In her book A Literature of Their Own: British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing, Elaine Showalter argued that Virginia Woolf's separation of politics and art, which she identified as characteristic of the Bloomsbury Group version of modernism, effectively prevented Woolf from being a feminist writer. Showalter regards Woolf's writing, particularly in A Room of One's Own, which is the focus of her argument, as "impersonal and defensive." Instead of embracing and expressing feminist complexity, Woolf aims to transcend it, which, for Showalter, means writing and thinking in a more traditionally masculine style—an aim diametrically opposed to the principles of feminism.
Toril Moi's 1985 essay "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Feminist Readings of Woolf," takes issue with Showalter's assessment both of Woolf and of feminism. Moi's argument is essentially that Showalter is considering only one strain of liberal humanist feminism, in which personal experience is pressed into the service of politics. To say that Woolf did not do this and therefore to call her work "impersonal" is not to say that it is apolitical, or that Woolf separates art from politics. Woolf does not conform to Showalter's model of feminism but is very close to others, such as Julia Kristeva's more radical anti-essentialist feminism, in which the masculine order and the dichotomy between the sexes eventually disappear. Moi looks at the reception of Woolf by several British and American feminist critics and remarks that when they find she is not a feminist, it is because they, like Showalter, remain wedded to "the humanist aesthetic categories which have traditionally belonged to the male academic hierarchy." Moi concludes:
The feminist critic thus unwittingly puts herself in a position from which it becomes impossible to read Virginia Woolf as the progressive, feminist writer of genius she undoubtedly was.