Feminism and Early Women Writers

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The modern feminist movement is highly complex, multi-faceted, and broad in scope. Although initially a singular endeavor, rooted in social and political considerations aimed at establishing gender equality, feminism is now a series of separate disciplines with a myriad of definitions and connotations; indeed, it has transformed into a powerful cultural movement that has spawned so many ideological branches the plural form of “feminisms” is now appropriate. Without a doubt, the feminist movement has fundamentally shifted the direction of American society in virtually every way imaginable. To be sure, the changes we see from the feminist movement in 2012 are a direct result of the thankless work performed by women of the “first wave.” One of the most notable group of skilled individuals, using their artistry in this early campaign, was the feminist authors. Through their powerful and relevant critical literature, these women reached tens of thousands of Americans, waking them up to the experience of the oppressed and triggering a call to action. This writing is a documentation of that call to action, as it was exemplified by some of the most notable figures in feminist literature, and how the world of today benefits because of them.

American feminist authors have had a major impact on every woman in contemporary society. This writing will cover some of the most essential authors- namely Kate Chopin, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Zora Neale Hurston, Tillie Olsen, Susan Glaspell, and Alice Walker- and how their works influenced the world of today. Outside of these authors specific contributions, however, there must be addressed the most general and obvious of observations, which stands as the premier example of their influence: that we are reading and writing about them today. These women have been published countless times in as many forms, and are widely believed to be some of the best American writers of all time. Indeed, the anthology that is associated with this research has sold tens of millions of copies. Thus, the readings and writing from this book alone have, and continue to, affect generations of female students in a myriad of deeply personal ways. Coupled with the independent publishing from these authors, which is even more prolific, this material has become forever entrenched in the intellectual experience of most educated Americans.

Ultimately, the overall contribution of these feminist authors lies in their message of social justice and activism- both in terms of initiating critical thought, and offering hope that change can be accomplished through the application of this mindset. The writings of early feminist authors are just as relevant today as they ever were, containing messages that inform upon the hierarchical power dynamics of contemporary society; because while much has changed, much has stayed the same. From a contemporary standpoint, it is easy to see that these women wouldn’t have gotten their message across without hope and perseverance. Indeed, they became monolithic instruments of change due to a shared hope that change can be ascertained, even against seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Most of the early feminist writers weren’t even recognized in their time, only achieving success posthumously or toward the end of their lives. Because of male domination in the literary field (critics, publishing, distribution), most female authors were simply dismissed, and had their work heavily criticized. For example, Kate Chopin’s masterful work “The Awakening” was “widely condemned,” with critics calling it, “morbid, vulgar, and disagreeable,” and it was pulled from shelves of the public library in Evanston, Illinois (“Kate Chopin”). Tillie Olsen’s popular work, “I Stand Here Ironing,” was initially thrown away by a judge in a literary contest after HE castigated it for being pointless (Coiner). Zora Neale Hurston would have been shocked at the reversal of opinion regarding her...
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