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Feminist Literature

Feminist Literature

This article is an attempt to understand feminist literature by means of its characteristics, beliefs, and values. Also presented is a list of some good works that uphold the principles of feminism.
Puja Lalwani
Feminist literature, as the name suggests, is based on the principles of feminism, and refers to any literary work that centers on the struggle of a woman for equality and to be accepted as a human being before being cast into a gender stereotype. Not all these works follow a direct approach towards this goal of equality. It is only through such media that women believed a change was possible in the way they were perceived in society.
Not all feminist literature has been written by women, but also by men who understood women beyond the roles they were expected to fit into, and delved into their psyche to understand their needs and desires. Some works may be fictional, while others may be non fictional. Here, we take a look into the characteristics of feminist literature, and give you a list of some of the many works of this genre that make for a good read if you truly desire to learn extensively about this form of writing and what it stood for.
Characteristics
Feminist literature is identified by the characteristics of the feminist movement. Authors of feminist literature are known to understand and explain the difference between sex and gender. They believe that though a person's sex is predetermined and natural, it is the gender that has been created by society, along with a particular perception about gender roles. Gender roles, they believe, can be altered over time. The predominance of one gender over the other is a common concept across almost all societies, and the fact that it is not in favor of women is an underlying yet blatant characteristic of feminist or women's literature. Here, it is argued that any society that does not provide channels of learning and knowledge to both genders equally is not a complete and impartial society.
Critics argue that there wasn't much difference between male and female authors, and that there was no need to identify a separate class of literature termed as feminist or look for traces of feminism in literature. However, if you read any such work, you will realize how such writers criticized society's androcentric (male-centered) approach and tried to understand the beliefs and needs of the opposite sex with a subjective, and not an objective, approach. Take for example Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.
The protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett was a woman of her mind. Despite the societal pressure (put on her by her mother) to choose a partner and to lead a life that was decided for all women, she decided to choose her own path towards what she wanted. And none of this was blatantly approached. She did not put an outward fight in order to choose her life course. The entire piece of work is subtle, and the only clear characteristic of the protagonist you will notice is her assertiveness. And that is one clear characteristic of the feminist approach toward literature.
Women in literature of the feminist nature are always featured as the protagonist, who, more often than not, do not readily accept the traditional role of women as decided by society. They are ready to make their own decisions, to express this choice of personal decision-making, and are ready to deal with the consequences of these choices, actions, and decisions. Though a daughter, a mother, a sister, or a wife, any piece of feminist literature first deals with a woman as a woman.
It is not these relationships, roles, or stereotypes that give these female characters in literature their identity. Their identity is defined by their choices and their beliefs, which are then associated with these roles. It is important to note that not all works of feminist literature have happy endings, both for the character and for the author of the work. Women have been ostracized by society for openly demanding equality, and have had to face several negative consequences of their decision to go against the waves.
Women have been treated as important subjects even in many literary works by men. For instance, Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian author and playwright, often focused on women, women's issues, their troubles faced by society, and the decisions they made based on their personal values and beliefs. If you take a look at the play called A Doll's House by this very same author, you will clearly notice the strength and character of the protagonist.
Not all, but some pieces of feminist literature (particularly non-fiction) showcase and stress on women's suffrage and a demand for equality in society, for political, social, and economic rights. In modern feminist literature, the attack on a male-dominated society became more forthright and straightforward, where women demanded a closer look into the patriarchal and capitalistic approach towards feminism.
Reading List
With some clarity on the nature of feminist literature, you can understand any piece of work of this nature in a better and clearer manner. Here is a list of famous works of this genre, after reading which, you will be able to identify with the aforementioned characteristics of this type of writing. Before we take a look at some good books and novels that showcase feminist literature, let's take a look at the writers who strove to make this movement felt through their works.
They wrote fictional works that had an underlying feminist principle.
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Jane Austen
  • Audre Lorde
  • Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
  • Jeannette Winterson
  • Octavia Butler
  • Ursula Le Guin
  • Angela Carter
  • Grace Paley
  • Aimee Bender
  • Edwidge Danticat
  • Suzan Lori-Parks
  • Wendy Wasserstein
Some famous works of feminist literature, that include both non-fiction and fiction writing have been enlisted here.
  • Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics - Bell Hooks
  • A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf
  • The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  • The Feminine Mystique - Betty Friedan
  • Women Without Superstition: No Gods, No Masters - Annie Laurie Gaylor
  • Feminist Fairy Tales - Barbara G. Walker
  • Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism - Bell Hooks
  • The Adventure of the Black Lady - Aphra Behn
  • Woman in the Nineteenth Century - Margaret Fuller
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - Harriet Jacobs
  • The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir
  • This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color - Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
  • Makaan - Paigham Afaqui
  • Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body - Susan Bordo
  • A Doll's House - Henrik Ibsen
  • Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Like One of the Family - Alice Childress
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi
  • When Everything Changed - Gail Collins
  • The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Though a lot has changed in today's time, there is still an underlying wave of feminism, the presence of which one can sense all over the world. While in the urban setting, women have almost been given their dues, in the rural setting, women are still expected to live by the stereotypes cast by society. Even in the urban setting, though women have achieved a lot more than society has given them credit for, they are still expected to fulfill certain roles and stereotypes that have been the norm for centuries.
Feminist literature of different periods will depict different desires and different wants under the purview of feminism. The roles of daughters, wives, and mothers in literature will keep changing, and so will their requirements and beliefs. The concept of gender equality that focuses primarily on women's rights has come a long way, and feminist literature has been a great medium to bring about any visible changes in the attitude towards women. Yet, it is a long battle that is being fought, and it will be a while before gender equality and the role of women in society will be clear in the ideal sense.