ENGL 810: Feminist Literary Scholars: What We’re Looking At and Why

FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM’S OBJECTS OF STUDY

Steinem

Steinem from GirlTalkHQ

On the one hand, feminist literary scholars look at literary texts, and on the other hand, they don’t actually limit their objects to books, not even to what most people think of when we say texts. Films, games, and other objects can be examined using feminist critical theory and are sometimes incorporated under the umbrella of feminist literary criticism. For me, poetry is my object, but in what form that object is available is of little consequence. Poetry can be found in books, online, in film, as well as in places that are as yet undiscovered. I could imagine, as a scholar, analyzing not only the canonical and new poetry produced by literary poets but also the rhymes that appear in greeting cards, between lovers, and found incidentally in the world at large (By these “incidental” poems, I’m referring to those instances of “I’m a poet and didn’t know it” and poetic language that are recognized within our everyday discourse).

CS by Tara Laskowski

From  by “Cultural Studies Examines the World with a Critical Eye” by Tara Laskowksi, George Mason University

The lines between literary scholarship and cultural studies often become blurred as feminist literary scholars expand out from the literary text. Both disciplines incorporate a variety of theoretical practices, so in essence they operate in similar ways. There are differences. Cultural studies approaches its objects of study in terms of production and distribution and “will consider the social, cultural, political and economic aspects of the distribution of power” (Ouellette) while feminist critical theory, the basis for feminist literary theory, focuses on the structures of power, entrenched patriarchal structures with respect to the Other.

Although many women and Others have found their ways into the literary canon, for me, my objects of study are too new for have found their places there. I intend to examine the poetry women are writing now, poetry that is newly published by women new to the field. I want to see how women are defining themselves and other women in their writing as compared to how women have historically defined themselves and others in poetry, perhaps even compared to how men have defined women through poetry.

WHY WE ANALYZE THEM

Intersectionality

From Kimberlé Crenshaw: The urgency of intersectionality
Filmed October 2016 at TEDWomen 2016

Feminist literary scholars analyze the ways the language of texts oppresses the Other. Feminist originally referred to women, specifically white middle class women, but that definition has broadened. Feminist literary scholars apply the various theoretical lenses that make up feminist literary theory to examine the power imbalances, which often result in oppression, that exist based on sex, race, class, and identity. Among the most recent concerns for feminist scholars is intersectional feminist studies in which the Other is multiply oppressed as their identity falls into more than one category of oppressed Other. According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality results in scholars following paths of inquiry only examining one type of oppression but missing that other types of oppression cross that path.

White Feminists

From Zaba Blay

In my scholarship, I plan to look at a cross section of women so that I have a broad view of women from different and varied backgrounds; however, I suspect I will focus primarily on women who have had college level creative writing instruction. Still, I’m interested in seeing how their experiences shape how they  create themselves in their poetry.

 

FINDING THE ANSWERS TO MAJOR QUESTIONS

The major questions that scholars are addressing now are still related to the inclusion of women’s literature in the male canon, how women are portrayed through the phallocentric lens, and how they portray themselves in what is recognized as a male model of authorship (Wolosky 1), but feminist literary scholars have expanded out from middle-class white women as Other and out from literature in book as form. Without ignoring those, feminist literary scholars have expanded definitions of Other to include all people who fit into the category of Other; however, they have remained primarily centered on women and included other text forms.

THE STRUGGLE FOR ACCEPTANCE

From http://tingoed.weebly.com/tingos-vocab-system.html

Image Credit: Tingo’s Vocabulary System

Early feminist scholars faced considerable push back from the patriarchal bastions of literary studies. Male scholars held staunchly to their privileged literary canon; however, women within English departments made their cases for the inclusion of newly “discovered” women writers. Some male professors still argue the merits of learning the classics and the inability to make space for new works by women, but that position is becoming rarer as women’s and feminist studies have impacted how colleges and universities view their commitments to their students in terms of inclusion (Wolosky 1; Rich 349).

 

 

 

Works Cited:

“Kimberlé Crenshaw: The Urgency of Intersectionality.” TEDWomen 2016 from TedTalks. Oct. 2016, https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality#t-612389. Accessed 17 Nov. 2016.

Ouellette, Marc. “Re: CS Project.” Received by Lori Hartness, 14 Nov. 2016.

Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 345-61.

Wolosky, Shira. “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Theory Across Disciplines: Feminist Community and American Women’s Poetry. New York; Taylor & Francis; Routledge, 2013, pp 1-22. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

ENGL 810: PAB #8: Nina Byam: “The Agony of Feminism: Why Feminist Theory Is Necessary After All”

Byam, Nina. “The Agony of Feminism: Why Feminist Theory Is Necessary After All.” The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory, edited by Dwight Eddins. Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 1995, pp. 101-17.

Byam discusses feminist discord emerging from, among other things, the we that feminist critics “presume to speak for” (102), and such is my dilemma. Byam points out the diversity among feminist scholars and critics, and the problem that once a scholar makes a statement about women, the statement cannot define all women and comes under attack by those scholars it misses. How can I speak for women other than myself, or even can I? Does all my theoretical writing become all about the “I”?

The Gender Criticism

The Gender Criticism

Early feminist theory that relied on Freud and Lacan, Byam points out, is based on psychoanalytic approaches that are inherently misogynistic, implying that women desire to be men. Even the feminist’s initial dichotomy of gender becomes problematic (102).

While discussing feminist approaches to earlier eras, Byam states that feminist criticism has never been formalist, “if formalism means being preoccupied or even more than superficially interested in technique” (108). However, form, including rhetorical and linguistic form, can reveal much about an writer’s intentions, so is this because the formalist approach has not been taken up or because there’s an inherent problem with applying the theory? See Literary Theory at Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 

from Know Your Meme

from Know Your Meme

In her discussion of gynocritics and distinctions made between men’s and women’s writing, Byam says that “women tend[] to write about women” (113). Byam points out that the origins of gynocritics, like those of the early feminists, were white middle-class women. I can see how marginalized women would protest this positioning (114); however, if the first gynocritics were white middle-class women, how could they speak for anyone besides themselves? Feminism seems rather treacherous in this unfortunate “you can’t speak for me”—“what about us” dichotomy. Byam says, “Gynocritics were also vulnerable to the Utopian expectation that all works by women would be ideological correct in all particulars,” but were then faced with the dilemmas of classist and lesbian authors (114), “Or when the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson called the Indians devils incarnate?” (115).

Byam claims she

“want[s] to argue that to accept subjectivity and individuality as the basis of feminist practice does not require on to accept the philosophy of Ayn Rand or accede to an old-style humanistic definition of the individual subject as autonomous, self-made, individually self-consistent, and self-empowering. The humanism [she] adhere[s] to is called ‘critical humanism’ by Tzvetan Todorov.” (115)

In this, Byam suggests that all women are individuals, humans, and that “subjectivity is more or less determined, in proportions unknown and perhaps unknowable…by history, society, and biology” (115).

LITERARY THEORY AND CRITICISM NOTES

LITERARY THEORY AND CRITICISM NOTES

 

 

ENGL 810: Theoretical & Epistemological Alignment

Theoretical & Epistemological Alignment

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Sinéad Travers ‏@travers_sinead

Sinéad Travers ‏@travers_sinead on Twitter

My  background is in creative writing, poetic, and feminist theories. Other approaches useful in interrogating texts include feminist, gender, creative writing, poetic, literary, rhetoric, cultural, Marxist, and linguistic theories. Yes, there are a lot, but why limit myself in terms of how I approach my subject. No, I haven’t listed all the theories, but I see myself using many and in combinations. My experience has been that the primary theories used are determined by the immediate task at hand. Since I want to explore how women define themselves and other women as women in poetry, questions of self-identification, language usage, creative expression, cultural positioning, and power and class structures all seem to be fruitful avenues of exploration. As T. S. Eliot says, “we might remind ourselves that criticism is an inevitable as breathing” (111).

My experience with the ways other scholars have approached literary criticism and my creative writing background have allowed me to approach literature under the lens of creative writing theory, which allows a critical approach based on the writer’s act of constructing the work to elicit specific responses from readers as well as the reader’s actual response, in Frost’s words, “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader” (11), or Tess Gallagher, “the reader is also the maker of the poem as it lives again in his consciousness” (107).

