In this work, Showalter traces a trajectory of modern (mid 19th to 20th century) feminist theory. She states that from 1840-1880, the "feminine era, women's rights were characterized by the struggle to equal men's achievements. The period from 1880-1920, the feminist era, showed how women's writing protested male dominated values and argued for female freedom. In the current period (1920-present), the "female" era, women no longer try to equal or imitate men, as they did in the first phase; women also no longer protest because protest still insists upon recognizing the male dominated system and women's inferior position in it. Rather, in this most current phase, women live autonomously, a women's cultural movement not dependent upon a history of patriarchy.
Showalter explains this female era of the current phase with the term "gynocriticism" and her project has to do with women's autonomy, but particularly regarding what women's writing is and/or can be:
In contrast to this angry or loving fixation on male literature, the program of gynocritics is to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, to develop new models based on the study of female experience, rather than to adapt male models and theories. Gynocritics begins at the point when we free ourselves from the linear absolutes of male literary history, stop trying to fit women between the lines of the male tradition, and focus instead on the newly visible world of female culture.
Showalter wants women to go beyond studying and/or deconstructing female stereotypes and to go beyond the ways women have been subjected to secondary status and male systems of thinking. In other words, one of the shifts is to move from speaking of women as victims or as struggling against a male system: to move from this to focusing on women's autonomous experience; not separated from the world of men, but independent from it.