The Feminists Are Making Me Angry

| | Comments (3)

"By contrast, Chekhov's play The Three Sisters exists on a plane far above the exploitation of female suffering seen in these contemporary films.  The great themes of Chekhov's drama point to the vanity of human purposes and the corrosion of the human fabric through time.  The male and the female characters equally suffer disillusionments and defeats inherent in the human condition.  The strongest and most noble figure in the work, indeed, is a woman, Olga.  Chekhov clearly has full compassion and empathy for his female characters."

-From Josephine Donovan's "Beyond the Net: Feminist Criticism as a Moral Criticism" in Donald Keesey's Contexts for Criticism page 227-228


First, I just want to say that the feminist critics in Keesey’s anthology make me, and I believe many others, want to scream.  This, as well as the one presented in Gilbert and Gubar’s essay, is obviously not the empowering types of feminism that I have always thought was being and should be offered to the world as an important belief and movement.  Instead of empowering these female authors, it seems that these critics enjoy focusing on the need for pity, empathy, and compassion.  It is almost as if they are writing, “Oh, take pity on these poor female writers and the females that are depicted in male literature.”  Honestly, have they never heard of the Guerilla Girls or the books Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots and Do Princesses Scrape Their Knees?

Donovan is clearly advocating a depiction of women that is just as sexist, if not more so, as the one she argues against.  The “strongest and most noble” character does not and should not always be female in a piece of literature, and just because a male author has a male protagonist it does not mean that he is sexist.  If a woman creates a female character as the protagonist who seems to be objectified in her novel, is she then sexist too?  Gilbert and Gubar would say no, of course not, she is only venting her own experiences with oppression by men.  I, however, would say that the novel, the author, the historical context, the contemporary context, and other texts like it would need to be considered before even having a hint as to how to answer this question.  The more I learn about literary criticism, the more I feel that in order to truly understand the work, all of the factors involved must be looked at, not just the ones that will most easily prove a point.  I feel that the only people who are disillusioned are these writers who can suggest that men are prone creating objectified female characters that represent the “deviant” rather than the “norm,” while at the same time they hypocritically suggest that these female authors and characters should be pitied and given empathy (Donovan 225).  

However, I also want to say that I understand that these critics’ purposes for writing is probably not the empowerment of women, but rather a criticism of the treatment of women writers and women in literature.  I still believe that if you write and publish something, it should be only to persuade or to reaffirm an idea that matters or that changes people, and perhaps this was the goal of these authors and it is just not working for me; however, I think that many in our class (just take a look at what Angela and Greta have written about so far) would agree with most of what I have written here.


Take a look at some other blogs about Donovan’s essay and Feminism.





Greta Carroll said:

Erica, I definitely agree with you. I said something very similar to what you said about main characters in my blog. Just because a writer creates a male main character doesn’t mean they are sexist, it just means they wanted to make a male main character. I really like your point about what these feminist critics would say about an objectified female character created by a female author. Donovan comments at one point in her article that, “…a particular nineteenth-century American version of sexist ideology which essentially consigned women to true ‘otherhood,’ is embedded in scores of sentimentalist texts of the period. But one may also note ways in which the female authors somewhat subvert the ideology through plot and character” (225). So basically, she admits that this sense of being “the other” could be present in works by women, but she also claims that women either “subvert” the sexism. I think that a feminist critic would also argue that this idea is so engrained in women’s psyches that a work by a woman that shows a woman who is suppressed shows what the author was going through (as you observed). Or, I think they might even claim that women writers had to portray woman as “the other” or the male publishers would never publish their works. Personally, I think the last reason I listed is the most believable. After all, if someone wanted to find subversion of sexist ideology in a test chances are if you really wanted to you could come up with some sort of claim arguing that whether it is truly likely or not.

Bethany Merryman said:

I agree as well and say similar things in my blog. I just don't understand why feminist criticism has to be so negative all the time. Shouldn't they focus more on the empowering of women rather than the negativity of their put downs. I think feminists would gain more respect if they looked into the positive aspect of women, along with the negative rather than always looking at the glass half empty. Think Rosie the Riveter not a James Bond Girl!

Ellen Einsporn said:

I agree with you. While I understand that women were misrepresented and still are often in literature, I feel that critics such as Donovan could make better arguments about this misrepresentation. While we need to recognize the negative depictions of women in literature and how they affect our status in everyday society, I feel that feminist critics such as Donovan will take a good piece of literature and contort until nothing remains but an image of a helpless woman. Clearly this is not the point of evaluating literature. The point, for me at least, is to look at the whole text and evaluate it in an effort to determine its usefulness to society, not to to tear it down because of the lack of a female protagonist.

Leave a comment

Type the characters you see in the picture above.