Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Feminist Criticism

Introduction to Literature
Michael Delahoyde


Sooner or later in an Introduction to Literatureclass, we need to discuss “the F word”: Feminism. Idon’t understand statements of this sort:

  • I think that the media exploits women’sbodies, sure, but I’m not one of those feminists!
  • I think it sucks that women get 71¢on the dollar compared to men for equal work, but I’m not oneof those feminists!
  • I think the fact that “she was askin’fer it” is a viable defense in spousal abuse and rape casesin Idaho shows a touch of injustice, but I’m sure not one of thosefeminists!

Who turned “feminist” into a dirtyword? (Probably George Bush and that batch; Pat Robertson occasionally rants against”witches, lesbians, and feminists.”)

Feminist literarycriticism, arising in conjunction with sociopolitical feminism,critiques patriarchal language and literature by exposing howthese reflect masculine ideology. It examines gender politicsin works and traces the subtle construction of masculinity andfemininity, and their relative status, positionings, and marginalizationswithin works.

Beyond making us aware of the marginalizinguses of traditional language (the presumptuousness of the pronoun”he,” or occupational words such as “mailman“)feminists focused on language have noticed a stylistic differencein women’s writing: women tend to use reflexive constructionsmore than men (e.g., “She found herself crying”). Theyhave noticed that women and men tend to communicate differently:men directed towards solutions, women towards connecting.

Feminist criticism concern itself with stereotypicalrepresentations of genders. It also may trace the history ofrelatively unknown or undervalued women writers, potentially earningthem their rightful place within the literary canon, and helpscreate a climate in which women’s creativity may be fully realizedand appreciated.

One will frequently hear the term “patriarchy”used among feminist critics, referring to traditional male-dominatedsociety. “Marginalization” refers to being forced tothe outskirts of what is considered socially and politically significant; the female voice was traditionally marginalized, or discounted altogether.

Works Consulted

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms.7th ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.

Biddle, Arthur W., and Toby Fulwiler. Reading,Writing, and the Study of Literature. NY: Random House, 1989.

Lynn, Steven. Texts and Contexts: WritingAbout Literature with Critical Theory. 2nd ed. NY: Longman,1998.

Murfin, Ross, and Supryia M. Ray. The BedfordGlossary of Critical and Literary Terms. Boston: Bedford Books,1997.

Critical Theory
Introduction to Literature