How do I analyze a text with feminist theory?

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Depending on the text, you will want to look at the roles of females in the novel and compare them with the roles of males.

In particular, you will look for these main points of criticism:

1.  Differences between men and women: "The basic assumption is that gender determines values and language."  Notice the differences in topics that men and women talk about and how they discuss them.  According to Deborah Tannen, for instance, men are "report talkers" (they announce things for show), while women are "rapport talkers" (they speak to foster intimacy).  She also says that all women are marked: by appearance (makeup, hair, clothes, body) and language (topic, tone, cues).  In other words, women must battle these markings in every day roles and conversations, and it is tough to do so.

2.  Women in power or power relationships between men and women: "Note and attack the social, economic, and political exploitation of women."  Notice the division of labor in marriage, the home, and work place.  Are men doing men's work only (segregation of gender roles)?  Or, are men and women sharing the work (integration of gender roles)?

3.  The female experience: is the speaker, author, or protagonist female?  If so, how is her point-of-view determined?  How are her experiences different from other females and males?  How does she treat others?  Does she celebrate femininity and the roles of mothers, wives, and independent women?

So says one feminist author and critic:

So, what has feminism taught me about literary studies? That it is not "artistic value" or "universal themes" that keeps authors' works alive. Professors decide which authors and themes are going to "count" by teaching them, writing scholarly books and articles on them, and by making sure they appear in dictionaries of literary biography, bibliographies, and in the grand narratives of literary history. Reviewers decide who gets attention by reviewing them. Editors and publishers decide who gets read by keeping them in print. And librarians decide what books to buy and to keep on the shelves. Like the ancient storytellers who passed on the tribes' history from generation to generation, these groups keep our cultural memory. Therefore, we gatekeepers, who are biased humans living in and shaped by the intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic paradigms of an actual historical period must constantly reassess our methods, theories, and techniques, continually examining how our own ethnicities, classes, genders, nationalities, and sexualities mold our critical judgements.

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