Feminism in Literature

Feminist literature is fiction, nonfiction, drama or poetry which supports the feminist goals of defining, establishing and defending equal civil, political, economic and social rights for women. It often identifies women’s roles as unequal to those of men – particularly as regards status, privilege and power – and generally portrays the consequences to women, men, families, communities and societies as undesirable. The feminist movement produced feminist fiction, feminist non-fiction, and feminist poetry, which created new interest in women’s writing. It also prompted a general reevaluation of women’s historical and academic contributions in response to the belief that women’s lives and contributions have been underrepresented as areas of scholarly interest. There has also been a close link between feminist literature and activism, with feminist writing typically voicing key concerns or ideas of feminism in a particular era.
Much of the early period of feminist literary scholarship was given over to the rediscovery and reclamation of texts written by women. In Western feminist literary scholarship, Studies like Dale Spender’s Mothers of the Novel (1986) and Jane Spencer’s The Rise of the Woman Novelist (1986) were ground-breaking in their insistence that women have always been writing.
Commensurate with this growth in scholarly interest, various presses began the task of reissuing long-out-of-print texts. Virago Press began to publish its large list of 19th and early-20th-century novels in 1975 and became one of the first commercial presses to join in the project of reclamation. In the 1980s Pandora Press, responsible for publishing Spender’s study, issued a companion line of 18th-century novels written by women. More recently, Broadview Press continues to issue 18th- and 19th-century novels, many hitherto out of print, and the University of Kentucky has a series of republications of early women’s novels.
Particular works of literature have come to be known as key feminist texts. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf, is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy. Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970) questions the self-limiting role of the woman homemaker.
The widespread interest in women’s writing is related to a general reassessment and expansion of the literary canon. Interest in post-colonial literatures, gay and lesbian literature, writing by people of colour, working people’s writing, and the cultural productions of other historically marginalized groups has resulted in a whole scale expansion of what is considered “literature”, and genres hitherto not regarded as “literary”, such as children’s writing, journals, letters, travel writing, and many others are now the subjects of scholarly interest. Most genres and subgenres have undergone a similar analysis, so literary studies has entered new territories such as the “female gothic or women’s science fiction. In addition, many feminist movements have embraced poetry as a vehicle through which to communicate feminist ideas to public audiences through anthologies, poetry collections, and public readings.