Friday, 10 April 2009

Understanding Feminism in LiteratureFeminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivate

Feminism is a diverse collection of social theories, political movements, and moral philosophies, largely motivated by or concerning the experiences of women, especially in terms of their social, political, and economic situation. As a social movement, feminism largely focuses on limiting or eradicating gender inequality and promoting women's rights, interests, and issues in society. It also embraces greater opportunity for men to transcend the narrow gender roles and norms of masculinity that have traditionally confined them. Within academia, some feminists focus on documenting gender inequalities that oppress women and on changes in the social position and representation of women. Others argue that gender, and even sex, are social constructs, and research the construction of gender and sexuality, and develop alternate models for studying social relations. Some feminist scholars, in echoes of anarchist feminists like Emma Goldman, have posited that the hierarchies in businesses and government and all organizations need to be replaced with a decentralized ultra-democracy. Some argue that having any central leader in any organization is derived from the andocentric family structure (and therefore needs reform and replacement), and thus such scholars see the essence of feminism as beyond the surface issues of sex and gender.
Feminist political activists commonly campaign on issues such as reproductive rights (including but not limited to the right to choose an abortion, the elimination of legal restrictions on abortion, and access to contraception), violence within a domestic partnership, maternity leave, equal pay, sexual harassment, street harassment, discrimination, and sexual violence. Themes explored in feminism include patriarchy, stereotyping, objectification, sexual objectification, and oppression.
In the 1960s and 1970s, much of feminism and feminist theory represented, and was concerned with, problems faced by Western, white, middle-class women while claiming to represent all women. Since then, many feminist theorists have challenged the assumption that "women" constitute a homogeneous group of individuals with identical interests. Feminist activists emerged from within diverse communities, and feminist theorists began to focus on the intersection of gender and sexuality with other social identities, such as race and class. Many feminists today argue that feminism is a grass-roots movement that seeks to cross boundaries based on social class, race, culture, and religion; is culturally specific and addresses issues relevant to the women of that society (for example female genital cutting in Africa or the glass ceiling in developed economies); and debate the extent to which certain issues, such as rape, incest, and mothering, are universal.

Origins

First International Convention of Women in Washington D.C. Susan B. Anthony is third from the left, front row.
Feminism as a philosophy and movement in the modern sense may be usefully dated to The Enlightenment with such thinkers as Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Marquis de Condorcet championing women's education. The first scientific society for women was founded in Middelburg, a city in the south of the Dutch republic, in 1785. Journals for women which focused on issues like science became popular during this period as well. Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the first works that can unambiguously be called feminist.
Feminism became an organized movement in the 19th century as people increasingly came to believe that women were being treated unfairly. The feminist movement was rooted in the progressive movement and especially in the reform movement of the 19th century. The utopian socialist Charles Fourier coined the word féminisme in 1837; as early as 1808, he had argued that the extension of women's rights was the general principle of all social progress. The organized movement was dated from the first women's rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. In 1869, John Stuart Mill published The Subjection of Women to demonstrate that the legal subordination of one sex to the other is wrong...and...One of the chief hindrances is to human improvement.
Many countries began to grant women the vote in the early years of the 20th century, especially in the final years of the First World War and the first years hence. The reasons varied, but they included a desire to recognize the contributions of women during the war, and were also influenced by rhetoric used by both sides at the time to justify their war efforts. For example, since Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points recognized self determination as vital to society, the hypocrisy of denying half the population of modern nations the vote became difficult for men to ignore.
Some forms of feminist theory question basic assumptions about gender, gender difference, and sexuality, including the category of "woman" itself as a holistic concept, further some are interested in questioning the male/female binary completely (offering instead a multiplicity of genders). Other forms of feminist theory take for granted the concept of "woman" and provide specific analyses and critiques of gender inequality, and most feminist social movements promote women's rights, interests, and issues. Feminism is not a single ideology. Over-time several sub-types of feminist ideology have developed. Early feminists and primary feminist movements are often called the first-wave feminists, and feminists after about 1960 the second-wave feminists. More recently, a new generation of feminists have started third-wave feminism. Whether this will be a lasting evolution remains to be seen as the second-wave has by no means ended nor has it ceded to the third-wave feminists. Moreover, some commentators have asserted that the silent majority of modern feminists have more in common ideologically with the first-wave feminists than the second-wave. For example, many of the ideas arising from Radical feminism and Gender feminism (prominent second-wave movements) have yet to gain traction within the broader community and outside of Gender Studies departments within the academy.
In her book A Fearful Freedom: Women's Flight from Equality, Wendy Kaminer identifies another conflict between forms of feminism, the conflict between what she calls "egalitarian" and "protectionist" feminism. In her characterization, egalitarian feminists focus on promoting equality between women and men, and giving women and men equal rights. Protectionist feminists prefer to focus on legal protections for women, such as employment laws that specially protect female workers and divorce laws that seem to favor women, sometimes advocating restricting rights for men, such as free speech (specifically, the right to produce and consume pornography). Though the book predates third-wave feminism, Kaminer identifies both protectionist and egalitarian currents within first-wave feminism and second-wave feminism.
Some radical feminists advocate separatism—a complete separation of male and female in society and culture—while others question not only the relationship between men and women, but the very meaning of "man" and "woman" as well (see Queer theory). Some argue that gender roles, gender identity, and sexuality are themselves social constructs (see also heteronormativity). For these feminists, feminism is a primary means to human liberation (i.e., the liberation of men as well as women.)
Other feminists believe that there may be social problems separate from or prior to patriarchy (e.g., racism or class divisions); they see feminism as one movement of liberation among many, each affecting the others.
The various types of feminism include:
Egalitarian forms:
equity feminism
individualist feminism
liberal feminism
Gynocentric forms:
cultural feminism
gender feminism
radical feminism
Belief in oppression by patriarchy:
anarcha-feminism
French feminism
radical feminism
Belief in oppression by capitalism:
socialist feminism
Marxist feminism
Differences are solely or mostly cultural, not biological:
Amazon feminism
psychoanalytic feminism
Segregationalist:
lesbian feminism (Lesbian separatism)
separatist feminism
African-American
Black Feminism
Womanism
non-Western:
third-world feminism
post-colonial feminism
pro-sex feminism (also known as sexually liberal feminism, sex-positive feminism)

Subtypes of feminism
Amazon feminism
Anarcha-Feminism
Anti-racist feminism
cultural feminism
ecofeminism
equity feminism
existentialist feminism
French feminism
gender feminism
individualist feminism (also known as libertarian feminism)
lesbian feminism
liberal feminism
male feminism or Pro-feminist men
Marxist feminism (also known as socialist feminism)
material feminism
pop feminism
post-colonial feminism
postmodern feminism which includes queer theory
pro-sex feminism (also known as sexually liberal feminism, sex-positive feminism)
psychoanalytic feminism
radical feminism
separatist feminism
socialist feminism
spiritual feminism
standpoint feminism
third-world feminism
transnational feminism
transfeminism
womanism
Certain actions, approaches and people can also be described as proto-feminist or post-feminist.
Although many leaders of feminism have been women, not all feminists are women. Some feminists argue that men should not take positions of leadership in the movement, because men, having been socialized to aggressively seek positions of power or direct the agendas within a leadership hierarchy, would apply this tendency to feminist organizations; or that women, having been socialized to defer to men, would be hindered in developing or expressing their own self-leadership in working too closely with men. However, some feminists do believe that men should be accepted as leaders in the movement. Compare pro-feminism, humanism, masculism.
Today, some young women associate "feminism" with radical and gender feminism, and this has put off some of these women from being active in feminism, spurring a move away from second-wave labels. However, the basic values of feminism (women's rights and gender equality for women) have become so integrated into Western culture as to be accepted overwhelmingly as valid, and non-conformity to those values characterized as unacceptable, by the same men and women who reject the label "feminist".Some feminists take a holistic approach to politics, believing the saying of Martin Luther King Jr., "A threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". In that belief, some self-identified feminists support other movements such as the civil rights movement and the gay rights movement. At the same time, many black feminists such as bell hooks criticize the movement for being dominated by white women. Feminist claims about the alleged disadvantages women face in Western society are often less relevant to the lives of black women. This idea is the key in postcolonial feminism. Many black feminist women prefer the term womanism for their views.
Feminists are sometimes wary of the transgender movement because it challenges the distinctions between men and women. Transgender and transsexual individuals who identify as female are excluded from some "women-only" gatherings and events and are rejected by some feminists, who say that no one born male can fully understand the oppression that women face. This exclusion is criticized as "transphobic" by transgender people, who assert their political and social struggles are closely linked to many feminist efforts, and that discrimination against gender-variant people is another face of the so-called patriarchy. See transfeminism and gender studies.Some feminists would argue that there is still much to be done on these fronts, while others would disagree and claim that the battle has basically been won.

Feminists have struggled to overcome power-based barriers throughout the movement's history.Feminism has effected many changes in Western society, including women's suffrage; broad employment for women at more equitable wages; the right to initiate divorce proceedings and the introduction of "no fault" divorce; the right to keep children from their fathers, the right to obtain contraception and safe abortions; the right to not allow men to face a woman who accuses them of rape, the right to be allowed admittance into any university in the US; and the right to have over 60 female-only universities in the US. Feminism is largely a pro-choice movement, although there are some exceptions. The national organization Feminists for Life, for instance, condemns the act of abortion, claiming that the reason that abortion is so common is because women do not have access to alternate resources and information. Feminists for Life even suggest that what they refer to as the "abortion industry" is part of a system which allows the abuse of women and women's rights.
English-speaking feminists are often proponents of what they consider to be non-sexist language, using "Ms." to refer to both married and unmarried women, for example, and the ironic use of the term "herstory" instead of "history". Feminists are also often proponents of using gender-inclusive language, such as "humanity" instead of "mankind", or "he or she" (or other gender-neutral pronouns) in place of "he" where the gender is unknown. Feminists in most cases advance their desired use of language either to promote what they claim is an equal and respectful treatment of women or to affect the tone of political discourse. This can be seen as a move to change language which has been viewed by some feminists as imbued with sexism, providing for example the case in the English language in which the word for the general pronoun is "he" or "his" (The child should have his paper and pencils), which is the same as the masculine pronoun (The boy and his truck). These feminists argue that language then directly affects perception of reality (compare Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). However, to take a postcolonial analysis of this point, many languages other than English may not have such a gendered pronoun instance and thus changing language may not be as important to some feminists as others. Yet, English is becoming more and more universal, and the issue of language may be seen to be of growing importance.
On the other hand quite a different tendency can be seen in French. Gender, as a grammatical concept, is much more pervasive in French than in English, and as a result, it has been virtually impossible to create inclusive language. Instead, nouns that originally had only a masculine form have had feminine counterparts created for them. "Professeur" ("teacher"), once always masculine regardless of the teacher's sex, now has a parallel feminine form "Professeure". In cases where separate masculine and feminine forms have always existed, it was once standard practice for a group containing both men and women to be referred to using the masculine plural. Nowadays, forms such as "Tous les Canadiens et Canadiennes" ("all Canadians", or literally "all the male Canadians and female Canadians") are becoming more common. Such phrasing is quite common in Canada, but practically unknown in European and African French-speaking countries.
The feminist movements have affected the nature of heterosexual relationships in Western and other societies affected by feminism. In some of these relationships, there has been a change in the power relationship between men and women. In these circumstances, women and men have had to adapt to relatively new situations, sometimes causing confusions about role and identity. Women can now avail themselves more to new opportunities, but some have suffered with the demands of trying to live up to the so-called "superwomen" identity, and have struggled to 'have it all', i.e. manage to happily balance a career and family. In response to the family issue, many socialist feminists blame this on the lack of state-provided child-care facilities. Others have advocated instead that the onus of child-care not rest solely on the female, but rather that men partake in the responsibility of managing family matters.
Some men counter that this expectation is unrealistic, claiming a de-emphasis on breadwinning would be injurious to their ability to attract mates; while many women have the choice to try to "have it all", they claim that societal expectations placed on men preclude them from devoting themselves further to domestic chores and childrearing. Several studies support the view that, although men are derided for not devoting enough time to childrearing and domestic tasks, few women seem attracted to men who engage in these activities to the detriment of their careers. ("The Perception of Sexual Attractiveness: Sex Differences in Variability" by Townsend J.M.; Wasserman T., Archives of Sexual Behavior, Volume 26, Number 3, June 1997, pp. 243-268(26) McGraw, Kevin J. (2002) "Environmental Predictors of Geographic Variation in Human Mating Preferences." Ethology 108 (4), 303-317. In Defense of Working Fathers Sacks, Glenn. [1].) As a counter to these arguments, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild's books The Second Shift and The Time Bind present evidence that married men contribute much less time towards child care and housework than their wives do. Some argue that the fact men devote less time to household chores is due to the fact that they devote more time to work outside the home. (finding, "According to the International Labor Organization, the average American father works 51 hours a week, whereas those mothers of young children who do work full time (themselves a minority) work a 41-hour week." [2]. However, Hochschild presented statistical evidence that this was not the case for two-career couples: according to the studies she cites, in two-career couples, men and women on the average spend about equal amounts of time working, but women still spend more time on housework. Hochschild's work mainly centers around two-career couples, but most disputes about the role of men in child care and domestic work center around two-career couples: feminist critiques of men's contribution to child care and domestic labor are typically centered around the idea that it is unfair for the woman to be expected to perform more than half of a household's domestic work and child care when both members of a couple also work outside the home In general, in couples where one or both partners do not work outside the home, gender-based division of labor is less of a point of contention for feminists. (For more discussion of this point, see Joyce Jacobson's The Economics of Gender).
The preceding arguments mainly apply to middle-class women. In her 1996 book Dubious Conceptions, Kristin Luker discusses the effect of feminism on teenage women's choices to bear a child, both within and outside of marriage. She argues that as bearing a child without being married has become more socially acceptable for women, young women -- while not bearing children at a higher rate than in the 1950s -- have come to see less of a reason to get married before having a child, especially poor young women. As reasons for this, she argues that the economic prospects for poor men are slim, meaning that poor women have a low chance of finding a husband who will provide reliable financial support, and that husbands tend to create more domestic work than they contribute. Though the feminist movement has had minimal impact on those two factors, it may have contributed to the increasing social acceptability of bearing children outside of marriage.
There have been changes also in attitudes towards sexual morality and behavior with the onset of second wave feminism and "the Pill": women are then more in control of their bodies, and are able to experience sex with more freedom than was previously socially accepted for them. This sexual revolution that women were then able to experience was seen as positive (especially by sex-positive feminists) as it enabled women and men to experience sex in a free and equal manner. However, some feminists felt that the results of the sexual revolution were beneficial only to men. Feminists have debated whether marriage is an institution that oppresses women and men. Those who do view it as oppressive sometimes opt for cohabitation or more recently to live independently reverting to casual sex to fulfill their sexual needs.
Evangelical (Christian) feminists sometimes argue that life-long monogamy ideally promotes egalitarianism in sex, especially when viewed in light of other common alternatives to monogamy (i.e. polygamy, prostitution, or infidelity). On the other hand, Engel’s essay Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State -- sometimes considered an early feminist work -- argues that monogamy was originally conceived of as a way for men to control women. In addition, some modern feminists endorse polyandry as an egalitarian lifestyle.
Feminism has had a great effect on many aspects of religion. In liberal branches of Protestant Christianity (and in some theologically conservative dominations as well, such as Assemblies of God, women are ordained as clergy, and in Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism, women are ordained as rabbis and cantors. Within these Christian and Jewish groups, women have gradually become more nearly equal to men by obtaining positions of power; their perspectives are now sought out in developing new statements of belief. In Islam women have historically contributed to all aspects of Islamic life, from religious edicts to aid on the battlefield. A large portion of the sayings of Muhammad are taken from his wife Aisha, whom men often consulted on religious matters. In this day you will often see many women scholars on Arabic satellite television answering Islam-related questions, asked by both genders. One matter remains debatable nowadays, which is whether or not a woman can lead men in prayers. Although all classical Islamic scholars of jurisprudence rule that it is prohibited in Islamic Law, a small portion of contemporary Muslims believe that there is evidence leading to the contrary. The leadership of women in religious matters has also been resisted within Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism has historically excluded women from entering priesthood and other positions in clergy, allowing women to hold positions as nuns or as laypeople.
Feminism also has had an important role in embracing new forms of religion. Neopagan religions especially tend to emphasize the importance of Goddess spirituality, and question what they regard as traditional religion's hostility to women and the sacred feminine. In particular Dianic Wicca is a religion whose origins lie within radical feminism. Among traditional religions, feminism has led to self examination, with reclaimed positive Christian and Islamic views and ideals of Mary, Islamic views of Fatima Zahra, and especially to the Catholic belief in the Coredemptrix, as counterexamples. However, criticism of these efforts as unable to salvage corrupt church structures and philosophies continues. Some argue that Mary, with her status as mother and virgin, and as traditionally the main role model for women, sets women up to aspire to an impossible ideal and also thus has negative consequences on human sense of identity and sexuality.There is a separate article on God and gender; it discusses how monotheistic religions reconcile their theologies with contemporary gender issues, and how modern feminism has influenced the theology of many religions.
Opponents of feminism claim that women's quest for external power, as opposed to the internal power to affect other people's ethics and values, has left a vacuum in the area of moral training, where women formerly held sway. Some feminists reply that the education, including the moral education, of children has never been, and should not be, seen as the exclusive responsibility of women. Paradoxically, it is also held by others that the moral education of children at home in the form of home schooling is itself a women's movement. Such arguments are entangled within the larger disagreements of the Culture Wars, as well as within feminist (and anti-feminist) ideas regarding custodianship of societal morals and compassion.
