the second half of the article, Jones constructs an anti-essentialist, materialist critique and argues for a social definition of women’s writing.

Kolodny, Annette. “Some Notes on Defining a `Feminist Literary Criticism.'” CI 2 (1975): 75-92.
Using an empirical, deductive method, Kolodny argues that women’s writing cannot be distinguished from men’s, except through persistent review of themes and images to discover if subtle patterns, due to social position, exist. Regarding feminist criticism, she argues that critics must not force political messages onto creative texts, but that one’s political consciousness must be engaged. She concludes that a communal rather than a competitive atmosphere should distinguish feminist criticism.

—. “Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism.” FS 6 (1980): 1-25. Reprinted in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 144-167.
Kolodny argues that aesthetic values are based in historical and ideological values and that no interpretations are definitive, therefore it is as important to unearth the ethical implications of critical theories as it is to interpret literary texts. She then associates the lack of definitive readings with the idea of “a playful pluralism,” a notion many have argued undermines Kolodny’s argument that aesthetic judgments are related to “epistemological, ethical, and moral concerns” because pluralism suggests that any ideological stance is acceptable, which is different than accepting that various interpretations have equal “truth” value.

—. “A Map for Rereading: Gender and the Interpretation of Literary Texts.” Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 46-62.
Kolodny contends that Harold Bloom’s invocation of literary tradition and literary community assume a male domain, and that since interpretive strategies are learned and historically determined, they are necessarily gender-inflected. Kolodny uses two stories written by women in which male “readers” fail to understand women’s “writing” as fables of gender-inflected “misreadings” and rereadings.

Lanser, Susan S. “Toward a Feminist Narratology.” STYLE 20 (1986): 341-363.
Lanser argues that feminism and narratology can link–respectively–discussions of language as a mimetic representation with language as a non-referential linguistic construct. Thus narratology could provide feminism with structures for describing rhetorical strategies, and feminism could provide narratology with contextualization and new categories.

Lipking, Lawrence. “Aristotle’s Sister: A Poetics of Abandonment.” CI 10 (1983): 61-81.
Lipking argues that “a woman’s poetics,” in order to give us a new way of reading both men’s and women’s texts, must highlight: woman’s historic silencing, a disdain for “aesthetic distance,” the role of the community in empowering speech, the importance of affiliation and community relations over positions of authority, and an inquiry regarding the grounds on which importance is established. He calls this a “poetics of abandonment,” suggesting that women’s poetics come from women’s shared passion of loss from abandonment by men.

Lorde, Audre. SISTER OUTSIDER. Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press Feminist Series, 1984.
This is a collection of Lorde’s essays, written 1976-1983, including “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” and “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” These essays address issues of literary creation and criticism from an African American lesbian feminist perspective, stressing connections between linguistic creativity and power relations.

McDowell, Deborah E. “New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism.” Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 186-199.
McDowell argues that to do Black feminist criticism one must have a grasp of Black literature and culture in general. Within this contextual approach, McDowell contends, a Black feminist aesthetic can be developed from textual analyses of language, literary devices, and mythic structures employed in specific ways in Black women’s literature.

Marcus, Jane. “A Still Practice, A/Wrested Alphabet: Toward a Feminist Aesthetic.” Benstock, FEMINIST ISSUES 79-97.
In this article Marcus suggests that we adopt “an aesthetics of political commitment” through a “still” or passive reading practice in which we render ourselves egoless. Thus we gain a political voice by suppressing ourselves and “speaking for” our oppressed sisters.

—. ART AND ANGER: READING LIKE A WOMAN. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1988.
In the title essay of this collection, Marcus argues that anger can be a powerful tool in art, for empowering women and challenging existing social structures. Using her own art and anger, Marcus employs a “lupine” criticism–named for the wild flower and for the spirit of Virginia Woolf that guides Marcus’ work–in such essays as “Thinking Back Through Our Mothers,” “Storming the Toolshed,” and a revision of “Still Practice.”

Marks, Elaine. “Lesbian Intertextuality.” HOMOSEXUALITIES AND FRENCH LITERATURE. Eds. George Stambolian and Elaine Marks. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979. 353-377.
Marks uses “the Sappho model” to trace a lesbian intertextuality from Sappho’s own poetry to Wittig’s LE CORPS LESBIEN. She argues that Wittig’s texts extend this intertextuality into a new mode of representing female bodies and desire that defies appropriation and creates a new female mythology outside of the “domestication” of female sexuality that structures Judeo-Christian culture.

Marks, Elaine, and Isabelle de Courtivron, eds. NEW FRENCH FEMINISMS. New York: Schocken Books, 1981.
This anthology brought the works of many French feminists to the U.S. readership for the first time. Marks and de Courtivron argue that French feminists employ Marxist and psychoanalytic theories rather than empirical methods, developing a model of the repression of the feminine that differs from the North American model of the oppression of women. The concept of the unconscious basis of language and ideology, common in French feminist writings, underlines the importance of developing textual strategies as intrinsic parts of political change.

Martindale, Kathleen. “On the Ethics of `Voice’ in Feminist Literary Criticism.” RFR/DFR 16.3 (1987): 16-19.
Martindale argues that polyvocal criticism is ethically the best feminist criticism because it refuses claims to privilege, finality, or neutrality, and it functions by acknowledging the multiplicity of meanings, voices, and positions, rather than by asserting its authority. She suggests that polyvocal criticism is difficult to write and to understand just as it is difficult to imagine the new and different ways of thinking and learning that can produce change.

Meese, Elizabeth. CROSSING THE DOUBLE CROSS: THE PRACTICE OF FEMINIST CRITICISM. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.
Meese intends “to provoke critical theory, particularly American manifestations of deconstruction, to be more radically political, and feminism to be more self-consciously polyvocal and destabilizing in its theorizing.” Meese stages deconstructive arguments between texts, as in her first chapter: Woolf’s A ROOM OF ONE’S OWN and THREE GUINEAS are used to expose the male conservative basis of canon construction and the “interpretive community” in Stanley Fish’s IS THERE A TEXT IN THIS CLASS?

Meese, Elizabeth, and Alice Parker, eds. THE DIFFERENCE WITHIN: FEMINISM AND CRITICAL THEORY. Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1989.
From Meese and Parker’s introduction, relating the historical construction of gender to theories of difference, to Gayatri Spivak’s response, a powerful discussion of the relationship of difference and differance to deconstruction and critical theorizing, this collection of essays covers a broad spectrum of authors and theoretical approaches, suggesting both the diversity and the common ground of critical theory within the institution.

Miller, Nancy K. POETICS OF GENDER. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986.
Miller brings together fourteen essays from a conference addressing the poetics of gender. For example, Catherine Stimpson describes Gertrude Stein’s experimental writing as a poetics of transposition of gender; Jane Gallop critiques ecriture feminine for its effacement of class divisions between women; Domna Stanton addresses the problems in privileging the maternal metaphor; Naomi Schor argues that psychoanalytic readings must be complemented by historical readings; Elaine Showalter considers quilting as an ambiguous metaphor for “female culture”; and Monique Wittig poses the necessity for transforming the gender marking in languages.

—. SUBJECT TO CHANGE: READING FEMINIST WRITING. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
In this collection of Miller’s essays, emerging from confrontations between feminism and deconstruction, Miller counters the post-modern “death of the author” with her assertion of the importance of female authorial subjectivity. Miller insists–in her essays “The Text’s Heroine,” “Changing the Subject,” and “Arachnologies”–that feminist critics retain the gendered signature, while continuing to challenge the stability of the subject and the social construction of Woman. In “Emphasis Added,” Miller proposes a “feminine writing” that does not prioritize avant garde writing, but is found in thematic structures that are “implausible” insofar as they upset preset plots and shift the emphasis of women’s desire.

Moi criticizes Anglo-American feminist critics for their “liberal-humanist” aesthetic that values content analysis, realist texts, and the authority of experience. As counterpoint, Moi extols the French feminists, and especially Julia Kristeva, for their analysis of language and form to locate disruptions in the symbolic order, and for their deconstructions of gender oppositions. She argues that “feminist criticism is about deconstructing [. . . ] an opposition between the political and the aesthetic.”

