Throughout the years, women have struggled for proper treatment and life style. They were oppressed and seen a male property. They were deprived for their simplest rights, even putting their thoughts into words. This situation led to the emergence of feminism, which is a set of ideologies that were meant to defend women’s rights in different areas of life, in other words it is the struggle for women’s rights. This set of ideologies, feminism, extended into theoretical or philosophical fields and became known as feminist theory. The latter’s objection is to understand gender inequality as it also emphasizes the promotion of women’s rights and interests. It encompasses work in a variety of disciplines, including literary criticism.
1.1 Defining Feminist Literary criticism
Lisa Tuttle has defined feminist theory in the literary field as asking "new questions of old texts." Feminist literary criticism is to apply the principles of feminism in order to criticize literary works. So, it aims at championing the identity of women and promote women‘s writing as a representation of women‘s experience (Culler.1997). Feminists take on the burden of proclaiming the freedom of women from male dominance. They mainly take on the task of critique. In other words, it tends to expose patriarchal customs of literature and its resulting biases. As Weedon states, feminist literary criticism “seeks to privilege feminist interest in the understanding and transformation of patriarchy1” (136). This task is achieved through the examination of the ways in which literature reinforces the oppression of women.
1 Patriarchy is an ideology that privileges masculine ways of points of view and marginalizes women politically, economically and psychologically.
1.2History of feminist literary theory
Feminism witnessed a noticeable growth all along its broad history; it started with the classics of nineteenth-century first wave women authors such as George Eliot and Margaret Fuller and reached its peak with third wave author’s cutting-edge theoretical work in women's studies and gender studies. Feminist literary criticism is divided into three phases: the first, the second and the third wave. In the first wave, the concern the representation of women within literature, male-dominated literature. During this phase, critics focused on “sexist vocabulary and gender stereotypes in the work of male authors and highlighted the ways in which these writers commonly ascribe particular features, such as “hysteria” and “passivity” only to women.” (Hamm. 2004) The next stage in feminist criticism history, which was during the seventies, was gynocriticism. By this time, female critics turned their attention to the analysis of the representation of the female character in women’s writings and their exclusion from the literary canon. In other words, feminist critics of the second wave feminism were not interested only by exposing oppression but also to assure a place for female writers in literary canon. With the third wave feminism, feminist literary criticism came to take a variety of new directions. The more traditionally central feminist concern with the representation and politics of women's lives has continued to play an active role in criticism. More specifically, modern feminist criticism deals with those issues related to the patriarchal programming within key aspects of society including education, politics and the work force.