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POOJA YANGALDAS

PROFESSOR SHOBHA GOSH

M.A Hons PAPER 3 LITERARY THEORY AND CRITICISM

29TH OCTOBER, 2018.

In this assignment I’m going to briefly analyse Elaine Showalter’s essay ‘feminist criticism in
the wildernesses. Also differentiate between feminist critic and Gynocriticism

Feminism is considered the most important essay written by Showalter in respect to


Feminism. In earlier times women had no feminist theory to look up to as model hence they
used to go to male critics or androcentric models for guidance. She says

“Until very recently, feminist criticism has not had a theoretical basis; it has been an
empirical orphan in the theoretical storm. In 1975, I was persuaded that no theoretical
manifesto could adequately account for varied methodologies and ideologies which called
themselves feminist reading or writing.” (308)

Feminist critic / feminist revisionary reading Gynocriticism


critics
Feminist Critics looks at women as a reader Gynocriticism looks at women as writer
Feminist Critics is a resistance discourse Don’t want to go to male texts and re-read
which looks at women as reader. That all those texts from women’s point of view.
reading is gender. They say that the way They are interested in women as a writer for
women read a text is very different from e.g. Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte.
men. That is because of gender issue.
Feminist Critics looks at women readers as Gynocriticism focuses as women as
consumers of literature by men. That producers of literary texts. G looking at
Feminist Critics is also called feminist history, themes and genres of literature by
revisionary criticism. women
Feminist Critics probes the ideology that lies Gynocriticism roots their criticism in female
under literature produced by men experience and attempt to create a female
literary tradition.
Feminist Critics looks for gender biases in texts Gynocriticism root their criticism in female
by examining the images and stereotypes of literary tradition. When a women writers she
women in literature by men. confronted with many literary forefathers.
Omissions and misconceptions about women in During this period women wrote imitating men.
criticism.
Gaps and fixtures in male constructed literary Trying to show equivalent intellect
history.
Showalter is dissatisfied with Feminist Critics Criticism was covert or fairly hidden. Women
because it is male centred. They obsessively pre- wrote imitating male models wanted to how
occupied with women’s victimization. they were equal in intellect and adopted sudo
names while internalizing male view of female
nature.
Showalter is dissatisfied with women who While internalizing male view of female nature,
merely adapt male theories by introducing they work in an imitating manner expressing
gender variable. This criticism triptych feminine their ideologies simultaneously.
makes do.
They keep re working male theories introducing They still had male ideas which they internalized
the variable of gender. Experiences of women of women’s nature.
left out.

We all know that those in the position of power, canon is created by them. We are made to
pursue the female body in a certain way. We do that because they have created an
ideology, all of us whether we realize or not, consciously or unconsciously through language
ideologies are put in forth of us. Every prevalent notion, every sentence reflects some
ideology because language carries ideology overtly or covertly. There are two forms in
which oppression can function. One is an institutionalized form there the ideology has the
support of the entire social system (law, judiciary etc.) people in power can make rules and
change it according to their convenience. While internalizing male view of female nature,
they work in an imitating manner expressing their ideologies simultaneously. Showalter says
“feminist critics cannot go round in men’s ill fittings hand me downs” because men critics
want their criticism to be “as manly as aggressive as nuclear physics and not intuitive
expressive and feminine”. This has created a two tire system of criticism.

1. Higher criticism connected with scientific problem from language and structure.

2. The lower criticism concerned with humanistic problems mainly practised by women.
Showalter feels like rejecting binary is natural for us since its binary. One criticism can be
better than other but male or female criticism is an issue.

One of the greatest dangers about dismantling stereotypes is creating new ones. Showalter
is creating new stereotypes by saying women are intuitive expressive and feminine there by
discouraging women who are writing without these qualities. The mistake Post structuralist
make when rejecting the identity imposed by their oppressors is that they leave many in the
cold area who might be associating themselves with that identity. We do not need this
singularism. We should embrace pluralism and celebrate diversity instead of tolerating it.
We do not need categories for identification. Women do not need to always be expressive
or intuitive they can be disciplined or rational and logical too. We can’t lump all women
under one umbrella term. Radical feminists made same mistakes by saying that world with
women’s rules would be a better place to live in. that again doesn’t change anything. The
power politics will again shift from the hands of women to men and in that institution even
men can be oppressed. Women are socialized under patriarchy the need to be taught power
politics. That’s how they will be different. That’s how they’ll be different. But that will only
happen when both men and women are different. Women are still looking at males for
abrogation. That’s slowing us down.

The word ‘wilderness’ in the title of the essay actually means unknown territory itself. That
was the reason Showalter wrote this essay because there was a need of the feminist theory.
Gynocritics are talking about differences they are observing in women’s writing. That’s
where biocriticism comes in and we have to accept it that since men’s and women’s bodies
are different their writings will be different too. Women will definitely use different
language which is different than that of men’s. Women’s cultural circle is different their
histories are stories of their life related to patriarchy. Women have to stop following male
critics because then women lose their individuality in this process.

