What feminist literary criticism

From feminism to gender studies

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. History of Feminism

3. Feminist literary criticism
3.1 Interest in knowledge
3.2 Main representatives

4. Transition to Gender Studies

5. Gender Studies
5.1 Interest in knowledge
5.2 Basic constellation: text - reader - author
5.3 Limits and contradictions of the method
5.4 Current trends

6. Summary

7. Bibliography

1 Introduction

In this work I would like to describe the development of gender studies from feminist literary criticism. This topic is particularly interesting because I've noticed that it is difficult for many people to tell and tell the difference between the two methods. In my work I would like to proceed as follows: First I will give an overview of the history of feminism and then I will go into more detail on feminist literary criticism, where I will present the cognitive interests and the main representatives of the method. Then I will describe the transition to gender studies. This method is then described in more detail, whereby I will deal with the interest in knowledge, basic constellation: text - reader - author, limits and contradictions of the method as well as current trends.

I mainly orientated myself on the essay “From Women zus Studies to Gender Studies: Feminist Literary and Cultural Criticism” by Renate Hof, because although it mainly refers to American literary history, it gives a good overview of the developments. I found a good and up-to-date introduction to the subject in Methods and Models of Literary Studies. An introduction by Rainer Baasner and Maria Zens.

2. History of Feminism

Feminism has its origins in the Women’s Rights Convention, a meeting of around 300 men and women on July 19, 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, at which a counter-document to the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, was presented. The document pointed out that the equality of men and women called for in the Declaration of Freedom would not be implemented and the initiators of the event demanded equal treatment of both sexes from now on, for example they demanded the right to vote for women. This so-called “first women's movement” started mainly in the USA and England and then spread to the rest of Europe.

In its beginnings, feminist research was particularly concerned with the

to explore the historical reality of life for women. This issue proved difficult as it quickly became clear that there was little historical record of women. Literature soon became the focus of interest and it was hoped that what is presented in literature would be able to reconstruct the living conditions of women.

The entry of women’s studies into university research in the 1960s is particularly referred to as the “second women's movement”. This development gave feminists the opportunity to scientifically analyze the question of women. In the 1970s, the predominantly female researchers had already built up their own “infrastructure” through institutionalization.

3. Feminist literary criticism

Feminist literary criticism can be divided into two phases. In the first phase, the researchers devoted themselves to the analysis of images of femininity and made massive criticism of stereotypical images of women, such as the “saint”, the “whore” or the “femme fatale”. In the opinion of feminists, these types reflected the social power structures. When the literature was first examined in the 19th century on the question of women, the list of famous and respected authors contained almost no female, colored or underprivileged artists: "Apparently there was a connection between creativity and authority"1, which raised the question of who has the authority to determine minorities.

Thus one faced the problem that although literary texts provided a lot of material about women, there was little written from the perspective of women to be found. One of the first tasks of feminists was to find and analyze long-forgotten works by women authors. Many of these works were newly published or even published for the first time at this time. In the works selected for the analysis of the portrayed femininity, autobiographical or diary-like works were particularly preferred, as these were supposed to provide particularly well-founded and credible reports on the life situations of women in the past. In the course of this reading, numerous bibliographies were published in which readers were supposed to find literature that gave them opportunities to identify with the characters.

The second phase of feminist literary criticism is primarily characterized by the search for a specifically female aesthetic.

3.1 Interest in knowledge

The epistemological interest of feminist literary criticism is to find out how women are represented in literary works. As a result, the aim is to find possible matches in the images of femininity created by men and to determine what effects these have on the self-image of women.

The researchers always paid particular attention to the question of the extent to which these fictions promote the hierarchical gender relationship in society, which is so strongly criticized by feminists. In addition to the investigation into images of femininity, an attempt was also made to find certain topics that support the gender relationship in its existing form.

In the 1970s in particular, the question of whether there is a specifically “feminine aesthetic” in the literature created by women that fundamentally differentiates the works of women authors from those of their male colleagues.

3.2 Main representatives

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is often cited as one of the main proponents of feminism. Her literary work, however, dealt only marginally with the question of women. Her feminist commitment, especially in her essay “A room of one’s own” (“A room for yourself”), was only recognized by the new women's movement in the 1960s. Woolf dealt with the historical situation of women writers and also lays the foundation for the later American literary history. Edited by Hubert Zapf. 2nd edition Stuttgart 2004. p. 523


1 Renate Hof: From Women‘s Studies to Gender Studies: Feminist literary and cultural criticism. In:

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