The following is a sampling of statistics related to the relative status of women worldwide.
According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2004: Section 28, Gender, Work Burden, and Time Allocation, women work on average more than men, when both paid employment and unpaid household tasks are accounted for. In rural areas of the developing countries surveyed, women perform an average of 20% more work than men, or an additional 98 minutes per day. In the OECD countries surveyed, on average women performed 5% more work than men, or 18 minutes per day.
Women own only 1 percent of the world's wealth, and earn 10 percent of the world's income, despite making up 49.5 percent of the population.
Women are underrepresented in all of the world's major legislative bodies (see Women in National Parliaments, November 2004). In 1985, Finland had the largest percentage of women in national legislature at approximately 32 percent (P. Norris, Women's Legislative Participation in Western Europe, West European Politics). Currently, Sweden has the highest number of women at 45 percent. The United States has just 14 percent. The world average is just 9 percent. In contrast, half of the members of the recently established Welsh Assembly Government are women.
Most feminists believe discrimination against women still exists in North American and European nations, as well as worldwide. But there are many ideas within the movement regarding the severity of current problems, what the problems are, and how best to confront them.
Extremes on the one hand include some radical feminists such as Mary Daly who argues that human society would be better off with dramatically fewer men. There are also dissidents, such as Christina Hoff Sommers or Camille Paglia, who identify themselves as feminist but who accuse the movement of anti-male prejudice.
On the other hand, many feminists question the use of the term feminist to groups or people who fail to recognize a fundamental equality between the sexes. Some feminists, like Katha Pollitt (see her book Reasonable Creatures) or Nadine Strossen (President of the ACLU and author of Defending Pornography [a treatise on freedom of speech]), consider feminism to be, solely, the view that "women are people." Views that separate the sexes rather than unite them are considered by these people to be sexist rather than feminist.
There are also debates between difference feminists such as Carol Gilligan on the one hand, who believe that there are important differences between the sexes (which may or may not be inherent, but which cannot be ignored), and those who believe that there are no essential differences between the sexes, and that the roles observed in society are due to conditioning. There is no consensus among modern scientists on whether inborn differences exist between men and women (other than physical differences such as anatomy, chromosomes and hormones).
In Marilyn French's seminal works analyzing patriarchy and its effects on the world at large--including women, men and children--she defines patriarchy as a system that values power over life, control over pleasure, and dominance over happiness. According to French, "it is not enough either to devise a morality that will allow the human race simply to survive. Survival is an evil when it entails existing in a state of wretchedness. Intrinsic to survival and continuation is felicity, pleasure. Pleasure has been much maligned, diminished by philosophers and conquerors as a value for the timid, the small-minded, the self-indulgent. "Virtue" involves the renunciation of pleasure in the name of some higher purpose, a purpose that involves power (for men) or sacrifice (for women). Pleasure is described as shallow and frivolous in a world of high-minded, serious purpose. But pleasure does not exclude serious pursuits or intentions, indeed, it is found in them, and it is the only real reason for staying alive" Beyond Power This philosophy is what French offers as a replacement to the current structure where power has the highest value--and it is this feminism to which many (women and men) subscribe. However many believe this view is flawed, simply because one who desires power will usually obtain power over one who does not.
Carol Tavris, author of Anger: the Misunderstood Emotion and The Mismeasure of Woman: Why Women Are Not the Better Sex, the Inferior Sex, or the Opposite Sex, maintains that as long as men's experiences are considered to be the default human experiences, women will always face discrimination in North America or elsewhere. She holds that too much emphasis is placed on innate differences between men and woman, and that it has been used to justify the restriction of women's rights. She also argues that it is a fallacy to equate 'equality' with 'sameness'. For example, employment benefits for pregnant women are sometimes called 'special treatment', but -- Tavris argues -- because only women can become pregnant, this viewpoint is wrong. It would only be special treatment, she argues, if both men and women could become pregnant and women received benefits for pregnancy that men did not. (In her book A Fearful Freedom, Wendy Kaminer provides an opposing viewpoint to this argument; she argues that pregnancy leave should not be a special case of employment benefits, but should be treated like any other disability benefits.) She argues that there is a need to view both men's and women's experiences as human experiences, without putting special emphasis on the differences between them.
Feminism, in some forms and to varying degrees, has become generally accepted in Western society. However, the attention it has attracted, due to the social changes it has effected, has resulted in many dissenting voices. Criticism has come from within the movement, from non-feminists, from masculists, from social conservatives, and from scientists. Postcolonial feminists criticize Western forms of feminism, notably radical feminism and its most basic assumption, universalization of female experience. They argue that this assumption is based on the experience of white, middle-class women in the developed West, for whom gender oppression is primary; and that it cannot so easily be applied to women for whom gender oppression comes second to racial or class oppression. Non-feminist critics suggest that the continual emphasis on women's issues throughout the evolution of the movement has resulted in gynocentric ideology. They think that modern-day feminists are biased by the lens that filters their world views. They would like to see a gender-neutral term such as "gender egalitarianism" replace "feminism" when used in reference to the belief in basic equal rights and opportunities for both sexes.
Many who support masculism argue that because of both traditional gender roles and sexism infused into society by feminists, males are and have been oppressed. Their view as expressed by Warren Farrell in "The Myth of Male Power" is that the traditional world was a bi-sexist world, not a uni-sexist one, and that the issues men faced then still exist plus several new ones created by feminist organizations. One complaint is that feminists promote misandry, even male inferiority - it has been demonstrated that replacing the words "male" and "female" in some feminist writings with "black" and "white" respectively would make these texts racist. However, this is applicable to non-feminist writing as well, as Douglas Hofstadter tried to show in "A Person Paper on Purity in Language". Another interesting word substitution is substituting "male" and "female" with each other in texts, like Gerd Brantenberg's Egalia's Daughters. Others still dismiss this word substitution argument as overly simplistic, and state that changing "men oppress women" to "blacks oppress whites" says as little about the speaker of the original sentence as would changing "I love Jews" to "I hate Jews".
Another concern is that the belief in a glass ceiling for women may have resulted in affirmative action programs that promote women more for the purpose of public relations than for merit. Sexual harassment is also a topic of dispute: critics claim that, in the name of protecting women, men are discriminated against when they are the subject of claims; and that they are treated less seriously when claiming cases. The same is true with domestic violence, and even though oft-quoted feminist research suggests that over 30% of the victims of domestic violence are male, only a handful of the thousands of tax-funded shelters in the US will even admit men. Other concerns include inequity in health funding (particularly breast vs. prostate cancer), societal sympathy for women vs. vilification of men (e.g., emphasis on "violence against women"), and fears of censorship. Feminists disagree on the importance of men's issues; some argue that these issues are not important because society is male-dominated, others point out that the fact that a small group of men have much power doesn't contradict the idea that many men (especially poor, non-white, or non-straight men) might be oppressed. The concept of "patriarchy" is also questioned by masculists, largely because masculists examine whether a government's actions are more in line with men's interests or women's interests, not based on the gender of the people performing the actions, but on the actions themselves.
Conservative criticism includes the claim that the feminist movement is trying to destroy traditional gender roles. Proponents argue that men and women have many natural differences, and that everyone benefits from recognizing them. They consider children to benefit from having a masculine father and a feminine mother, and that divorce, single parenthood, and non-traditional gender roles harm children. Although it’s been pointed out that these gender roles and differences aren’t necessary “natural” to start with and are merely products of the said tradition. There is also a group of Paleoconservatives, including George Gilder and Pat Buchanan, who argue that feminism has produced a fundamentally unworkable, self-destructive, stagnant society. They note that societies in which feminism has developed the furthest have below-replacement rates of fertility and high rates of immigration (frequently from countries with cultures and religions hostile to feminism). In response to this, feminists such as Wendy Kaminer have argued that they are falsely attributing more power to feminism than the movement has ever actually had; in her book A Fearful Freedom, Kaminer argues that we now live in a post-feminist world without having experienced a feminist one. Moreover, sociologists generally account for these trends in terms of the relative wealth of industrialized nations and the cost of raising children in a post-agricultural society, not feminism.
In the US, "liberal" religious groups most accepting of feminism have noted fewer conversions and less natural increase, for reasons such as lower birthrate and the likelihood of members taking another step towards secularism by leaving the church. Some forms of Islam disapprove of feminism.
One way to criticize feminism is to quote radical feminists, such as Marilyn French's "All men are rapists, and that is all they are". These quotations are often given without the original context - for example, the sentence in question is taken from the speech of a character in a novel rather than the words of the author herself, was immediately preceded by references to being leered at on the streets of Chicago, and the second part of the statement was that "they rape us with their eyes, their laws, and their codes." The author is not asserting that all men engage in sexual assault, the impression one might get from the repetition of the unadorned quotation, but is merely reflecting a misandrous sentiment using the voice of her character.
Some writers have used arguments from science, social science, and statistics to advance their criticisms of feminism. Political scientist Warren Farrell uses statistics to argue that the reasons why men earn more than women are not based on sex discrimination. In his Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Violence, anthropologist Michael Ghiglieri used science to challenge the idea that rape is about power rather than sex, as well as the idea that male domestic violence against women is about domination. Feminists have also argued from science in order to respond to others' criticisms of feminism, such as Anne Fausto-Sterling in Myths of Gender, Carol Tavris in The Mismeasure of Woman, and the feminist social scientists and scientists Barbara Ehrenreich, Kristin Luker, and Stephanie Coontz.
Criticism of feminism as has further suggested that feminists claim that their viewpoint is omnipurpose. This would imply that a feminist perspective can be applied to all areas of life (and policymaking in particular). This has been disputed, as critics contend that a feminist position has nothing to say about some topics, for example nuclear power or disaster prevention. Some feminists might respond to these critics by arguing that due to their role as mothers, women have a special sensitivity for the fragility of human life and the need to protect it, which gives them a unique perspective on issues such as nuclear power that pit individual human welfare against societal needs. Thus, there is a broad feminist perspective that can be applied to public policy in general. (It is imporant to note that not all feminists would agree with this line of thought; equality feminists, in particular, dispute the idea that women are particularly nurturing or virtuous).
List of Eminent World Feminists :-
Lila Abu-Lughod - Anthropologist
Rachel Adler - Jewish theologian
Susan B. Anthony
Gloria E. Anzaldúa - Poet
Bettina Aptheker - Writer, Activist, and Educator
Simone de Beauvoir - Philosopher
Ruth Behar - Anthropologist
Judith Butler - Philosopher
Susan Brownmiller - journalist, writer, and activist
Phyllis Chesler- Writer, Psychotherapist
Margaret Cho - Actress, Comedian
Kate Chopin - Writer
Sandra Cisneros - Writer
Hélène Cixous - Philosopher
Nellie McClung - Writer, Teacher, one of the "Famous Five"
Mary Daly - "post-Christian" theologian
Andrea Dworkin - Writer
Henrietta Muir Edwards
Jean Bethke Elshtain - Philosopher
Jane Fonda - Actress, activist, philanthropist
Marilyn French - Writer, author of Beyond Power, an extensive "history" of patriarchy
Betty Friedan - Writer
Diana Fuss - Professor of English
Jane Gallop - Professor of English
Sandra Gilbert - Professor of English
Emma Goldman - Anarchist, writer
Jane Gomeldon - 18th century Essayist
Deborah Gordon - Anthropologist
Germaine Greer - Writer
Sandra Harding - Philosopher
Donna Haraway - Anthropologist
Susannah Heschel - Jewish theologian
bell hooks -Writer and critic
Luce Irigaray - Philosopher
Alison M. Jagger - Philosopher
Kumari Jayawardena - Sri Lankan feminist scholar
Maxine Hong Kingston - Novelist
Biddy Martin - Professor of German studies
Suzanne MacNevin - Writer/chemist
Emily Martin - Anthropologist
Nellie McClung - writer, one of the "Famous Five"
Wendy McElroy- Intellectual, Libertarian Feminist
Louise McKinney
Kate Millett - Critic
Chandra Talpade Mohanty - Sociologist
Toril Moi - Professor of literature
Susan Moller Okin - philsophical and political theorist
Henrietta Moore - Anthropologist
Robin Morgan - poet, editor, activist, and former child star
Iris Murdoch - Novelist and philosopher
Emily Murphy - Writer, Magistrate, one of the "Famous Five"
Judith Newton Professor of English
Camille Paglia Intellectual
Emmeline Pankhurst
Sylvia Pankhurst
Irene Parlby
Alice Paul
Judith Plaskow - Jewish theologian
Janice Raymond - Writer
Rayna Rapp Reiter - Anthropologist
Audre Lorde - Poet, essayist, activist
Adrienne Rich - Poet and essayist
Gayle Rubin - Anthropologist
Margaret Sanger - Birth control advocate and sex educator
Alice Schwarzer - Writer
Joan Wallach Scott - Historian
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick - Professor of English
Barbara Smith - Black lesbian feminist and activist
Cindy Sherman - Artist/photographer
Dorothy Smith - Sociologist
Kiki Smith - Artist/sculptor
Valerie Solanas - Author of the SCUM Manifesto
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak - Professor of English
Judith Stacey - Sociologist
Zaib-un-nissa Hamidullah - Writer, poetess and journalist.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Carolyn Kay Steedman - Professor of Arts Education
Gloria Steinem - Journalist and publisher
Martha Stewart- Television and magazine personality
Trinh T. Minh-ha - Writer, filmmaker, composer
Sojourner Truth
Alice Walker - Novelist
Monique Wittig - Novelist and critic
Virginia Woolf - Writer
Mary Wollstonecraft - Writer
Sylvia Yanagisako - Anthropologist
Iris Marion Young - Philosopher
Mitsuye Yamada - Writer, Poet, Activist
Anarcha-feminism
Anti-racist math
Domestic violence
Equal pay for women
Female roles in the world wars
Feminazi
Feminist history in the United States
Feminist history in the United Kingdom
Feminist history in Latin America
Gendercide
Gender-neutral language
History of feminism
Igbo Women's War of 1929
International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women
Iranian Women
Islamic feminism
Lesbian feminism

List of feminism topics
List of notable feminists
Marriage strike
Masculism
Misogyny
Misandry
Post-structuralism
Radical feminism
Rape
RAWA
Role of women in Judaism
Sex in advertising
Sisterhood is Powerful
Testosterone poisoning
Trafficking in human beings
Women's Cinema
What follows are different branches of feminism theory that are recognized by feminists and feminist scholars. These different theories of feminism are widely acknowledged and taught in women's studies courses, gender studies courses, and the like.
Like many, I also recognize that people have created their own definition of feminism to best suit them. The definitions here are theoretical, and are an example of the diversity among feminists. See where you fit in, or even if you do. Feminism is theory that men and women should be equal politically, economically and socially. This is the core of all feminism theories. Sometimes this definition is also referred to as "core feminism" or "core feminist theory." Notice that this theory does not subscribe to differences between men and women or similarities between men and women, nor does it refer to excluding men or only furthering women's causes. Most other branches of feminism do.
Why you believe in feminism and what your ideas are to make feminism a reality is what causes arguments within the feminism movement. You may find that you believe in the theory of feminism, but do not see yourself fitting into the branches of feminism below, that is common. You can believe that women and men should be politically, economically and socially equal for your own reasons and hold your own ideas pertaining how you can make that happen. If that is the case, then generally you can consider yourself a feminist. One who believes in the theory of feminism that is mentioned above.
Amazon feminism is dedicated to the image of the female hero in Greek mythology, as it is expressed in art and literature, in the physiques and feats of female athletes, and in sexual values and practices. Amazon feminism focuses on physical equality and is opposed to gender role stereotypes and discrimination against women based on assumptions that women are supposed to be, look, or behave as if they are passive, weak and physically helpless. Amazon feminism rejects the idea that certain characteristics or interests are inherently masculine (or feminine), and upholds and explores a vision of heroic womanhood.
An Amazon feminist, for example, would argue that some people are not cut out physically to be a fire fighter, serve in combat, or work in construction. Whereas some people are physically capable of doing such jobs. No mention of gender is made, as the jobs should be open to all people regardless of gender. Those men and women who are physically capable and want to, should pursue such jobs. Amazon feminists tend to view that all women are as physically capable as all men. The theory that there are fundamental personality differences between men and women, and that women's differences are special and should be celebrated. This theory of feminism supports the notion that there are biological differences between men and women. For example, "women are kinder and more gentle then men," leading to the mentality that if women ruled the world there would be no wars. Cultural feminism is the theory that wants to overcome sexism by celebrating women's special qualities, women's ways, and women's experiences, often believing that the "woman's way" is the better way.
Ecofeminism is a theory that rests on the basic principal that patriarchial philosophies are harmful to women, children, and other living things. Parallels are drawn between society's treatment of the environment, animals, or resources and its treatment of women. In resisting patriarchial culture, eco-feminists believe they are also resisting plundering and destroying of the Earth. They feel that the patriarchial philosophy emphasizes the need to dominate and control unruly females and the unruly wilderness.