Women Body is made into an issue in women’s writing that’s precisely because women’s
bodies have through the ages looked at as objects rather than subjects. They have been
spoken and written about. Popular culture gives us many examples about how women’s
bodies have been objectified. Therefore it’s time for women to take power and speak about
their bodies and write about their bodies through their texts. Writing the female body has
done by some brilliant writers who have touched upon important topics like child birth,
menstruation, menopause, which men don’t know and have misrepresented if they have
talked about.

“But if, in the 1980s, feminist literary critics are still wandering in the wilderness, we are in
good company; for, as Geoffrey Hartman tells us, all criticism is in the wilderness. Feminist
critics may be startled to find ourselves in this band of theoretical pioneers, since in the
American literary tradition the wilderness has been an exclusively masculine domain. Yet
between feminist ideology and the liberal ideal of disinterestedness lies the wilderness of
theory, which we too must make our home.”
Showalter says, " A cultural theory acknowledges that there are important differences
between women as writers: class, race, nationality, and history are literary determinants
as significant as gender. Nonetheless, women's culture forms a collective experience
within the cultural whole, an experience that binds women writers to each other over
time and space”

If we understand patriarchy in the right manner, we have to understand that women are not
the only victims of this system. They have been told to perform gender roles to appear
manlier in the society. All the adjectives we use for men like strong, smart, handsome,
manly, apathetic, cold etc. are qualities which not everyone relates too. Many are left in the
cold area where they are not allowed to be what they want to be. They can’t be shy,
expressive or cry because that’s how society has told them to be. The whole purpose of
Feminism is to empower women and heal men because unless the men change society
cannot change. Men are important part of our lives and we can’t deny their existence. We
also cannot talk among ourselves and bring about a change. The male masters of patriarchy
have to listen to us otherwise they will go on to remain parallel while we complain. Power
politics works because people in power know that whatever they do they are going to get
away with it. Only and only resistance can make a difference in this matter.

Recalling in A Room of One's Own how she had been prohibited from entering the
university library, the symbolic sanctuary of the male logos, Virginia Woolf wisely
observed that while it is 'unpleasant to be locked out . . . it is worse, perhaps, to be locked
in.' Advocates of the ant theoretical position traced their descent from Woolf and from
other feminist visionaries, such as Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich and Marguerite Dura’s, who
had satirized the sterile narcissism of male scholarship and celebrated women's fortunate
exclusion from its patriarchal ideology.

This leads Showalter to show that feminist criticism has become an act of resistance to
theory since the women feminist critics themselves have cared on the reflexive style and
the dynamicity of asserting self-authority. Therefore, Showalter states: “criticism was an
act of resistance to theory, a confrontation with existing canons and judgments, what
Josephine Donovan calls 'a mode of negation within a fundamental dialectic'. As Judith
Fetterley declared in her book, The Resisting Reader, feminist criticism has been
characterized by 'a resistance to codification and a refusal to have its parameters
prematurely set.” (309)

Showalter's earlier work had attracted criticism on account of its refusal to take African-
American writing into account. Barbara Smith's 'Toward a Black Feminist Criticism'
complains about Showalter's persistent ignoring of any non-white female writing. Smith
begi,~ by quoting Showalter's sole mention of such writing: 'Furthermore, there are other
literary subcultures (African-American novelists, for example) whose history offers a
precedent for feminist scholarship to use and goes on to point out that such appropriation -
even in the cause of feminist theory - is racist. 'The idea of critics like Showalter using Black
literature is chilling, a case of barely disguised cultural imperialism'. In contrast 'Feminist
Criticism in the Wilderness' tries to work toward cultural open-endedness in two ways. First
she speaks of two cultures: women and men - as being muted and dominant respectively
and thus deliberately avoids the concept of a subculture. In a sense all women regardless of
race and class comprised the marginalised culture and this common repression makes all
women one, in Showalter's cultural model. Secondly Showalter emphasises that such a
gynocentric cultural model must - if it is to work - be able to take into account all the forces -
ethnic, academic or economic - so as to 'plot the precise cultural locus of female literary
identity'. This gain in cultural sensitivity is, I think, the most apparent impact of Showalter's
essay. It makes gynocritics seem to offer a model that can take on board cultural variables
and say, it can have receptivity to feminist theories in the developing world. Nonetheless it
is a claim contested by Indian feminist theorists who feel that gynocritics is too obviously
limited by its inheritance of Western cultural imperialism.

To conclude, Showalter thinks that women have been dominated since ages by male critical
theory. Feminist critics need to modify it. This paper shows many new ideas which has been
brought by Elian Showalter to the field of literary criticism and feminist criticism as I
mentioned.

Works cited:

The essay ‘Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness” by Elaine Showalter

http://egyankosh.ac.in