Contemporary Feminist Criticism
The following entry presents analysis and criticism of contemporary feminist literary theory through 2002.
Sometimes referred to as “Third-Wave Feminism,” “Postfeminism,” or “Revisionary Feminism,” contemporary feminist criticism is the historical outgrowth of the feminist movement which began in the 1960s and continues to flourish into the twenty-first century. Like their predecessors, contemporary feminists explore the relationship between gender and language and issues of both overt and tacit discrimination against women within the publishing and academic worlds. The writers voicing the concerns of the new generation of feminist critics, however, have increasingly emphasized what they perceive as limitations in the scope of traditional feminist rhetoric and point to a gap in the dialogue between the older and younger schools of feminist theory.
Revisionary feminist critics posit that feminist criticism has traditionally been the bastion of Western, white, intellectual, heterosexual, middle- and upper-class women. These revisionists seek to effect change within the movement by promoting an agenda of multiculturalism, globalism, sensitivity to political and economic issues involving women, and the inclusion of texts by and about non-white and lesbian women. Also, unlike their forebears, contemporary feminist critics profess to be less interested in affirming their equality with men than exploring the differences that make women's position in society unique. They also maintain that feminist criticism has become too theoretical and abstruse due to the influence of structuralism, which has problematized the very notion of language as a means of simple communication. The school of French feminist criticism—largely defined by the works of Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva, and once one of the most celebrated branches of the feminist movement—has recently come under attack by postfeminist critics who argue that French feminism never existed as a separate entity at all. These critics assert that the notion of French feminist rhetoric was invented by American and British feminist academics in order to showcase radical ideas that they were not willing to present as their own. Additionally, revisionist feminist critics have accused their older colleagues of defensiveness, dismissiveness, and the suppression of dialogue in the same kind of hierarchical manner—complete with gender-based assumptions—that they so criticized in male literary critics in the 1960s and 1970s.