Montefiore, Jan. FEMINISM AND POETRY: LANGUAGE, EXPERIENCE, IDENTITY IN WOMEN’S WRITING. London: Pandora Press/Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1987.
Montefiore critiques the radical feminist aesthetic for its unexamined Romanticism which heralds poetry as a direct and transcendent expression of experience, and she critiques certain conceptions of a woman’s tradition as constraining, based on psychological problems or revisionary myths. Montefiore argues for a feminist poetics that is an imaginative, utopian disruption of the Symbolic order, based in Irigaray’s conceptualizations of feminine subjectivity and the Lacanian Imaginary.

Namjoshi, Suniti. “Poetry or Propaganda?” CWS 5.1 (1983): 5-6.
Namjoshi argues that although literature is rife with patriarchal assumptions, these assumptions are not inherent in literary forms. Thus, feminist literature can resist these assumptions and release us from inhibitions, allowing our imaginations to function.

Newton, Judith, and Deborah Rosenfelt, eds. FEMINIST CRITICISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE: SEX, CLASS, AND RACE IN LITERATURE AND CULTURE. New York: Methuen, 1985.
In this anthology Newton and Rosenfelt define their concept of materialist-feminist criticism and the interaction of literary and cultural phenomena with ideology. The articles cover a broad range of approaches to African-American, lesbian, and working class literature as well as a range of topics, from popular culture–film and romance novels–to the shaping of the canon in American literary studies, to compelling discussions of deconstruction and theconstruction of gender. See Smith and Kuhn.

Ogunyemi, Chikwenye Okonjo. “Womanism: The Dynamics of the Contemporary Black Female Novel in English.” SIGNS 11 (1985): 63-80.
Womanism differs from feminism insofar as black women have a greater consciousness of the racial, cultural, national, economic, and political issues that accompany sexual issues, and, Ogunyemi argues, one should not read “womanist” novels as examples of sexual liberation without recognizing the central importance of the writer’s relation to and celebration of black culture.

Olsen, Tillie. SILENCES. London: Virago, 1980.
In her book of essays, Olsen mourns the silences–the literary works unwritten or unpublished because of difficult circumstances and biased institutional practices.

Poovey, Mary. “Feminism and Deconstruction.” FS 14 (1988): 51-65.
Poovey describes three ways that deconstruction can be useful to feminism: to reveal the figurative nature of ideology, to challenge oppositional logic, and to use the concept of the in-between to rethink power relations and identity as fragmentary. She also cautions that deconstruction must be historically situated, that feminists not forget that social reality cannot be simply deconstructed, and that we do not consider women as “naturally” subversive, thereby masking difference and power relations among women.

Pratt, Annis. ARCHETYPAL PATTERNS IN WOMEN’S FICTION. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.
Pratt describes archetypes as complex image and narrative patterns that emerge from the unconscious. Archetypal patterns in fiction, Pratt argues, create a ritual for the reader’s transformation, and they reveal a “buried feminine tradition” in which women writers reject patriarchal norms and discover an authentic unconscious.

Pryse, Marjorie, and Hortense J. Spillers, eds. CONJURING: BLACK WOMEN, FICTION, AND LITERARY TRADITION. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
In this anthology of essays on black women’s literature, Pryse and Spillers delineate the “conjuring” tradition–a tradition for black women writers based on concepts of black women’s ancient magical powers–to indicate the power of creating and conceptualizing the world using one’s own cultural and personal images. The essays elaborate on African-American cultural contexts for readings of black women’s literature ranging from early American to contemporary works.

Rabine, Leslie Wahl. “A Feminist Politics of Non-Identity.” FS 14 (1988): 11-31.
Rabine, aware of the potential of deconstruction to be used both to strengthen feminist analysis and to dismiss it, is interested here in finding the aspects of deconstruction that are fertile for feminism and vice versa. Through clear discussions of Derrida’s deconstruction of the primacy of speech and presence and the concept of the supplement, Rabine discusses the deconstructive strategies of Nancy Chodorow and Zillah Eisenstein, to show how important deconstructive strategies can be to work our way out of the hierarchical and oppositional forms of gender relations.

