Feminism as a Literary Movement


Feminism in Literature

The concept of Feminism, in general, has been concerned to an analysis of the trend of male domination in the society; the general attitude of male towards female; the exploitation and discrimination faced by females; the need for and ways of improving the condition of women; and, so on. In concern to literature, this movement has concentrated on the role played by literature to support gender discrimination as well as to oppose it; the reasons for lesser significance of the contribution by female writers in the literary tradition than that of the male writers; the difference in the ways in which works of male writers and female writers, respectively, have represented gender discrimination; and, the ways in which social conditions and literary traditions regarding gender discrimination have affected one another. The concept got proper identification in the literary field during 1960s. Before that, feminism was limited to the authorship of female writers and the representation given to women in literature with the help of female characters. The condition of women in society, in general, got expression through the situations faced by fictional female characters and their responses to these situations.

The adoption of the concept by literature in a formal manner led to the study of all the aspects of human life; like social, cultural, educational, professional and financial; with an intent to expose the intentional and unintentional efforts of the society to maintain or intensify the effects of patriarchal superiority.

The evolution of feminism as a literary movement could be divided into following stages:

First Wave Feminism

Kate MillettIt was concerned mainly to the treatment of women at the hands of male members of the society. The major works that raised the issues of feminism during this phase include- Mary Ellman’s ‘Thinking about Women’ (1968), Kate Millet’s “Sexual Politics’ (1969) and Germaine Greer’s ‘The Female Eunuch’ (1970). A number of prominent works of the past were also analyzed during this stage so as to study the attitude of male members of society, in general, to the female ones.

Second Wave Feminism

It is, more commonly, also known as ‘Gynocriticism’. elaine showalterThis stage is believed to have begun with Elaine Showalter’s ‘A Literature of Their Own’ published in 1970. This phase introduced, more or less the first time, a direct analysis of the relation between female and literature. It was during this phase that female writers and the significance they got in the society were studied. Female characters were studied with an approach to understand the difference between the treatment of female characters at the hands or male and female writers, respectively. The most important aspect of this phase is the efforts to understand the evolution of the female literary tradition. Showalter suggested that female writers have passed through 3 basic phases, namely the ‘feminine’ phase, the ‘feminist’ phase, and the ‘female’ phase. In the first phase, the female writers did not try to oppose the male writers in any sense. They simply wrote trying to imitate the attitude of male writers towards female characters. Some even wrote with pseudonyms resembling male names. The second phase saw female writers writing, mainly, on the themes of the role of women and the oppression faced by her in society. The third phase lacked the anger and dissatisfaction in the works of female writers. The female writers, in this stage, created works which suggested that they had developed an independent identity as writers.

‘The Madwoman Thesis’ given prominence by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’ (1979) also forms an important idea concerned to feminism. It suggests that since women are not given a chance by the society to express their creativity, their frustration leads them to behave in psychologically imbalanced and dissident manner.

The French concept of feminism even raised the issue of a separate language that belongs exclusively to women. It was believed to be a language lacking expression of the user’s ego and to be marked by use of sentences which are comparatively less to the point.

Thus, feminism, in literature as well as otherwise, began as an expression of dissatisfaction regarding the attitude of the society towards the identity and rights of women. However, slowly, it evolved to empower women to make her financially, socially and psychologically independent. In the field of literature, it evolved to finally enable the female writers to be free from the influence of male writers as well as the social norms that suggested different standards for male and female.

Multiple Choice Questions with Answers

1. Feminism has been defined as asking ‘new questions of old texts by:

  1. Lois Tyson
  2. Lisa Tussle
  3. Margarate Fuller
  4. George Eliot

2. ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’ (1979) was written by:

  1. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar
  2. Sandra Gilbert and George Eliot
  3. Susan Gubar
  4. Susan Gubar and Lisa Tussle

3. Which of these is not a phase suggested by Showalter regarding women’s writing?

  1. The feminist phase
  2. The feminism phase
  3. The female phase
  4. The feminine phase

4. ‘The Madwoman in the Attic’ is:

  1. Bertha Jenkins
  2. Jane Eyre
  3. Thornfield
  4. Charlotte Bronte

5. ‘The Madwoman Thesis’ basically suggests that:

  1. Women are considered mad by men
  2. The frustration felt by women due to gender discrimination make them feel like being mad
  3. The suppression of their creative powers by society make women behave in a subversive manner
  4. In the past, the only way for women to fight gender discrimination had been to behave like madwomen

6. Consider the following sentences regarding feminism:


  1. Feminism believes that women are not familiar to English language as men are
  2. Feminism believes that the way women writers used language was different than the way male writers did
  3. Feminism believes that women use language in a comparatively digressive manner
  4. Feminism believes that the language of women writers gives full expression to their ego
  1. I and IV are correct
  2. I, II, III are correct
  3. II and III are correct
  4. All are correct

7. The most obvious connection that feminism has observed between myth and women’s social conditions is:

  1. Myth has contributed in establishing social norms that could help men to dominate women
  2. Myth has lent support to women in fighting against gender discrimination
  3. Change in myth has been the biggest support to women for changing their status in the society
  4. Myth has always been indifferent to the discrimination faced by women at the hands of men

8. Who is associated to the famous lecture ‘The Classical Feminist Tradition’?

  1. Elaine Showalter
  2. Germaine Greer
  3. Kate Millet
  4. Paul Fry

9. ‘The Female Eunuch’ was published in:

  1. 1970
  2. 1960
  3. 1965
  4. 1975

10. Identify the proper chronological order of the following works concerned to feminism:

  1. Thinking about Women; Sexual politics; The Female Eunuch; A Literature of their Own
  2. Sexual politics; Thinking about Women; The Female Eunuch; A Literature of their Own
  3. Thinking about Women; The Female Eunuch; A Literature of their Own; Sexual politics
  4. The Female Eunuch; A Literature of their Own; Thinking about Women; Sexual politics

11. The concept of ‘Gynocriticism’ is believed to be pioneered by which of the following works?

  1. The Female Eunuch
  2. A Literature of their Own
  3. Thinking about Women
  4. Sexual politics

12. ‘A literature of their Own’ was published in:

  1. 1970
  2. 1980
  3. 1986
  4. 1977

13. Which of the following has not been particularly part of feminism as a literary movement at any stage?

  1. Treatment of female characters by male writers
  2. Treatment of female characters by female writers
  3. Role played by women in the publishing industry
  4. The influence of male writers on the works of female writers



Answer Keys for Multiple Choice Questions

  1. b
  2. a
  3. b
  4. a
  5. c
  6. c
  7. a
  8. d
  9. a
  10. a
  11. b
  12. d
  13. c

Further Reading

Wikipedia on Feminism

History of Feminism

Three waves of Feminism

Feminist movements and ideologies

Feminist theory