How is feminist criticism used, and what are its characteristics and weaknesses?
Feminist criticism can be used in two ways. The first, called "feminist critique" by some, views the ways that male authors describe and represent female characters in their works. This type of criticism is handy in that we can pay attention to how men have constructed gender in history and literature.
The second type of feminist criticism, called "gynocriticism" studies women's writing and the construction of gendered identity.
Both of these strains originated in France with authors like Julia Kristeva and Helen Cixous as they examined how the very structure of the language we use is gendered (generally towards men). The usefulness of this critical optic is that much previously ignored literature by women has come to the fore of academic discussion and that people are more aware of/sensitive to social construction of gender. The weakness is that sometimes there are larger issues than gender in a particular text that get excluded because the focus is rather narrow.