Ecofeminism states that the patriarchal society is relatively new, something developed over the last 5,000 years or so and that the matriarchal society was the first society. In the matriarchal society, women were the center of society and people worshipped Goddesses. This is known as the Feminist Eden. This term was made popular by the radio/tv host Rush Limbaugh. A feminazi is defined by anti-feminists as a feminist who is trying to produce as many abortions as possible. Hence the term "nazi." Limbuah sees feminists as trying to rid the world of a particular group of people (fetuses). Individualist feminism is based upon individualism or libertarian (minimum government or anarchocapitalist) philosophies. The primary focus is individual autonomy, rights, liberty, independence and diversity. Individualist Feminism tends to widely encompass men and focuses on barriers that men and women face due to their gender. A movement in the late 19th century to liberate women by improving their material condition. This movement revolved around taking the "burden" off women in regards to housework, cooking, and other traditional female domestic jobs. The Grand Domestic Revolution by Charlotte Perkins Gilman is a reference.
This branch of feminism tends to be populated mostly by younger women or women who have not directly experienced discrimination. They tend to question the need for further effort, and think that feminism is no longer viable. They often view feminism as embarrassing (it's thought that this is the group most likely to espouse feminist ideas and thoughts while denying being "feminist"). The term for the type of feminism the National Organization for Women represents. This theory is based on the notion that in order for men and women to be equal (as the core of 'feminism' states), women must be granted some special privileges, and men should not be an issue in feminism. This could be exemplified by N.O.W. publicly supporting women who wish to enter traditional all-male schools. While N.O.W. will take strong and loud stands to support that, they are silent regarding men being able to enter traditional all-female schools. Another example could be how N.O.W. is quick to support women as public icons who are victims of sexual harassment, yet offer no public support for men as public icons who are victims of sexual harassment. In both instances, N.O.W. feminism encompasses only women and fights to offer special privileges to women with the intent of making women equal to men.
Pop-feminism is often mistaken by people to be feminism in general... the negative stereotypical man hating ideology. There is no proof that such feminists exist, I have yet to meet a feminist who hates men and indeed, many men are feminists. But, if such a category of feminists exist, they should be referred to as 'pop-feminists.' This would be the type of feminism that degrades men in all manners and glorifies women.
Radical feminism is the breeding ground for many of the ideas arising from feminism. Radical feminism was the cutting edge of feminist theory from approximately 1967-1975. It is no longer as universally accepted as it was then, and no longer serves to solely define the term, "feminism."
This group views the oppression of women as the most fundamental form of opression, one that cuts across boundaries of race, culture, and economic class. This is a movement intent on social change, change of rather revolutionary proportions. Radical feminism questions why women must adopt certain roles based on their biology, just as it questions why men adopt certain other roles based on theirs. Radical feminism attempts to draw lines between biologically-determined behavior and culturally-determined behavior in order to free both men and women as much as possible from their previous narrow gender roles. Separatists are often wrongly depicted as lesbians. These are the feminists who advocate separation from men; sometimes total, sometimes partial. Women who organize women-only events are often dubbed separatist. The core idea is that "separating" (by various means) from men enables women to see themselves in a different context. Many feminists, whether or not separatist, think this is a necessary "first step," for personal growth. However, they do not necessarily endorse permanent separation. It is inaccurate to consider all lesbians as separatist. While it is true that they do not interact with men for sexual fulfillment, it is not true that they automatically shun all interaction with men. They had jobs, but feminists weren't satisfied; every other woman had to get one too. So they opened fire on homemakers with a savagery that still echoes throughout our culture. A housewife is a "parasite," [Betty] Frieden writes; such women are "less than fully human" insofar as they "have never known a commitment to an idea." 1 Housewives, not men, were the prey in feminism's sights when Kate Millett decreed in 1969 that the family must go. Feminists do not speak for traditional women. Men cannot know this, however, unless we tell them how we feel about them, our children, and our role in the home. Men must understand that our feelings towards them and our children are derided by feminists and have earned us their enmity. Whether or not this understanding garners men's support, traditional women must defend ourselves because the feminist offensive is, most essentially, a breach of solidarity with us, a disavowal of the obligation to honor the Women's Pact [that religious celibates, professional women, and homemakers respect each other] that women in the movement owed to us.3
"I am not the sort of woman who goes blonde," writes novelist Jane Smiley, before explaining how she did just that and, in the process, what sort of woman she discovered herself to be. A feminist intellectual and practical Midwesterner, Smiley had always "abjured vanity." She wore glasses and plain white cotton underwear, had a "short, masculine hairdo," 2 and never, ever shaved her legs or underarms. Her looks reflected her convictions. "If I dyed my hair," she thought, "that would lead to makeup, and inevitably, to manicures, facials, panty hose, and the wholesale submission to the patriarchy." But that reasoning itself reflected the stereotypes of an earlier era, the idea that women must choose between intelligence and beauty, mind and body, substance and surface.
In her early forties, Smiley discovered that her studied indifference to her appearance was sending unwanted signals and hiding important aspects of her personality. The man she was interested in didn't see her as a woman. She fretted to her therapist. The therapist sent her to his colorist. Thus began her new life of blonde hair and shaved armpits -- of new pleasures and new meaning. "Sometimes I stand in front of the mirror and simply admire it," she says of her caramel-colored hair. "It is a beautiful, layered, shimmering gold, soft and sparkly, a hair color that has no relation to me and no counterpart in the animal world. I would hate to give it up." 4
"Sexism" is the term that was coined by feminists for wrongs of belief or action with respect to women that seemed to them comparable to the wrongs of belief and action signified by racism. However, where racists may be reasonably said to have erred in seeing significant genetic differences between human races, there are real continuing questions, and steadily mounting evidence, about whether human sexual differences of behavior and psychology have a genetic basis.
The first three are Christina Hoff Sommers' Who Stole Feminism? [Simon & Schuster, 1994], Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae [Vintage Books, 1991], and Warren Farrel's The Myth of Male Power [Simon & Schuster, 1993]. All three of these people themselves believe in a certain form of feminism, what Sommers has dubbed "equity feminism," which is just the principle that there must be legal and political equality for women. Warren Farrel was actually on the national governing board of the National Organization for Women until he became disillusioned and decided that NOW was not fighting for the proper goals. The fourth book is the powerful recent Domestic Tranquility, A Brief Against Feminism by F. Carolyn Graglia [Spence Publishing, Dallas, 1998]. Graglia explicitly opposes feminism as such, except perhaps the "social feminism" of the 19th century, on the principle that identical laws for men and women, which were opposed by the "social feminism," are harmful to women who chose a traditional domestic occupation. Graglia's argument is especially noteworthy in that it is not from a fundamentalist religious point of view, which is where defenses of the traditional domestic life of women usually, or are expected to usually, come from ("bible-thumping retards"), but the essentially secular and rational claims of someone, not unfamiliar with professional life (Columbia Law School, Wall Street law firm), who does not appreciate a legal regime that has become hostile to her and her family.
On the other hand, most contemporary feminism, and almost the entirety of academic and political feminism, as Farrel discovered at NOW, is what Sommers has called "gender feminism," which is essentially based on a form of Marxist theory that substitutes "gender" for Marx's category of "class," or simply adds the two together, usually with "race" thrown in. This sort of "race, class, and gender" theory is typically a dangerous form of political moralism, with the same totalitarian characteristics as other versions of Marxism have proven to display. One consequence of this is that the substantive content of criticism is rarely addressed but that it is considered sufficient to vilify critics as, in effect, "class enemies," i.e. directing ad hominem arguments against them that their status, in terms of race, class, or gender, or simply in terms of their critical attitude, is sufficient to refute their arguments. Hence the convenient device of dismissing most of Western civilization as the product of "dead white males" -- though for feminism the inconvenient fact remains that Eastern and Middle Eastern civilization (and every other) must also be dismissed as the products of "dead non-white males."
To gender feminism, Sommers, Paglia, and Farrel are no less "enemies of feminism" (and, for that matter, "enemies of women") than Graglia. The three of them, however, have, to Graglia, bought into the essential feminist revolution, which was that laws cannot be different for the sexes. Since gender feminism is really a totalitarian project, it would be nice if there was a basis of reconciliation between the genuine liberalism of Sommers et. al. and Graglia's Burkean conservativism -- as in fact there is.
This essay will not deal with specific anti-capitalist arguments in feminism, since capitalism as such is defended elsewhere. Questions about economic "power," markets, free exchange, and private property will thus not be dealt with here. A good start is with the essay on Say's Law.
Until the controversy over Anita Hill's charges of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas politically revitalized feminism, many wondered why feminism seemed to have been such a vibrant political movement back in the 70's but since then had retreated into Women's Studies Departments at colleges and universities, where no one paid much attention to it except other academic feminists and college administrators. The answer was really simple enough: in the 70's feminism came to be perceived as simply anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-children, and perhaps even anti-religion, not to mention anti-men. Most early feminists, as especially detailed by Graglia, certainly regarded marriage and family as so burdensome as to approach slavery. Feminism presented the family as a kind of prison, with a working career on the outside as a kind of liberation. This did not take into account that for most people a family has always been the meaning of their life, the finding and creation of the closest relatives that a human being can have. Men did not go to work to enjoy the self-fulfillment of work. They went to work to support their families, often at jobs that they positively hated, or at least just tolerated for the sake of the income. Few men were so fortunate as to be doing something fulfilling or interesting that paid the bills at the same time. While feminists lamented that women often give up years, or all, of their careers in order to have children, even men with hopes of a fulfilling career traditionally have often had to give up those hopes if they suddenly were responsible for a family [1].
But for most people, who never get anywhere near a professional degree in anything, the whole idea of a "fulfilling career" was a little ridiculous. A job was to make a living, and the worth of living was to have that home and spouse and children and some leisure to enjoy them, working at personal projects or hobbies and watching the kids grow up. Because of that, most men were simply bewildered and astonished by feminism back in the 70's; it seemed to come from some sort of comically different reality. At the same time, any women who knew what the working world was like (like Graglia), and who felt that their primary concern, whether they worked outside or not, was their family and children, not only felt bewildered but insulted: feminism tended to portray home life as some sort of idiocy that no enlightened woman would be interested in. That is why the women's vote has rarely gone for out and out feminists (until, perhaps, in some 1992 races -- although there was still no "gender gap" in the votes cast for George Bush), even while working women did want equal pay for equal work, etc. On the CBS television magazine Sixty Minutes, in January 1992, Gloria Steinem said that only the "enemies of feminism" ever said that women could "have it all" -- both career and family. That is an astonishing thing for her to have said. If feminists had ever frankly admitted that family would be impossible for a real career woman (as it was for Steinem), then not only would feminism have failed at its own goals but it would simply have been Dead On Arrival for all but the smallest minority of woman; and it is inconceivable who these "enemies of feminism" would have been who could have perpetrated the hoax that women could have had both career and family.
But more important than any misestimation or misunderstanding about what people valued, feminism was perceived as having positive reasons to hate the family: not only ignoring but militantly rejecting the focus of meaning in people's lives. The hostility to the family came from ideological & political reasons: any old social function that the family may have fulfilled was to be fulfilled by the state instead, much more safely and effectively. Safely because children would be outside the influence of reactionary parents, especially patriarchal men. Effectively because they would be in the hands of politically sound professional "care givers." The literature was full of how wonderfully this had been working in the Soviet Union, Israel, etc. What the professionals could accomplish best, of course, was to erase the old sexist gender differences by socializing the children differently. This view rested, then, on the theory that gender differences are the result only of arbitrary social convention.
The problem with the examples cited so warmly, however, was that they were often monstrous acts of totalitarianism, and that they failed. The problem with the theory that personality and gender differences are entirely the result of environment, not heredity, is that it is indeed a prescription for just the kind of coercion and tyranny that most conspicuously tried to exploit its possibilities: if everything that we are is just socialization, then the reasonable thing is to socialize us in the best way possible, and that would be through the agency of those who know best. Those who know best, in turn, would be those politically favored, or at least self-appointed with enough fanfare. The socialization, in turn, would be a thorough indoctrination which, if done to adults, would have been called brain washing -- but then the brain was supposed to have been blank in the first place. Cambodia took this to the logical extreme: if you simply kill the parents, then that leaves the children in the hands of the state by default. Fortunately, the last line of defense against totalitarianism was the simple fact of human nature. All the power of the state could not really make the "New Man," and no amount of lies could cover that up indefinitely. The Soviet Union crumbled to reveal the people of 1913 emerging from the shadows, wanting the same things out of life that they did then, without all the bombast, promises, fanfare, and lies.
Meanwhile, the legal regime promoted by feminism in the West served to damage the position of housewives and mothers, with "no fault" divorce (now being rethought even by feminists), anti-discrimination law and "affirmative action" to promote women and disadvantage tradtional breadwinner males in the workplace, and, just as importantly, the denigration of the very idea that a husband owes support to his wife.
The charm that totalitarianism had for feminism was real enough, even though the desire to control human nature wasn't just confined to radical theory. It has crept up on us from all directions. F.A. Hayek says there are basically two views on how society should be organized, tribalism and the free market. Karl Popper more crisply contrasts the Closed Society with the Open Society. Ayn Rand says that the paradigm of humanity in the Open Society of the marketplace is that of the trader. Feminist theory mostly still hates capitalism -- "patriarchy" is often simply equated with war, racism, and capitalism; feminism with pacifism, socialism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, and even vegetarianism -- in short, any case that might be regarded as "progressive" from a leftist point of view. Hence the ironic move of doctrinaire feminists dismissing with contempt Margaret Thatcher, one of the most successful, powerful, and historically important women, and the longest serving British Prime Minister, of the 20th century. Similarly, in 1994, Annie Potts, a Hollywood actress, dismissed Kay Bailey Hutchinson, soon to win election as a United States Senator from Texas, as a "female impersonator." That seems to say that only politically correct women are really women.
What happens under the principles of the free market and liberal democracy with the feminist view that human nature is created entirely by environment is that the view as a political force simply disappears: people can raise their children however they like; and if they have some sort of educational theory or ideology like feminism to use, that's their business. It is not the place of the state to promote one view or another, to label some views as politically sound and others as sexist or anything else. This is essentially the liberal regime of Sommers and Paglia. It is conformable, however, to the conservative regime of Graglia with a couple of specific provisions. (1) a true libertarian regime does not have anti-discrimination laws about relationships between private individuals, and (2) if family law is seen as it should be, as a matter of private marital contracts, then Graglia's notion of traditional marital duties, of husband and wife, can easily be restored for anyone who believes in them, by their adoption of the appropriate contract. If traditional marriage really is as proven by history as a good Burkean would maintain, then such marriages will be more successful than the alternatives that the legal regime would allow. This is not a matter, however, for political pre-judgment.
Hayek is clear that the marketplace is "unnatural" in a way and that people, yearning for the old tribalism, can simply hate it. The difference is that the old tribal societies were personal. Capitalism is impersonal. Tribalism involved mutual positive obligations. Capitalism involves voluntary trade and contract. Tribalism provided a secure place for everyone. Capitalism denies that absolute security is possible or that we have a right that strangers provide it for us. Tribalism left no doubts. Capitalism tells us nothing. Tribalism always provided for needs, to the extent that the group could provide. Capitalism doesn't care what we need, but will provide what we want....if we will work for it. Tribalism valued people. Capitalism, indeed, values what people do and want, which is reflected in prices. Thus Marx accused capitalism of reducing even the family to a cash relationship. The choice, indeed, is between security and insecurity, but also between slavery and freedom and, in fact, between poverty of secure socialism and wealth of insecure capitalism. It is hard to choose between security and freedom, and it is easy to hope that they could be had together, that tribalism (or socialism) could be combined with capitalism. With that hope, "freedom" can be pursued in a way that surprisingly leads to tribal slavery. That is what happened with both Marxism and feminism.
A Closed Society is based directly on interpersonal relationships and is inevitably hierarchical. Feudalism is a system of direct obligations to specific persons, and nowhere is that kind of thing better illustrated than in the Confucian "six relationships." While the "six relationships" are often cited as three pairs, it is possible to flesh out six full pairs; the relations between: ruler and subject; parent and child; husband and wife; teacher and student; older brother and younger brother; older friend and younger friend. In each of these relationships the elder or higher member owes benevolent protection and care to the lower or younger, while the lower owes to the higher conscientious (i.e. not blind) obedience and loyalty. These relationships are mostly established by who one is, not what one does or wants, and this in great measure is determined by birth. There can be security and humanity in these relationships, but there is no such thing as freedom; and it is indeed a "closed," womblike and suffocating arrangement. Virtually all societies were based on these principles until within the last couple of centuries. The view of feminism is that in these systems women were not even persons. But if the argument is simply that women were stuck in a certain place with a fixed thing to do, without freedom or any opportunity to work for self-realization, then there were simply no persons in these systems since their whole principle was a place for everyone and everyone in their place. The whole idea of personal fulfillment or self-realization or opportunity for individual growth was simply non-existent. Of course, that is why Ayn Rand dismisses these societies as simply vast forms of slavery. But even slaves can be persons. Even slaves can have some rights. And under feudalism there were rights and obligations for every position in the hierarchy. The hierarchs did not have arbitrary authority. Theirs was a place just as much as any other, albeit with more privileges and authority. Even someone at the very top of the system who becomes an individual, like the Egyptian god-king Akhenaton, can come to grief for it.
These hierarchical systems clearly come from our primate past, as they are universal, not just among primates, but among virtually all mammals who live in groups. Once we get back far enough, not only are there no concepts of individual fulfillment or opportunity, but it is clear that there could not even be such a thing since there is actually nothing to do apart from the immemorial activities of the species. Some feminists say that women have been oppressed for 30,000 years. That is just about the time of the emergence of modern humans (H. sapiens sapiens), but those humans were not so different from older H. sapiens, physically or culturally, and not much like us in any cultural form. Instead, with nothing but the addition of tools and language (and religion), human life wasn't socially all that different in its forms even from the life of baboons or lions. All that counted was survival, since survival is all that counts in nature. Because survival was all that counted, the only human activity that really counted was reproduction, and so the only humans who really counted were women. That did not make them individuals. Nature simply doesn't care about individuals when the survival of the group or the species is all that counts. But it is from that level of culture that all the symbols that some feminists now think are evidence of matriarchy were produced -- the steatopygous "Venuses" and so forth. 5 It is unlikely that there was real matriarchy.