Although I won’t eschew traditional theoretical paradigms, I intend for my professional alignment to be new, to deviate from what others have done, but not too far afield. As I remain open-minded, see what the theorists have told us, I can create new approaches. I had done so in my master’s degree work with much satisfaction and success. For example, I compared Heart of Darkness to Jane Eyre using a female gothic lens to interrogate both works, and later, applying the theoretical framework established in Martin Bidney’s “Fire, Flutter, Fall, and Scatter: A Structure in the Epiphanies of Hawthorne’s Tales,” I examined works by Raymond Carver to establish patterns surrounding epiphanic moments, which revealed epiphanies not solidly established in previous research. Bidney had applied the theoretical framework of images from Serge Lemaire and Norman Holland to Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” (59).

Objects of Study

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Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde

My primary objects of study for my dissertation will be poems written by women to see how women are defined within that poetry because “[p]oetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (Lorde 283). I’m still open to new positioning and possibilities.  With these, I envision my specific theoretical approaches in terms of how these approaches address and figure women in context as well as how, given the nature of creative writing/poetic theory, women use the tools provided in self-identification. Elements of creative writing theory such as meter, voice, line breaks, and musicality inform creative writing and provide new ways of seeing such as line breaks, which “can record the slight (but meaningful) hesitations between word and word that are characteristic of the mind’s dance among perceptions but which are not noted by grammatical punctuation” (Levertov 266).

In poetic criticism, much of the research has involved individual poems, books of poetry, or individual poets, and these poems, books, and poets are most often already canonized. My intent is to break from this canonized work and explore the work of women who are writing now, are new to the field, having written few books, and have published their work within the last decade.

Agenda

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-Sapere Aude

-Sapere Aude

Although things have changed since 1977 when Alicia Ostriker noted, “What has not changed is that most critics and professors of literature, including modern literature, deny that ‘women’s poetry,’ as distinct from poetry by individual women, exists. Many women writers agree. Some will not permit their work to appear in women’s anthologies” (311), women still struggle to find recognition of their work; furthermore, her comment on the work that was “explicitly female in the sense that the writer has consciously chosen not to “write like a man” but to explore experiences central to her sex” may still be true to an extent (310).

Lakoff’s consideration of women and language from the 1970s still provides the “overall effect of ‘women’s language’…is this: it submerges a woman’s personal identity” (42), and as she continues discussing the differences in production and cultural expectation, she says, “women are allowed to fuss and complain, but only a man can bellow in rage” (45). Adrienne Rich comments on the poetic climate of the 1970s when she discusses the “thwarting of [a woman’s] needs by a culture controlled by males” and problems this creates “for the woman writer” (349). This oppression and inequality for women still exists. Men are still more recognized and more compensated for their poetic work, but she says, women are writing poetry, studying literature, and “looking eagerly for guides, maps, possibilities; and over and over in the ‘words’ masculine persuasive force’ of literature she comes up against something that negates everything she is about; she meets the image of Woman in books written by men” (351).

Women still don’t have equal rights. And though women have made progress in some areas, women still struggle with issue of body autonomy. Rape is rarely punished, and now we have presidential candidates who speak openly about sexually assaulting women with no repercussions. Safe access to abortion, which had been secured through Roe v Wade, is being rolled back, creating hardships for poor women in particular. For women, still, poetry provides Frost’s “momentary stay against confusion” (11).

Personal/Professional Objectives

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favim.com

favim.com

The broader lens, under which this women’s poetry falls, is American literature, I will continue my inquiry, collecting and comparing both poetry and fiction, because “No poet, no artist of any art, has is complete meaning alone….you must set him, for contrast and comparison among the dead” (Eliot 112). I plan to focus most heavily in the 20th and 21st centuries, in order to comparative work, I will need to expand out. In poetry and prose, “the passion for the things of the world and the passion for naming them must be in him indistinguishable” (Levertov 263), and to further Levertov’s point, the passion for investigating this process of naming is why I’ve chosen to research in this way.

Works Cited

Bidney, M. “Fire, Flutter, Fall, and Scatter: A Structure in the Epiphanies of Hawthorne’s Tales.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, vol. 50 no. 1, 2008, pp. 58-89. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/tsl.2008.0000. Accessed 19 Oct. 2016.