Register, Cheri. “Review Essay: Literary Criticism.” SIGNS 6 (1980): 268-282.
Register defines a “female aesthetic” as reflective of female experience, thus stressing the oppression of women, while a “feminist aesthetic” embodies a critical consciousness that leads toward collectivity and transformation. Arguing that feminist criticism is always based on “female experience,” she suggests mother-daughter relations and colonial liberation are useful models for feminist analysis of women’s literature.

Rich, Adrienne. ON LIES, SECRETS, AND SILENCE: SELECTED PROSE 1966-1976. New York: W.W. Norton, 1979.
This collection includes Rich’s signal essay, “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision” (1971), in which she describes women’s critical work as emerging from a newly awakening feminist cultural perspective. In all of her essays, Rich constructs a women’s cultural tradition, based on resistance to and re-vision of patriarchal power and cultural biases.

Robinson, Lillian S. SEX, CLASS, AND CULTURE. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.
Making arguments fifteen and twenty years ago that are equally compelling today, Robinson argues that the social constructions of race, class, and sex are legitimate and intrinsic issues of literary criticism, and that feminist criticism cannot work outside of a historical perspective. She urges feminists to create a radical, socialist criticism and to work to transform institutions rather than to seek respectability within them.

—. “Treason Our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon.” TSWL 2 (1983): 83-98. Reprinted in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 105-121.
Robinson argues that feminist revisions of the canon must eventually challenge the aesthetic criteria on which inclusion in the canon is based–such as “literary quality, timelessness, universality.” The question of aesthetic criteria is complicated in feminist criticism, “torn between defending the quality of their discoveries and radically redefining literary quality itself.” She sees some strides in redefining aesthetic standards in the inclusion in the feminist tradition of works which affirm “values associated with femininity,” but she feels that the feminist tradition ghettoizes women’s literature rather than challenging the “complexity criteria,” which she would like to counter with a search for “honest writing,” an aesthetic left undefined in this article.

Schenck, Celeste M. “Feminism and Deconstruction: Re-Constructing the Elegy.” TSWL 5 (1986): 13-27.
Schenck argues that the funeral elegy is a patriarchal genre, concerned with succession, transcendence, and denials of mortality, that must be revised for the female poet’s use as a formal strategy for prolonging attachments and deferring resolution or radical separation.

Schor argues that the detail is doubly gendered as feminine, “bounded on the one side by the ORNAMENTAL, with its traditional connotations of effeminacy and decadence, and on the other, by the EVERYDAY, whose `prosiness’ is rooted in the domestic sphere of social life presided over by women.” Schor discusses the detail as an aesthetic category antithetical to Classicist and Idealist aesthetics, and she examines the contemporary retrieval of the detail and its implications regarding gender.

Schumacher, Dorin. “Subjectivities: A Theory of the Critical Process.” Donovan, FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM 29-37.
Schumacher proposes that feminist criticism is neither objective nor intuitive; it is the development of meaning through the use of an interpretive model. Since all models are sex-linked, feminist criticism is not a new form; it is an exposure of and challenge to the masculinist bias that already informs criticism.

Siegfried, Charlene Haddock. “Feminist Aesthetics and Marginality.” RFR/DFR 16.4 (1987): 10-15.
Siegfried explores the relationship between feminist aesthetics and marginality to establish feminism as an aesthetic theory on equal footing with other theories and marginalization as a useful, though risky, position to theorize from.

Showalter, Elaine. A LITERATURE OF THEIR OWN: BRITISH WOMEN NOVELISTS FROM BRONTE TO LESSING. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977.
Showalter’s aim is to describe the female literary tradition as a literary subculture in the English novel that develops in three stages: imitation and internalization of oppression (feminine), protest and advocacy (feminist), and self-discovery (female).