But in order to dissipate misapprehensions, which appear to be rife on this subject, it may be well to remind or inform the reader that the ancient and widespread custom of tracing descent and inheriting property through the mother alone does not by any means imply that the government of the tribes which observe the custom is in the hands of women; in short, it should always be borne in mind that mother-kin does not mean mother-rule. On the contrary, the practice of mother-kin prevails most extensively amongst the lowest savages, with whom woman, instead of being the ruler of man, is always his drudge and often little better than his slave. Indeed, so far is the system from implying any social superiority of women that it probably took its rise from what we should regard as their deepest degradation, to wit, from a state of society in which the relations of the sexes were so loose and vague that children could not be fathered on any particular man.6
Although much of Frazer's theoretical approach is now objectionable, and there are other possible explanations for the origin of matrilineal descent, his conclusion about the political power of women in ancient and paleolithic societies is still supported by the archeological and ethnographic evidence, despite popular theories (e.g. Marija Gimbutas) about ancient (pacifistic and earth-friendly, i.e. utopian) matriarchy. But if there was no real political matriarchy, there was certainly was psychological matriarchy. Camille Paglia makes the decisive observation about the steatopygous Venuses: they mostly don't have faces, or hands, or feet. The womb of nature is blind and, literally, faceless. Nor is there really anything to do except reproduce, and hands and feet are not needed for that. Now this sounds dehumanized, but back then there is no other model of humanity to contrast it with. The first human art simply reproduces the forms of nature, and to nature there is no individuality and no value apart from survival. Now we might say that tools and so forth were the beginning of something different, and in retrospect we might like to see the art celebrate all the new tools and their heroic use against nature; but that would have been wholly anachronistic, meaningless, and absurd at the time. The tools were simply used for survival, and all survival was ultimately dependent on and subordinated to fertility. To live that life, however, is to live in the warm, smothering, embrace of the community -- the psychological matriarchy of C.G. Jung's Terrible Mother, who devours individuality for the comfort of unconsciousness. That continues to be the attraction of all forms of tribalism. Feminist yearning for the matriarchy can dangerously find expression, indeed, in yearning for the smothering certainties of totalitarianism.
In the marketplace all that remains of tribalism, the last irreducible unit, is the family. Even if husband and wife do not exist in the old hierarchical relationship, as they well might under Graglia's conservative form of marriage, parents and children inevitably do. It is a case of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny: you grow up in the closed community of the family, then go out into the world. This gives rise to ambivalences. Freedom is getting away from the family, but freedom can also be solitary and lonely. And then there is the purpose of that freedom. Some creative worthy goal is always a possibility; but for most people of average ability and limited ambition, the most worthy goal still seems to be to continue a family and so to make for the next generation the same warm source as the last. Making a living was usually hard, so there mostly was not much chance to reflect on things beyond the benevolent protection of the family. For the generations after World War II, however, when prosperity seemed so easy (at least to the children), the question inevitably arose about the purpose of a mere endless round of life creating life. Given the opportunity to make a living in various ways, room opens up for something more than just making a living for the sake of one's family. That can expose one even more to the solitary openness of freedom, and because of that most people still decided that family was fundamental in a fulfilling life. There is always going to be a problem, however, if one's original experience of family was unpleasant. The conclusion from that is easily that a family is dispensable or even malevolent. Gloria Steinem seems to have had an unpleasant experience -- a divorced father who went away, and mother who couldn't cope and drifted into mental illness. The result was that she didn't want any kind of marriage or family. If it is not just a matter of what one wants, however, but of a judgment that the institution is wrong and must be overthrown, then this can lead to speculation about human life without families. The taste of freedom in the independence of the marketplace can tempt one to generalize the situation into all of human life. That isn't really going to work, since few people want their entire life to be as cold, impersonal, detached, calculating, and negotiable as relationships in the marketplace. If the market cannot provide the things that were rejected with the family, then perhaps something else can: political life.
Giving political life the old power of the family, however, is the same as to return to a political principle of tribalism. But this is a key move of gender feminism. The slogan, "The personal is political," embodies that connection. It is a slogan full of monstrous and terrible danger. Where in capitalism the personal is separated from the political in that the family is separated from the marketplace, which is served by politics, the abolition of the family exposes the privacy of the individual to whatever political forces, whatever ideology, happens to be ascendant. This literally strips away privacy and posits a political test, not just for everything the individual does, but for everything the individual thinks, desires, and feels. This is consistent with the view of human nature as "socially constructed" -- "environmentalist" rather than "genetic" -- and is precisely what is advocated by feminist legal theorists like Catharine MacKinnon. On that view, there really is no nature, only nurture according to some ideology. With no nature, nothing is really "natural," no natural feelings, no natural desires, no natural actions, no natural responses. Spontaneity must always be suspect, since the more spontaneous anything is, the more purely it embodies some unexamined and probably discreditable ideological conditioning. It is impossible to be a Taoist on the environmentalist view since "not-doing" cannot produce anything fresh from the Tao, it can only reproduce some stale socialization. Thus one goes about one's life hesitating at each action, feeling, etc., thinking, "Now, does this conform to the Correct View of social existence that I have gotten from my political indoctrination?" If not, then it is time to confess one's political crimes and beg for reeducation from the more enlightened. That kind of life is completely intolerable for any but fanatical zealots and ideologues; and anyone else who is harangued or browbeaten about thinking that way just ends up hating it with a passion. And that is the kind of response that feminism began eliciting in the 70's. The "backlash" that is now decried in the 90's was never against women per se but against the catalogue of political crimes into which feminism wished to transform private life.
Whatever human nature is actually like, whether there are innate differences between the sexes or not, this must be completely irrelevant to political life. It is not up to politics to determine some biological matter of fact. Instead it is the nature of liberal democracy to ignore whatever differences there may be between persons, from whatever source, whether there are differences or not. That, indeed, is the Marxist accusation against capitalism, that some people do better than others, regardless of their needs. And people are different. Some people are smarter than others, some are taller, some have certain desires. What they do and how they fare is determined by the free trade of the marketplace. Whether differences like that align with sexual differences is an interesting question for certain sciences, but irrelevant to politics. To enforce some preconception about how people, or the sexes, must be the same will abridge the freedom not only of what they do but of what they are. Feminism was hell bent to abridge people's freedom in that respect. The choice is simple, freedom or slavery -- freedom to the uncertainty, unconformity, and the openness of the market, or slavery to the coercive power of the state to enforce a preconceived ideological conformity, right down to what people feel and believe.
It is not impossible, however, to say how men and women might, in general, be different. Indeed, it is the popular wisdom of every age in every place that they are, and there is not a whole lot of disagreement in what respects they are different. One precise issue to consider is what feminism likes to call "male violence." There is little doubt that the received wisdom in every culture is that men are suited for war and women, mostly, are not. And men are suited for war because they are larger and stronger but also more aggressive and naturally violent. Feminism can grudgingly admit the former qualities [2] but is adamant that the latter qualities are merely the result of social conditioning. Women would be just as aggressive and violent if they had been taught to be that way, and were expected to be that way, from childhood. This is, indeed, a serious question. And if aggressiveness and violence are entirely the result of conditioning, then feminism would also be right that violent crime by males (90% of the prison population is male) is the result of society conditioning males to commit violent crimes. Thus the view of many feminists that social norms instill hatred of women, since if there is ever any violence against women, the perpetrators must have been trained to behave that way.
This sort of thing seems like sheer, dangerous insanity to someone like Camille Paglia (let alone Carolyn Graglia). To her, it is social conditioning that contains and restricts violence, in which case attacking social conditioning will only result in more violence, not less. She traces the feminist point of view back to the 18th century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who said "Man is born free, but now is everywhere in chains." Rousseau's idea was that we are naturally good and pure, but that society has made us evil and twisted. Consequently, we should return to a kind of education that would allow children to just run free, without any inhibitions that traditionally were instilled in them. Since such ideas have influenced not only feminism but a lot of professional educators for the last thirty years, or the last eighty years (starting with John Dewey), it is sensible to now ask if the result has been more violence or less. Clearly it has been more. And we might ask, in more direct response to feminism, whether the sons of families without fathers are, in general, more violent or less violent than sons who have been raised with a strong father present. The answer to that is also that the sons from fatherless families tend to be more violent.
Since Paglia thinks that men are naturally more aggressive and violent than women, we can of course ask why that would be. Many children of the sixties, who firmly believed that all behavior was the result of conditioning, came in for a bit of a surprise when they had children of their own. However they tried to be "gender neutral," many had to admit that the boys they were raising definitely behaved rather differently than the girls. The boys tended to go charging around pounding things and the girls didn't. But in the face of that kind of intimate, albeit anecdotal, evidence, or even systematic, scientific studies, feminist denial can be monumental [3]. The evidence from nature itself, however, eliminates the socialization argument altogether. Among mammals, from sea lions to llamas, we frequently find males fighting each other over females, often over large "harems" of females, where the females themselves seem content to accept the winners of the combat. The most striking example, however, comes with hyenas. While male mammals typically have high levels of testosterone in the womb, which is responsible for the development of primary sexual attributes, hyena females also have high levels of testosterone, and this results in several striking results: One is that hyena females develop apparently male external genitalia. This made it rather difficult to tell male and female hyenas apart, and some naturalists originally thought that hyenas were hermaphroditic (with functioning male and female organs). The second result is that female hyenas are larger and dominant over the males in hyena groups; and the groups are large and important because hyenas hunt in packs, like dogs and wolves. But the third result is probably the most startling: in hyena burrows where the young are born, they begin, not just to fight among themselves, but to actually kill each other. A hyena pup will establish her dominance by killing all her sisters. This kind of thing sets us face to face, not with Rousseau and his "noble savage" in friendly nature, but with Darwin and "nature red in tooth and claw" -- the "law of the jungle."
Testosterone does not cause violence, but it creates a certain potential that can be expressed in different ways. Socialization does not create that potential, and it cannot eliminate it. What socialization must do is provide for constructive ways for the potential to be expressed. But in some ways it is a little more definite than that, with examples like the following: In many cultures, young men get together in groups and do typically foolish kinds of things [4]. Such groups range from the warrior bands found among ancient Germans or the modern Masai (in East Africa) to modern college fraternities and contemporary street gangs. Typical of all these groups are initiation rituals that usually involve discomfort, pain, humiliation (often sexual), or even serious danger. We now call this "hazing." This kind of thing makes little enough sense to adults, none to women, and periodically provokes tremendous outrage when it results in the injury or the death of participants. But every effort to completely stamp it out fails. Trying to eliminate it, of course, often drives it underground and results in more dangerous rituals than would have occurred otherwise.
But the whole idea of male associations like fraternities is anathema to feminism. Feminists necessarily view fraternities, not as vehicles of channeling and socializing male energy into the least destructive directions, but as the very mechanisms by which males are socialized into violent and patriarchal behaviors. Many colleges and universities consequently have been trying to eliminate fraternities altogether. Since that simply drives them off campus, many colleges and universities have tried to make membership in fraternities a punishable offense, even punishable by expulsion. That, naturally, can make secret membership even more attractive. On the other hand, the alternative of trying to make fraternities coed is also very awkward. If sexually humiliating hazing is disturbing enough when men practice it on each other, it automatically becomes sexual harassment or rape when it is practiced on women [5]. That is a non-starter as an institution. And now, with many more women in the military, in mixed sex basic training and housing, scandals have multiplied over sexual fraternization and rape. One "solution" has been to soften up basic training by not even allowing drilling instructors to shout at recruits (-- though I am informed that this is not now the case).
So we might ask, what was nonsense like hazing and shouting drill instructors all for? Was it just an expression of the potential for aggression and violence? It seems more complex than that. In The Myth of Male Power, Warren Farrell deals with this quite well [pp. 294-296]. If warriors or hunters, in the past, went into danger, it helped for them to know how their fellows would react under danger, stress, and fear; and it helped for them to know to what extent they could trust and rely on each other to act in certain ways. Adults with experience of life and of each other don't need artificial means to test themselves; but the young need to learn all those things, and to be trained, preferably in an artificial context first. While such tests and training may be somewhat dangerous, they are not likely to be as dangerous as the real life situations for which they are preparatory. Today, when such training may only be necessary in the military, police, or other dangerous and physically demanding professions [6], it is nevertheless noteworthy that groups of young men spontaneously engage in the same kinds of behaviors -- rough-housing, showing off, taking risks, taunting each other -- that would have been customary, planned, and controlled in the young men's groups of traditional societies. When those unplanned and uncontrolled activities begin to include drive-by shootings and gang wars, it is clear that there has been a major social failure to deal with male adolescent behavior. The feminist desire simply to get rid of that behavior may already be said to have proved itself a disastrous failure, since feminist ideology and the most socially disruptive expressions of street gang culture have all developed and expanded during the same period of time, within the last thirty years. The only effective way to deal with the young men is to accept, control, and channel their behavior, not to pretend that it can be abolished. At the same time, doing away with the emotionally and physically stressful aspects of military training, because women can't or shouldn't handle it as well, simply means that there will be no training, for either men or women, for the stress and trauma of actual war and combat.
Another aspect of differences between males and females is explored by Deborah Tannen in her best selling book You Just Don't Understand, which is about how men and women use conversation in different ways. Her simple thesis is that men basically use conversation to establish status and women use it to establish closeness. She does not commit herself to whether this difference is the result of nature or socialization. She simply thinks that because it is there (her book is full of examples), it must be dealt with. She does not try to deal with it through moralistic exhortations to abolish it, but simply tries to promote understanding. Her theory, however, raises intriguing questions. Tannen admits herself that men actually do care about closeness, and women do actually care about status. Very rough and tumble competition can create friendships for boys and men (starting with Gilgamesh and Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh), and status for girls and women can be determined by their closeness to the core of a prestigious social group.
This is reminiscent of C.G. Jung's theory about consciousness, the unconscious, and their relation to sexual differences. Jung thought that anything in the mind that did not appear consciously would appear unconsciously. In sexual terms, that means that sexuality, which appears in consciousness one way, appears as its opposite in the unconscious. That leads to Jung's theory that there is a female archetype, the anima, in the male unconscious and a male archetype, the animus, in the female unconscious. If we apply that to Tannen's theory about conversation, it simply means that the overt seeking of status by men or closeness by women is complemented by the covert seeking of closeness by men and status by women. Nowhere, indeed, is the female status system of "ins" and "outs" more painfully obvious that in Women's Studies Programs. The purpose of conversation there, as explored by Daphne Patai & Noretta Koertge in the recent Professing Feminism, Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women's Studies [BasicBooks, 1994], is less the transmission of information or the cultivation of understanding than the transmission of a doctrine. Although the doctrine itself ferociously dismisses "patriarchal" hierarchy, it creates its own hierarchy simply in terms of how enthusiastically its message is received. Conspicuous agreement determines the "ins," rejection, scepticism, or even caution determines the "outs."
The issues that arise about all these differences between male and female require the most serious research and consideration, but this already goes beyond mainstream feminism, which has seemed resolutely unwilling to admit even the possibility of innate differences between the sexes. The closest it has come is to a moral difference between "genders," that the feminine point of view is superior to the masculine. This has usually just meant, however, that the masculine should be abandoned and the feminine adopted right across the board (even, paradoxically, in the military) -- which again presupposes that the "masculine" is something that can be abandoned. In terms of both the received traditions of the past and the best evidence of the present, this seems unlikely. Attempting social engineering through politics, which now extends to sexual harassment law in the workplace and a de-"masculinization" of the military, will most likely result in a phenomenon described by Jung: the reality being driven into the unconscious and expressed in the most destructive and irrational ways, as noted above with street gangs, etc.
The virtue of liberal society is that it allows people to try things their own way. If gender feminists want "gender-neutral" upbringing, they can practice that on their own children (if any). If professional couples want to both pursue their vocations and leave their children to the uncertain values (and behavior) of the nanny, they can do that. And if cultural conservatives want marriage where the husband supports his family and the wife stays home, they can do that, with traditional family law embodied in private contract. But this has never been the program of establishment feminism, whose instinct and preference has always been coercion and social engineering.
Pages on Feminist Issues
Against the Theory of "Sexist Language"
Abortion
Defense of Christina Hoff Sommers published in The Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 66:7
Gender Stereotypes and Sexual Archetypes
AnaestheticFeminism
Pornography
Women in theApology
Letter in defense of Christina Hoff Sommers sent to the Los Angeles Times
A fundamental move for early feminism was to distinguish between sex and gender, where sex, male or female, is about physical differences between the sexes, while gender, masculine or feminine, is about characteristics of behavior, demeanor, or psychology which feminism wished to claim are culturally constructed and conditioned and so ultimately arbitrary. Since the moral and political program of "gender feminism" was essentially to abolish gender differences, so that men and women would end up living the same kinds of lives, doing the same kinds of things, and perhaps even looking pretty much the same in "unisex" grooming and clothing, it was important to distinguish between the class of cultural and alterable items, matters of gender, and the class of physical and unalterable items, matters of physical sex differences.
