Feminist Criticism is

Key Terms: Dialectic; Hermeneutics; Semiotics; Text & Intertextuality; Tone


Feminist theory can be traced to the theories of Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1929), though in 1919, Virginia Woolf also formed the foundation of feminist criticism in her seminal work, A Room of One’s Own. Feminist criticism, or gender studies, focuses on the role of women (or gender) in a literary text. According to feminist criticism, patriarchy, in its masculine-focused structure, socially dictates the norms for both men and women. Feminist criticism is useful for analyzing how gender itself is socially constructed for both men and women. Gender studies also considers how literature upholds or challenges those constructions, offering a unique way to approach literature.     

Foundational Questions of Feminist Criticism

  • Consider stereotypical representations of women as the beloved, mothers, virgins, whores, and/or goddesses. Does the text refer to, uphold, or resist any of these stereotypes? How?
  • What roles have been assigned to the men and women in the text? Are the roles stereotypical? Do gender roles conflict with personal desires?
  • Does the text paint a picture of gender relations? If so, how would you describe gender relations in the text? On what are they based? What sustains them? What causes conflict between men and women?
  • Are gender relations in the text celebrated? Denigrated? Mocked? Mystified? If so, how?

Discussion Questions and Activities: Feminist/Gender Studies

  1. Define gender, gender roles, patriarchy, and stereotypical representations of gender in your own words.
  2. Describe the relationship between culture and gender roles. How do culture and gender roles inform each another?
  3. Read “Barbie Doll” by Marge Piercy. Choose the stanza that you think most markedly represents how gender itself is socially constructed. What words, phrases, or lines in the stanza inform your choice?
  4. Compare and contrast how society treats and advises the girl in the poem with what she does after her good nature wears out “like a fan belt.” Does the poem present the socially constructed nature of gender as positive?
  5. Evaluate the role that the lines “Consummation at last, / To every woman a happy ending” play in the poem. Quote from the poem to support your interpretation.

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