—. “Towards a Feminist Poetics.” WOMEN WRITING AND WRITING ABOUT WOMEN. Ed. Jacobus 1979. 22-41. Rpt. in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 125-143.
In her review of feminist criticism in the 70s, Showalter poses male “scientific” criticism–such as Marxism and Structuralism–against female “interpretive” criticism based on “the authority of experience.” She envisions female criticism in two parts: “feminist critique” of male-authored texts, and “gynocritics,” the reading of female-authored texts in their social and psychological contexts.

—. “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness.” Abel 9-36. Reprinted in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 243-270.
Showalter further defines feminist criticism by dividing feminist critical theories into four models–biological, linguistic, psychoanalytic, and cultural. Through a theory of a women’s subculture, she argues that cultural criticism encompasses the other three models while retaining an empirical and historical basis.

In her introduction to this collection of “classic” essays on feminist theory, Showalter describes the female aesthetic as a revival of women’s culture and of “women’s language”–literary styles and forms that come from a specific female psychology. The essays also propose a lesbian aesthetics, a black aesthetics, challenges to canon formation, and revised assumptions regarding reading and writing. See DuPlessis, Jones, Kolodny, McDowell, Miller, Robinson, Showalter, Smith, Tompkins, and Zimmerman.

—, ed. SPEAKING OF GENDER. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Gender, the social category, must be separated from sex, the biological category, and put in conjunction with class, race, and sexuality, to create a feminist (and post-feminist?) literary criticism, Showalter avers in her introduction. With gender as a key factor, essays in this anthology critique reader response, deconstructive, and Afro-Americanist theories, and use readings of texts to elaborate social and literary constructions of gender.

Smith, Barbara. “Toward a black feminist criticism.” CONDITIONS TWO (1970): 25-44. Reprinted in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 168-185. Reprinted in Newton and Rosenfelt 3-18.
Smith asserts that there is an identifiable literary tradition of black women writers, with aesthetic, thematic, and stylistic similarities. Smith argues that a lesbian interpretation is crucial to an understanding of black women’s experience of their autonomy and their impact on each other’s lives, and that both black women’s literature and lesbian literature depict strong women, refuse to be linear, and rewrite the form of the sentence when necessary.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. IN OTHER WORLDS: ESSAYS IN CULTURAL POLITICS. New York: Methuen, 1987.
Spivak draws together feminism, Marxism, psychoanalysis, and deconstruction in a reading and writing practice that problematizes possibilities of “truth” and “meaning”–as in her deliberate superimpositions onto the text of TO THE LIGHTHOUSE–while retaining a firm commitment to the politics of material reality–as in her proposal of a clitoral sexual economy that works towards women’s reproductive freedom internationally.

Stanley, Julia Penelope, and Susan J. Wolfe (Robbins). “Toward a Feminist Aesthetic.” CHRYSALIS 6: 57-71.
Stanley and Wolfe describe a number of elements comprising a feminist aesthetic: a “communal quality,” an “impulse toward wholeness,” a looseness of form, and a depiction of the process of writing in the product.

Stanton, Domna. “Language and Revolution: The Franco-American Dis-Connection.” Eisenstein and Jardine 73-87.
Stanton reconnects the French feminist philosophies–based on the pervasive effects of language in the unconscious and the repression of a “feminine unconscious”–and North American feminism–with its empirical and anti-psychoanalytic biases. Though the differences are important tools for critique on either side, Stanton suggests that the concept of “poetry” as an expression of a feminine unconscious brings together the theories of Cixous, Irigaray, and Kristeva with those of Rich and Lorde.

—. THE FEMALE AUTOGRAPH. NY: New York Literary Forum, 1984.

Tate, Claudia. “Review Essay: On Black Literary Women and the Evolution of Critical Discourse.” TSWL 5 (1986): 111-123.
In her review of recent criticism of black women writers, Tate argues that new reading strategies, rather than New Critical adaptations, can challenge “Anglo and phallocentric assumptions” and “promote an understanding of [a work’s] distinctly black aesthetic and ideological character.” By treating writers as vehicles, more interested in conveying messages than creating art, critics allow traditional concepts of black women as mothers of their culture to overwhelm their artistic and imaginative abilities. Critics would do better “to discuss black women’s literary texts as products of their desire to create textual meaning.”