Regardless of whether "gender" differences ever were entirely matters of cultural conditioning, and so oppressive discrimination, the clear and simple feminist distinction between "sex" and "gender" has become confused by a couple of developments:
First, the use of the word "gender" instead of "sex" simply became a badge of political correctness, by which speakers marked themselves through speech as having a proper feminist consciousness. Then, since meaning didn't much matter for that usage, "gender" has tended to simply replace all uses of the word "sex," except for direct references to sexual activities. Thus, where the answers "male" and "female" should indicate that the question was about the sex of the person, and the answers "masculine" and "feminine" should indicate that the question was about gender, it is now common to find questions of the form, "What gender are you?" where the answer is clearly expected to be "male" or "female" rather than "masculine" or "feminine." If this replacement becomes complete, however, then the original feminist distinction simply disappears, and the word "gender" can easily take on the whole original meaning of "sex," including all the unalterable differences, physical or otherwise, between the sexes. One can imagine the dilemma of feminists whether to rejoice in their transformation of ordinary language or worry that such a transformation, by obscuring the distinction they wanted to make, will not actually make any difference. They may well wonder when Rush Limbaugh can say "gender" instead of "sex" without ideological difficulty.
On the other hand, "gender" feminists never did accept even physical differences with very good grace, and it now appears that their political program is of a sort that, even if most women cannot, for instance, lift and carry the fire hoses and ladders, this weakness must simply be accommodated in such a way that women will nevertheless have "equal opportunity" to be "firefighters" (rather than "firemen"). This is conformable with the apparent philosophy of enforcement of the "Americans with Disabilities Act" (the ADA), by which the "reasonable accommodation" language of the Act (which already violates the prohibition by the Fifth Amendment of taking "private property for public use without just compensation") has come to be interpreted by the EEOC as "spare no expense." In these terms, the takeover by "gender" of the whole sex/gender semantic spectrum may be perfectly consistent with the evolving goal of feminism, which is to erase through political action, by any means necessary, any differences whatsoever between men and women, even physical ones. Thus, a few stories recently have been about schools removing urinals from the boy's bathrooms, and telling the boys they should urinate sitting down, like the girls. This is to eliminate the sense of power that boys supposedly have in using their penises to direct urine where they wish. Such an evolution, however absurd, is no less than what we might expect from the overall thrust of leftist egalitarianism, which is that society must be engineered so that everyone will be exactly the same in any way that makes any real difference (as all the promotion of "diversity" and "multiculturalism" is not expected to produce any actual differences in economic performance or "gender" deportment -- a paradoxical expectation considering the marked "gender roles" in traditional world cultures).
Thus the future of the use of "gender" is unclear. It depends on the true purposes of feminism, which may not be candidly stated to the public. It also depends, of course, on the ability of "gender" feminism to maintain its political influence and success in the face of the falsehood of its theory and the anti-capitalist roots and program of its politics. "Grudgingly" is the key word there. Although the original feminist demand was that a woman should be allowed to do anything she is qualified or able to do, this has slowly shifted over to the requirement that standards be changed to allow more women to qualify for any profession or activity. Although the United State Army determined that, in general, women only have about 52% of the upper body strength of men, both the military and other physically demanding professions, like firefighting, now often have separate physical standards, or special training programs, just to increase the number of women who can pass the training. Why this has happened, or why it is thought to be necessary, has mostly not been a matter for candid admission or public debate.
And one result is that "hyperactive" boys, who now amount to a very substantial percentage of all boys, simply get drugged in school, typically with Ritalin (Methylphenidate). An interesting comparison is between language about "trouble" as applied to young men and young women. When young men are said to be "looking for trouble," it usually means that violence is in the offing. When they are "in trouble," it tends to mean trouble with the law -- the probable result of violence. On the other hand, when young women are "looking for trouble," often this has only meant taking up an active role in the pursuit of sex. And when young women were "in trouble," this used to be absolutely synonymous with being pregnant out of wedlock -- as when a young man "got a girl in trouble." Once a living could be made off of illegitimate children, through welfare, and out of wedlock pregnancy became "destigmatized," the troublesome nature of this condition has declined -- as though a life in single parenthood poverty was not "trouble" in itself. A stunning variation on this was reported in a street gang in San Antonio, Texas, where females could become gang members by engaging in unprotected sex with a male gang member known to have a venereal disease.
Which, of course, raises uncomfortable questions about how men and women are going to interact in those professions? The most famous example of the danger of this interaction is the infamous "Tail Hook" convention of U.S. Navy pilots, where the women participants mostly knew what was going on and themselves engaged in various drunken and sexual activities. The original complaining woman officer, whose most lurid description was of a hallway gauntlet of groping hands, actually had been at previous conventions and knew that such a thing was conducted, in a certain place, at every Tail Hook convention. She did not accidentally stumble, to her surprise, into the gauntlet but deliberately and with foreknowledge went to it. She had also been a willing participant in "leg shaving" rituals whose sexual overtones were unmistakable (this particular activity was officially prohibited from extending above the knee, a restriction ignored by all). Circumstances of the case like that resulted in no criminal charges being pressed against anyone. And while the public spin on that failure to prosecute was recriminations that the Navy or the Justice Department were covering up the affair, the plain truth was that the cases would have fallen apart in any real courtroom. The original complainant did, however, manage to win a civil suit against the hotel where the convention had taken place. Why the hotel should be penalized for events for which the Navy was supposedly responsible is mysterious, unless, as one might suspect, the plaintiff just wanted some money.
In the Victorian age we have a feminist fiction writer in Emily Bronte as is the greatest poetess who ever lived. Despite my many friends who have attempted to tell me that "good poetry" must be obscure and symbolic, I contend that good poetry is that which speaks directly to you. It is the poetry to which you immediately relate. Such are the works of Emily Bronte. "I am the only being whose doom..."
I am the only being whose doomNo tongue would ask no eye would mournI never caused a thought of gloomA smile of joy since I was born
In secret pleasure--secret tearsThis changeful life has slipped awayAs friendless after eighteen yearsAs lone as on my natal day
There have been times I cannot hideThere have been times when this was drearWhen my sad soul forgot its prideAnd longed for one to love me here
But those were in the early glowOf feelings since subdued by careAnd they have died so long agoI hardly now believe they were
First melted off the hope of youthThen Fancy's rainbow fast withdrewAnd then experience told me truthIn mortal bosoms never grew
'Twas grief enough to think mankindAll hollow servile insincereBut worse to trust to my own mindAnd find the same corruption there
"Emily Jane Bronte was born at Thornton in Yorkshire on 30 July 1818, the fifth of six children of Patrick and Maria Bronte (nee Branwell). Two years later, her father was appointed perpetual curate of Haworth, a small, isolated hill village surrounded by moors. Her mother died shortly after her third birthday and she and her sisters and brother were brought up by their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. Apart from a few short periods, she remained in Haworth. Her only close friendships were those with her brother Branwell and her sisters Charlotte and Anne; only three perfunctory letters by her survive.
"From accounts by those who knew Emily Jane Bronte, there emerges a consistent portrait of a reserved, courageous woman with a commanding will and manner. In the biographical note to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights, Charlotte Bronte attributes to her sister 'a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero', while Monsignor Heger, who taught her in Brussels, was impressed by her 'powerful reason' and 'strong, imperious will'.
"Emily Jane Bronte began writing poems at an early age and published twenty-one of them, together with poems by Anne and Charlotte, in 1846 in a slim volume titled Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. At an even earlier age, she collaborated with Charlotte, Branwell, and Anne on the 'plays' and tales that developed into the Glass Town saga. By 1834, Emily and Anne were thoroughly engaged in writing their own saga involving two imaginary islands in the north and south Pacific, Gondal and Gaaldine. No early prose narratives survive, but several poems by Emily and Anne refer to Gondal places and characters. Emily Jane Bronte is best known for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, published under her pseudonym of Ellis Bell in 1847, almost exactly a year before her death on 19 December 1848. She became ill after attending Branwell's funeral, and died of tuberculosis after an illness of about three months.
The feminist author Taslima Nasreen, who was forced into a decade-long exile from her native Bangladesh after she appeared to call for the Qur'an to be rewritten because it was 'unfair to women', applied for Indian citizenship last night.The feminist author Taslima Nasreen, who was forced into a decade-long exile from her native Bangladesh after she appeared to call for the Qur'an to be rewritten because it was "unfair to women", applied for Indian citizenship last night. The writer, who fled Bangladesh in 1994, has been living in Sweden since she angered Islamist fundamentalists with the publication of her novel Lajja (Shame) 12 years ago. Ms Nasreen told New Delhi television that she wanted to live in Calcutta, the capital of West Bengal, where she could speak and hear her mother tongue. Her works are banned in Bangladesh, a predominantly Muslim nation.
In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, published more than a decade ago, hooks first expressed her concern that feminists were ignoring literacy as a part of their agenda. Basic literacy is often taken for granted by feminists, she alleged, because many of the women engaged in the production of feminist theory have always been white and middle class and their concerns often fail to address the circumstances of women from poor or underprivileged groups. She expressed particular concern regarding the fate of women of color, who constitute a majority of these poor and underprivileged groups and often lack basic reading and writing skills.
In another early essay, "Educating Women: A Feminist Agenda," hooks pointed out that most information about feminism has been circulated in written form in such materials as books, pamphlets, and flyers. However, there are many women and men who are denied a means of access to feminist consciousness because they are illiterate. Feminist activists, she wrote, "have not explored deeply the connection between sexist exploitation of women in this society with the degree of women's education, including a lack of basic reading and writing skills" (107). Despite the fact that hooks has been speaking out for years about the desperate need for white, middle-class feminists to get involved in the fight against the illiteracy that continues to plague many of their less fortunate sisters, there has been little improvement in the literacy rate among women of color. In fact, the problem seems to be getting worse. In an interview with Gary A. Olson and Elizabeth Hirsh, "Feminist Praxis and the Politics of Literacy," she laments this fact because she staunchly believes that "if we truly want to empower women and men to engage in feminist thinking, we must empower them to read and write" (124).
Hooks offers several suggestions concerning the eradication of illiteracy in this country. She advocates feminist-organized literacy programs in communities where there are a number of women and men who lack basic writing, reading, and critical thinking skills. Since hooks realizes that funding is always a factor in the success or failure of such endeavors, she recommends the implementation of small programs in poor and working-class neighborhoods that would be staffed by committed volunteers.
Another approach would involve disseminating feminist thought on a much smaller and more personal scale--via word of mouth. Hooks taught in Women's Studies programs for years, and the majority of students in her classes were usually white women. She challenged her students to get out and talk to women of color on campus, to approach women they did not know and share their feminist ideas with them. Much to her chagrin, hooks found that many of her students, who acknowledged during classroom discussions that women of color needed feminism just as much as they did, were extremely reluctant to seek out women of color they did not know and sit down and talk with them. This reluctance to take "feminism out of the university and into the streets and homes of this society" only serves to thwart the goals of the feminist movement and is yet another obstacle which prevents women of color from accessing information about feminist agendas ("Educating Women" 110).
Hooks has identified the ever-widening gulf between feminist theorists and practitioners as a problem that has the potential completely to undermine the goals of feminism. She has charged that intellectuals and academics have elevated the discourse in feminist theory to such a complex level that it is virtually impossible for women outside of the academy to comprehend it. Much of the academic theorizing about feminism also exhibits a class bias, she claims, since the ideas that are developed often have little or no relationship to the lived experiences of most women, particularly those who come from marginalized groups (113). Many feminist activists, on the other hand, have adopted a profoundly anti-intellectual stance, a trend that hooks finds equally disturbing. While such feminist activists may claim the moral high ground for themselves by pointing out all of the meaningful things they are doing to improve the quality of women's lives and to protect the rights of women in this country, they fail to recognize that it has traditionally been a lack of literacy and access to higher education that has prevented women from developing intellectually, which in turn has continued to exclude them from contributing to political, academic, and scientific discourse.
Hooks has contemplated what she could do as a feminist intellectual and activist to help reconcile the differences in these two camps. She has deliberately chosen not to use conventional scholarly formats or writing styles in her more recent work. This decision, she says, was a political one, "motivated by the desire to be inclusive, to reach as many readers as possible in as many locations" (Teaching 71). She does not seem troubled by the possibility that her more recent publications, which include essays, interviews, and self-dialogues, will lose some of their clout in academic circles on the basis of their not being "scholarly" enough, even when she acknowledges the fact that many of her former students remark how their graduate instructors express initial enthusiasm for hooks's work but shy away from including it as required reading in their courses for this very reason. Hooks has become notorious for the absence of citations in much of her work. She remains nonchalant about the criticism she has received for this lack of attention to standard academic writing conventions. In a 1995 interview in The Chronicle of Higher Education, she defends her method: "I think that's a screen for people who don't want to teach my work. A lot of French theorists do not follow the MLA Style sheet in their books" (Leatherman A24). She insists that the benefits of her more accessible style far outweigh any loss of her works' academic prestige and acceptance.
What exactly is a Domestic Goddess? And why bother creating a website about them?
I'm so glad you asked that question.
A Domestic Goddess is a woman writer who wrote novels, poetry, and other types of literature (including journalism & cookbooks), about specifically "domestic" types of things. It can be associated with a specific time period, that is, the late nineteenth century, although I would argue that there are still "domestic" novels being written today. This particular website deals with American women writers from the period between 1830-1920 (or so).
In general, domestic novels featured the home, the hearth, children (child-rearing, bearing, etc), and relationships between women, as well as other issues like religion, abolition of slavery, the right to vote, and love. In short, they were (are) about women's issues. They were frequently quite popular, but today are often regarded as "minor" or "lesser" works of a period that focuses on the Transcendentalists, or mostly male writers (Poe, Hawthorne & Melville come to mind). When and if they are taught, they are often only taught as children's novels, although they were often originally intended for adults. The website's name is sort of a pun based on the domestic woman-- women who stay at home have often been called "domestic goddesses" because it sounds so much less a negative judgment of the work done by them than "housewife," (a woman married to a house?) and glorifies their necessary contribution to the smooth running of society. The title is also borrowed (gratefully) from a course that the editor and several (but not all) of the site's contributing writers took in Fall 1997 at Southwest Texas State University, taught by Dr. Priscilla Leder as part of an MA program in Literature. (For more details about the site's purpose and "history", go to the about us page). The "scribbling mobs of women" part is based on a statement, specifically aimed at a number of the writers featured on this website, made in 1855 by Nathaniel Hawthorne:
America is now wholly given over to a d--d mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash-- and should be ashamed of myself if I did. (quoted in Scribbling Women website).
The funny thing is, Hawthorne did enjoy some popular success (commonly associated with "trash), and for some of the same reasons he condemns the women writers of the period, as Jane Tompkins' critical work, Sensational Designs, explains (see below for more on this).
Domestic fiction has often been criticized as being too limited in scope and being too sentimental, and many critics claimed it was not well-written (a point from which I beg to differ!). Many of the women who wrote this type of work were very popular during their lifetime, selling many copies of their books; but they seemed to disappear from the annals of history/literature soon after their deaths. Instead of believing that this disappearance reflects on the quality of their work and wishing them a well-deserved farewell, scholars today have begun insisting on new categories that reflect more points of view-- including those of women and "popular" writers.
Often these writers shared the particular problems associated with writing during a time when the most important thing for a woman to be doing was raising children and keeping house, in a "separate sphere" from the public, i.e., male/author-ly, one. Some had to make the hard choice between family and writing and never married. Those who did marry were often very conflicted about their passion for writing versus their duties as mother; sometimes this even shows through in their work. But they overcame many odds to keep writing, risking the displeasure of their extended family and social commentators.
Some of them were even forced into writing to support their families, after the deaths of their husbands or in the absence of a "traditional" provider (as in the case with Louisa May Alcott). When we consider that most of them wrote their stories out longhand, stealing moments while their children were asleep and dinner was cooking-- (Louisa May Alcott even suffered extreme pain from mercury poisoning and had violent hand cramps from recopying her work)-- and when we consider the beauty and grace of much of their writing, we understand what we missed when these writers were forgotten. I, for one, am grateful they took the time to do so because it makes me understand the sacrifices that have come before.
For a good book discussing more of the way "great" authors, i.e., Nathaniel Hawthorne, were made in contrast to the so-called "lesser" writers, see Jane Tompkin's critical book Sensational Designs. Tomkins makes the point, with which I agree, that the reputation of a classic author arises not from the "intrinsic merit" of his or her work, but rather from the complex of circumstances that make texts visible initially and then maintain them in their preeminent position. When classic texts are seen not as the ineffable products of genius but as the bearers of a set of national, social, economic, institutional, and professional interests, then their domination of the critical scene seems less the result of their indisputable excellence than the product of historical contingencies (Sensational Designs, xii)
Perhaps these women's writing, as some people claim, is not universal enough to be considered "Great Literature." Sometimes the stories are very didactic, or preachy/teachy. They are often filled with a religious fervor that we scoff at today. But women of this era were encouraged to make the world a better place through their so-called "higher morality." (Whether women are/were more moral is a very debatable critique of the books, and one that should be discussed). Nevertheless, many women took this call to educate their readers very seriously. They also had lots of fun with their readers too; and some of their novels became bestsellers and changed society. Some people think that reading about gossip around the kitchen table, or recipes, or quilting, or about a woman driven to do something other than mothering with her life, is too boring. I would argue, and others would agree, that women's concerns are as universal as any others. For example, some might say that a novel strictly about whales and whale fishing is limited to a very narrow audience, and, that no matter how "great" the writing is, its limitations are too great to make it "Universal."
