Feminism can be roughly described as a movement that seeks to enhance the quality of women’s lives by impacting the norms and moves of a society based on male dominance and subsequent female subordination. Although feminist literary writings began to gain popularity in the 20th century, feminist characters have been around for ages.
Feminist criticism’s self transformations over the past several decades as it engages with both critiques from within and encounters from without- encounters with psychoanalysis, Marxism, Post-Structuralisms, ethnic studies, post-colonial theory, and lesbian and gay studies- have produced a complex proliferation of work not easily subsumed to a single description. (Rivkin 527)”. According to Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan in their essay “Feminist Paradigms”, feminist criticism includes several other ideas.
Gayle Rubin, author of “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy’ of Sex”, also adds: The literature on women- both feminist and anti-feminist- is a long rumination on the question of the nature and genesis of women’s oppression and social subordination. (533)” Some of the earlier feminist characters include Kate, from The Taming of the Shrew and The Wife of Bath from the Canterbury Tales. Unfortunately, during their times these women were viewed as either crazy or troublesome.
There was little respect for their opinions and ideas. Trailblazers such as Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and George Eliot (pseudonym of Marian Evans) were paving the way for contemporary feminist writers. Virginia Woolf was one of the most famous feminist writers of her time. In her famous essay, “A Room of One’s Own”, she makes a very keen observation: “The obstacles against her are still very immensely powerful- and yet they are difficult to define. Outwardly, what is simpler that to write books?
Outwardly, what obstacles are there for a woman rather than for a man? Inwardly, I think, the case is very different; she still has many ghosts to fight, many prejudices to overcome. Indeed it will be a long time still, I think, before a woman can sit down and write a book without finding a phantom to be slain, a rock to be dashed against. ” In short, it would be a long time before women are considered equal in the literary arena. Fortunately, the liberal ideas of the 1960’s and 1970’s made feminist writings more widely accepted.
Adrienne Rich, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, and Nikki Giovanni were just a few among the many women that were beginning to express themselves through literature. Feminism in literature has expanded beyond women just voicing their own opinions. It now includes several different ideas. Women are no longer looked at as shrew-like banshees screaming for someone to listen to the injustices done to them. Women are now regarded as literary equals; some women are literary giants.
Feminist literary criticism moves with time from the criticism of writing by men and the exploration of writing by women to a questioning of what it means at all to engage with or in language. If all language carries worlds within it, assumptions and values that lie embedded in the simplest of utterances, then how can women take up such language, the language of patriarchy, and hope to use it to forge a better world for women? (Rivkin and Ryan, 531)” Based upon the number of feminists and feminist writings in circulation today, it appears that women have already answered that question themselves.