Eliot, T. S. “Tradition and the Individual Talent.” Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry, ed. Dana Gioia, David Mason, and Meg Schoerke. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004, pp. 111-16.

Frost, Robert. “The Figure a Poem Makes.” Twentieth-Century American Poetics: Poets on the Art of Poetry, ed. Dana Gioia, David Mason, and Meg Schoerke. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004, pp. 11-12.

Gallagher, Tess. “The Poem as a Time Machine.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 104-116.

Lakoff, Robin Tolmach. “Language and Woman’s Place.” Language and Women’s Place: Text and Commentaries, ed. Mary Bucholtz. Oxford UP, 2004, pp. 39-75.

Levertov, Denise. “On the Function of the Line.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 265-72.

—. “Origins of a Poem.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 254-64.

Lorde, Audrey. “Poems Are Not Luxuries.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 282-5.

Ostriker, Alicia. “The Nerves of a Midwife: Contemporary American Women’s Poetry.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 309-27.

Rich, Adrienne. “When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-vision.” Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall. U of Michigan P, 2007, pp. 345-61.

ENGL 810: PAB #5: Robin Tolmach Lakoff “Language and Woman’s Place”

Lakoff, Robin Tolmach. “Language and Woman’s Place.” Language and Women’s Place: Text and Commentaries, ed. Mary Bucholtz. Oxford UP, 2004, pp. 39-75.

Nonverbal Communication: Women vs Men -Verbalist

Nonverbal Communication: Women vs Men -Verbalist

I first read Lakoff under the impression that the piece was written in 2004, but upon reading her description of the word “groovy,” further investigation revealed that it was, in fact, originally written in 1973. Later, she mentions President Nixon and other famous figures from the 1970s. Lakoff’s “Language and Women’s Place” from Stanford.edu.

The struggle with her older scholarship is that Lakoff makes statements, which were likely innocuous in 1973, that today seem somewhat misguided in light of forward progress for women. However, Lakoff’s discussion of women’s language in terms of linguistics still reveals information that is true today, and she points directly to parts of speech in which the content has changed since the 1970s but these locations still may contain artifacts of the original syntactical patterns she discusses.

Her primary argument is that women use language differently than men do, that women tend to equivocate and men tend to be more assertive, and societal expectations reinforce this dichotomy. The linguistic approach to the evaluation of language holds much promise in my field as New Criticism seems to be falling out of favor, linguistic approaches would approximate New Criticism’s theoretical approach and should provide similar results.

Lakoff says, “we can use our linguistic behavior as a diagnostic of our hidden feelings about things” (39), and my interest in a poet’s hidden feelings about women. Lakoff’s discussion about the differences between the adjectives that men and women use is insightful. She provides a few examples of specificity when considering women’s adjectives as opposed to men’s more general descriptions.

See “Linguistics shows that being a single guy has gotten better and being a single woman has gotten worse” by Kate Bolick

Lakoff’s position is “women experience linguistic discrimination in two ways”: how women learn to speak and in the subtleties of language that describe them (39). In her discussion of the use of “lady” and “girl” she makes an excellent point about tagging professions with “women” when there is no equivalent “man” tag, for example, “woman doctor” (54).

When considering a linguistic theoretical approach and using Lakoff’s observations, examining how frequently women use “utterances” and the purposes and conditions of those utterances in poetry may yield fruitful information about differences in first, how women differ from men in their speech, and second, how women are defined differently from men (or perhaps more specifically, how the feminine is distinct from masculine).

Lakoff also considers the ways in which women are represented in language. The connotations of words used in connection with women show that some words have “a special meaning that, by implication rather than outright assertion, is derogatory to women as a group” (51). She says the use of euphemisms for women, in particular, the use of “lady,” and she discusses “girl” in the same context, are used to establish or reinforce a code which expects women to be “non-sexual” (55). She points to the word “woman” as being overtly sexual, and often terms applied innocuously to men, are overtly sexual when applied to women (54).

