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Just as African Americans and Native Americans have historically been concerned with the manner in which they and their roles in society have been portrayed by authors and film directors representing a more Euro-centric perspective, women have long taken issue with how men portray and treat female characters and how they critique female authors. It is certainly fair to suggest that portrayals of individual ethnicities, genders or social classes by authors from different categories of individual very often reflect the biases and limited levels of knowledge such authors possess. Because of the historically-constrained role of women in most societies, certain particularly strong-willed women over the centuries have sought to address those biases through the adoption of a "feminist" perspective.
Perhaps one of the most notable examples of such a feminist perspective was George Eliot, the 19th Century British novelist whose real name was Mary Ann Evans. Evans adopted the pseudonym "George Eliot" as a response to the heavily male-dominated and rigidly-structured society in which she lived -- that of Victorian England. Only by publishing under a man's name, she believed, would Evans/Eliot be able to write in the style she desired -- mainly, a more realistic portrayal of society than was ordinarily expected of a female writer -- while maintaining realistic hopes of being published. The result was the literary classic Silas Marner, as well as the novel widely considered one of the finest ever published, Middlemarch.
Feminist criticism, then, is an effort to present female characters in literature as they really are: living, breathing human beings with the same aspirations and dreams as men while suffering the indignities of a male-dominated world in which the role of women has historically been sublimated to men. More specific to the "criticism" aspect of feminist thought is the reevaluation of literature with the feminist perspective in mind, in effect, to examine the manner in which female characters were portrayed throughout history and to provide a corrective in contemporary criticism and in the teaching of future generations of writers and critics.
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