Many of these women writers were "re-discovered" by feminists in the early 1960's and 70's as part of a drive to find literature that represented women's concerns. These women are Victorian versions of Virginia Woolf's "Shakespeare's Sister--" a woman, writing in a "man's world," and needing independence and encouragement to do so. So, what this site attempts to do is provide a forum for the re-examination of the works of several women writers, from the US, (at this time we are limited to US writers). To accomplish this, and to provide a source of active research in the field, the editor of this site has collected critical papers, written by professional scholars. For the most part, our papers are written by graduate students, but not limited to them. We'd love to have Ph.D's and maybe even undergraduates around the cyber staffroom.
Alcott is perhaps most famous for writing Little Women, (1868) a novel which is partially autobiographical and has shaped the way many women since the Victorian era have defined womanhood, family, and girlhood. Since the early 1970's, the public has known about the stories that Alcott published under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. These gothic "potboilers" are filled with delightfully feminist femmes fatales, intrigue, and dare-we-say-it, smut (at least by Victorian standards). Read more about this author, who was more versatile than many of us knew.
Born(1) in 1832 in to Bronson (a noted Transcendentalist who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau, among others) and Abba Alcott (daughter of Colonel Joseph May and a vocal proponent for women's rights and abolition), Louisa May Alcott constantly struggled with the anger and individualistic spirit that came naturally to her. Bronson Alcott's belief that children were tabulae rasae blended and clashed with his other belief that lighter coloring (like his) betokened a deeper spirituality and closer connection to divinity (Saxton 205). "'Two devils,' [Bronson] confided in his journal, 'as yet, I am not quite divine enough to vanquish, the mother fiend and her daughter'" (qtd. in Sanderson 43). Since Louisa, like her mother, was born dark-haired and "willful," Bronson viewed her as a challenge, sometimes going so far as to call her the "Possessed One" "pathetic," and "bound in chains . . . which she could not break" (qtd. in Sanderson 43). He thought that teaching Louisa to suppress her natural inclinations for self-expression and difference in favor of what he perceived as better habits was part of his job in life, and Louisa seemed to see her life as one of struggle between her own will and submission to her father's (Sanderson 43). Bronson's belief in Louisa's demonic nature, and the doubts and pain that belief caused Louisa, can be found in her writings. She seems to view the act of writing as potentially evil; for example, it is when she is writing her stories that Jo March believes she exposes Beth to the scarlet fever that eventually kills her. Also, Louisa's gothic heroine Jean Muir reveals, through the writing of letters, her deceptive manipulations of her host family, deceptions many people would find immoral, if not evil. Gilbert and Gubar clearly show that there has traditionally been a connection between the act of writing and "evil" in patriarchal cultures: "what . . . history suggests is that in patriarchal culture, female speech and female 'presumption' -- that is, angry revolt against male domination-- are inextricably linked and inevitably daemonic" (35). Bronson perpetuated his repression of Louisa's temperament, arguably causing her to create a secret identity wherein she could express her angry revolt; that identity was A.M. Barnard (Alcott's pseudonym) and Barnard's femmes fatales.
Bronson's belief that Louisa was demonic resulted in part from his definition of himself as angelic, since anything opposite to him must be bad, given this perception. Thus, Louisa was unable to participate in a public declaration of her own identity, and so had to try in private, through her writing, to do so. As a result, in many of her stories, Louisa's representations of the manipulation of "appearance" versus "reality" suggest that she felt an internal struggle of her own, presumably caused, at least in part, by Bronson's label. The "little kingdom" that the young Louisa found "very hard" to "govern" was unmanageable because it was ruled by someone other than herself: Bronson. Louisa's "passion" and "wayward will" were in direct opposition to her father's temperament. Bronson saw his passivity and mild temper as signs of greater spirituality and as an indication that his was a closer connection to divinity. Naturally, these were the characteristics he encouraged in others.
As a Transcendental and a Victorian, Bronson tended to see his duty as a parent in the same light as reformers of the time, who stressed their belief that heredity and parenting were "the means to create new generations" and that one must encourage "having all that is great, and noble, and good in man, all that is pure, and virtuous, and beautiful, and angelic in woman" (William Alcott, qtd. in Russett 199). The Victorian understanding of child-rearing included the idea that "parents, ensuring their own physical and mental health by right living, could pass this health on to their offspring" (Russett 199). Bronson firmly embraced the ideas that as a parent, he could make the world a better place by molding his daughters to imitate his own perfection. His attempts to make Louisa more like himself caused a great deal of inner conflict for her.
An innovative and experimental educator, Bronson frequently used his daughters as models and subjects for his moral investigations and lessons. Louisa, in particular, struggled with Bronson's tests. One such struggle came from a lesson when Louisa was four, and it is particularly revealing of the relationship between Louisa and Bronson throughout their lives. Bronson, knowing that both girls loved apples, left an unguarded apple near Louisa and her older sister, Anna, with the restriction that it belonged to him and the girls were not to eat it. Bronson knew that the girls would be tempted by this literally forbidden fruit, and he felt that the struggle would reveal important information about his daughters. Since Louisa ate the apple, and then unrepentantly stated that she had done so "cause I wanted it," Bronson's intended lesson in self-sacrifice was obviously only half learned. Anna did not eat the apple, and apologized for even thinking about it. Louisa, on the other hand, may have struggled with her will, but in the end she gave in to it, despite her fear of Bronson's displeasure. This was to be the case throughout her life, which largely consisted of a series of struggles between what she wanted to do and what was either best for the family or what Bronson wanted her to do. Louisa learned early that her wishes and needs often clashed with society's (here represented by Bronson) expectations.
Louisa published a number of books for children, her most famous novel, Little Women, has never been out of print. As most people know, Little Women was partially autobiographical, and Jo, Meg, Beth and Amy are representations of Louisa and her sisters Anna, Lizzie, and May. Alcott lived for most of her life in Massachusetts-- from Concord (where Orchard House, the most famous residence of the Alcott's is located) to Boston. Unlike Jo in Little Women, Louisa did travel to Europe, although because she was suffering from the effects of a "mercury cure" (where doctors dosed a patient with enough mercury to poison them, a treatment Alcott received twice while serving as a Civil War nurse) she did not enjoy it much. Alcott, in her later years, wrote to support her family. She fell into a coma from which she never recovered while caring for her ailing father, dying just a few days after he did, and is buried across the feet of her father, mother, and sister Lizzie. (You can see a picture of her gravestone by following a link on the Alcott links page). All the information on this webpage is from an original Master's Thesis by Kim Wells, and as such, is for educational use only. This page is copyrighted (1998). To find a works cited page that lists the sources for the information included herein, go to the MA thesis link above.

Best known for her short story "The Yellow Wall-Paper," Gilman was a woman who wrote thousands of works, from short journalism to book length discussions of the social realities of women's lives to poetry. Her book, Women and Economics was hailed as a major accomplishment and re-published in several languages; Vassar college even used it as a textbook for a short time. Gilman's major concern during her lifetime was feminism-- women's suffrage as well as women's economic independence. She also self-published a magazine titled, The Forerunner, for seven years; the magazine is an incredible collection of thought and ideas and an example of how driven she was.
She was born Charlotte Anna Perkins, on July 3, 1860, in Hartford. Her mother was Mary Fitch Westcott, and her father was Frederic Beecher Perkins. This made Gilman the great granddaughter of Lyman Beecher, and the great-niece of Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe. She had a brother, Thomas Adie, who was 14 months older; there were two siblings who died in infancy. Gilman's mother was told that she should have no other children-- soon after this, her father left the family alone. Critics have speculated that the reason for his abandonment was fear of killing his wife in childbirth (see the biography by Ann Lane). The family was sent to live with relatives; they were the "poor relations" who moved around constantly during Gilman's childhood. Perhaps this is one reason that Gilman herself developed ambivalent feelings about marriage and vowed to not marry. Of course, that vow was broken when she married Charles Walter Stetson. Their marriage was a rocky one-- eventually ending in a controversial divorce. They had one daughter, Katherine Beecher Stetson who was born March 23, 1885. Many years later (in 1900), Gilman was re-married to her cousin George Houghton Gilman; they remained happily married until his sudden death May 4, 1934. After his death, Gilman moved to California to be with her daughter and her family.
Gilman learned in 1932 that she had incurable breast cancer. As an advocate for the right-to-die, Gilman committed suicide on August 17, 1935 by taking an overdose of chloroform. She "chose chloroform over cancer" as her autobiography and suicide note stated.During her life, Gilman published a huge volume of work-- much of which is unavailable to the modern reader. However, much of her work is beginning to be recognized as important and re-published. (See the guide to research for more information on this). She was an incredibly influential and ahead-of-her-time woman, and deserves more recognition.


[ Bibliography ] [ Uncle Tom's Cabin ] [ Criticism ] [ Links ] [ Domestic Goddesses Home ]
Harriet Beecher-Stowe(1811-1896) is most famous for her controversial anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe was born in 1811 in Litchfield, Connecticut, the seventh of nine children. Her father was the well-known Congregational minister Lyman Beecher and his wife was Roxana Foote Beecher. Roxana Beecher died when her daughter was five years old, causing Beecher to feel great empathy, she felt, for slave mothers and children who were separated under slavery.
As Elizabeth Ammons points out in her preface to the Norton edition, if Beecher had been a man, she probably would have followed in her father's footsteps and become a minister. As it was, she was also wife and sister to preachers. She maintained that it was her Christian passion which compelled her to write her novel. The Stowes' family was not rich, and therefore, Harriet's life was sometimes conflicted between the necessities of motherhood and writing, or, between vocation and avocation. She eventually bore six children, with whom her writing competed. Stowe chose to write Uncle Tom's Cabin because her sister-in-law urged her to use her skills to aid the cause of abolition. The novel was incredibly popular and sold more copies than any book before it, with the exception only of the Christian Bible. "Today, Uncle Tom's Cabin raises many questions. It requires readers to confront and think about racism, and theories of race in the United States. It provokes important questions about differing feminist ideologies and agendas across race and time" (Ammons, intro). Whatever our feelings about the novel, it remains one of the most influential American texts written by either man or woman. It is possibly the first American social protest novel, and anyone concerned with the state of race relations should read it. Critics often denounce the novel for its often sentimental and stereotyped portrayal of its African-American characters, and for romanticizing slavery, but others answer their claims by saying that the critics have not read or completely understood Stowe's intended message and agenda. Whatever your personal feelings about the novel, and Stowe's agenda, it remains an important text for our history.
Stowe's other novels, including Oldtown Folks and The Pearl of Orr's Island contain another picture, one of the domestic lives of the northeastern region that Stowe grew up in and was familiar with. We can find, by studying all of her works, a more complete portrait of her as a writer, and we can possibly understand more about Uncle Tom's Cabin when we read all of Stowe's writing.
Willa Cather was born in December of 1873. Like many other authors, Cather worked a variety of jobs, from journalist, to teacher, to editor of McClure's magazine. She won a Pulitzer prize in 1923 for One of Ours, however, this was not the only honor she received. Cather once said that she belonged to a world that had split in two and, as a woman of two centuries-- the conservative nineteenth and the twentieth-- she certainly bridged quite a gap. She was the eldest child of seven, and, like her character Ántonia in her most famous novel, Cather moved to Nebraska when she was very young. Cather once said that during the trip from her birthplace in Virginia, she imagined that, "I had left even their spirits [her grandparents] behind me. The wagon jolted on, carrying me I knew not whither. . . . Between that earth and sky I felt erased, blotted out" (qtd in the foreword to My Ántonia x).
Cather understood the coming change between cultures; she saw the immigrant children, like Ántonia, moving away from the culture of their parents and into a kind of uneasy Americanism. She said of these new inhabitants of the Midwest, "It is perhaps natural that they should be very much interested in material comfort, in buying whatever is expensive and ugly" since they "were reared amid hardships" (qtd. in the foreword to My Ántonia xiii).
Besides a keen eye for the changes taking place in the country at the turn of the century, Cather wrote extensively about her own writing. She once said "when one comes to write all that you have been taught leaves you, all that you have stolen lies discovered. You are then a translator, without a lexicon, without notes. . . You have then to give voice to the hearts of men, and you can do it only so far as you have known them, loved them. It is a solemn and terrible thing to write a novel" (foreword xvii) . Cather's 1908 advice to another domestic goddess, Sarah Orne Jewett, was to "find a quiet place. . . find your own quiet center of life, and write from that" (foreword xvii).
Much of the criticism of Cather in the past has focused on the primacy of landscape, including the Nebraska plains and New Mexico, in Cather's work. Certainly she speaks of nature, but she also writes the most intimate pictures of the inner setting-- the heart, the soul, the home. Cather's work is not so much about "the prairie" but about the humans who lived there, and the human relationships that followed.
There has been, and continues to be, speculation about Cather's personal life, and her relationships, often deeply emotional, with other women. Whatever her sexual orientation was, she did share intimate friendships, and these connections are found in the relationships between her characters. In addition to intense human interactions and nature imagery, Cather's work often comments on the arts-- on music, on painting, on all expressions of the impulse to create. Her work is sometimes romantic, sometimes naturalistic, but always, it compels discussion and thought.
Another interesting study of book covers, for My Ántonia shows that while some artists choose to feature the prairie, others feature a young girl ostensibly on the prarie. Only one features, instead of an element of the story, the author's face, as though that were the most important feature (some might argue it is-- but what does this featuring imply?) None feature the narrator, Jim's, face, despite his dominance in the story.
Links Bibliography Criticism Back to Domestic Goddesses
Sarah Josepha Hale was born on October 24th, 1788 in Newport, New Hampshire to Revolutionary War Captain Gordon Buell and Martha Whittlesay Buell. Well educated in the classics, Sarah continued her private studies after her marriage in 1813 to David Hale, a lawyer and Freemason. Sarah was widowed in 1822 with five children to support, four under the age of seven. After a brief stint with a millinery shop, she published her first book of poems, The Genius of Oblivion, with David Hale's Freemason lodge paying for the publication. Her career was firmly established with her first novel, Northwood, released in 1827. That same year, she began her most remembered literary position - that of editress.
Hale served as editor of Ladies' Magazine from 1827-1836 and Godey's Lady's Book from 1837-1877. Hale continued to write poetry, novels, and children's literature, while serving as a major editorial force for the next fifty years. Over her lifetime, Hale produced nearly fifty volumes of work (Cane 194). An excellent place to begin basic biographical research on Sarah Hale is the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Hale is included in three volumes: DLB: The American Renaissance in New England, DLB: American Writers for Children Before 1900, and DLB: American Magazine Journalists, 1741-1850. Godey's Lady's Book appeared under seven different titles during its sixty-eight year history (1830-1898). Sarah Hale was its editor for forty of those years (1837-1877) and is credited with having a great influence over the reading, learning, and even political consciousness of women across America. Godey's was the highest circulating and most popular women's magazine of the era. Between 1839 and 1860, circulation rose from 25,000 to 150,000 (Bardes and Gossett 18). The editorials wielded considerable influence over a large readership; Hale used Godey's to campaign for Thanksgiving as a national holiday until Lincoln made it official in 1863 (Kaplan 593). The magazine was both literary and conventional (what Mott terms a "class" magazine), containing fashion plates, sentimental songs, recipes, and household hints. Hale's editorial policy was conservative. Godey's avoided serious political debates, sticking to less divisive topics. The Civil War was never mentioned (Boyer 112). However, the magazine did have a significant impact in promoting contemporary American literature and selectively promoting women's issues.
Godey's place in American culture with respect to women's issues is ambiguous. Hale's editorial policy was to provide quality material to benefit and educate the female reader (Greenberg). Current critical ambiguity regarding Godey's value stems from Hale's selective promotion as to what was beneficial to readers and the purposes of education. Hale marketed the magazine to the fathers, brothers, and husbands of female readers by encouraging the men to buy a subscription and ensuring them that their daughters, sisters, and wives would be not only grateful but also better able to please as a result (Greenberg). Thus, the magazine's espousal of education for women was to make better wives and mothers. Educated women would lead the human race upward through their reign on the domestic front, also known as the "woman's sphere" (Boyer 111). In her editorials, Hale promoted the idea that women were the champions of the spiritual, domestic realm (Boyer 112). She opposed the women's rights movement as an attempt to take women away from the empire of home, writing against it in the 1840s and 1850s (Kaplan 585). However, the magazine was not wholly opposed to women moving outside of the domestic realm. Hale promoted outside careers for women in the 1850s when industrialization made it necessary and promoted the medical missionary concept of women doctors in Africa (Boyer 113). Godey's appears to have taken a pragmatic, not a liberal, approach to women working outside their "sphere." This ambiguity regarding Hale's idea of the woman's sphere fuels critical debate.Hale made a major contribution to American literature by choosing to publish original, American manuscripts and to copyright the magazine. "In a day when editors shamelessly lifted entire articles from rival publications, [Hale] printed only original contributions" (Boyer 111). Respected American male writers such as Poe, Longfellow, Emerson, and Hawthorne, were among the contributors. Additionally, women writers, such as Lydia H. Sigourney, Lydia Maria Child, Catherine Sedgwick, and Alice B. Neal were heavily promoted. During Hale's editorship, Godey's published at least three special issues that included only female writers (Bardes and Gossett 24). Hale provided a substantial literary diet for her readers as opposed to the ephemeral poetry and fiction that clogged most women's magazines at the time (Boyer 111-3). This decision to showcase American talent proved popular with readers, but a decision to copyright the magazine sent competitors howling in complaint (Greenberg). Edgar Allen Poe came to Godey's defense, citing author's rights, and eventually the rest of the magazine industry followed suit (Greenberg).