Men's vs Women's Language
Can you spot language that's historically associated with men vs women?
Men's vs Women's Words

Men’s vs Women’s Words -Popular Science

ENGL 810: FEMINIST LITERARY CRITICISM: WHAT IT ASKS, WHERE IT LEADS

 

Dykes to Watch Out For: The Rule - Alison Bechdel, 1985

Dykes to Watch Out For: The Rule – Alison Bechdel, 1985

The Major Questions

According to Shira Wolosky, the major questions within feminist literary criticism are:

“what place have women had in what has been a resolutely male tradition of literature? How have women been represented, and how does this affect their own self-representation? What have been the (male) models of authorships, and how do these serve—or not—as models for the authorship of women? Are there gendered aspects of literary genres, of imagery, of language itself? What do we even mean by a ‘women’s’ literature? What would distinguish it from ‘men’s’ literature, other than the fact that women have written it?” (1)

Although the question of women’s absence in the canon does not appear in her list, Wolosky cites it as a “core concern” (1), which is a primary concern for me as are the final two questions.

 

The Origins of the Questions

Women had been excluded; therefore, women have struggled to have their writing canonized in a canon that “derive[d] from typically male experiences” (Code qtd. in Lang 313). British women like the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen, and George Eliot, among others, had found their ways into the male canon (Grace 12) earlier than American women. By the time I was studying English in 2000, women figured prominently in literature.

 

Sexy Lamp Test

Sexy Lamp Test

The Ongoing Research

In researching feminist literary criticism as a subject, most of the writing occurred in the late seventies and throughout the eighties, trickling into the nineties, and when the conversation turns in favor of feminist criticisms of specific literary works. While researching, I found “newer” texts were frequently reprints of older work.

My own bookcase features a wealth of feminist writing and criticism from the eighties and nineties and includes authors such as Antonia Fraser, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, Elaine Showalter, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, as well as gender studies author, Judith Butler. These women illustrate an energetic conversation about how women have been viewed, ignored, exploited, benefitted, and eventually, recognized as people and authors. Through examining recent scholarship, the focus is shifting from the inclusion of women’s writing to criticism focused on individual works.

Presently, new paradigms to assess how women are portrayed in film, and in literature include approaches like Shira Wolosky’s, examining literature in terms of gender and cultural theories through a decidedly feminist lens, and Wolosky, and Cheryl Glenn’s, examining women’s silences and modesties as deliberate and political.  And, Daphne M. Grace explores the female body in literature, “locating and discussing the relationship of the gendered body and consciousness” in writing by men and women (15).

Furiosa Test

Furiosa Test

Scott Selisker presents “The Bechdel Test,”[i] based on one of Alison Bechdel’s comic strip episodes in Dykes to Watch Out For, which was dubbed “vernacular criticism” by Brian Droitcour (Selisker 505), examines how women are portrayed in films, in which a film must pass three criteria (514). Based on Selisker’s paraphrasing of Heather Love on network studies: “this empirical style of reading can and should be applied to the networks within literary texts, too” (508), and we should consider women in literature likewise. Selisker also suggests Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus’s approach, examining texts in terms of “surface reading,” or “describing the ‘patterns that exist writing and across texts’” (508), showing how women act as network lines for the benefit of men within texts.

 

Where Does This Lead?

My focus, as I envision it, interrogates women’s poetry to see how women present themselves and other women within the poetry they write, which may incorporate any of these new approaches. Of course, “the way we view our bodies is synonymous with how we view ourselves” (Bleier qtd. in Grace 12), so with Judith Butler’s lead, considering gender as a construct and a performance and how women construct themselves female, the differences between women’s early writing and their mature writing should reveal whether their construction or (re)construction of gender over time reinforces or dismantles their earlier perceptions of their respective gender identities.

