Introduction to Feminist Criticism


Since time immemorial, and certainly, in the entire history of mankind, society has been ruled and dominated by man and “the father figure,” who takes the entire “responsibility” of the society and the family.

In this patriarchal society – a society run by males, women have been seen as mere objects who are there to serve their male counterparts, be it her father or her husband. Her role is just restrained to childbearing and rearing and fulfilling the desires and needs of her husband and father, whether it is about sexual desires or emotional support.

Women have been coerced into this socio-cultural structure as mere objects that has little or no autonomy to make decisions about their life. And it’s no surprise that literature was also dominated by men and has its fair share of representation of women in a fashion that has highly contributed to oppression of women.

Male Bravery in Epic

Genres like epic, which is one of the oldest genre in literature, heavily romanticised male bravery and valour while simultaneously portraying the shameful, passive and weak nature of women, which are in complete contradiction to the male characteristics that were praised and this played a huge rule in perpetuating female inferiority over the generations.

Feminism is a reaction to this unending oppression of keeping women under complete subjugation and state of subordination by patriarchal institutions.

Feminism tries to expose and challenges this male hegemony that tries to justify female inferiority by various means, and attempts to overthrow this phallocentric structure by breaking women off its paralysing chains.

Three Waves of Feminism

Feminism is usually divided into three waves.

The first wave feminism is associated with the women’s suffrage movement of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century when women started to fight for the right to vote, albeit with little success.

The second wave feminism is the most complex and is hard to categorize. For some critics, it started with the civil rights movement in America while others consider coming of the book The Second Sex in 1949 by Simon De Beauvoir as the starting point of it.

It was this wave of feminism, where feminist literary criticism first emerged as a highly radical and effective form of literary criticism. From this point, feminist literary theory and criticism started to develop its proper ideas propagated by various feminist critics from around the world.

And, in this process one witness plethora of idea on which various feminist agreed and various point where they disagreed on. Various criticism like Phallocentric criticism used by Beauvoir and Millet in their works, where they analysed the western male canon to expose and understand the male bias propagated in this literature.

Then we have gynocriticism coined by Elaine Showalter, which argued that female canon is already present and just needed to be uncovered by feminists to protect it from patriarchal shatters that wants to supress women’s expression and freedom.

French feminism and black feminism proposed by African-American also got popularity in the later stages of the second wave. While black feminists like Alice Walker critiqued the universal approach taken by European and other white feminists and argued that their version can’t fully represent the dual oppressions faced by black women by patriarchy and white racism.

French feminists, too, supported a radical approach of creating a different and uniqye female language that dissociates itself from male biased language and can adequately express female expressions and emotions that were being given no space and representation in patriarchy.