Feminist theory of criticism approaches literature relevant to the treatment of women in economic, political, social, and psychological within the culture. This theory exposes the sexual prejudice evident in literature in a male dominate society for several hundred years.
Virginia Woolf asserted inherent until the latter part of the 19th century. To Woolf, the primary purpose of the feminist theory was to prompt gender equality in all aspects of life.
One important point of view under the feminist theory is the lack of representation of women writers, certainly in the American culture. Throughout the history of literature, unless the story had as it central figure a woman, which was rare, women were placed in gender defined roles: prostitutes, nannies, damsels in distress, the misplaced pregnant woman.
Historically, the woman was employed in literature only to point out the differences between the male and his values. Gender issues have played a part in every aspect of human production and experience, including the production and experience of literature, whether we are consciously aware of these issues or not.
How does this impact the world of literature now? Beginning in the nineteenth century, critics began to discover many excellent women writers beginning with the Bronte sisters, Kate Chopin, Jane Austin, Emily Dickinson, Louisa Mae Alcott and a few others.
However, the number of women writers was stymied because it was improbable for a woman to find acceptance in the literary world until the twentieth century. Even Dickinson was not discovered as a great poet until then. But these early writers open the door for the woman to step in and up to the arena of literature. Today, society understands that women have equal skills, and women intellectually meet the challenges established by the once male dominated society.
As a teacher, it is important to place equal importance on both sexes. In one of the last anthologies my college adopted, there were more short stories published by women than men: Atwood, Chopin, Jewett, O’Connor, Welty, Cather, Oates, Gilman, Wharton, Porter, Hurston, Walker, Freeman, Silko, Tan. This was the list of writers with a few of the old standards by the men writers.
Obviously, women have just as much to say about life and can write interesting, important stories that cover problems faced by both men and women. Sometimes the stories may have some gender bias, but the women have to exert themselves since we are new to the game.