[i] Other “vernacular criticisms” include “The Mako Mori Test,” “The Sexy Lamp Test,” and “The Furiosa Test

 

Works Cited

Grace, Daphne. “Cognition, Consciousness, and Literary Texts.” Beyond Bodies: Gender, Literature, and the Enigma of Consciousness. New York; Rodopi, 2014, pp 9-32. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

Lang, James C. “Feminist Epistemologies of Situated Knowledges: Implications for Rhetorical Argumentation.” Informal Logic, Vol. 30, No. 2, 2010, pp. 309-334. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiV4eeWnsbPAhXGNz4KHcCVBvwQFggkMAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwindsor.scholarsportal.info%2Fojs%2Fleddy%2Findex.php%2Finformal_logic%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F3036%2F2424&usg=AFQjCNECZegOhT707ziw1dvgImlFwgbBFA&sig2=5i0UOsz3eTZtivlHFEVS7Q

Selisker, Scott. “The Bechdel Test and the Social Form of Character Networks.” New Literary History, Vol. 46, No. 3, Summer 2015, pp. 505-523. Project Muse. DOI: 10.1353/nlh.2015.0024.

Wolosky, Shira. “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Theory Across Disciplines: Feminist Community and American Women’s Poetry. New York; Taylor & Francis; Routledge, 2013, pp 1-22. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

 

ENGL 810: PAB #3: Shira Wolosky: “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism”

Wolosky, Shira. “Modest Muses: Feminist Literary Criticism.” Feminist Theory Across Disciplines: Feminist Community and American Women’s Poetry. New York; Taylor & Francis; Routledge, 2013, pp 1-22. Adobe Digital Editions. Accessed 26 Sept. 2016.

feminism.jpg - Harriet Staff (Feminism Poetry Foundation)

from “A Must-Read Post for Women Poets—And Everyone Else” – Harriet Staff (The Poetry Foundation)

Shira Wolosky begins by enumerating the questions that are asked by feminist criticism: “what place have women had in what has been a resolutely male tradition of literature? How have women been represented, and how does this affect their own self-representation? And so forth (1). After some further remarks about feminist critical theory she asks, “What identifies gender in literary texts?” (1). She offers a number of possible answers including “[c]ertain genres” and “feminized uses of male images and feminized readings and transformations of the male literary past, which regender male forms into feminine ones” (2) and points out the reasons women’s poetry is not in the canon.

Feminist criticism is a movement with primary goals of discovering and adding or returning women’s literature and poetry to the canon, or at least, to the public’s attention and analyzing canonized works through a feminist lens (1). Wolosky points out that early women writers had no publication written by women to model their writing after (2). She actually begins by discussing Harold Bloom and his Freudian approach to male poets as seducers of the Muse for inspiration, pointing also to Freud’s Oedipus postulations in her evaluation of women writers and questioning the relationship a woman writer might have with the Muse (3-7).

Wolosky compares women to men, suggesting that women are “submissive not assertive, passive not active, circumscribed not daring” and characterizes women like the women in fairtales “without self-confidence and authority” (6). However, the women in fairy tales I have read often have agency or are rescued or protected by their own wiles or by other women, so this comparison doesn’t ring true unless Disney is the frame of reference.

Wolosky’s approach is to examine Emily Dickinson, Anne Bradstreet, Marianne Moore, and Gwendolyn Brooks in terms of “modesty,” but she inadvertently sets up a conflict on the origins of this “modesty.” She asserts that “modesty has been mentioned in literary analysis almost entirely as a repressive force denying to women freedom and self-determination” (9), but two pages later she excuses the fact that men aren’t ascribed “modesty” “reflects gender roles,” and she explains that women and men have “divergent values characteristic in women’s and men’s cultures” (11) without suggesting that this particular society is a patriarchal construct. She later mentions the religious affiliations of the poets, but even religion is a construct of the patriarchy.

Granted, by Moore and Brooks, modesty is likely to be a choice. Outside of modesty’s restrictions, Wolosky explains that it had a liberating quality to these women writers as well (9), and she gives examples of this modesty for each of the writers. But her description of Dickinson is problematic. Her assertion for Dickinson’s modesty, based on the evidence she provides, is weak. Dickinson was a known recluse, but reclusiveness does not necessarily mean modesty. Wolosky remarks on Dickinson’s “abject letters addressed to a ‘Master’” (13), who I can only assume is Thomas Higginson, and Dickinson’s approach to him could be taken as “modesty” as required or as “modesty” as a novice. Dickinson’s modesty about her poems could just as easily be the trepidation of any new poet, keeping in mind in any case, this would be within the construct of patriarchal society. Furthermore, Dickinson wrote strong poems without modesty including “Wild Nights.” Wolosky might be able to make a case for Dickinson’s modesty, but she simply doesn’t provide enough evidence to make her case. As far as outlining the questions feminism asks, Wolosky does represent the types of questions feminist criticism asks.

