What are some main concerns of feminist literary theory and criticism?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Feminist literary theory and criticism have been characterized by a number of concerns and emphases, including the following:

  • An interest in discovering or “recovering” the works of women writers, especially those who have not been part of the traditional “canon” of literary works.
  • An interest in exploring the biographical, historical, and cultural circumstances of works produced by women writers.
  • An interest in exploring how women writers have been affected (often negatively) by the “patriarchal” assumptions of traditional cultures.
  • An interest in exploring how women writers have sometimes challenged and resisted those patriarchal assumptions.
  • An interest in exploring whether there is anything distinctively “feminine” about writings by women.
  • An interesting in challenging any continuing vestiges of patriarchy in society and culture.
  • An interest in exploring how female characters are presented, not only in works by women but in works by men as well.
  • An interest in exploring how patriarchal assumptions affect female characters in works by any kind of writer.
  • An interest in exploring how the experience of being female, either as a writer or a character, can be affected by involvement of other categories of identity, such as race, class, and religion.
  • An interest in doing the kind of basic archival research that allows us to make new discoveries about works by women writers and about such writers themselves.
  • An interest in making sure that the works of women writers are made widely accessible both online and in print and that such works are presented in responsible scholarly editions.
  • An interest, at least among some feminist critics, in exploring the aesthetic riches of texts by feminist writers. (This is a project that has not received as much attention and commitment as it deserves.)
  • An effort to include many more female writers in the “canon” than has traditionally been the case.
  • An effort to study the reception of writings by women, including their reception by women readers.
  • An interest in the distinctive ways, if any, in which women read literature.

A good brief summary of various concerns of feminist literary theory can be found in the first paragraph of the eNotes article on this topic:

Feminist literary criticism recognizes that since literature both reflects culture and shapes it, literary studies can either perpetuate the oppression of women or help to eliminate it. Thus, feminist literary critics are motivated to raise questions about literature and literary criticism that are basic to women’s struggle for autonomy: How does literature represent women and define gender relations? Why has literary criticism ignored or devalued women’s writing? How does one’s gender alter the way in which one reads literature? Is there a feminine mode of writing?