What is a brief description of gynocriticism in literary theory and criticism?

1 Answer | Add Yours

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Gynocriticism is best understood by starting with Elaine Showalter's major phases of the development of subcultures in literature, with the understanding that women writers comprise a subculture. As explained by Susan Spaull, Showalter indicates the first phase for the subculture of women writers was the Feminine, during which female writers imitated the established male form of writing. The second phase is the Feminist, during which women writers rebelled against governing male standards and values while eschewing negative stereotypes relating to women and women's function, talents, skills, and ability; it is the phase with the emergence of the critique. The third phase is the Female, during which women writers undergo self-discovery whereby they try for a literature of their own and stop being imitators; it is the current phase and has witnessed the emergence of gynocriticism.

According to Spaull's explanation of Showalter, one of the questions asked in gynocriticism is whether there is a separate and definable female aesthetic deriving from biological differences in cognition that result in differences between how men and women create the art of literature. Others are whether there is a female usage of language leading to a "woman's sentence"; whether there are specific female archetypes of plot and character; whether women's literature actually does (or does not) fit an objective measure for good literature--and whether the measure for women's literature ought to be different from that for men's literature.  Still other questions are do women emphasize different universal themes than men; do women use metaphor and imagery differently than men; how do women portray characters in relation to how men do it; and do women select different subject matter from those selected by men.

In summary, according to Xu Yue of Zhejang University, Hangzhou, China, gynocriticism concerns itself with developing a specifically female criticism that critiques works written by women, with the aim of identifying the uniqueness between women's and men's writing in order to forge a path toward the next generation of women writers who do not need to rely upon male templates and models because the women writers are free to know and develop their own female literary greatness. To quote Xu Yue:

The main concerns of gynocriticism are to identify what are taken to be the distinctively feminine subject matters in literature written by women; to uncover in literary history a female tradition, ... and to show that there is a distinctive feminine mode of experience, or “subjectivity,” in thinking, valuing, and perceiving oneself and the outer world.

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question