Harriet Staff. feminism.jpg. “A Must-Read Post for Women Poets—And Everyone Else.” The Poetry Foundation. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2012/08/a-must-read-post-for-women-poets-and-everyone-else/. 15 Aug. 2012. Accessed 29 Sept. 2016.

ENGL 810: PAB #2: Christa Knellwolf: “The History of Feminist Criticism”

Christa Knellwolf King

Christa Knellwolf King

Knellwolf, Christa. “The History of Feminist Criticism.” Twentieth-Century Historical, Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives edited by Christa Knellwolf and Christopher Norris. The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism Vol. 9. Cambridge UP, 2007, pp. 193-205. Cambridge Histories Online.

Knellwolf’s article is a good starting place to get an overall sense of the history of feminism and an early idea about feminist theory, and since my background has been creative writing, which incorporates creative writing theory, it’s a good place for me to begin.

Knellwolf’s history begins at the origin of the word feminism in the 1890s, and she characterizes it as “a significant historical moment when there was an urgent need to name the activities of the women’s movement” and makes clear at the outset there exists an “insidious power of literature to propagate views about women’s inferiority” (193). From there, she provides an historical account of the progression of feminism including first and second wave feminism, feminist theory, women’s writing, and feminist literary theory. Knellwolf discusses some of the major figures leading up to feminism and many of the major feminist figures such as Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedman, Kate Millett, Sandra Gilbert, and Susan Gubar. Much of the article is focused on the feminists’ efforts to gain equality and concerns about misogyny and the patriarchal structure of society which is so entrenched that “women’s inferiority is ingrained at the very structural levels of syntax and grammar” (201).

While Knellwolf covers the rise French feminism and points out “they alienated women who felt that this position, the French feminist embrace of the language of irrationality and the concept of difference, was a stab in the back to the longstanding struggle to have women’s rationality recognised” (200), she minimizes some of the historical struggle within and opposition to feminism, particularly those struggles toward the end of second wave feminism, like the rise of men’s rights groups and anti-feminist efforts of Phyllis Schlafly, that produced the kind of feminism we see today which is more inclusive of men, and she doesn’t quite bring us to the present 2007 moment. And notably absent is male reaction, including their reaction to changes in the literary canon, to this seemingly seismic shift in women’s demands for equality and freedom. She does point out that Audre Lorde, concerned that the focus of feminist effort was on white women, “wrote an open letter to Mary Daly, criticising her for patronising black women and reducing them to the role of powerless victims” (202), and she does mention “the attempt by mainstream feminists to ignore lesbians” (203). However, in the instances where she indicates strife within feminism the struggle is minimized. Based on the nature of Cambridge histories, this is unsurprising; however, at the conclusion of her history, she suddenly and awkwardly becomes a champion of feminism and includes a plea:

“While feminism needs to pay attention to the diversity between women world-wide, it also needs to respond to a situation in which fundamentalist governments, for instance, seek to remove women from education or to restrict them to jobs of low esteem. An immediate engagement with such issue may create a solidarity which enables women to speak out against oppression” (205).

That aside, Knellwood convers a lot of ground in such a short article, and she covers some of her topics in more depth, like Gilbert and Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic, French feminism, and gender identification, among others.

Modern Feminism: A Women's Rights Timeline of Events from flickr

Modern Feminism: A Women’s Rights Timeline of Events

Cavallaro, Dani. French Feminist Theory. London; New York: Continuum, 2003. WordPress. https://caringlabor.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/french-feminist-theory-dani-cavallaro.pdf. Accessed Sept. 2016.

“Christa Knellwolf King.” LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/christa-knellwolf-king-972a19122. Accessed Sept. 2016.

“Modern Feminism: A Women’s Rights Timeline of Events” flickr. http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3226/2999672841_c96548854b_o.jpg. Accessed Sept. 2016.

“Phyllis Schlafly (1924-).” National Women’s History Museumhttps://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/phyllis-schlafly. Accessed Sept. 2016.