Many myths and misconceptions float around the term ‘Feminism’. It is a movement that is frequently projected as being violent, aggressive, and full of ‘bra burning’ extremists. The word alone often evokes reactions among people that are negative, uncomplimentary and stereotypical. The disturbing of the patriarchal paradigm was a phenomenon that became prominent only in the Twentieth Century. Historically speaking women have always numerically outnumbered men, but through the system of patriarchy they have been suppressed by political, economic and social machinery. The difference between Gender and Sex
When trying to examine feminism we must keep in mind the subtle difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’. For example, if a man were to dress or behave like a woman, it would not change the fact that he is still biologically a man, and here is where the difference lies. When we use the term ‘gender’, we are referring to a social construct, a store knowledge that has developed over generations that helps us in our identification of a person as a man or a woman. A person’s sex on the other hand is purely biological. A primary argument of feminist theory is that arbitrary allocations such as this that are constructs of society are completely devoid of any genuine value. Thus the duty of feminism, in one sense, involves the subversion of existing patriarchal paradigms by questioning phallocentric, or penis-centred, sources of power. Patriarchy and the Woman
The term ‘Patriarchy’ itself can be broadly defined as an ideological system of belief that privileges males over females. This is a complex system that employs androcentric values, rituals and practices in order to maintain status quo. Another means of control involves patriarchy passing itself off as the so-called ‘norm’ or the ‘right’ way in which a society must divide itself, and regards the Female as a departure from this ‘norm’ and treats her as ‘the other’, a notion that only reinforces the sharp cleavage between the two sexes. As a result of this treatment, the decisions of a society are based on whatever the man decides, whereas everything else is lumped together as ‘the other’, the Female. It is however ironic that patriarchy itself requires the co-operation of the Female in order to subjugate her, making her a willing participant in her own suppression. As the French feminist Simone de Beauvoir put it so aptly in her seminal book, ‘The Second Sex’, published in 1949, ‘One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.’, a statement that raises our consciousness to the disparity between the male ‘norm’ and the female ‘other’. It was indeed French Feminism that first brought to light the fact that all western languages are irredeemably male-engendered, male constituted and male-dominated. Discourse itself is phallocentric as seen in its vocabulary, syntax, rules of logic and its tendency for classification and opposition as well as the need for objective knowledge. Definitions of Feminist Literary Criticism
There are multiple definitions that can be applied to Feminist Literary criticism. It differs from other schools of critical theory in that it does not derive its literary principles from a single authoritative figure or from a body of sacred texts. This is quite unlike other approaches such as Psychoanalysis, Marxism or Deconstruction, which can all be attributed to their primary exponents, Freud, Marx and Derrida respectively. Feminist theory has evolved from several sources, with several feminist thinkers contributing to the canon. Moreover, critical theory used in readings of Woman’s literature borrows from other disciplines such as History, Anthropology, Linguistics, Psychoanalysis and Marxism. It was a form of criticism created by literary and academic women who participated in the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s. Kate Millet’s book, ‘Sexual Politics’ (1870) was the first major treatise on feminist criticism, and also represented a...