“Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings.” -Cheris Kramarae
Today in class we discussed feminist criticism in regards to literature. After, hopefully, clearing up any misconceptions that the class may have had about feminism (we’re not all bra burning man haters, I promise) Dr. Scanlon began to talk about different feminist theories. We discussed the idea of essentialist vs. constructionist views in regards to gender; which of the gender qualities that we take for granted (such as the idea that women are reserved while men are outspoken) are inherent and which are societal constructs.
We discussed the idea of materialist feminism, or the ways economic and physical environments may disadvantage women. With materialist feminism it is beneficial to take a Marxist view and see women as an oppressed class. For example, Women are often expected to complete all the “housework” (which is itself a dismissive term) and care for the children; taxing duties that offer no pay and often no respect.
We also spent a great deal of time discussing that old feminist favorite, the patriarchy. The patriarchy is the idea that our society has institutionalized sexism to such a degree that women are systematically oppressed in all aspects of society.
Something that was brought up by Dr. Scanlon that I found particularly interesting was the notion of the patriarchy affecting the literary canon. The example of Nathaniel Hawthorne was given; that he is a canonized author while many women writers that existed at that time, even those that were outselling Hawthorne, were lost to obscurity. This type of sexism is so pervasive that it even affects women writers who are canonized. For example, Dr. Scanlon talked of how Emily Dickinson was marginalized by critics who refused to acknowledge the grandiose themes of her poetry, instead insisting that she only talked of “little flowers”
This discussion was fascinating to me because this type systematic oppression and reduction is still an issue for contemporary female authors. Take JK Rowling, the author of the most popular book series in the last decade, who was forced by her publishers to go by her initials because they told her that boys would not read a book written by someone named Joanne. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcKZxv-hNoU[/youtube]
Can anyone else think of any ways in which the patriarchy, or sexism in general, affects our understanding of literature? Why do you think its important (or not important) to reexamine female writers who me have been disregarded in their time?