Although Hale strove to educate and promote women, ultimately, Godey's was too conservative with respect to the women's rights movement to retain its position. When women's rights gained support, Godey's began to decline. The literary level of Godey's dropped in the 1850s and lost ground to vigorous imitators like Peterson's Magazine, Atlantic, and Harper's (Boyer 114). As it lost readership, it went to an even more conventional and popular note; the fiction declined in quality and the fashion plates grew more expansive (Boyer 114). Hale resigned in 1877 and the magazine floundered until it folded in 1898.Hale's final words to her readers in the December 1877 issue:
And now, having reached my ninetieth year, I must bid farewell to my countrywomen, with the hope that this work of half a century may be blessed to the furtherance of their happiness and usefulness in their Divinely-appointed sphere. New avenues for higher culture and for good works are opening before them, which fifty years ago were unknown. That they may improve these opportunities, and be faithful to their higher vocation, is my heartfelt prayer.
Many critics have cited that the women writers of the nineteenth century held captive their audience, much to the chagrin of the men competing for those same readers. However, history has done its work, and the trick is on many of the women who labored for both fame and sustenance. We know and regard the Melvilles, Hawthornes, and Emersons, yet women such as Susan Bogert Warner (1819-1885) have all but faded from the literary thoughts and minds of twentieth-century America.
Warner wrote the first "bestseller" in America's history. The Wide, Wide World (1850), written in hope of relieving her family's financial woes, accumulated thirteen U.S. editions in the first two years it was published, and was continuously published for eighty years in 106 editions. In England, authorized and unauthorized editions found great success as well, and The Wide, Wide World was soon translated into at least seven other languages.
While The Wide, Wide Worldwas Warner's most successful novel, she wrote at least twenty-nine other books for children and adults, as well as theological writings and several works in collaboration with her sister, Anna. Since her childhood, Warner enjoyed "talking stories" as entertainment for her and Anna (1827-1915). However, weaving tales did not become a profession until her father's poor business dealings and the failing of his law practice drove the family into financial hardship, and eventually, bankruptcy. Warner's mother died soon after Anna's birth, and a paternal aunt joined the family to keep house and help raise her brother's two daughters. It was at the urging of this aunt that Warner decided to put her pen to financial use.
Warner was born into a successful and wealthy family who provided her with "classic" Victorian training for a young girl. She received lessons in French, Italian, singing, dancing, piano, history, theology, and mathematics. Her early life through her teens was spent living in spacious townhouses with beautiful gardens at fashionable addresses in New York City. When her father's practice failed and he suffered financial losses in the Panic of 1837, the family was forced to move to their summer cottage on Constitution Island permanently. The family's comfortable standard of living slowly diminished until the late 1840's when they were forced to declare bankruptcy and sell many of their remaining "luxury" items, including Warner's beloved piano. Providing fuel, food and clothing became week-to-week worries. Out of these desperate straits, The Wide, Wide World was conceived.
Doubting that her first novel would succeed, she chose to publish it under the pseudonym, Elizabeth Wetherell. Many publishing houses rejected the manuscript before Putnam accepted it because of his mother's insistence that The Wide, Wide World "must [be made] available for [their] fellow men." His mother also determined that "Providence would take care of this book" and very quickly her words were proven true. Warner, however, did not receive many royalties because she was forced to sell a large portion of them over to Putnam in her dire need of immediate cash. The need for money never seemed to end (largely due to the fact that what she did make went to her father's debts) and she never ceased writing in order to mend this situation.
Kate Chopin was born Katherine O'Flaherty, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents were from Irish and Creole backgrounds. When Chopin was widowed at 32, she began writing to support herself and her six children. She was widely accepted as a writer of local color fiction, and was generally successful until the publication of her scandalous novel The Awakening, in 1899. Perched between the social conservatism of the nineteenth century and dealing with tabooed themes too soon for the growingly open twentieth, the novel's sexually aware and shocking protagonist, Edna Pontillier, pushed Chopin into literary oblivion. Chopin, and her memorable characters and stories, finally emerged from society's morally imposed ostracization during the resurgence of women's rights in the early 1970's.
Even today, much of the criticism of Chopin's most famous work centers on Edna Pontillier's morals-- is she a fallen woman, a bad mother, a selfish human being? Why does the character still, in an era where sexual openness is not totally condemned, point us toward a discussion of what makes a woman "bad?" What does the novel say about constrictions and constructions of the feminine role, today and during the time it was written? What does the novel say about human consciousness, and conscience?
Chopin's most famous novel's structure and evocative natural imagery deserve more attention. Her short stories, from "A Night in Acadie" to "An Egyptian Cigarette" to "A Vocation and a Voice," are also quite interesting. Chopin was and is an accomplished writer who deserves to be discussed not only from the standpoint of one woman's "awakening" but from the position of all women and indeed, all humans, in society, today and yesterday.
These different covers of The Awakening show how some readers today interpret important images from the work-- the sea, a solitary woman, women together-- these are all important elements in the novel. I'm particularly interested in the way so many of them also use the color red-- is this intentional, or an accident of our association of "red" with "scarlet women"? What about the one with a woman reading? That's certainly different from the others . . . food for thought.





Marilynne Robinson, in the introduction to the Bantam edition of The Awakening, published in 1989, says:
In discovering herself Edna is discovering her fate. In exploring Edna's regression, as she puts aside adult life, retracing her experience to its beginnings, for her its essence, Chopin describes as well a journey inward, evoking all the prodigal richness of longing, fantasy, and memory. The novel is not a simulated case study, but an exploration of the solitary soul still enchanted by the primal, charged, and intimate encounter of naked sensation with the astonishing world. (xx)
Only when we discuss Chopin as more than a "one-trick pony" can we discover more about ourselves.
Recently, Emily Toth, one of the foremost Chopin scholars, published a critical biography of Chopin, which I recommend highly for anyone who is interested in Chopin's work called Unveiling Kate Chopin (cover, left). To quote Toth,
Kate Chopin anticipated so much: daytime dramas, women's pictures, The Feminine Mystique, open marriages, women's liberation, talk shows, Mars vs. Venus, self-help and consciousness raising. But in 1899 she was a lonely pioneer. Sarah Orne Jewett was born to an old New England family, replete with the types of characters that appear in her stories-- sea captains, independent women, and country doctors. Jewett's early life was very much like the one she sketches in her novel A Country Doctor; Jewett and Nan Prince share the characteristics of an independent childhood followed by an unconventional womanhood. (For more on Nan Prince, click here). Jewett was raised with tons of books in and around her home; she was virtually fed on words. It seems only natural that she should be drawn to write. Her mother was Caroline Frances and her father was Theodore Herman Jewett (23).
On Sept 3, 1902, both Sarah was in a serious a carriage wreck when their horse slipped on a loose rock and stumbled. This accident effectively ended Jewett's writing career. Both Sarah and her sister Rebecca were thrown from the carriage, but while Rebecca was relatively unhurt, Sarah suffered a concussion and some damage to the neck. Speculation is that perhaps she had a cracked vertebra, but it was never officially diagnosed. She had pain, dizzy spells, memory loss and lost the ability to concentrate for the seven years until she died, of unrelated causes (349-362).
Jewett's work has often been criticized as nothing more than "sketches," with very little plot and therefore, not worthy of much critical study. Jewett herself realized this about her work, writing to her editor,
"It seems to me I can furnish the theatre, and show you the actors, and the scenery, and the audience, but there never is any play!. . . I seem to get very bewildered when I try to make these come in for secondary parts. . .I am certain I could not write one of the usual magazine stories. If the editors will take the sketchy kind and people like to read them, is not it as well to do that and do it successfully as to make hopeless efforts to achieve something in another line which runs much higher?" (qtd. in Biography 61).
This sort of criticism of Jewett's work, that it is not plot driven and therefore less than worthy, is one that many of the domestic women writers faced. Somehow because their stories were more about interior actions, or about the relationships and lives of women, rather than about wars and conquests, their work has been viewed as inferior. This is troublesome because in saying these things are inferior we say that the lives of women (our grandmothers, our old aunts, even ourselves today) are inferior. Anyone who has nursed a sick relative or waited for a "seagoing" lover to come home knows that these apparently docile pursuits are anything but dull, and anything but lifeless.
Jewett's work features the people she was most familiar with-- the inhabitants of Maine, of the everyday world of villages and ordinary people. Jewett's work was largely forgotten and/or scorned after her rather successful lifetime, one critic went to far as to call her "merely a New England old maid" (qtd. in the introduction to A Country Doctor ix). I personally think that there is more to be studied in the works that Jewett is not known for yet-- in A Country Doctor or in some of her lesser known short stories.
Just as Nan Prince in A Country Doctor chooses her career over her personal life, Jewett never married. She, like Willa Cather, had a long-time relationship with another woman (Annie Fields, widow of famous publisher James T. Fields, pictured left). The two shared what is commonly called a "Boston marriage." While Jewett felt strong attachments to women, there is no evidence to decide her sexual orientation, one way or the other. Victorian romantic love between people of the same sex was not the same as it is today-- perhaps Jewett did have what we today would consider homosexual relationship, but some scholars argue that speculation on her orientation distracts us from the truly important aspect of Jewett's work-- its beauty, its power to touch us with so-called domestic interior lives, its evocative nature imagery. Other scholars feel knowing the answer to her sexuality would open up the literature in more ways. But at this time, no one knows for sure. All I'm willing to argue is that her literary depictions of relationships between women are powerful, and the bonds are quite strong.
What more can we learn from her literature? At the turn of another century, perhaps there is a growing trend to answer this question.If you're looking for online texts by Jewett, as well as other fabulous info about themes that appear often in her work, and more biographical info, go the the Sarah Orne Jewett Text project. This is a great project by Professor Terry Heller, of the Coe College Department of English
Edith Wharton once said, about critics and biographers: "After all, one knows one's weak points so well, that it's rather bewildering to have the critics overlook them & invent others." It seems that there is an abundance of blatantly wrong or just slightly incorrect information about Wharton's life and literature; it also seems that this problem was one Wharton herself faced. Born Edith Jones, January 24, 1862, she went on to become the first woman to ever win the Pulitzer prize for her novel The Age of Innocence, in 1921. You can read Wharton's own impressions of her life in the autobiography A Backward Glance. Her life story is as interesting as those of the women in her novels, and the biography by Lewis (see works cited link) is an excellent source of history, entertainment and context.
One of Wharton's ancestors, Ebenezer Stevens, participated in the Boston Tea Party, and had this to say about the legend of this Revolutionary event:
The party was about seventy or eighty. At the head of the wharf we met the detachment of our company. . . We commenced handling the boxes of tea on deck, at first commenced breaking them with axes, but found much difficulty . . . We were careful to prevent any being taken away; none of the party were painted as Indians, nor, that I know of, disguised, except that some of them had stopped at a paint shop on the way and daubed their faces with paint. (qtd in Lewis 8)
We can see from this that Wharton had some interesting and historically important ancestors. We can also see from Stevens' insistence in the truth of the event that perhaps the inner truths were something that Wharton was born knowing. She began writing at an early age, despite the fact that artistic endeavors, while not actively discouraged among her class and family, were not encouraged. As her Pulitzer prize winning biographer, R.W.B. Lewis says, her works are,continuing testimony to the female experience under modern historical and social conditions, to the modes of entrapment, betrayal, and exclusion devised for women in the first decades of the American and European twentieth century. (Lewis xiii)
Lewis also notes, "her dedication to her own creative task . . .was complete, and no one worked more strenuously or revised more thoroughly" and her books, which survive to critical acclaim today, contain, "muted subtleties," "preciseness of allusion, and above all the compassion for the wounded or thwarted life that flows through them" (xiii). Wharton probably has not suffered the same level of doubt of her work as some other women writers, in part because of her Pulitzer Prize. She was from a wealthy New York family, and much of her fiction relates partially autobiographical sketches of the kinds of people she grew up with. Her social group included such well-known American aristocracy as the Astors. In fact, one of her most engaging and well-known characters, Mrs. Manson Mignott in The Age of Innocence is based in part on her aunt Mary Mason (Mrs. Isaac) Jones, who built a mansion on Fifth Avenue-- at the time not the center of New York that it has come to be (Lewis 13).
Wharton was divorced from her husband in 1913, in part because she and her husband had grown into separate lives, and in part because her husband had numerous infidelities. In The Descent of Man Wharton wrote, "A New York divorce is in itself a diploma of virtue," perhaps she was referring to her own divorce. She lived abroad, in France or Italy, for a number of years, (the photo to the left was taken in Paris) including an extensive stay when she was very young during which she was exposed to typhoid fever and almost died. A selection from The Age of Innocence, which I feel shows Wharton's ability to capture a moment so well, including the importance of "the unsaid":
It was not the custom in New York drawing-rooms for a lady to get up and walk away from one gentleman in order to seek the company of another. Etiquette required that she should wait, immovable as an idol, while the men who wished to converse with her succeeded each other at her side. But the Countess was apparently unaware of having broken any rule; she sat at perfect ease in a corner of the sofa beside Archer, and looked at him with the kindest eyes .
African American Women Writers of the 19thCenturyINTRODUCTION
SHE WAS CALLED "Novissima": the New Woman, the Odd Woman, the Wild Woman, and the Superfluous Woman in English novels and periodicals of the 1880s and 1890s. A tremendous amount of polemic was wielded against her for choosing not to pursue the conventional bourgeois woman's career of marriage and motherhood.Indeed, for her transgressions against the sex, gender, and class distinctions of Victorian England, she was accused of instigating the second fall of man.The anonymous author of an 1889 Westminster Review article, for example, claims that the New Woman's attempts to transform herself from a relative creature into a woman of independent means are "intimately connected" with "the stirrings and rumblings now perceivable in the social and industrial world, the 'Bitter Cries' of the disinherited classes, the 'Social Wreckage' which is becoming able to make itself unpleasantly prominent, the 'Problems of Great Cities,' the spread of Socialism and Nihilism." 1 Having noted that social change, once instigated, cannot be revoked, this author ends his essay by reminding his readers of an ancient fable with a modern moral. When the Fisherman liberated the genii in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, the genii "promptly rewarded him by proposing to annihilate
him." As with the Fisherman, "so it will fare with the modern emancipators." Though the world has decided that the "Ego {of Woman] shall have the apple ... the world cannot foresee the changes which its liberality will bring about." "The Ego [of Woman] is a mighty Gen[ii], and the acrid smoke of its ascent may disintegrate many precious superorganic structures.
Rewriting the Andersen fairy tale as Genesis and characterizing the New Woman as Eve in her bid for emancipation from the Victorian cult of true womanhood, this critic accomplishes several things. He naturalizes the cultural status quo; he figures social change as violation of a God-given order. And he domesticates the problems associated with or produced by Victorian England's transitional industrial economy by characterizing them as part and parcel of "The Woman Question." To put this another way, he subordinates other social concerns to this particular one, thereby presuming to solve them all when he offers his moral: keep "the Ego" from getting the apple, and you might still convince yourself that Victorian England is a prelapsarian state. Liberate her and you will bring about the "disintegration" of patriarchal bourgeois culture. Liberate her and all else will be lost, for this will be no fortunate fall.
In spite of such dire predictions, English culture survived the turning of the new century. If certain "precious super organic structures" like the novel "disintegrated" in the process, however, we might well wonder how the "Ego of Woman" contributed to that transformation. In addressing this general issue, my study organizes itself around two more specific questions: namely, why were so many apocalyptic stories written about the New Woman at the turn of the century? And why is she so conspicuously absent from modernism's stories about its own genesis? Why, in other words, was the uproar in the 1880s and 1890s about the New Woman followed by such a resounding silence?
This book differs most importantly from previous research on the New Woman and the fiction written about her at the turn of the century in terms of the claims made about the place of this fiction in modern literary and cultural history.With the notable exceptions of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure, and The Odd Women, most critics have excluded New Woman novels from genealogies of modernism. In the handful of studies written about them to date, these novels have often been characterized as a literary subcultural backwater, rank with hysterical feminist fervor. 2 The female writers among this company have been described even by some feminist critics as a pool of mediocre talents out of which the great female modernists emerged. 3 The first approach treats the novels as evidence of the final failure of nineteenth-century English realism.The second, while establishing their importance for later writers, limits their sphere of influence unnecessarily to women writers—and defines such influence in relatively negative terms.
The New Woman novelists anticipate the reappraisal of realism we usually credit to early-twentieth-century writers. Most obviously, the "natural" inevitability of the marriage plot is challenged as New Woman novelists "replace" "the pure woman," the Victorian angel in the house, with a heroine who either is sexually active outside of marriage or abstains from sex for political rather than moral reasons. In more subtle ways, the Victorian conceptualization of "character" or identity as something seamless, unified, and consistent over time is also shattered as these novelists demystify the ideology of "womanliness," an ideology that gives middle-class women "no life but in the affections. In some of these novels the convention of omniscience is also dismantled by female characters who assert their autonomy from a male narrator—thereby turning what Mikhail Bakhtin terms the "monologic" structuring of realistic narrative into a polyphonic form.And in still others, the epistemology of representation is itself questioned, as New Woman novelists reject the reality principle governing the tradition of literary realism.Instead of assuming that art imitates reality and re-presents something both external and prior to the work of fiction, these authors figure desires that have never been realized before; they imagine worlds quite different from the bourgeois patriarchy in which unmarried women are deemed odd and superfluous "side character[s] in modern life.
Three aspects of this fiction that previously have been taken as signs of its aesthetic deficiency will be highlighted here: its ideological self‐ consciousness, its intertextuality, and its disruption of the conventional distinction between popular culture and high art. The intertextual dynamic, the increasingly diversified "conversation" among what I term naturalistic, antinaturalistic, and utopian narratives about the New Woman, means that these novels defy formalist assumptions about the "unity" of a literary work.Insofar as they make frequent reference to extratextual circumstances, they resist a reader's efforts to extricate the literary artifact from history, and thereby from politics. Because their authors choose not to view art as a sphere of cultural activity separate from the realm of politics and history, these narratives refuse to be discrete. They do not want to be read singly or separately; moreover, they choose not to be silent about the intertextual debate in which they participate.
Because these narratives also resist classification as either popular or high art fiction, their commercial success was very threatening to the critical establishment at the turn of the century. Over a hundred novels were written about the New Woman between 1883 and 1900. A few are by authors like Thomas Hardy and George Gissing.A handful of others are by well-known popular writers of the period—writers such as Ouida, Rhoda Broughton, Mrs. Elizabeth Lynn Linton, and John Strange Winter, all of whom were well established in their novel‐ writing careers before they contributed to the debate over the New Woman.Still other New Woman novels are by writers known at the time for their work in nonliterary fields. Grant Allen, for example, was known as a popular science writer when The Woman Who Did, one of the most hotly contested New Woman novels, appeared in 1895. But by far the majority of these narratives, many of which went through numerous editions in quick succession, are by writers who were as unfamiliar to the Victorian reading public as they are to most Victorian specialists today.And the critical establishment responded hostilely to the success of these unknown writers in particular. Demanding in true Arnoldian fashion that the public recognize a distinction in kind between "classics" and these "racy" new novels, conservative critics depoliticized "Literature" as they sought to disenfranchise the New Woman novel.They began to valorize the kind of formalist aesthetic we associate with high modernism as they tried to steer readers away from these highly politicized and controversial works.
Anglo-American modernism is usually said to have begun as a literary movement after the turn of the century.It "explains" itself as a formalism, an aesthetic centered on neutrality and apolitical objectivity.Why might it have been important for modernists not to acknowledge either turn-of-the-century New Woman writers' experimentations with the form of the novel or the "gate-keeping" stance of these writers' harshest critics? Gayatri Spivak's reflections on the politics of cultural explanations suggest that there is reason to interrogate the modernists' silence on the subject of the New Woman and the New Woman novel. In her essay, " Explanation and Culture: Marginalia," Spivak invites us to "displace the distinction between margin and center" in the explanations that constitute our culture. 7 When we attend to marginality, she suggests, we begin to suspect "that what is at the center [of our cultural narratives] often hides a repression" ( 104 ). More specifically, what is repressed are "the practical politics of cultural explanations" ( 104 ). And the only way to avoid reinforcing or contributing to this kind of repression is by "narrating the relation of center and margin" as a "shifting limit" ( 102 ).
Spivak's observations are provocative in thinking about the relations between margins and centers that come into play in juxtaposing the turn-of-the-century New Woman novel with the "masterworks" of high modernism.To attend to marginality, to narrate a shifting limit between the New Woman novel and high modernism, means challenging the familiar periodization of modern literary history. 8 Still more importantly, it means addressing the politics repressed by the modernists' "explanations" of early-twentieth-century literary and cultural history.It means exposing the reactionary conservatism that is so often occluded by the modernist valorization of style over content.
There is another margin-center dynamic I want to interrogate in this study, however: the marginalization of the New Woman novel in revisionary histories of this period written by contemporary feminist critics.As both Sheila Jeffreys and David Rubenstein have noted, the suffragettes have tended to overshadow other women and other aspects of women's history at the turn of the century. 9 While Rubenstein argues that this neglect has been redressed in current work on the 1890s, he does not try to account for the negative tenor of recent "revisionings" of this history.Two studies are worth mentioning in this
context, both of which "reclaim" this period—but reproduce earlier critics' condemnations of the New Woman novel in particular.
In the introduction to her pioneering work of feminist criticism, A Literature of Their Own ( 1977), Elaine Showalter writes quite movingly of the way "the lost continent of the female tradition [rises] like Atlantis from the sea of English literature" as the "works of dozens of women writers [are] rescued from ... 'the enormous condescension of posterity.' " 10 Yet, she herself treats the work of late-nineteenth-century women writers with enormous condescension.In her study, the novels of Olive Schreiner, George Egerton, and Sarah Grand resurface—only to be sunk again, more deeply, more irretrievably.In spite of her commitment to the lost Atlantis of a female literary tradition, and in spite of her interest in what she more recently has termed "gynocriticism," Showalter finds nothing to value in these "minor" works by "minor" women writers. 11 Criticizing Olive Schreiner's interest in rejecting "the biological yoke of femininity," characterizing Schreiner, Egerton, and Grand as women "disgusted by sex and terrified by childbirth," Showalter argues that these writers had nothing to offer the twentieth-century women writers she turns to next in her study ( 190 ). Identifying three stages in the British women's literary tradition (feminine, feminist, female), Showalter characterizes the movement from the second to the third as a complete reversal of program; turn-of-the‐ century feminist writers, she claims, had only one story to tell, and exhausted themselves in telling it ( 215 ).
Patricia Stubbs is equally dismissive of the New Woman novel in Feminism and the Novel: Women and Fiction, 1880-1920 ( 1979). Nineteenth‐ century women writers, she argues, never "discarded the traditional association in fiction between women and private feeling." 12 Because of this, "far from being a radical departure from tradition," the "new but ultimately disproportionate emphasis placed on female sexuality" in the New Woman novel at the turn of the century cannot be considered a "genuinely feminist" development in the history of the novel (xiii). Turn-of-the-century feminists, she goes on to argue, were "blind to the revolutionary possibilities of their movement" ( 132 ). Such blindness then leads Stubbs to locate, as if by default, all innovations in the treatment of female character at the turn of the century in the work of
Henry James, Arnold Bennett, and D. H. Lawrence.If, as Stubbs argues, the "virgin heroine" disappeared from English fiction between 1880 and 1920, she seems determined not to lay credit for this at the feet of the woman writers of the period (225).
Why, given their commitment to "gynocriticism," do Showalter and Stubbs reproduce the condescension of posterity toward the New Woman novel, even as they "rescue" a canon of women's writing from the Sargasso Sea of uncanonized literature? Why do certain segments of women's history still remain hidden from history? And what connections can be made between the modernists' silence and the condescension or silence of feminist literary and cultural historians on the subject of the New Woman?
Several things need to be taken into account in answering such questions. I would begin by noting that A Literature of Their Own and Feminism and the Novel were both written at a point in time when feminist criticism was making its first inroads into the academy. Notwithstanding my objections to Showalter's and Stubbs's characterizations of late nineteenth-century feminist writing, I think that both of these studies have to be recognized as landmarks in the history of feminist criticism: works that both legitimized the study of women's writing and brought feminist criticism onto the center stage of debate in the discipline of English studies.But I also think Barbara Herrnstein Smith's criticism of feminist work in general pertains to these studies in particular: namely, a "non-canonical theory of value" is not developed in these studies. 13 The literary canon is attacked—but we are not disabused of the idea that we need a set of "masterworks." A new canon, a female counter canon, is promulgated, but the production of literary value has not been demystified. In short, these critics continue to practice a "magisterial mode" of evaluation as they rain praises on Doris Lessing and Monique Wittig, respectively, while confirming traditional views of the New Woman novel as a "topos of disvalue." 14
If such studies are not as revisionary or as revolutionary as they claim to be, there are at least two reasons for this that Herrnstein Smith does not acknowledge.First, feminist criticism's marginality within the discipline of English studies even in the late 1970s would have made a different strategy of argument implausible.In other words, instead of
simply criticizing Showalter and Stubbs for failing to produce a noncanonical theory of value, I take the defensiveness of their arguments about the New Woman novel as a sign of feminist criticism's marginality in the academy in the 1970s.These early feminist arguments need to be recognized as compromise formations. The endorsement of traditional standards of literary value was the price these critics paid for getting the academy to take women's literature seriously.
It should come as no surprise that the standard of literary value that Showalter and Stubbs reproduce is the aesthetic of high modernism. Others have told the story of how this aesthetic was first institutionalized in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s with the advent of New Criticism. 15 Together with the marginality of feminist criticism in the 1970s, the fact that the modernist aesthetic is still dominant today begins to explain, I think, why Showalter and Stubbs reinforced a New Critic like Lloyd Fernando's evaluation of the New Woman novel. Notwithstanding the differences in their methodologies, feminists and New Critics alike have agreed that these novels are disfigured by their feminist politics.And the echo of the modernists' judgments of this material is easy enough to hear in recent revaluations of these narratives, revaluations that still see these narratives as bemired in history, never aspiring to be Yeatsian "monuments of unaging intellect."
The past ten years have seen considerable changes in the discipline of English studies: postmodern literary theory continues to challenge the traditional humanistic orientation of literary studies.Anglo-American feminists—white women as well as women of color—have joined what Barbara Christian terms the race for theory, trading their sensible shoes and their willingness to do the dirty work of literary historical housekeeping for the more glamourously abstract interests of French‐ inspired theory. 16 And third-world and multicultural scholars have begun demanding further revisions of the canons that were revised in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Why, then, write a study of the New Woman novel now? First, because the practical politics of modernism are revealed when we attend to its margins, centering our attention on the works it excludes from its "explanation" of modern literary and cultural history. And second, because the New Woman novel gives us an opportunity to reflect on the
In the following essay, Simson argues that the small amount of literary output available by nineteenth-century African-American women is deserving of scholarly attention.
As long ago as 1893 Dr. L. A. Scruggs in his book Women of Distinction (a work discussing noted Afro-American women) made the observation that it was "a painful experience to see how little is known of our great women and their works."1 This neglect is echoed in the words of contemporary scholars. Bert Lowenberg and Ruth Bogin in their recent work, Black Women in 19th Century American Life, commented: "If the black male's words, before the most recent period of ferment, were recorded only spasmodically, those of the black female were still less frequently set down on paper."2 In their introduction to Sturdy Black Bridges, an anthology containing works by and about Afro-American women writers, the editor’s state:
Toni Morrison: Introduction
In 1993, Morrison became the first African American to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her fiction was noted for its "epic power" and "unerring ear for dialogue and richly expressive depictions of black America" by the Swedish Academy, while exploring the difficulties of maintaining a sense of black cultural identity in a white world. Especially through her female protagonists, her works consider the debilitating effects of racism and sexism and incorporate elements of supernatural lore and mythology. Many of Morrison's novels—particularly The Bluest Eye (1970) and Beloved (1987)—have become firmly established within the American literary canon, while simultaneously working to redefine and expand it.
Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford on February 18, 1931, in Lorain, Ohio, to Ramah Willis and George Wofford. She was the second of four children. Her father was originally from Georgia, and her mother's parents had moved to Lorain after losing their land in Alabama and working briefly in Kentucky. Morrison's father worked in a variety of trades, often holding more than one job at a time in order to support his family. To send money to Morrison during her school years, her mother also took a series of hard, often demeaning positions. Music and storytelling—including tales of the supernatural—were a valued part of family life, and children as well as adults were expected to participate. Morrison became an avid reader at a young age, consuming a wide range of literature, including Russian, French, and English novels.

Toni Morrison

Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953. She went on to earn a master's degree in English from Cornell University in 1955, and spent two years teaching at Texas Southern University in Houston. From 1957 to 1964 she served as an instructor at Howard. In 1958 she married Harold Morrison, a Jamaican architect, with whom she had two sons, Harold Ford and Slade Kevin. The marriage ended in divorce in 1964, and Morrison and her children returned briefly to her parents' home in Ohio. During this period she began to write, producing the story that would eventually become her first novel, The Bluest Eye. In 1966 she moved to Syracuse, New York, and took a job as an editor for a textbook subsidiary of Random House. She relocated again in 1968, this time to New York City, where she continued editing for Random House. She oversaw the publication of works by prominent black fiction writers such as Gayl Jones and Toni Cade Bambara, as well as the autobiographies of influential African Americans, including Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali. In 1987, Morrison left Random House to return to teaching and to concentrate on her writing. She has taught at numerous colleges and universities, among them the State University of New York, Bard College, Yale University, Harvard University, and Trinity College, Cambridge. Morrison currently serves on the faculty at Princeton University.
Among her best known novels, The Bluest Eye recounts the tragic story of Pecola Breedlove, a poverty-stricken black child who longs for the blue eyes and blond hair that are prized by the society in which she lives. Evidenced by the superiority exhibited by light-skinned black characters in the novel—as well as the self-loathing of those, like Pecola, whose dark skin and African features mark them as unattractive and unlovable—the work explores black acceptance of white standards of female beauty. In 1973, Morrison published Sula, a novel chronicling the lives of two women. One woman assumes a traditional role in the community; the other leaves her hometown, returning only to resist established female roles and to assert her own standards and free will. Song of Solomon (1977) juxtaposes the pressures experienced by black families that feel forced to assimilate into mainstream culture with their unwillingness to abandon a distinctive African American heritage. More so than in her earlier novels, Morrison incorporates mythical and supernatural elements into the novel's narrative as a way for characters to transcend their everyday lives. Tar Baby, published in 1981 and set in the Caribbean, again uses myth and ghostly presences to mitigate the harshness of lives in which all relationships are adversarial—particularly in cultures where blacks are opposed to whites and women are opposed to men. In 1987 Morrison published Beloved, a novel based on the true story of a slave who murdered her child to spare it from a life of slavery; the book won the Pulitzer Prize. Jazz (1992) features dual narratives: one set during Reconstruction, the other during the Jazz Age. The novel explores the lasting effects of slavery and oppression on successive generations of African Americans. Morrison's most recent novels are Paradise (1998), featuring the lives of nine black families who settle a tiny farming community in Oklahoma in the 1940s, and Love (2003), a story that portrays the owner of a once-popular East Coast seaside resort for African Americans.
In addition to her novels, Morrison has written a play, Dreaming Emmett (1986), a collection of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992), and several books for young readers in collaboration with her son Slade. Her children's works include The Big Box (1999), The Book of Mean People (2002), and Who's Got Game?: The Ant or the Grasshopper? (2003).
Although some critics expressed reservations about the book's literary merits, The Bluest Eye received an impressive amount of attention for a first novel, garnering reviews by many prestigious publications. Sula met with more popular success, was serialized in Redbook magazine, and was nominated for the 1975 National Book Award. By the time Song of Solomon appeared, Morrison occupied a secure place as one of America's top novelists. Morrison's reputation was further enhanced by receipt of the Pulitzer Prize in 1988 for Beloved and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993.
Morrison is frequently faulted for her representations of a matriarchal culture that features poor, uneducated black females, with few positive black male characters and almost no white characters. Jacqueline Trace contends that this is partly attributable to Morrison's attempt to create a theology that is specifically black and specifically feminist.
Several critics have discussed Morrison's work—particularly The Bluest Eye—as a critique not only of the standards of female beauty prescribed by the dominant white culture, but of acceptance of those standards by blacks themselves. Pin-chia Feng discusses the development of the two young girls in the novel, concluding that "Claudia survives to tell the story by resisting social and racial conformity. Pecola fails the test precisely because of her unconditional internalization of the dominant ideology." Vanessa D. Dickerson (see Further Reading) contrasts Morrison's treatment of the black female body with its historical construction "as the ugly end of a wearisome Western dialectic: not sacred but profane, not angelic but demonic, not fair lady but ugly darky." Morrison, however, reappropriates black female representation within her fiction, particularly in The Bluest Eye, Sula, and Beloved. "In each of these novels," Dickerson asserts, "Morrison summons us to the validation of the black female body."
The black women are in a very special position regarding black feminism, an advantageous one. White women generally define black women's role as the most repressed because they are both black and female, and these two categories invite a kind of repression that is pernicious. But in an interesting way, black women are much more suited to aggressiveness in the mode that feminists are recommending, because they have always been both mother and laborer, mother and worker, and the history of black women in the States is an extremely painful and unattractive one, but there are parts of that history that were conducive to doing more, rather than less, in the days of slavery. We think of slave women as women in the house, but they were not, most of them worked in the fields along with the men. They were required to do physical labor in competition with them, so that their relations with each other turned out to be more comradeship than male dominance/female subordination. When they were in the field plowing or collecting cotton or doing whatever, the owner of the slaves didn't care whether they were women or men—the punishment may have varied: they could beat both, and rape one, so that women could receive dual punishment, but the requirements were the same, the physical work requirements. So I have noticed among a certain generation of black men and women—older black men and women—the relationship is more one of comradeship than the you-do-this-and-I-do-this; and it's not very separate. In addition, even after slavery, all of us knew in my generation, that we always had to work, whether we were married or not. We anticipated it, so we did not have the luxury that I see certain middle class white women have, of whether to work OR to have a house. Work was always going to be part of it. When we feel that work and the house are mutually exclusive, then we have serious emotional or psychological problems, and we feel oppressed. But if we regard it as just one more thing you do, it's an enhancement. Black women are both ship and safe harbor.
Lester, Rosemarie K. Excerpt from "An Interview with Toni Morrison, Hessian Radio Network, Frankfurt West Germany" (1983) in Critical Essays on Toni Morrison, edited by Nellie Y. McKay. Boston: G. K. Hall and Co., 1988, pp. 47-54.

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