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Elaine Showalter is an American feminist literary critic born in 1941. Her best known work focuses on nineteenth-century British and American female writers. She was part of the feminist movement in literary criticism in the twentieth century that argued for redressing the gender balance in literary studies.
Showalter was an advocate of what she called "gynocriticism", an approach that looks at two aspects of women's literature, first recovering the works of female writers excluded from the literary canon and making them a focus of study, and secondly reevaluating the literary history through a feminist rather than patriarchal lens, often yielding new interpretations and evaluations of women writers.
One of Showalter's most interesting areas of critique has to do with examining the history of madness, seeing much of psychology not as a neutral medical discipline, but rather as a way for male authorities to medicalize women's desire for power and independence and their suffering under patriarchy. She also sees traditional male literary criticism, like psychiatry, as a form of masculine authority that disempowered or undermined female authors and caused them a great deal of suffering.
Her analysis of male-female relationships is one that looks primarily at systematic imbalances of power, and sees in various forms of masculine discourse (including that of romance as well as literary criticism and psychiatry) an assertion of patriarchal control.
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