Literary Theory

Key Terms

Suffragette - a woman seeking the right to vote through organised protest.

Patriarchy - a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it.

Misogyny - dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

Key People

Susan Bordo

Judith Butler

Simone de Beauvoir

Betty Friedan 

Germaine Greer

Anne Summers

Mary Wollstonecraft

Key Works




Feminist theory has developed from the tradition of the late 19th century suffragette movements and emerges as an approach to literary critique through the mid-20th century. Feminist critics explore the social roles, experiences, interests, and politics of women as represented in literary texts. Its aim is to examine the explicit and implicit ways in which women’s roles have been portrayed and highlight inherent inequality that exists within patriarchal society. Moreover, feminist theory may also explore notions of misogyny and omission that may be seemingly naturalised in the experiences and interactions of the everyday..

What Feminist Critiques do

Rethink the canon, aiming at the rediscover of texts written by women.

Revalue women's experiences.

Examine representations of women in literature by both men and women.

Challenge representations of women as 'Other'.

Examine power relations 

What Questions to Feminist Critiques ask

How is the relationship between men and women portrayed?

What are the power relationships between male and female characters?

How are male and female roles defined?

What constitutes masculinity and femininity?

How do characters embody these traits?

Do characters take on traits from opposite genders? How so? How does this change others’ reactions to them?

What does the work reveal about the operations of patriarchy?

Does the text work to reinforce or challenge patriarchal ideology?

What does the work imply about the possibilities of sisterhood as a mode of resisting patriarchy?

What does the history of the work's reception by the public and by the critics tell us about the operation of patriarchy?

What role does the work play in terms of women's literary history and literary tradition?

General Web Links