This topic is one dear to my heart as I, too, remember the days before Title IX, and textbooks with too many men featured as the writers of important literature. Thank heaven that has now changed as students need to see literature from all countries and both genders. When we started the year, I used to ask my students to react to the quote:"All men are created equal" which is supposed to include women in the universal "men." The eighth grade boys agreed that the statement included everyone while the girls quietly said they did not feel included in that statement. Then we turned the statement around to: "All women are created equal" and asked the boys if they felt a part of the statement as it was then worded. Of course none of them did, were vociferous in their sentiments, and the light began to dawn. I found that we as a class could then discuss the differences gender might lend to a story, look at bias with a clearer understanding, and in general, the exercise enhanced our discussions throughout the year. Therefore, I really only saw the advantages of the feminist theory for both genders in my classroom.
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.
I'm old enough to remember what schools were like before the passage of Title IX in 1972. Title IX was the legislation that set out prohibitions against sexual discrimination in the programs and activities offered by the public schools in the United States if those schools depended upon federal funding.
"no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
While Title IX may not sound feminist, its effects were profound in enlarging and advancing the possibilities for girls in schools. Athletic programs had to radically change because they were now required to offer and support women's teams for competition and scholarships at the same level of commitment as had been the case for men's programs. Employment opportunities, such as work-study positions, could no longer be restricted to one sex or the other.
The ramifications of Title IX created a huge boost to the feminist movement. Teachers today, myself included, regard girls in the same way as boys when considering learning activities and capabilities.
One of the ideas behind many 20th century literary theories is that there is no single, authoritative intepretation of a work of literature. Reading is an interactive process. The "meaning" of work of literature does not properly exist outside of the reader.
This means that we are all empowered to read from our own perspective and to propose intepretations/meanings (that can be supported through reasonable argument).
Though some people believe that this notion serves to undermine meaning by making it conditional or relative to various perspectives, I personally feel that the inclusion of the reader in the act of making meaning is empowering.
In my teaching, I place an emphasis on the creative act of interpretation. This emphasis is in keeping with feminist theory, deconstruction, and other 20th century literary theories.
I think that one advantage of feminist theory that I completely support is the idea that girls can do anything boys can, and teachers should not force girls into gender roles like cooking and sewing. Boys should not be expected to roughhouse. Kids should be able to follow their inclinations.