Literary Criticism, Fall, 99
Patriarchy and the History of Feminist Writings

I. History of male dominance
II. History of Women's discourse according to E. Showalter

I. History of male dominance
What is patriarchy?

1. male domination and limitation of women in society;
2. male superiority in ideologies (e.g. Aristotle declared that "the female is female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities"; St. Thomas Aquinas: woman is an 'imperfect man'; Confucius: °ß¤k¤H»P¤p¤lÃø¾i¤])
3. in language and literature (e.g. chairman, the universal "he"; God as "He"; in Chinese: §ª¡B«Á¡B§®¡B¦ð, etc.
4. in sex and biology (women as rapable, receptacle of sperm)

Feminist critique of sexism:
a) in society--Beauvoir's The Second Sex

woman is constructed differently by men. Men write about women to find out more about men. Men defines the human, not woman. He is the One, she the Other.

b) in literature--e.g. Kate Millet's Sexual Politics

M's that ideological indoctrination as much as economic inequality is the cause of women's oppression...
--sex: determined biologically
--gender: culturally acquired sexual identity. ...and the acting out of these sex-roles in the unequal and repressive relations of domination and subordination is what Millet calls 'sexual politics'.

She saw literature as a record of the collective consciousness of patriarchy....As a "resisting reader" who focused on patterns of dominance and submission, Millet found that these writers distort female characters by associating deviance with femininity.

--literary values and conventions have themselves been shaped by men, and women have often struggle to espress their concerns in what may well have been inappropriate forms.

e.g. adventure, romance have a male impetus and purposiveness.
e.g. reader and audience assumed to be male, even silk stocking commercials

(Millet's weaknesses: 1. exclusive selection of male authors; occasional neglect of their overall intent)

2. sexist ideology in literature: examples --

1) as objects of desire--e.g. "Araby," "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" "To His Coy Mistress" and courtly love poetry,
2) as symbol--"Young Goodman Brown," "Grecian Urn" "To Autumn"
3) as Other--ghost story
4) women inferior or subordinate--Eve, romance (knight and lady), 007 films and the other Hollywood films (Working Girl, Coma, Silence of the Lamb)

History of Women's discourse
according to E. Showalter

3 phases of women's literary development:

1. the "feminine" phase (1840-1880), during which women writers imitated the dominant tradition;

e.g. Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, --one where women writers imitated and internalised the dominant male aesthetic standards which required that female authors remain gentlewomen. The main sphere of their work was their immediate domestic and social circle, and they suffered guilt about their 'selfish' commitment to authoriship, accepting certain limitations in expression...

--challenge patriarchy only indirectly: ask for a separate space in death (Dickenson, Christina Rossetti),
write about women's growth and independence (Jane Eyre, Mill on the Floss)

2. the "feminist" phase (1880-1920), during which women protested and advocated minority rights;

The Women's Rights and Women's Suffrage movements were the crucial determinants in shaping this phase, with their emphasis on social, political and economic reform


3. and the "female" phase (1920-the present), during which dependency on opposition is being replaced by a turn inward for identity and a resulting rediscovery of women's texts and women.


second-wave feminism (mid-60's to present)

Although second-wave feminism continues to share the first wave's fight for women's rights in all areas, its focal emphasis shifts to the politics of reproduction, to women's 'experience,' to sexual 'difference.'
1) biology--some radical feminists celebrate women's biological attributes as sources of superiortiy rather than inferiority,

2) experience--while others appeal to the special experience of woman as the source of positive female values in life and in art.

3) discourse--men's domination of discourse has trapped women inside a male 'truth.' From this point of view it makes sense for women writers to contest men's control of language rather than create a separate, specifically 'feminine' discourse.

4) the unconscious--the "female" associated with those processes which tend to undermine the authority of 'male' discourse. Whatever encourages or initiates a free play of meanings and prevents 'closure' is regarded as 'female.'

5) the socio-economic

Main Issues of Debate for Radical Feminism: