The Emergence of Feminist Literature in America

By: Mahjabeen Malik

Feminist literature had emerged at the outset of the nineteenth century for the protection of women’s rights in society. It started in 1776, in America in response to Abigail Adam’s written petition to her husband. She requested to give particular attention to the rights of ladies otherwise they would violate against the law made by the society against women. Her letter proved to be the first drop of rain, after that a group of women protested against the unacceptable traditional norms of the era. Articles, essays, poetry journals and books had been published in a bulk to force people to reform women’s rights. At the same era, American was seeking freedom from Great Britain.

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 Characteristics of Feminist Literature:

 Feminist Literature had found its way to emerge in the face of literature aftermath Feminist Movement. Charles Fourier who was a French Philosopher as well as a Socialist named the word feminist and feminism. Feminist literature is the protest and a slogan against social injustice for women’s rights in society. The specific characteristics are as under:

 Feminist Literature presents the characters and ideas also struggles to reform gender norms. Feminist literature strives to demolish inequalities between genders regardless of social or political fields. It also keeps a critical eye on the established old fashioned gender roles through the written work. It also gives ears to the ignored voice of feminine. It gives attention to their gender, societal and political issues. It plans to grasp the nature of gender inequality.  Finally, Feminist Literature offers shelter to women and girls from rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, The Women’s Liberation Movement established its own literature and publishing houses. Thus this Movement used the medium of publishing and for that reason, women had to learn printing skills. Thus there were at least 20 feminist presses worldwide till 1980.

 Flourishment of Feminist Literature

The Women’s Liberation Movement opened the door for women in the field of literature. Women’s publishing houses magazines and women’s press supported women writers. The first female writer was Aphra  Benn (1640_89) who writers to earn her living by her pen, opening the doors to other professional women writers in the 18th – century. Most prominent names of literary women are Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and George Eliot; they designed the literature of 18th and 19th century. Virginia Woolf introduced the way to modernism to the genre of the novel in the early 20th century.

Objectives Of Women’s Writings:

The main objective of Feminist literature was to introduce problems faced by the female in society and at home during their domestic chores.  For example, Margaret Drabble wrote about single motherhood in The Millstone and adultery in The Garrick Year, Buchi Emecheta   inscribed about motherhood and being immigrant in Britain, and Beryl Bainbridge wrote about being an art student in Liverpool. Women writers also produced a wide variety of other styles: Val McDermid wrote detective novels; Ellen Galford wrote historical lesbian fictions; Sheila Rowbotham wrote history; Zoe Fairbairns and Margaret Atwood described dystopian worlds; Jeanette Winterson mixed fairy tale with lesbian coming out stories, and Angela Carter used magical realism and satire.

A huge strength of women poets emerged in the face of 1970s and 80s. They introduced feminist sensibility in their poetry. All poets and writers work together. Philosophy, storytelling, autobiographies and lingual histories also played a vital role in strengthened women’s voices.

The Feminist Movement in the 20th Century

In the 20th Century “The Feminist Movement” was established in the United State and abroad. The Movement brought a great change in the lives of individual woman, and American society was also affected. The Feminist Movement is divided into three periods or waves.

The First Wave

The first wave of Feminist Movement consisted of a wide range of female writers and poets. In the United States, Feminist Movement worked hard to win women’s appeal; inevitably the United States Constitution granted white women the right to vote in the United States.

 The First World War compelled many American women to come to the workplace to provide labour and assistance during the war. After joining the workforce, they aware of their unequal economic and social status. A large number of men were lost and wounded. Virginia Woolf wrote about the loss of so much talent and her frustration in her novels. By now, the word feminism was used in negative connotation from mass media, which discouraged women from self- identifying as such. But Virginia Woolf dared to write the term “Three Guineas”. Woolf also defended another renowned writer Rebecca West when she was criticized as a “feminist”.

Male authors also raised their voice against women’s injustice. The novels of George Meredith, George Gissing, Thomas Hardy and the plays of Henrik Ibsen portray the contemporary plight of women.

The Second Wave

The second wave of feminist movement came into action amid the early 1960s. Many feminists protested against racial and gender discrimination established by the Civil Rights Act .At first Wave feminists concentrated on sheer rights such as suffrage, second wave feminists concentrated on other cultural inequality issues, such as ending discrimination. Susan Griffin a co-feminist was the pioneer writer to write about pornography. At the Supreme Court of Canada, a debate was made on her article Pornography and Silence.

The Third Wave:

After the failure of the second wave, it started in the early 1990s. The Third Wave is generally considered to be the Movement of black women. During the 1980s, American Society was polluted by the progressively conservative political climate and the feminist movement had to face retaliation from anti-feminist critics. The Third Waves challenged the essentialist   definition of femininity, which overemphasized the experience of white upper-class. Succeeding World War ll the United Nations extended feminism global reach. They established a commission on the status of women in 1946, which embraced with Economic and Social Council. Finally, UN issued its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects the equal rights for men and women.

 The Fourth Wave

It is the new advancement of within the feminist movement. The fourth wave started in 2008 and continuing into the present day. Diana Diamond defines The Fourth Wave feminism as a movement that combines politics, psychology and spirituality in an overall vision of change.

The Everyday Sexism Project:

 “The Everyday Sexism Project” was started by a British writer, Laura Bates, in 16th April 2012 on social media. She established The Everyday Sexism an open forum where women can post their experiences of   harassment. The aim of the movement is not to solve the problem. It was just to make people realize that there is a problem that needs to be settled.

 Effects of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment effects badly on women’s psychological health, physical comforts, confidence and professional development. Women often change their jobs, career goals, job assignments, educational programs or academics etc. If they have been ever harassed, they feel insecurity. Mentally tormented and spiritually ruined.

Psychological Reactions:

  • Fear, frustration, irritability, rage.
  • Depression, anxiety, rebuttal, trauma.
  • Insecurity, the feeling of being powerless, bashfulness, low self-esteem, meekness, hesitation.
  • Remorse, Self-blame, confinement.
  • Phobias, panic reaction.
  • Insomnia, a nightmare.
  • Sexual problem
  • Headaches
  • Sluggishness
  • Physiological Reaction
  • Psychological Problem
  • Loss of job or promotion
  • Change in career/goal

Extraction from work or school Absence or drop in academic work or performance due to stress

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