Tompkins, Jane P. “Sentimental Power: UNCLE TOM’S CABIN and the Politics of Literary History.” Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 81-104.
Countering the usual condenscension toward “sentimental women’s” books, Tompkins uses Stowe’s work as an example of a political critique of North American culture that advocates a matriarchal “family state” based in spiritual power and an ethic of sacrifice. Tompkins writes that “the popular domestic novel of the nineteenth century represents a monumental effort to reorganize culture from the woman’s point of view.”

Todd, Janet. FEMINIST LITERARY HISTORY: A DEFENCE. Cambridge, Great Britain: Polity Press, 1988.
In tracing the history of feminist criticism, Todd intends to recuperate the socio-historical critical approach of American feminists, based on the premise that “however battered, deconstructed, and falsified, the enlightenment’s individualistic bourgeois liberalism, its belief in rational advance and its aim of increasing freedom and equality through greater awareness of self and culture still form the ground of hope and of collective action.”

Trujillo, Marcella. “The Dilemma of the Modern Chicana Artist and Critic.” HERESIES 8 (1970): 5-10.
Trujillo describes the problems of invisibility of the “brown” race, the economic, political, and historic oppression of Mexican-Americans, and the cultural oppression of Chicanas by the macho code of many Chicanos, and she proposes strategies for Chicana artists and critics to overcome these problems. She suggests that literature can serve not only as a place for romantic, nostalgic, or folkloric utopian desires, but also as a place to question oppression in everyday life.

Walker, Alice. IN SEARCH OF OUR MOTHER’S GARDENS. San Diego: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1984.
In this collection of her essays, Walker distinguishes Black women’s struggles and solidarity from Euro-American feminism through her concept of “womanism.” In the essays–such as the famous title essay–she ties African-American women’s cultural, linguistic, and historic strengths to the writing of “womanist” literature.

Wall collects essays by black feminist theorists and critics such as Deborah E. McDowell, Claudia Tate, and Gloria T. Hull, within a context of “changing words,” both as exchange or dialogue and as a transformation of discourse and criticism. In the essays, the authors explore the applicability of Freudian theories to black family structures and consciousness (Hortense J. Spillers), the usefulness of deconstruction for black feminist theorists (Valerie Smith), and the need for a “literary activism” (Barbara Christian). Mae Gwendolyn Henderson combines Bakhtin’s dialogics with Gadamer’s dialectics to suggest a multidimensional model of black women reading and writing, Susan Willis considers the relation of black women to consumer culture, and Abena P.A. Busia concludes the book with her proposal of a “diaspora literacy.”

West, Celeste. “The Literary-Industrial Complex.” CHRYSALIS 8 (1979): 95-13.
West deals succinctly with the problems inherent in the corporate control of the publishing industry, noting the sexism, racism, classism, and heterosexism that it generates in selecting what will be published. The article includes a list of publishers owned by conglomerates.

Yaeger, Patricia. HONEY-MAD WOMEN: EMANCIPATORY STRATEGIES IN WOMEN’S WRITING. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
Yaeger proposes that the “honey-mad writer is a symbol of verbal plenitude, of woman’s capacity to rewrite her culture.” Merging the historical bias of North American feminist theory with the French feminist theories of language and desire, she argues that women have long been finding pleasure in “feminine orality.” Yaeger brings the French feminists’ word play and exploration to the American appreciation of women writers of the past–“to devise a feminist aesthetic of `play’.”

Zimmerman, Bonnie. “What Has Never Been: An Overview of Lesbian Feminist Literary Criticism.” FS 7 (1981): 451-476. Reprinted in Showalter, NEW FEMINIST CRITICISM 200-244.
Zimmerman calls for a distinct lesbian aesthetic that she proposes as a type of perspective and imagination. She argues for the importance of this aesthetic, to enrich reading possibilities, while she carefully evaluates the difficulties: of defining a “lesbian text,” of providing a separate female space without creating a moral hierarchy or a critical orthodoxy, and of retaining a historical viewpoint that negotiates the shifting historical and cultural definitions of lesbianism.