ELAINE SHOWALTER: Towards A Feminist poetics

Towards A Feminist poetics
Elaine Showalter

Towards A Feminist poetics. Elaine Showalter is one of the most well-known names in the field of criticism, in general, and Feminist criticism, in particular. ‘Towards A Feminist poetics’ is one of Showalter’s most important and most influential critical essays.  Like most of her other major works, in this essay she tries to analyze the field of feminist criticism from different points of views and suggests some changes required to make the field more effective. In this essay, she discusses:

  1. Woman as reader [Feminist Critique],
  2. Woman as writer [Gynocritics],
  3. The problems of Feminist Critique,
  4. Program of Gynocritics, and,
  5. Feminine, Feminist and Female Stages.

1) Woman as reader [Feminist Critique]

Elaine Showalter identifies two varieties of feminism one of which studies ‘woman as a reader’ and the other one ‘woman as a writer’. She terms the first one as ‘Feminist Critique’ and the second one as ‘Gynocritism’.

She states that as a reader, woman studies the texts created by male writers.  She presents the belief that as a reader, female could change the established idea of a given text. This analysis undertaken by female is what she calls feminist critique. The subjects studied under it include the images and stereotypes that are presented in association with women in literature.  It also considers the exclusion of women in criticism as well as the misconceptions about them that prevail in the field of criticism. The treatment given to female characters by the male writers in the literary history is also analyzed to find gaps. Showalter has also mentioned that display of women in consumer products is like exploitation of female audience.

2)Woman as writer [Gynocritics]

When feminist criticism is studied in concern to woman as writer, Showalter terms it as ‘Gynocriticism’. This is the concept that analyzes themes, genres and structures created by women. Woman, here, is considered as the producer of a literary text as well as its meaning.   Study of woman as a writer includes study of the following subjects:

  1. a)      The psychodynamics or the behavior of creativity as shown by females
  2. b)     Various aspects of female language and problems concerned to it
  3. c)       Career of female literary field
  4. d)      Literary history
  5. e)      Analysis of female writers and their works

Showalter derived the term ‘Gynocritics’ from the French term ‘la gynocritique’. She derived the term since the field of study analyzing concepts she summed up did not have any particular term in English till then. The Feminist critique is also considered to have political and polemical association.

3) The problems of the Feminist Critique

Since women have played limited role in literary history, there arises a problem for Feminist Critique. The problem is that it is male-oriented as it derives its matter from what men have felt. Another problem is that role of male theoretician is a must in some fields of specialization. Thus, the study of the various aspects of Feminist Critique in the desired way does not take place.

4) Program of Gynocritics

Gynociticism aims at analyzing women’s literature that is based on women’s experiences. Thus, the program that Gynocritics plans includes construction of a frame-work that could analyze women’s literature and development of a new models deriving its basis from female experience. Showalter realizes that Gynocritics arise when the dependence on male literary tradition is discarded.

5)Feminine, Feminist and Female stages

Showalter is of the view that female tradition has evolved following some identifiable patterns and phases. She divided this period of evolution into three stages – the Feminine, the Feminist, and, the Female stages.

1)      The ‘feminine phase’ dates from about 1840-1880. Women, in this stage, wrote to level standards of intellectual achievements with that of male culture. However, inferiority complex in th mind of female writers was quite clear. Use of male pseudonyms on the part of female writers is one of the most unique aspects of this stage.

2)      The ‘feminist phase’ ranged from 1882 to 1920.  It followed the efforts to win rights for women. The New Women Movement had become quite strong and women had won the right to vote. During this stage, women writers expressed their feelings regarding sufferings of women in the society.

3)      The ‘female phase’ has been continuing since 1920.  Showalter considers imitation and protest to symbolize dependence of female on male. Thus, women rejected both these phenomena. Women, here, depend on their own attitude and experiences to participate in the literary process. Writers like Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf, who represent this stage, also identified uniqueness of female experience. They went to the extent of identifying differences between male and female sentences.

Women, in general, began to be more aware about forms and techniques of art and literature.

Thus, in the essay, Showalter has summed up the process of evolution of feminism, the reasons that have hindered its development and also the ways it could be what it should be.

Further Reading

Elaine Showalter in Wiki


Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness