Showalter’s Feminist Critique and Gynocriticism
Reading Showalter’s essay “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness” for the second time was really very useful and enjoyable for me. It enabled me to understand the core ideas of this essay more comprehensively. Not only this essay, but also Showalter’s preceding essay “Toward a Feminist Poetics” (1979). I like Showalter, she is my favorite American feminist critic. I enjoy her writings about theory and pedagogy. Most of times I found her writings clear, persuasive, informative and creative. While I was rereading the essay, I started to recall many thoughts about Showalter’s gynocriticism. I said what about developing these thoughts into a reading response, and I hope this will work.
First, let start with defining Showalter’s gynocriticism: it’s a term adapted by Showalter for the first time in her essay “Toward a Feminist poetics”. This term stands for the study of female literary texts by female critics. It’s the study of the themes, language, styles, historical backgrounds, and structures of literature by women. Gynocriticism has two important aims: the first, is to construct a female framework for the analysis of women’s literature, the second, is to develop new models which depend on the study of the female experience, rather than to apply male models, texts and theories. According to Showalter, the departure point of gynocriticism is feminists’ freedom from the impact of male literary history.
But before defining gynocrtiticism Showalter divides feminist criticism into two distinct types: feminist critique and gynocriticism. She defines feminist critique as this sort of literary criticism which is concerned with women as readers and consumers of male literature. The main aim of this criticism is to depict how women were presented in male-produced literature. From here, we can safely say that feminist critique and the Image of Women criticism are the same. But this sort of criticism does not satisfy Showalter’s hopes and ambitions about feminist criticism, simply because she believes that feminist criticism should move towards the establishment of an especially female tradition of writing . Feminists should stop searching for how women were depicted in male-produced literature because by doing this feminists are just knowing how men want women to be, not how women want themselves to be. Showlater is calling for a female autonomy which depicts women’s own experiences and feelings. After proving that women have a literature of their own, to recall Showalter’s sentence, through the process of rediscovering lost or neglected texts written by women, it became a must for feminists to start constructing a female-oriented literary criticism. So that, and as a natural result, comes Showalter’s call for applying the second type of feminist criticism which is gynocriticism. It’s the criticism which is concerned with woman as a writer and producer of literary texts. Showalter calls for applying gynocriticism because she believes that it stands in contrast to the feminist critique’s loyalty and celebration of male texts. She emphasizes gynocriticism as a more useful approach to feminist criticism than feminist critique.
Let us move to what some other feminist critics think about gynocriticism. Some of them consider practicing gynocriticism to be more influential not only because it concentrates on female-produced literature, but also because it heirs them avoid the problem of tension between their interpretative approach and the question of aesthetics. When dealing with a male writer feminists face a problem of resolving the tension of the ethics of his literary text. In fact, this tension between the aesthetic and moral or political dimensions of texts has been a central problem to the practitioners of the school of Image of Women criticism. Let us take Josephine Donovan as an example. When discussing Faulkner’s Light in August, Donovan states that she appreciates the formal elements of this text. She asserts that the work is really magnificent, but she can not bear the huge rank of misogynism and racism in this text. This made it impossible for her, as a feminist, to accept the ethics of this text. From Donovan’s view we came to know that any literary work written by males which carries any sort of misogynism or racism should not be treated by feminists; simply because if they did this would be an undeclared approval of these themes which are against feminism.
But the existence of problems should not prevent us from declaring the importance of Images of Women criticism. Its major importance reveals itself when reading Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, Mary Ellmann’s Thinking about Women, among others. Those feminists tried seriously to deconstruct androcentrism, and made both women and men think of literature in different terms through establishing a feminist interpretation for the first time. This interpretation became the basis for feminist criticism.
I agree with Showalter that gynocriticism is more influential than feminist critique, but I do not agree that the second is less important than the first. Because the importance of both gynocriticism and feminist critique, or the Image of Woman critique, relates much to the stage where each activity should be used and applied. For example, the initial stage of feminist criticism needs a sort of deconstructing any kind of misogyny against women in literary work by men. Once feminists deconstructed it, they need to move on to a new stage, a stage which becomes a must especially after the rediscovery of many women writings.
Through reading Showalter’s two complementary essays: “Toward a Feminist Poetics” (1979), and “Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness” (1981), it’s important to know that practicing gynocriticism, through celebrating women writings, does not mean to abandon men’s forever, or to stop reading men’s writings. We know, very well, how feminists fought to include women writings into the literary canon. But is the process of including enough? Or do feminists need to analyze these texts, exactly as they did with men’s writings. And this is simply what Showalter calls for.