The term “women’s literature” is loaded
Lit about women?
Lit for women?
Lit written by women?
How are women defined? ex: 50 shades of grey – written by a woman, about a
woman, for women … does that make it women’s literature?
Impossible to create any kind of static definition
Typically used in FOR women and BY women audience senses
Attempt to define causes restrictive choices to be made
- are there only certain subjects to write about, or certain stories to tell if women are
writing and targeting women?
For 2Q99, our texts are restricted to lit written by women
- international women’s writings
The Western Tradition
* Widespread education of women uncommon until 19 and 20 centuries
* “English” as a taught subject (debated but emerged around 1840, do not
confuse with rhetoric-art of argumentation)
- looked at Latin and myth but not contemporary writing
* Poetry vs. prose
* Poetry – up until 20 century was a male format
novels – consumed more by women
* Canon and canon formation: social and political formation led to this
* Literary canon – artificial set of plays/poems, etc. Most agree this is the best
that literature has to offer, placed in the cannon in order from best to worst
* Only one person decides on what is “good” and canonized … but then others
might not feel the same way about the text
* Results in a lack of women’s voices except for what is termed the “Exemplary
Tradition” – women who were brought into public awareness, but were
brought in for their greatness only because they were a woman (if a man did
the same thing he wouldn't be recognized)
* As decisions are made about what is worthy for young people to read, who’s
making the decision and why are they making it? Are they just following into
old patterns of thought?
* i.e. the Brontes, Mary Shelley, etc., etc.
* Problem—Focus is on being “exceptional,” and therefore indicating
difference and a quality of unexpectedness and exceptionality
English Traditions (England, America)
* Up until 2 wave feminism (approx.. 1970)—the Exemplary Tradition was in
place … men were superior in terms of producing poetry (however some
women were good at it) * 1 wave feminism was largely focused on suffrage: around turn of the
century up until 1970
* 2 wave feminists starts around 1970 and starts changing exemplary
* 1960’s and 1970’s—expansion of feminism to popularly include more
consideration of culture – beyond ability to vote and own land… focused
more on culture
* Re-evaluation of women’s contributions to history across all disciplines, but
especially the arts
* Feminist scholars begin ‘recovery’ and ‘reclamation’ work
* Political in nature and tone
* "the personal was the political, the sexual was the textual“ (Gilbert and
Gubar) Mad woman in the attack was about Rochester’s wife from Jane
Eyre …. Sexual battle was happening in literary studies (what is sexuality,
what is gender)
* écriture féminine (1975) Helene Cixous
* "the inscription of the feminine body and female difference in language and
text.” (Elaine Showalter)
* Focuses on language meaning: through language you could see the difference
between women and the female body
- language and female body was seen as intimately connected
* Parler femme (woman-speak) is where women create new narrative spaces
that are creative and completely different from patriarchal approaches to
- women wrote in a way men couldn’t understand, they were looked at two
differently aimed pieces of writing, and couldn’t even be considered
alongside one another because they were radically different
* Focus on women’s eroticism and the language of the body
* Why do women as a group embrace the idea of parler femme, a female
literary tradition OR scripture feminine?
- Was the goal to create equality between genders?
* The nature of publishing, academic work and gender politics have set up, in
some opinions, a set of archetypes of female representation in literature
* - Archetypal: there are certain ‘types of women’ certai